Image by Carsten Clasohm

By Arwynne O’Neill

"The Saturn-Neptune cycle is one of history's most important clocks to watch. It is, in essence, about the tense relationship between reality and fantasy; between concrete knowledge and what we take on faith; between the tangible world and the imagination." -- Eric Francis

THE OPPOSITION of Saturn and Neptune will be one of the most influential planetary aspects of the coming year and, because the third and final opposition occurs in June 2007, we will probably feel the effects of these two planets facing off for the better part of two years. Indeed, it's likely that much of what we've been experiencing in the world for the past year or more is associated with the opposition, which is the peak of the Saturn-Neptune cycle.

The exact dates and degrees of the Saturn-Neptune Conjunctions and Oppositions from 1899-2007 are listed at the end of this article. Also, several versions of the charts for the 2006-2007 series are published in the Parallel Worlds charts resource area.

Symbolically speaking, Saturn and Neptune are essentially opposites. Saturn represents established institutions and traditions, the forces that regulate, control and govern society. Neptune, in turn, represents spirituality and escapism, dreams and delusions, idealism, propaganda and paranoia.

Delving into the history of any astrological cycle, one looks for common themes, events on the timeline that stand out as points of connection between the historical and the archetypal. September 11, 2001, for example, can be seen as a symbol of the Saturn-Pluto opposition at its most destructive. As well, when Saturn moves from Cancer into Leo, not only do floods and breached dams occur more frequently, they are also metaphorically illustrative of the energy released when Saturn is in Leo. The Saturn-Neptune timeline offers us many such events.

Concrete Dreams & Killer Fog

On September 8, 1900 during the first Saturn-Neptune opposition of the 20th Century, the deadliest hurricane in US history claimed more than 6,000 lives in Galveston, Texas. Half a cycle later, the First World War took a death toll of 8.6 million. As homecoming soldiers crossed the oceans, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 swept the globe, infecting one fifth of the world's population and taking over 25 million lives.

On March 1, 1936 with Saturn and Neptune again in opposition, construction on the Hoover Dam was completed and, in 1938, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge opened. These structures are modern marvels of engineering, symbols of human ingenuity and of bold ideas made into a stunning reality of concrete and steel. (If you feel tempted to proclaim Saturn the victor in this round, consider that the lure of Neptune is never farther than a short drop from Golden Gate's low guardrail, the chosen site of more than 1,200 suicides -- almost two every month -- since its opening.)

In December 1952, a "killer fog" (possibly the most Saturn-Neptunian phrase ever written) descended on London and combined with a thick haze of industrial smoke to cover the city. Besides inspiring journalists to invent a brand-new word, the "Great Smog of 1952," it was the cause of more than 4,000 deaths in one winter. Looking on the bright side (it was, after all, a Libra conjunction), this tragedy inspired some of the first regulations ever passed regarding chemical emissions and air pollution.

On March 24, 1989, Saturn and Neptune were conjunct in Capricorn and the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground, spilling 240,000 barrels -- 11 million gallons -- of oil into the ocean.


Another Brick in the Wall

Throughout the 20th Century, many astrologers took note of how the Saturn-Neptune cycle paralleled the rise and fall of Communism, beginning with the conjunction of 1917.

The Sabian Symbol for 5 degrees Leo, the degree of the exact conjunction is:

" Rock formations at the edge of a precipice... the constitution of reality in crisis, offering a challenge to man... until action or decision becomes an immediate necessity." -- Dr. Marc Edmund Jones, "The Sabian Symbols"

The Russian Revolution started on February 23, 1917 when Czar Nicholas II was overthrown and executed, along with his wife and children; Saturn and Neptune were within one degree of each other. On October 25th, thousands of peasants, soldiers and factory workers, men and women, led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, seized control from the Provisional Government in an almost bloodless coup and ushered in the era of the Soviet Union.

Throughout the following opposition, from 1936-1938, the Soviet government's Great Purge under Joseph Stalin was at its peak. During this brief period, mass arrests and "show trials" were carried out and millions were imprisoned, executed or sent into exile. Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union for 29 years before his death in 1953, just as Saturn and Neptune were nearing their conjunction in Libra.

Of course, Communism is not the only system subject to severe periods of testing under the combined influence of Saturn and Neptune; any system that rules by repression or deception on a massive scale is susceptible.

Saturn and Neptune were in opposition in Gemini and Sagittarius on September 9, 1971 when riots broke out and inmates seized control at Attica Correctional Facility in New York. The five-day standoff ended when 1,000 National Guard and state police stormed the prison, leaving 43 dead, including 11 hostages. In the aftermath of the uprising, the public became aware for the first time of the inmates' grievances and the prison conditions that had led to the riots.

On April 24 of the same year, 500,000 demonstrators rallied against the Vietnam War in Washington, DC with Saturn and Neptune still in opposition. In June, the Pentagon Papers were published and, one year later, a break-in occurred at the Watergate Hotel, the investigation of which would ultimately lead to the exposure of government corruption at the highest levels and bring down the Nixon administration.

On January 30, 1972, when British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights march, killing 13 civilians, Northern Ireland's "Bloody Sunday" marked the beginning of its 25-year war against British rule.

By 1989, Saturn and Neptune had moved into a conjunction in Capricorn. On April 9, in the Soviet province of Georgia, the Red Army was called upon to break up a student rally and opened fire, killing 20, and injuring many more. On June 4, 1989, in Beijing, protests in Tiananmen Square turned into a massacre when tanks rolled through the crowd, killing over 2,000 demonstrators on live television.

It was that very day, however, that after 72 years, the era of Soviet Communism was (suddenly, it seemed) coming to an end. On June 4, free elections were held for the first time in Poland and the vote went against the Communist Party, sparking a chain reaction of peaceful protests and anti-communist revolutions across Eastern Europe.

On November 9, East Germany opened checkpoints in the Berlin Wall, allowing citizens to pass freely into West Germany. The next day, images of the wall coming down in spray paint-encrusted handfuls were broadcast all over the world. The wall, a decades-old symbol of the Communist "Iron Curtain," dividing east from west, was transformed overnight into a stage where the world trained its spotlight and shared in the celebration of freedom, peace and human solidarity.

A Taste of Armageddon

On November 1, 1952, the first deliverable hydrogen bomb was detonated in the Bikini atoll. Over the next 12 years, many of those islands would be rendered uninhabitable due to fallout from more than 20 nuclear detonations. Most of the tests were filmed by the Navy, whose leaders thought the demonstrations of the bomb would bolster patriotism. Decades later in 1987, the footage would have the exact opposite effect on audiences. At the beginning of the next Saturn-Neptune conjunction, documentary filmmaker Robert Stone released "Radio Bikini," compiled from 1952 test footage and interviews with navy men now dying of cancer. Very little narration was added -- or needed.

Nuclear tests continued throughout 1953 and would peak in the 1950s as the arms race escalated. Most of these tests took place in the Nevada desert, away from major cities; however, radiation was carried by the wind and inevitably spread to every corner of the US. In Nevada and Utah, nuclear fallout caused birth defects and death in people and livestock. Thousands of cases of radiation-related cancer were later discovered in human populations living in "hot spots" throughout the southwestern states.

As the Cold War raged in the 1950s and 60s, hundreds of atomic bombs were detonated each year, sometimes attracting thousands of spectators to watch the fireworks displays at a "safe distance" of one mile from ground zero. Military personnel were cautioned to wear sunglasses and not to look directly at the blast but were generally kept in the dark about the dangers of radiation.

It wasn't until February 11, 1971, when Saturn and Neptune were again in opposition, that the US, UK, USSR and other countries signed the Seabed Treaty, outlawing nuclear weapons. Even so, by November, the US was again conducting tests in the Aleutian Islands. It would take another 180 degree turn of these two planets for world events to erode away the rationale for a nuclear arsenal. It will, if we may hazard a prediction, take much more to dismantle the addiction to playing god.


Vengeance is Mine, Sayeth the Lord

Capital punishment cases never fail to arouse fierce debate and inspire deep introspection but it is during the meetings of Saturn and Neptune that they are most prominent in our collective consciousness. Under the influence of these polarized planets, some of the most notorious villains have achieved mythical status and some of the most contentious cases have caused us to wonder if "justice for all" is just a comforting cliché.

In 1899, Martha Place was executed by the state of New York for murdering her step-daughter with an axe; with Saturn and Neptune within a degree of opposition, she became the first woman to die in the electric chair. The conjunction in 1917-18 saw Mata Hari, infamous dancer-turned-WWI spy, executed by firing squad; and, during the opposition of 1936, Bruno Hauptmann was electrocuted for the kidnapping death of Charles and Anne Lindbergh's infant son, then considered "the Crime of the Century."

In one of the most controversial trials of the 20th Century, Communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were accused of selling nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Despite public outcries of an unfair trial and international pleas that included an appeal from the Pope, the couple was sent to the electric chair on June 19, 1953 as Saturn and Neptune approached their final conjunction in Libra.

Three months before the opposition was exact in 1971, Lt. William Calley stood trial for his role in the My Lai Massacre in which US soldiers shot and killed more than 347 Vietnamese villagers, mostly women, children and the elderly. Calley was convicted on March 29, 1971 and sentenced to life in prison for 22 counts of premeditated murder; the next day, President Nixon ordered his release and the sentence was later reduced to 10 years. After he had served three and a half years under house arrest, Calley's conviction was overturned and he was released.

Also on March 29, 1971 (a busy day for the law), Charles Manson was sentenced to death for planning seven homicides that were actually carried out by his "family" of devoted followers. The murders were apparently part of his elaborate (and very Saturn-Neptunian) scheme to start a global race war that would end with all (other) whites exterminated and with him as benevolent world leader. Manson's death sentence and those of his followers were automatically commuted to life imprisonment when the US briefly ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. Manson has since achieved a kind of cult status that is usually reserved for martyrs.

On January 24, 1989, with Saturn and Neptune conjunct in Capricorn, serial killer Ted Bundy was executed in the electric chair and mass-murderer Richard Ramirez (the "Night Stalker") was sentenced to death. Later that year, Aileen Wournos, "the world's first female serial killer," committed the first of seven murders which would eventually land her in the electric chair, and Marc Lépine killed fourteen female students at the École Polytechnique in Montreal.

While this article was being written, two death row cases suddenly made headlines in the national news. Nguyen Tuong Van, a young Australian who spent three years in a Singapore prison for smuggling, was hanged on December 2, 2005 despite international calls for clemency and pleas from Australia's Prime Minister.

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, reputed founder of the Crips gang in Los Angeles, was convicted of murder in 1981 and spent the next 24 years on death row trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his God. He became an anti-gang activist who wrote children's books about the dangers of gang life. He was portrayed by Jamie Foxx in a movie about his life and received a nomination in 2001 for the Nobel Peace Prize. By December 2005, the countdown to Williams' execution had become a daily fixture in international headlines but, in the end, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson put it, Governor Schwarzenegger "chose revenge over redemption." Williams' many supporters and death penalty opponents from all over the world, the Pope among them, denounced the execution as barbaric and senseless. By the time Williams was pronounced dead by lethal injection on December 13, a raging debate over the death penalty had been reborn.

The countries that perform the most executions per year are China, Iran, Vietnam, the United States and Saudi Arabia. According to CNN, public opposition to the death penalty has soared from 13% to 30% in the last ten years. Should we expect that number to rise over the next two years, as Saturn and Neptune oppose each other? And what can we expect from the biggest death penalty trial of the coming year -- that of the man said to be Saddam Hussein?

The Saturn-Neptune cycle forces us to examine our beliefs and how our institutions are honoring them; systems that are failing can suddenly crumble; others can be torn down and remade, stronger. By temporarily throwing the big picture into sharp focus, these two planets open windows of opportunity for societal transformation. Under their influence, the most powerful forces on earth can change hands, for better or worse.

On August 31, 2006, Saturn in Leo and Neptune in Aquarius will oppose each other for the first time this century. The Sabian Symbol for the 18th degree of Aquarius is:

"A MAN BEING UNMASKED. Secret motives may have purpose at the time, but they almost invariably become known in time. Secret motives being exposed. Having to face one's self. Coming to terms with judgments about one's true worth." -- Dr. Marc Edmund Jones, "The Sabian Symbols"


100 Years of Saturn-Neptune Conjunctions & Oppositions

1899-1900 Opposition

Saturn 22Sag02 Opposition Neptune 22Gemini02 Exact: February 16, 1899
Saturn 22Sag57 Opposition Neptune 22Gemini57 Exact: May 2, 1899
Saturn 25Sag42 Opposition Neptune 25Gemini42 Exact: December 14, 1899
Saturn 28Sag40 Opposition Neptune 28Gemini40 Exact: August 16, 1900
Saturn 29Sag16 Opposition Neptune 29Gemini16 Exact: October 4, 1900

1917 Conjunction

Saturn Conjunction Neptune at 4Leo45 Exact on August 1, 1917

1936-1937 Opposition

Saturn 14Pisces59 Opposition Neptune 14Virgo59 Exact: Mar. 21, 1936
Saturn 17Pisces26 Opposition Neptune 17Virgo26 Exact: Oct. 4, 1936
Saturn 18Pisces45 Opposition Neptune 18Virgo45 Exact: Jan. 18, 1937

1952-1953 Conjunction

Saturn Conjunction Neptune 22Libra47 Exact: November 21, 1952
Saturn Conjunction Neptune 21Libra38 Exact: May 17, 1953
Saturn Conjunction Neptune 21Libra12 Exact: July 22, 1953

1971-1972 Opposition

Saturn 0Gemini52 Opposition Neptune 0Sag52 Exact: June 25, 1971
Saturn 2Gemini53 Opposition Neptune 2Sag53 Exact: Nov. 27, 1971
Saturn 4Gemini46 Opposition Neptune 4Sag46 Exact: April 19, 1972

1989-1989 Conjunction

Saturn Conjunction Neptune 11Capricorn55 Exact: March 3, 1989
Saturn Conjunction Neptune 11Capricorn14 Exact: June 24, 1989
Saturn Conjunction Neptune 10Capricorn22 Exact: November 13, 1989

2006 Opposition

Saturn 17Leo53 Opposition Neptune 17Aquarius53 Exact: August 31, 2006
Saturn 20Leo15 Opposition Neptune 20Aquarius15 Exact: February 28, 2007
Saturn 21Leo47 Opposition Neptune 21Aquarius47 Exact: June 25, 2007
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