Ariadne Sleeping                                 Photo credit:  Helen Simonsson

Ariadne Sleeping                                 Photo credit: Helen Simonsson

The Saturn Neptune square is one of the significant transits of the year, and while there are diverse expressions of this transit, I want to explore disillusionment and what that has to do with maturity and growing down. 

Having met a couple weeks ago on June 17th, Saturn and Neptune will square once more in September before parting ways. Given that this energy will continue through the summer it’s a good time to reflect on how it is showing up and what these gods may want from us. I’ve always had the image of life as a great river, and learning how to work with the archetypal and psychological energies that live through me is like learning how to be in accord with the flow of the river of life. That’s what astrology is about---it helps us become aware and attune to the energies of the time, both inner and outer. And beneath the complicated language and symbolism live the gods of the archetypal imagination and that is why I work with the great stories, myths, and legends, as they are what help me imagine into the flow of life with more depth and reverence. 

Saturn and Neptune can be inimical to one another. With Saturn we are dealing psychologically with ego-boundaries and our sense of reality, both of which are related to experience of separateness, I as distinct from you. Neptune on the other hand embodies the deep and often unconscious desire to go beyond that sense of being a separate ego-conscious self and to merge with something greater. Spiritual redemption, our desire to return to Paradise (mother, womb, nest, Eden) is a Neptunian need. Think of the vast cosmic ocean where we are each a small foamy wave that will eventually drop back into the whole. Dreams also lie within Neptune’s domain, and idealizations, the yearning for the ideal. 

The cyclical meetings between these two combine somewhat opposing needs of individual form and union through dissolution. So we find that together they have much to say about the relationship between our dreams as well as idealizations and reality. When our idealizations come crashing down by the force of a reality check, what sets in is often an experience of disillusionment. This is one of the manifestations of the square aspect between Saturn and Neptune. Dynamic and challenging, the square necessitates movement and transformation of the two energies involved. So it can feel hard, sobering and deflating. 

Reflecting on the experience of idealizations and disillusionment, or the world’s way of reality checking (Saturn) that part of us that carries an innocence fueled by a need for redemption (Neptune), I began to think about Ariadne, the Cretan princess of Greek myth. Not only does her story have much to say about this experience but she is also a Neptunian figure. 

Ariadne is the daughter of King Minos of Crete who had built a great labyrinth for the Minotaur. As Mistress of the Labyrinth she knows its secrets, how to move in and out. In the island mythology of Crete it was believed that the afterworld was a water realm, whereas in mainland Greece the underworld was the place where souls departed. As Priestess and Mistress of the Labyrinth of life and death Ariadne is connected to the ancient Neolithic goddess traditions, and she reveals a facet of the death goddess whose waters receive the dead. This power to return to the source of the eternal waters of life, Neptune’s cosmic flux of form, is Ariadne’s. 

When the Greek hero Theseus arrives with the sacrificial Athenian youths Ariadne bids him to sacrifice the Minotaur to Poseidon (Roman Neptune), as she knows proper sacrifice. Making death sacred as it serves to seed new life is another facet of Neptune who dissolves what was so that a more spiritual awareness can be born. 

Falling in love, Ariadne becomes Theseus’ accomplice and helps him navigate and return from the maze by using a ball of golden thread to retrace his steps. Other versions of the tale say she gave him a golden crown that shines of its own light by which he could see his way. Death lies at the center of this labyrinthine journey for the Minotaur, and once Theseus remerges he and Ariadne flee Crete and set sail for Athens where they plan to marry.  

But something awful happens. Their ship sets anchor off the island of Dia (or Naxos) and Ariadne and Theseus go to shore for a little while. Ariadne is tired, and she lies down to rest and falls asleep. Is it minutes or hours that go by? Was it the warmth of the Sun, her grandfather, that caused her sudden weariness? Was it Hermes who contrived to take Theseus away at Athena’s behest? Ariadne is pulled into the Neptunian dream realm and when she awakes she is alone. The man whom she helped kill her half-brother and flee her family’s rightful revenge has abandoned her. 

Imagine all the energy that coursed through her blood and psyche toward a new life, free from the entanglements of her family, their curse and history. She was in love and sailing towards a life with her hero Theseus, to be his wife, to become Queen. All of that possibility, all that hope, the dream of her freedom and the buoyancy of love, is gone. Neptunian visions met with Saturn’s ‘this world’ comes hard. 

In the dissolution of all that she imagined, dreamed, and hoped would come to pass by with Theseus and leaving Crete, her disillusionment takes root. Alone on that damned island, cold hard reality sets in. (Isolation often accompanies strong Saturn transits, as what separates us as individuals can also be what cut us off from others.) She is not on the ship sailing to a new life, she and Theseus are not discussing their wedding, she is not excitedly anticipating seeing for herself the great temples of Athens, her new home. And who she thought Theseus was, the lover’s idealization has come crashing down. Where she believed him a hero he has now shown himself a coward. Where she believed he spoke truthfully of love and marriage she hears now only his guile in pursuit of his aims. 

Ariadne. Ist century BC. Florence, Museo Archeologico. Credit: Warburg Institute Iconographic Database.

Ariadne. Ist century BC. Florence, Museo Archeologico. Credit: Warburg Institute Iconographic Database.

The disappointment and disillusionment is a presage of something more enduring, solid and real taking form so long as we work it. Perhaps it is seeing that what we may have always hoped would happen in some quarter of our life will not pan out; there are no solid legs on that dream. It can also be that something is falling apart and we need to be with that truth rather than denying it. Or, what was once true and full of life and possibility no longer carries the life spirit and a new vision is needed, one that will prove supportive of life. 

Ariadne’s story gets us imagining further into our own places of confusion, pain and hard knocks. But all is not lost, her story does not end here. In fact it is as if all the pain and confusion and despair leads to something profound. Dionysus finds her on this little island, a fragment of Sappho’s feels suggestive of his style of arrival, “having come from heaven wrapped in a purple cloak” . He falls in love with her and she with him; so deep is their love that when they marry she becomes an immortal and he remains eternally true to her. 

This unexpected movement in Ariadne’s story is central. By enduring the disillusionment and despair of all she thought was hopefully going to happen with Theseus leads her to what in fact is deep and true. Coming to this however required everything that lead to it: the betrayal of her family, her idealized love of Theseus and her abandonment. Her capacity to be alone with all of these realities, to taste each humiliation, watch each fantasy dissolve, lead to her maturity. Where she was caught in the young hero, she came to find herself and become the partner of a god. Struggle, sacrifice and pain can be agents of metamorphosis in our lives. 

“Every ideal, however glorious, must ultimately accommodate the reality of the world and human nature if it is to be anchored in life and bear worthwhile fruit” writes Liz Greene on Saturn Neptune. Saturn seeks to bring to earth the potential vision and anchor it by building something solid. Disillusionment and despair arise from this contact with reality, but these feelings serve to make clear, clear out, and direct life energy towards what is real and what is solid ground. 

Ariadne’s story also gets us imagining into what Saturn and Neptune want---acknowledgment of the natural disillusionment we come to face in our lives, whether we are feeling this in our relationships, our work, creative process, or day to day life, and with that awareness to turn despair into action. The reality check to our idealism is an opportunity to harness that energy and move it towards rebuilding on solid ground. There is something about humility that Saturn is bringing into focus, not to have us feel small but closer to the ground. In Saint Augustine’s words, "Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility". 

Where the Saturn Neptune square is transiting in your chart indicates the field of your life where these issues are arising and looking for consciousness. Perhaps it is in the area of your work life that your idealistic projections have been suddenly withdrawn by turns of events and you feel like you are seeing the dark side. In personal relationships this can take the feeling of disappointment, which makes for a heavy heart. Maybe the state of the world is weighing on you and you cannot help but read the news with a dark eye. I think we can see Saturn Neptune in the recent UK referendum to leave the EU, insularity and separateness (Saturn) as a response to disillusionment with a larger vision (Neptune).  

With the falling away of idealizations comes room for the building of what is solid, strong, real. Ariadne’s abandonment and despair are the conditions that lead to maturity, love and sovereignty. Come into alignment with what you need to sow the ground of your life with the seeds that will grow into real fruit of nourishment and satisfaction. That’s Saturn in his role as lord of the harvest. But it takes hard work, and this is what he is asking for as he stomps around on our daydreams. Feeling disillusioned? Perhaps that’s good because that means the fog, as in the projection, is lifting. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s the hallmark of maturity to see through our idealizations and take back our projections.

Through this transit we are invited to see things more clearly, balanced, less one-sided. What really matters to you in the area of your life where these feelings and experiences are happening? When you start to get clear with yourself on that, then comes working with the vision that carries Saturn’s gifts. What is important, what is grounded and true, and how will you move towards it? 

Transit details:

Saturn is retrograde in Sagittarius, and in July he will be move only 1°, from 11° to 10°, because he is stationing (slowing down) to go direct on August 13th. Neptune is 12° Pisces and by August he will be at 11°. So from now through October they remain in contact, with the exact and final square the first half of September.