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Saturn-Moon-Phoebe: Ties Which Twine, Bind, and Remind

by Boots Hart, CAP on December 1, 2009

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Back on October 7, NASA sent out a bulletin about a huge, new ring belonging to planet Saturn. Since astrology accepts Saturn as being all about structural growth achieved through diligent, thoughtful effort (at one end of the spectrum) and blockades, self-imposed limits/boundaries and experiences of being rejected, abandoned, frightened at the other, what can a new ring add to our understanding?

Answer: a lot. Maybe not so much to our knowledge about the metaphysical Saturn, but certainly why it’s reputation is what it is. And to an interesting degree, how that operates. All this in a ring? Yes, when said ring outlines the whole of Saturn’s planetary “system” because it is defined by—and in all likelihood is a product of—Phoebe, Saturn’s outermost moon.

So let’s start with the obvious: who’s Phoebe? Phoebe originates in Greek mythology as a Titan. And Titans are entities we’d associate with basic “shaping” energies. Titans don’t create the world but are primal children of the Greek world Creators. They do errands for mom and pop Creation by doing a little mountain building over here…and little river carving over there—or in the case of  Atlas, by holding up the sky for all eternity.

Through marriage to one of her brothers (necessary in those early mythic days if even then not exactly wholesome), Phoebe gives birth to Leto, she who in later myths would send her own kids (Apollo and Artemis) out to slaughter those of Niobe (pride). The part of this we care about is the mythic/archetypal signature of legacy—you know, bad blood in the blood family. That Artemis, the Moon, and Apollo, the Sun, are together the lights of our life—and yet taught as children to be killers—says something about us at a totally primal level. It also provides us with our first hint that Phoebe has dark issues. And that there’s a dotted line between Phoebe and (astrologically) Artemis Moon in particular. Why? That’s because NASA’s cheery announcement included the fact that Phoebe orbits Saturn at an angle 27 degrees off the plane of Saturn’s belt of rings.

What links that to Earth’s satellite, our Moon? Ah…! That’s the metaphysics of it all, my fine grasshopper! Twenty-seven is the length (in days) of our Moon’s Tropical, Sidereal, Anomalistic and Draconic lunar months…give or take fractions of a day between them. Do these lunar months say anything about Phoebe? Yes, but only in comparison—which asks that before we get to the “comparing part,” we do a brief review of said lunar months so we know what we’re comparing to.

The Tropical month measures how long it takes the Moon to get from the degree of a given New Moon to that same degree almost a month later. In being degree-to-degree and not New Moon to New Moon, this is a “confined” or focused cycle. A cycle which focuses on one degree—or one idea. Being that the actual New Moon advances one sign (nearly) every month (there are a few exceptions) means this month’s New Moon sign is the sign immediately behind that any next month’s New Moon. This is what astrologers call being in a “12th house” harmonic, which is linked to the idea of letting things be what they will be. It’s about having faith. Or to put this more in lunar astrology (personal timing) terms, this is the “Balsamic phase” effect. And no, that’s not about a tasty vinegar. It’s about completions. Letting go of things (projects, relationships and efforts).

For those into exactitudes, the Balsamic phase actually begins at 15 Aquarius, which should ring a bell with anyone who remembers that Neptune (secondary ruler of all “12th” harmonic steps, signs and houses) is in the process of returning to its position of discovery. And that said return is occurring in a Balsamic degree (Neptune’s Return in the Daykeeper archives contains more information on this subject). This supports the idea that ways of living and thinking which have been in play since Neptune’s discovery 164 years ago are now ending. It also suggests that we, right at this moment, are experiencing a vital phase in the shift from the Age of Pisces into the Aquarian Age—for good and challenging of our ills.

But enough of that…back to lunar cycle types. Against the focused Tropical month of 27.3216 days, there’s also a 27.3217-day-long Sidereal month. As in all other things Sidereal, this month tracks an Earthly position against the surrounding cosmos using “fixed” stars as signposts. (And yes, those stars do move, they just look fixed!) The idea in All Things Sidereal is that we here on Earth look up at the vastness of the cosmos, measuring ourselves against the unfathomable depth and potential of the universe. Or eternity. Sidereal astrology (on a whole) tends to be of the more fate oriented, less “psychologically” (free will/choice) driven kind.

And wait—there’s more! As we remember the Moon’s Lunar Nodes as part of the cosmic clockwork timing events and shifts of earthy, Earthly society (and the intersecting of our individual lives with society), the month timed from intersection with one node all the way around back to that node becomes another form of lunar month: the Draconic month. Draconic months are 27.2122 days long and considering their definition deserve much study as timers of politics, business …and maybe even things like epidemics.

Last on the list is the Anomalistic month—a 27.5546-day-long cycle which tracks the Moon from perigee to perigee, that perigee being when the Moon is closest to Earth and thus theoretically (symbolically) in a position of strong effect. The Anomalistic month emphasizes our ability to integrate the conscious and unconscious (realization/self discovery) either individually or against the mortal “long term” of our life on Earth.

All this happens every 27 days—which may make for an interesting project for you to chart on some personal calendar. Yet none of it is the factual length of the Moon’s orbital month. That physical reality is 29.53 days long, mirroring Saturn’s orbit, which is 29.46 years long. The similarity of these orbits is a prime example of the micro/macrocosm of it all, both in reality and in our personal lives: the Moon as childhood, Saturn as adulthood. The Moon as adaptiveness and permeability, Saturn as durable structure and limits/limitations. The Moon is whim, neediness, dependence and personal ineptitude (or helplessness) against Saturn as the ability to postpone gratification, be responsible, deal with rejection, and handle obligations which include others (friends, family,  appointments, job/social/moral obligations, etc.).

In this is the important message that astrologically it’s the balance between the Moon and Saturn in your chart which outlines how well you manage/balance these principles starting out. And what you need to learn, lest you be(come) limited by. Particularly when a Moon and Saturn are in strong (Ptolomeic) aspect by conjunction, square, opposition or inconjunct, or when one of them is really strong (or) suppressed/compromised, such things mark important life challenges.

Can we actually change those dynamics? Well, if you believe primarily in fate, no. If you believe we’re given challenges in order to provoke growth and learn more so as to become a person we’re “meant” to be, yes. At some level both ideas are forms of “fate”—it’s just that one is called “fated” and the other is called “purpose,” with the divider being whether you think challenges to the emotional status quo are something to work through or merely to weather.

One more lunar month to be discussed—the traditional New Moon cycle. Being measured from New Moon to New Moon, it’s (approximately) two days longer than any of the other “lunar months,” explaining why from month to month the New Moon occurs in succeeding signs. Symbolically, this physical/time difference tells us that while in the short (Tropical, Sidereal, Anomalistic or Draconic) run there’s much of value to be learned, experienced and delved into, in the end, life moves on. The New Moon moving from sign to sign every month is a reality-based image of life moving on, shifting us from one subject/department/life emphasis (sign) to another.

And it’s through this difference between the New Moon cycle and the Tropical-Sidereal-Anomalistic-Draconic month lengths that we see the linkage between Moon/Saturn, Phoebe/Saturn and Phoebe/Moon. The reality-based cycles of the Moon and Saturn are associated with the number 29. Phoebe’s relationship to Saturn is based on the number 27—as are all the more subjective/experiential cycles of our local Moon. And in all of this, Saturn, symbol of reality, achievement, fear, determination…that’s the link. Phoebe is Saturn’s moon—there’s no getting away from that. And Saturn is the macrocosmic symbol of all we build on a month-to-month basis.

Another thing to remember here about our Artemis Moon. It represents our reactive nature: our emotions, our heritage. As the Moon reflects the light of the Sun, so our experiences reflect our responses to life events. Against this—and maybe in part because of this—Saturn’s 29-year-long  orbit and position as the symbol of our farthest mortal reach represents the extent of our grasp. The totality of our achievements as people. Long ago, Saturn’s orbit described the usual length of a human life, leading us to why people were married and committed to having families at about age 14—at the Saturn half-cycle point. That process often began as people got to be about 11, that being the length of a Jupiter orbit with those customs having been inculcated into religions, a subject Jupiter rules.

But let’s stick with Saturn. Its first round of 29 years is now about learning the skills to live life in this world. Once we know how to operate, the next 29 years ask us what we’re going to do with our life (and challenges us to build that). The third round of Saturn for some is the reaping from achievements and for others the reconciliation with what they didn’t learn starting out and possibly the dealing with that and building from there. Sometimes both. Whatever that Saturn process is, we work on it month in and month out. Theoretically, every month—every 29 days—we push the effort a little farther. We put another brick on the wall. We get a little closer to building towards our goal, dealing with the reality of our world recognitions which help construct the totality of our lives.

Saturn's outermost moon, Phoebe (NASA)

Saturn's outermost moon, Phoebe (NASA)

In this we now add Phoebe. Does it’s “off the beaten (Saturn) path” represent our ability to be or get off track? Does it in part represent the distance between emotionalism and factual reality and our need to reconcile these? Or at least recognize that they’re not the same thing? Given that Phoebe appears to be a captured asteroid, does this body represent the orphan which has been adopted or our needs to become ever-more integrated at various levels? Is Phoebe the rogue impulse which is dominated, tamed, taught or governed by the enormity of Saturn as societal structure or the need to learn or acquire self-discipline in order to achieve?

Described as being different from any of Saturn’s other moons in that it’s “as dark as lampblack” (Wikipedia), Phoebe is by chemical nature “primitive,” meaning it was physically created during the formation/formulation of our solar system without having changed much in the eons since. This suggests that whatever Phoebe is, it symbolizes energies which is not reflective and is entirely primal.

So Phoebe is less about rational logic and more about instinct, which at some harmonic level affects or provokes our Saturn/Moon linkage. Thinking in greater symbolic terms, this may account for Saturn’s association with fear, sadness, abandonment and loss—all instinctive, reactive emotions either about letting go or fears/trepidations associated with moving into something new (i.e., change).

Does that mean that Phoebe represents things which give us that “jolt” which get us back into present tense, the vital moment—and thus why Saturn has acquired the reputation for being a party-spoiler? Maybe. Yet remembering that all astrological symbols are doors which swing both ways, Phoebe may also represent factors which wrench us out of the moment. That which make it impossible to stay in the moment—the extremities of emotional shock or fear which we never forget. Or which perhaps even traumatize us. In this combination, Phoebe may represent our ability or inability to reflect, recognize something or learn—today or in the future. In linking the Moon with Saturn, Phoebe may also refer to situations which color our “beginnings” as the Moon rules childhood and Saturn symbolizes adulthood. Seen in this light, Phoebe may represent all those things which “get in the way,” be that the classic bad childhood or the overprotective, sheltered youth which produces maybe a spoiled or perhaps just an inexperienced adult.

Whatever it is, Phoebe’s “lampblack” quality suggests it represents some sort of “being in the dark,” and thus an inability see. As a moon of Saturn (achievement) this suggests we can never see the total scope or consequence of what we do. But does that mean we are not responsible for it? Probably not—Phoebe is still Saturn’s moon. Ultimately Saturn (responsibility) is the big dog here, and that may be another part of the signature Phoebe lesson. But that we can’t see all consequences of what we do? That may well be why so many people have so much trouble starting anything they can’t prove is going to turn out the way they want it to. No wonder so many people think Saturn’s “demands” are so terribly depressing and even menacing!

But are they? Given that Phoebe links to the Moon through the 27-day personal/reflective cycles, that’s probably more about the short-term versus long-term picture. Or to put it in harmonic terms, our ability to let go and get on with life…to move from the personal and more contemplative realm into that which is more physical, worldly and factual.

Another point offered by NASA is that dark object Phoebe rotates around Saturn against Saturn’s orbit. Up until now, the only moon known to do this is Triton, moon of Neptune. But again, this is interesting and evocative: just as Neptune stands at the boundary between the knowable and unknowable, Saturn stands at the metaphysical boundary between that we can and cannot control through personal effort. In Triton’s case, the reverse orbit symbolically (and maybe physically) extends Neptune’s planetary influence far into the Kuiper Belt—that realm beyond Neptune. Phoebe may serve some similar purpose although it’s a far, far smaller object. Triton is 15th in a lineup of celestial objects in our solar system—Phoebe doesn’t even make it into the list of the top 80.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t “do” anything. Living in the planetary land of rings, Phoebe has collected (and maybe shed bits into) its own ring around its parent planet. But being small within that planet’s gravity system, Phoebe also ends up raining bits of cosmic insult inward—as it happens, onto Iapetus, another of Saturn’s moons.

Large enough to rank 24th behind the Sun in local solar system size, Iapetus has a whole Google of stories to contemplate. Suffice it to say, most of these suggest that given Iapetus’ position  between Phoebe and Saturn, it symbolizes everything we humans endure or avoid (the difficulties, the work, the self-questioning) in either growing from (out of) our “darkened” Phoebe state…or what we end up going through because we are so incredibly (emotionally?) blind as to resist our  own potential. Phoebe’s rain of cosmic insults on Iapetus? That may be the urging. It may be the punishment. Or both. How this works in your chart again depends on your natal Saturn/Moon  relationship—and how you choose to see things (the operative word there being “choose”).

In total we thus get something of a celestial fable…For some, Phoebe is undoubtedly their “road less traveled,” which causes them to emerge as great thinkers or achievers in spite of enormous setbacks, challenges and flack along the way. For some, the Iapetus theme which pictures Iapetus as a form of Japheth-as-son-of-Noah will speak to negatives passed from generation to generation  as we saw in the original story where Phoebe’s grandchildren (Apollo and Artemis) are taught to be killers. Maybe it’s not physical, that killing. It may not even be intentional. But there’s a lot of emotional warpage in families. And inherited from societies. Being willing to see it is one challenge. Being willing to get past it—that’s a whole other challenge. And taking it on in society or against the grain of one’s culture? That’s yet another thing.

We could go on here—there’s a lot of wonderful lore about Saturn as the Chinese and Japanese “Earth Star,” the Hindu “Sani” or “Shani” (judge of what one has/hasn’t done), the Hebrew  “Shabbathi” which links to angels Cassiel (solitude and tears), Agiel/Iayga (the intelligent, beneficial guardian spirit), Zazel (Solomonic magical love) and Qafsiel, who again links us to the Moon. All these ideas come down to us through our cultures, our religions—and in doing so reveal links between astrological metaphysics, spirituality, science and the many thick rivers of human experiences painful and brilliant.…

But for now let’s finish by noting that Phoebe’s orbit of Saturn takes just over 18 months—another echo of our Earth’s Lunar Nodes which circle the zodiac in just over 18 years. So maybe the most important thing to recognize here is that what we do does matter, and that we matter as a member of our society and the world in which we live.

As with any new discovery, a full understanding of Phoebe will take years. In the interim, understanding it links the Moon and Saturn (and through them, many of life’s important themes) seems enough. We are always being asked by life if we’re willing to grow, and given new challenges through which to so do. Life is integrally tied together—maybe more now than ever. And the more we realize that…? Well, in that probably stands our chance to be effective and satisfied in the short and long runs.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

rosemary December 3, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Thank you for explaining, at length, the ‘process’ of Saturn (and her moons) cycles and how it affects each of us; depending on the placement in our own charts. In particular, I learned some mythology and specifics about lengths of cycle’s, also nodes; the 12th harmonic and ‘draconic’. Other ancient religions name for Saturn. Fascinating! PS. Saturn (ruler of my asc.) trines my Moon at MC ; located in the sixth; in Cancer. I’m a ‘work a holic.’

eva longoria May 26, 2010 at 9:25 pm

i love what you have done here, i love it!

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