Staying Sane in Transformative Times:

The Personal Meaning of the Saturn/Pluto Opposition

Copyright Kathy Biehl 2002. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted for non-commercial electronic replication of this article, as long as you include the copyright notice.

If you’ve been walking around dazed for the past couple of months, take heart: You’ve got company. Lots of it. Every year brings its challenging astrological aspects and times of trouble, but this year has been a doozy. The world, life, even reality as we knew it simply does not exist anymore. Dramatic change has grabbed the reins of global and national events and is yanking us into directions that were previously unthinkable. Society at large isn’t the only thing being affected by this phenomenon. It has an intensely personal impact, too. What we saw happening to the World Trade Center towers is going on inside every one of us.

The catalyst for this seemingly universal upheaval is an opposition between the planets Saturn and Pluto. An opposition is a relationship of great tension. It’s much like two intense forces pulling a rubber band as far as it will go, and then some — or two enormous powers at either end of a cosmic seesaw. At one end of the equation is Saturn, the taskmaster. This planet symbolizes rules, structures, lessons, limitations, corporations, financial institutions and hierarchies of any kind, and all the “shoulds” that society dictates. It’s moving through the middle of the air sign Gemini, which governs communication (the mail, newspapers, TV news) and short distance travel. At the other end is Pluto, the mythological lord of the underworld. It specializes in the monsters from the depths of our psyches — terror, obsession, paranoia — and, above all, death and transformation. This planet is in the middle degrees of the sign of Sagittarius, which deals with religion and belief systems, laws, foreigners, and long-distance travel.

The themes of these planets and signs should ring very familiar. You could post them in columns and throw darts randomly at the entries, and every hit would spell out something that we’ve witnessed this fall.

All of these events are metaphors in some way for our own experiences right now. We’re in a cycle of rigid structures meeting uncontrollable transformative forces from within, and the result is implosions all around. The very foundations of our sense of security have been blown up. It may not be that we’re really any less safe or secure than we were before; the difference is that the dangers are no longer hidden (or capable of being ignored).

The personal impact is taking a lot of other forms as well. Think of all the people you know who’ve been laid off since the middle of September. Think of all the interpersonal polarizing and warring you’ve witnessed — and engaged in — these past few months. (Just exactly who is your enemy? That’s a fruitful question to ponder right now.) Think of the ground rules, presumptions, and suppositions that used to govern your life and just don’t fit anymore. Think of how many intimate and meaningful conversations you’ve had lately. How many old friends people from the past you’ve reconnected with. How many dormant talents and interests you’ve found yourself expressing and pursuing.

The planets are doing a three-part dance that began at the beginning of August 2001, the first time the opposition was exact. After that, Saturn moved ahead a bit and then went retrograde, which means it appeared to be moving backwards from our vantage point here on earth. At the beginning of November, they lined up again in another exact opposition. The final line-up will be on May 25, 2002. The effects of the final pass will be with us for most of the rest of the year, thanks to a lunar eclipse that will occur the very next day. The effect of a lunar eclipse is about six months, which is the length of time it takes the energy to disperse. Since May’s eclipse will be colored by the tension of the opposition, that tension will ride forward into the year along with the energy of the eclipse.

Though the opposition is happening three times, each one has a slightly different impact. As with any Pluto transit, the first hit is the stunner, dredging up all kinds of goodies from the darkness and dumping them messily around us. By the time of the second pass, the shock of the excavation (or eruption) has pretty much worn off, and the new impact propels us into starting to think about what to do with or about the muck and the rubble. When the third opposition locks in, it’s time to act on what you’ve been thinking about.

We’re coming up on the last stage of the cycle. We’ve been coming to grips with the fact that life is not going to return to what it was, and it’s been time for the last few months to formulate (or at least brainstorm) game plans. Putting them into place can wait till the final pass of the conjunction, or later. Do not put pressure on yourself to make long-range decisions and commitments just yet. True, changes can be made, jobs can be found and accepted, relationships can be entered in. Life isn’t stopping. Still, keep in mind that we’re walking around on constantly shifting ground. Our world is very much in flux, and situations you bind yourself to now may not feel quite right as this process develops.

The bad news is that the tension isn’t going to settle down for months. The good news is that the tension isn’t here merely to make us terrified and miserable. It’s propelling us into revamping our lives, ourselves and our experience of reality — and giving us a good long stretch of time to set up new structures.

This is not to say that triage won’t be necessary at times. You may well hit limits in what you can tolerate and may need to make a split-decision decision when you are suddenly unable to endure a situation any longer. You may need to scramble for work, quickly, if your job or source of income gets pulled out from under you. If either of these happens, there’s a blessing in having to act fast: You will not have the luxury of time to worry and analyze. Instead, you will act absolutely from base survival instinct. And in the work arena particularly, odds are you will unthinkingly grab traits, talents and skills that are immediately at your disposal, without retraining. And odds are what you latch on to will be much more in line with the true essence of your being.

Which leads to the true gift of this opposition: Everything is up for reassessment, including our definitions of ourselves. The light’s being shined onto our prejudices, assumptions, fears and priorities. Each of us is being shown our personal bottom line. The concept of what’s important to us is no longer merely theoretical, or something you put off until retirement. It’s a mandate for living, now.

Once we move beyond the intensity of fear, we can live more intensely in a positive way. This transit is giving us the opportunity and the power to strip away anything that does not fit our priorities. This is a superb time for therapy; Pluto’s relentlessness makes breakthroughs possible that might have required years of analysis at earlier times. It’s also a terrific time to brainstorm scenarios for your future that are bigger and more powerful than anything you ever let yourself contemplate before. Redefine yourself. I promise you it will be going on all around, and you will not stick out and draw uncomfortable attention to yourself if you do this. In fact, you may be in the minority if you do not. Figure out who you really are and then be it.

If a situation in your life doesn’t work, makes you miserable or simply goes away, this is not the time to hang on and redouble your efforts in that arena. Let go. So you had a monster parent? Drop the fixation, be your own parent, and move on. Your boss is crazy? Turn your back on the drama; find another job if you have to. Your heart’s broken worse than it’s ever been? Mourning is appropriate, but so is release. Cry; throw temper tantrums; beat your pillows into shreds — then move on. Don’t fight change; allow situations and things to leave your life.

Do some metaphoric closet cleaning, too. Reassess your beliefs and values, your relationships, your obligations and your investments (energetic as well as financial).Throw out your attachment to concepts and situations that no longer fit life as it is now. While you’re at it, here’s a new one to play with: Approach other people with an awareness of how much you are alike, rather than how much you are different. You’ll be ahead of the game. That kind of realization is where Pluto in particular is leading us years down the line, once society as a whole gets past the current black-and-white Us vs. Them dynamic.

A little physical closet-cleaning wouldn’t hurt now, either. Get rid of possessions that don’t work or don’t mean anything or aren’t of use to you anymore. The space you free up, metaphorically and physically, will provide room for the new structures that you’ll be putting in place.

In the meantime, one word of advice: Give slack, to yourself and, as much as you can, everyone around you. We’re all going nuts with tension. Make an effort to pick your battles consciously. That sales clerk who snaps at you probably has not singled you out and probably has any number of valid reasons for being on edge. By the same token, go easy on yourself. Consciously do things to relax and rejuvenate your body and your spirit. A lot of people have slid back into bad habits this fall, taking refuge in drinking, smoking and comforting but ultimately unhealthy food. Don’t numb the tension; work it out. Talk to people; go to the gym; stomp around the trails of the Arboretum. Indulge in little comforts that makes you feel good and pampered. And be kind and patient with yourself.

Want more insight? Try my guided visualization CD “Thriving in Times of Change.” It’s designed to review your life, clear out the past and explore the positive possibilities of the future.

Kathy Biehl is an attorney, Tarot master and astrologer whose career has bridged intuition and the rational mind for more than 20 years. Contact her at