Capricorn Season: The Deeper Message of Saturnalia
by Steven Forrest
Light soon returns to the world. Hallelujah, hallelujah . . . but you have heard it all before and it’s not exactly shocking news. Of course I am talking about the Winter Solstice. And you might be yawning already. You don’t have to be an astrologer to know that the season of ever-lengthening nights is now about to turn. Yet, buried beneath the veil of numbing familiarity, this yearly turning of the tide of light still holds some riddles for us.
For us in the northern hemisphere, the coldest parts of winter still lie ahead, but at least there’s a reason for hope. As the eloquent jazz pianist, Bill Evans, put it, “You must believe in Spring.” If you are in the snow-belt, there’s a lyric to tape to your refrigerator! Even here in the southern California desert where I live, I am looking forward to the days getting longer again. Who can reflect even for ten seconds on the notion of “the return of the light” without a little whisper of optimism arising? Who can think of it without hope?
But, astrologically, what is the sign of hope and optimism? Probably the most obvious response would be Sagittarius, with Jupiter ruling it. Yet the Winter Solstice marks our exit from that domain, not our entry into it. At the Solstice, the Sun enters Capricorn. We fall under the shadow of Saturn. That symbolism has often been saddled with negative connotations—and even a more balanced view of Capricorn and Saturn generally doesn’t invoke words such as hope or optimism. So what is going on here? Do we have the Zodiac backwards?
Capricorn and Saturn are usually taken to reflect the values of patience, endurance, and hard work. I think of Saturn as representing our ability to do what we don’t feel like doing. And if you are living up there in the snow-belt, all you have to do is peer out your frosty living room window to your car buried under 18" of fresh snow and you are an instant Saturn expert: Winter is indeed a season of “doing what we don’t feel like doing.” Get out that shovel and put on your mittens. You’ve got to dig out the car so you can get to work.
So where is the hope? Where is the optimism? Where is the joy that should come with the “return of the light?” Winter is tough—that symbolism quickly clicks. But the light is returning . . . how does that piece fit into the puzzle? That leads to our pivotal question: Are we missing something about Capricorn and Saturn?
The Romans didn’t miss it. Every Winter Solstice, they celebrated their feast of the Saturnalia. And it was wild. According to Cato the Elder, “Rampant overeating and drunkenness became the rule, and a sober person the exception.” Citizens wore funny felt hats and bright-colored clothing instead of the usual monochrome togas. Gifts were exchanged, including many “gag gifts.” Kids were given toys. Gambling and dice-games, normally viewed with judgement, were played in public. In one interesting custom, masters would serve sumptuous meals to their slaves, taking on the reversed role. During Saturnalia, slaves enjoyed at least a pretense of disrespect for their masters, and were exempted from punishment for it. Free speech, hell-raising, and wild, uninhibited abandon reigned.
This was how the Romans celebrated Saturn?
One obvious response is that actually most of us—astrologers possibly excepted— aren’t missing anything at all. Clearly, the Roman Saturnalia has reincarnated pretty much intact in our current celebrations of the Winter Solstice. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Chanukah—the festivities connected with all of them would be quite recognizable to a Roman citizen from two thousand years ago. We still celebrate the “Return of the Light” with gift-giving, dressing up, and general debauchery. Our word capricious—suggesting one who acts impulsively on sudden whimsies, desires, and changes of mood—clearly has its roots in Capricorn. Just think of a frolicking goat. Or think of your alcoholic Uncle Joe late in the evening of December 25th.
So what happened to us astrologers? How did Capricorn and Saturn get such dure reputations? And, more importantly, do they actually deserve them?
Well, in a word—yes. Capricorn and Saturn are clearly about duty and integrity. They are about impulse-control. They are about boundaries, limits, and the eternal law of consequences. I stick by my definition of Saturn as the planet that gives us “the ability to do what we don’t feel like doing.” These observations are easily demonstrated.
But how much of that self-denial can you stand? As Bob Marley sang, “What is to be must be. Every day the bucket a-go a well, one day the bottom a-go drop out.” We’ve all got breaking points when it comes to an unrelenting diet of “being good.” Living in society of course involves constraint. But at some point, the raw, appetite-driven, animal inside us all has had enough. And that animal can, at that breaking point, turn very dangerous. Repress anger and it turns eventually to pathological violence. Repress sexuality and it turns to perversion.
With what planets do we associate such explosive outbursts? The obvious answers are Uranus and Mars. Their impulsiveness can be accurately understood to balance the constraints implicit in Saturn.
What if we are short-changing Saturn here too? Saturn is, above all, realistic. And how realistic is it really to imagine that humans can eternally toe the lines of mechanical propriety? We all need an occasional weekend—and think about the clue built into the weekly calendar: are you looking forward to this coming Saturn-day, the day before Sunday? Every effective high school teacher knows the usefulness of giving the kids a break from endless Algebra from time to time. Corporations have “casual Fridays.” Married Celtic people merrily fornicated without shame every Beltane Eve.
Saturn is structure—and the realistic safety valves that let us endure it. In the words of the proverb, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And nowadays Jack might wield an AK-47.
The Roman poet Vergil said of the god Saturn that “he gathered together the unruly race of fauns and nymphs scattered over mountain heights, and gave them laws . . .” They were still fauns and nymphs, of course—just better behaved because “laws” gave them a Saturnian sense of the proper time and the place to express those more feral aspects of their own natures. Tellingly, Vergil added, “Under his reign were the Golden Ages men tell of. In perfect peace he ruled the nations." We are happier with Saturn-structure—provided that the structure includes time for release.
The Sun enters Capricorn this year on December 21 or 22, depending on your Time Zone. Meanwhile, Saturn of course remains in early Sagittarius—an astrological reality that will flavor our collective response to the holiday season. Sagittarius—ruled by the fabled King of the Gods, Jupiter—does not enjoy limits. Quoting Oscar Wilde, he “can resist anything except temptation.” There is thus in the collective air a pent-up hunger to bust out, break some rules, and wreak some havoc. In Sagittarius, Saturn has been holding back the Jovial flood waters. We are all hungry for release. Our inner “fauns and nymphs” are feeling their appetites—for food, for drink, for sexual release, whatever.
Interestingly, Saturn completes not a single major aspect to any planet except the Moon during the entire month of December, although it begins the month separating from a square to Neptune. Thus, there are no constraints on it beyond those limits it supplies itself.
How to handle all this? Reflexively, we might say: keep the whiskey away from your alcoholic Uncle Joe—or yourself, if you tend to overdo it. Zippers up. Think of your waistline.
But those admonitions are not . . . well, Saturnalian enough. They reflect the modern astrological error of seeing Saturn in strictly Thou-shalt-not terms, which is not really fully correct. Saturn, as we saw earlier, is utterly realistic. You may need some release—and you may be healthier in every sense for recognizing that. Saturn gave laws to the fauns and nymphs—but in doing he didn’t turn them all into prim little Puritans drinking non-caffeinated herbal teas with their knees pressed chastely together. He knew that would only annoy the nymphs and fauns, and turn them mean.
If there were a relevant cliche here, it would probably be, “Moderation in all things”—including moderation.
So, from us at www.forrestastrology.com to you and yours—Happy Holidays! Have fun, and take good, conscious, compassionate care of yourself. Indulge yourself—gently. That’s one way of being in harmony with the Return of the Light. Comfort the parts of you that need to have a good time—those are your inner “fauns and nymphs.” Listen to them. Make a deal with them. Let Virtue and Vice come to an arrangement that allows both of them some breathing room. Be Saturn-realistic: “Vice” is part of you too and you can’t just “legislate” it out of existence. Throw it a bone—but don’t let it grab the steering wheel.
And go ahead and wear that funny hat.
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Reminder - This Weekend - The Aspects Workshop Live Webcast
December 5-6, 2015
Watch Steven live from Borrego Springs, CA this weekend in our webcast of his Aspects Workshop. Details and registration here.
Date: December 9-6, 2015
Times: 9am-1pm; Saturday and Sunday
Featured Saturnian Audio Releases
- Saturn in Sagittarius through the 12 Houses audio download
- Saturn in Scorpio through the 12 Houses audio download
- Saturn: Staying in Touch with the Old Bird audio download
- Your First Saturn Return audio download
- Your Second Saturn Return audio download
- Pluto, Uranus and Saturn: The Giants Sing Harmony audio download