Saturn-Neptune: Bridging the Ideal and the Real

November 2, 2015
Viola Davis Makeup Scene

As we approach the end of 2015, we’ll start to feel the influence of the Saturn square Neptune transit, which will remain in effect for about a year. This is the “closing square,” which means it is the last hard aspect marking the denouement of the longer Saturn-Neptune cycle that began with the conjunction in 1989, marked dramatically by the fall of the Berlin wall. This longer cycle renews at the beginning of 2026 (probably with a bang, as both Saturn and Neptune move into Aries). So let’s think about some of the ways these two energies might influence each other, and how that could be a good thing in the year ahead.

As I wrote in Steven Forrest’s newsletter this month, Saturn-Neptune times are good for sobering up. A more responsible approach to our inner landscape can clear up foggy, unclear behavior. Discerning Saturn energy can help reveal delusions we’ve bought into, cutting through our mental haze to reveal what’s real. This applies both personally and collectively. If you have planets in the middle degrees of Virgo, Gemini, Pisces or Sagittarius, you’ll notice this transit more than others. And if not, you can witness it in the news…

During Saturn-Neptune times, skeptics and critics get to have their say, as spin doctors don’t seem to be able to work their magic quite as well as usual. Boy, could we use some more of that! Masters of satirical social criticism like John Stewart (who has a wide Saturn-Neptune square natally) take center stage during Saturn-Neptune times. Stewart could speak volumes just by raising an eyebrow at the right moment of a deceptive pundit’s performance. With the internet in full swing, we are exposed to more truth – and more lies – than ever. It takes work to discern what is real from what has been constructed artificially to suit someone’s agenda. Skillful critics and skeptics who we trust to be honest, can help us sort through the mess and uncover what’s real.

Skepticism and criticism often get a bad rap. When used properly – to discern the truth – they can be a great asset. One of America’s most revered skeptics and critics of organized religion was Mark Twain, who had natal Saturn in Scorpio square Neptune in Aquarius. He wrote, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” (1) When my best friend gave me a copy of Twain’s Letters from the Earth when I was 14, it shook my foundations with a perspective on Christianity I hadn’t yet been exposed to, freeing me from a lot of limiting (and ungrounded) beliefs.

Mad Men

Neptune has to do with image and advertising. So when Saturn interacts with Neptune, realism is the antidote to fantastical claims made by corporations about the products they’re trying to sell. In January 1964, at the tail end of a Saturn-Neptune square cycle, the Surgeon General of the US released its landmark report warning the public about the dangers of smoking, piercing the illusion of years of successful manipulative ad campaigns by cigarette companies. People could begin to see that smoking didn’t instantly transform one into a rugged cowboy or glamorous socialite. The walls of the pro-smoking illusion began to crumble.

Neptune dissolves boundary and has no limits, and is associated with ungrounded ideologies, fantasies, and unattainable utopian visions. During a Saturn-Neptune time, such beliefs can get called into question. Sure, it could be true that humans were planted on Earth by an alien race of lizard people who plan to return next year to harvest us. But is it likely? Saturn asks – what proof do we have? What are the cold, hard facts? Neptune is about the unknowable, but Saturn is about the limits of the material world we live in. If you’re basing all of your decisions on the idea that the alien lizard apocalypse is at hand next week, the Saturnian view is that it is statistically extremely likely that you will be in for a difficult wake-up call when it doesn’t transpire.

Tom Cruise was born with Saturn in Aquarius square Neptune in Scorpio. Cruise is famously associated with Scientology (Neptune trine his Sun), which is often criticized for its ungrounded beliefs. Tom, are you reading this?

Saturn brings reality, Neptune is mysticism. At the high expression, during a Saturn-Neptune time, we might benefit from applying more discipline to a spiritual practice. Maybe it’s time to meditate at the same time every day, for the same amount of time, in the same way. And do that for 6 months or a year and experience the unique benefits time and discipline can bring.

Saturn can also be about self-imposed limits. Maybe the Saturn-Neptune square is transiting your 6th house. This could signal a good time to introduce restrictions in your diet to improve your health. Normally I would advise someone making a drastic diet change and to take small steps, so that success is more likely. But to embody Saturn, what you do should feel like a challenge. So if you decide to make a dietary change over the next year and you find yourself whining about it (shadow Neptune), you’re probably on the right track.

Steven Forrest says that “all aspects are about integration.” A high expression of integrating Neptune and Saturn could be to use rigor and discipline (Saturn) to achieve a dream or realize an ideal (Neptune). And since the archetypes work on each other in both directions, another expression could be that believing in an ideal (Neptune) heals depressive, fatalist tendencies (Saturn).

Speaking of depression, Saturn and Neptune together can coincide with an especially difficult mental malaise. In their shadow expressions, both archetypes can express as giving up. When worn down by Saturnian life obstacles, giving up looks like complete exhaustion. A Neptunian version of throwing in the towel would be giving up because “it just doesn’t matter.” With Neptune you might just run away from the problem through escapist behaviors used to avoid pain (because of heightened Neptunian sensitivity).

Combined, these two kinds of responses could result in an immobilizing kind of inertia. The antidote here is to introduce healthy forms of either planet – whichever is more deficient. With Neptune, you might seek out any spiritual practice that gets you back in touch with a sense of wonder. For one person, this might look like a 2 hour hike alone in nature. For another person, it might look like a week-long meditation retreat. The key is the feeling of inspiration, connection, and spaciousness. With Saturn, it could mean digging deep inside to find the strength to face your challenge another day. Or to take responsibility for where you’re at today, and resolve to work hard to overcome your difficulty with maturity and determination.

In a 2007 interview with Caroline Casey, Richard Tarnas describes Saturn-Neptune as the “fortitude to face difficult reality without illusion and without giving up, remaining true to one’s ideals and dreams.”

Many artists face extreme circumstances and obstacles before realizing their dreams. The image of the “starving artist” or musician is a common one in our culture. Many of those who leave a lasting impression keep working at their dreams against all odds. In sadly common story, HP Lovecraft lived in poverty, continuing to work at his craft without success until the end of his life, never knowing that he would one day be regarded “one of the most significant 20th-century authors in his genre.” (2) Lovecraft was born with natal Saturn in Virgo square Neptune in Gemini conjunct Pluto. Another famous and now revered master of horror, Edgar Allen Poe, faced similar money and success problems. He was born with Saturn conjunct Neptune in the second house.

From an outsider’s perspective, the struggle seems to be a key ingredient for transcendent art to emerge in such cases. John Coltrane and Miles Davis, both with natal Saturn square Neptune, gave form to the formless, inspiring generations of musicians and music lovers. As he progressed in his career, Coltrane’s music became more spiritually-infused, but not because of simple divine inspiration. Coltrane struggled with drug addiction, and after a particularly harrowing overdose in 1957, he emerged “with a heightened sense of spirituality and a strong religious fervor. His deliverance from self-destruction was celebrated in the 1964 recording A Love Supreme.” (3) Although Coltrane eventually died tragically from liver cancer at age 40, his struggle – and victory – is a testament to what can be achieved with this aspect.

Neptune is associated with addiction because it often points to a place in us that is hypersensitive to pain – our own and that of others. When Neptune is strong, the desire to escape, to transcend the material world, can also be strong. In her book on Neptune, Liz Greene beautifully describes the bittersweet longing that those born with a prominently-placed Neptune often experience. She likens it to a desire to “return to the source” – perhaps to the safe containment of the womb, perhaps to the divine spacious expanse of infinite loving awareness. Drugs give us access to altered states, and when we’re in pain and don’t have the resources to manage it, they offer a popular form of escape.

Miles Davis tried hard to kick his heroin habit. He found respite in 1954 only by approaching his addiction with a Saturn toolkit. As recounted in Miles: The Autobiography, he locked himself in a room in his father’s house until withdrawals were over. And for a while after, he avoided playing in cities where hard drugs were easier to get. (4) Self-imposed limitations helped him overcome addiction. Davis managed to stick around on Earth a little longer than Coltrane, but both men left a magical musical legacy, leaving a permanent mark on Jazz history.

1926 was something of a banner year for producing legendary figures who have the Saturn-Neptune square. It is often said that those with more squares and oppositions in their charts have compelling drives that lead to them achieving more than the average person. Born June 1, 1926, Marilyn Monroe had the Saturn-Neptune square prominently configured with her Ascendant. Monroe’s life dramatically illustrates the struggle at hand when trying to bridge the ideal with the real in the face of a Saturn-Neptune configuration. Because Neptune was conjunct Monroe’s Ascendant, we have a window into the idealized (Neptune) side of this equation through how she looked, how she dressed, and the impression she made on others. But this illusory idealized self didn’t match her real self – the Norma Jeane self – that she kept hidden from view.

Marilyn Monroe - Norma Jeane

In one famous story, Monroe was walking through the streets of New York with Susan Strasberg, largely unnoticed for most of the day. Then she turned to Strasberg and said, “Do you want to see me be her?” Through a series of gestures, affects, a way of walking, she became “Marilyn Monroe.” And within minutes, Strasberg recounts, “heads turned. People crowded around us.” (5) Problems arose when Monroe began to feel trapped by this persona and struggled for years (unsuccessfully) to escape it. She longed to be able to be her “real” self, and to play more multi-dimensional roles on screen, but her constructed self was so monumentally successful that neither she nor the Hollywood studios could resist its draw.

So with Saturn square Neptune at hand, you might ask, “How can I bridge the ideal and the real in my life?” Have your ideals been realistic? Is the bar of your dreams set so high that you can never reach it – leaving you feeling disenchanted most of the time? Or maybe your dreams are realistic, but you have not yet met them with enough resolve and structure to make them manifest. What energy is needed to come into balance – Neptune or Saturn? Do you need to work on your spiritual connection, or do you need more discipline? Maybe it is time to take responsibility for how you got to this point, and to roll up your sleeves, stop whining and get to work. Or maybe it’s time to have some compassion for yourself and to lighten up. Every person will have a different experience, and achieve balance in a different way.

With some healthy self-awareness, you can make the most of this transit, whether you achieve it by focusing your  imagination, seeing through the spin, dissolving limiting structures, committed spiritual practice, or taking responsibility for escapist behaviors.

Saturn Square Neptune 2015-2016 Dates of Exact Alignment

  • November 26, 2015 – 7° Sagittarius/Pisces
  • June 17, 2016 – 12° Sagittarius/Pisces
  • September 10, 2016 – 10° Sagittarius/Pisces

Notes and Sources

(1) Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World (1897), Chapter XII

(3)The Chronicle of Jazz by Mervyn Crooke,

(4) Davis, Miles & Troupe, Quincy (1990). Miles: The Autobiography. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-63504-2.

(6) In one of the most dramatic scenes from the first season of How to Get Away with Murder, actress Viola Davis, who has natal Saturn trine Neptune, reveals the lengths women (and here, black women specifically) go through to achieve a culture standard of beauty as she dramatically removes her wig and makeup at the end of the day, revealing her “true” self underneath.

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