Saturn and Your Great Work
Updated: Jun 12
Accomplishment is one of the ways we measure our lives, but in terms of what gives meaning to our lives, accomplishments are often merely decorative. Somewhere recently I read an essay that distinguishes between ambition - which so often means a striving for accomplishment - and devotion, which can be an act of surrendering to a craft, a cause, a calling. In a natal chart, you might locate your devotion by finding where Saturn lies. Saturn is your great work, the effort to which you dedicate your life. In The Sayings of the Fathers, Rabbi Tarfon taught “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.” That’s Saturn—your lifelong effort.
When I taught at a Montessori school, I would kneel next to a child to help her sound out words as she learned to read “Tab is a cat” and, not uncommonly, the slightly more advanced child sitting next to her would say, “Oh I know that. That’s simps.” With Saturn, other people might look at your great work and say “Oh, that’s simps,” but it’s not simple for you. It’s your great work because it’s hard for you. And yet to create meaning in your life, you must not desist from it whether or not you ever get the medal that tells you you’ve accomplished the task.
Quite a few years ago, I went to the funeral of my neighbor’s daughter, whom I will call Carol. There were two ministers at the service—my neighbor’s minister and the minister from Carol’s church. The first minister told us that God was not happy. Like us, God mourned Carol's death that came at the too-early age of 48. But Carol’s minister spoke of Carol’s bright smile and of her great victory. She’d battled addiction for most of her adult life and she was winning. On paper she was a middle-aged woman living with her mother, taking a bus to her retail job at the Mall of America. But spiritually, she was wrestling her demons every day and beating them back. Every day defeated, but to victory was she born, to paraphrase Emerson. Was this Carol’s great work? Not knowing the location of Saturn in her chart, we can’t be sure, but Carol lived the discipline and integrity Saturn calls up in us, the ongoing effort that may never be rewarded with a mission accomplished banner.
Of course, not all great works require behind-closed-doors wrestling matches with our souls. Toni Morrison fulfilled her great work in the public sphere. With Saturn in Capricorn in the 9th house, Ms. Morrison’s great work could be summarized as a horizon-expanding mission in publishing, education and intellectual frontiers. She worked at this task daily, weekly, yearly as an editor at Random House, as a professor and as a writer whose work was taught, she was once told, in 23 separate classes at a large state university—classes ranging from literature to psychology to legal studies.* She accomplished great things and was recognized with a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize in Literature, but her work didn’t end with the recognition. It evolved as she evolved. That’s the nature of Saturn, too.
* Toni Morrison. The Source of Self-Regard.