Unlimited possibilities are not suited to man; if they existed, his life would only dissolve in the boundless. To become strong, a man's life needs the limitations ordained by duty and voluntarily accepted. The individual attains significance as a free spirit only by surrounding himself with these limitations and by determining for himself what his duty is. - I Ching 60, 'Limitation'
Transiting Saturn retrogrades for about 140 days per year - just under five months - three times per sign. It’s hard to keep awareness of this in the moment, still less to track the qualitative difference between Saturn’s impact going direct and retro, yet it’s a useful way to calibrate a stressful time. Each zodiacal house has a diverse portfolio of affairs and Saturn going forward may emphasize one house theme, then highlight another when it goes backwards. In the Sixth house for instance, transiting Saturn going direct might focus on day-to-day work, then on health when it retrogrades. Or vice-versa. In all though, dividing the transit up into three makes the experience more manageable physically and emotionally.
Vedic astrology puts a house’s focal point in its centre, so Saturn’s effects in a particular area may not be felt immediately on entering a sign. Classical rishis – Mantreshwara, Varahamihira – also declare Saturn’s transiting effects to come in the last drekkana of a sign, ie, the final ten degrees. So if you are waiting for a heavy footfall in a particular zone, then know that it’s coming. The upside is that this reduces the length of Saturn's intensity from 2.5 years to a more manageable nine months, but the whole passage is an examination in any case. By the end of it we are saturated and completely fed up with the whole business, and the following house comes as something of a relief, until its affairs too are ground in.
In addition to the ascendant, transits from the Moon give a subtler psychological perspective. While the physical lagna chart shows overt life events, Chandra lagna reveals whether the individual is happy as well as successful. A difficult transit to one point may coincide with a favourable transit to the other, or the else the two complement each other. While the Moon is enemy to no planet, Saturn is inimical to psychic lunar qualities and creates an archetypal pull between the worldly and the personal. The first, fourth, fifth, eighth and twelfth house transits of Saturn in relation to the Moon are notorious, though one can also add the houses he aspects: the third, seventh and tenth houses from itself (in Western terms, conjunctions, forward sextiles, oppositions and backward squares).
So for example, its fifth house transit (Panchama Shani) aspects the seventh, eleventh and second house, and is often difficult financially. Saturn’s transit through the Eighth likewise aspects the tenth, second and fifth houses, but is a dark and disruptive house in its own right, down into the bass notes: sex, death, car-crash experiences and spiritual transformation. Like a haunted house. Much as always depends on the natal chart. Saturn's condition, the state of the house and its lord, plus its individual and collective Ashtakvarga score all come into play. Yet Saturn transiting through Capricorn, Aquarius and Libra gives it natural strength, and strong planets in these signs may receive a boost, or at least give good value for effort.
Dashas are the main backdrop to the transit experience. Each ‘identical’ transit is slightly different on every new cycle: Saturn aspects itself every seven years and each time finds us in a different antardasha. However, Saturn transits of approximately 2.5 years per sign are highly significant in themselves, and along with the current dasha and antardasha, represent our biggest focus of attention. Sometimes there is double-bubble: Saturn transiting the house of a planet whose dasha period is also running, for better and for worse. If the two energies are out of whack – planetary enemies, badly aspected and/or debilitated, then life is tough, but transit Saturn in a good place with a strong and compatible dasha also running can be positively life-changing.
While Western astrology emphasizes the Saturn Return, Jyotish makes more of Saturn’s transit over the Moon and its two adjacent signs. Sade Sati (seven and a half, 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5) is a time of emotional maturity which, depending on our stage of life, may coincide with moving home, marriage, parenthood, or an emotional prop being removed where we have to bear the weight of ourselves. It’s a stretch to suggest the whole seven-and-a-half years’ period is a trial, but certainly we become aware of different dimensions and pressures during Saturn two-and-a-half year transit of our Moon’s sign, which may receive three direct hits, depending on where in Saturn’s 140 day retro cycle it falls.
Psychological research attached to two-year cycles of depression highlights Persistent Depressive Disorder: a level less than Acute, but one shown in conditions like sleeplessness, anxiety, inability to think clearly or work effectively. These symptoms may be triggered by an event like illness, loss of job or heartbreak, or else through a sense of disenchantment or spiritual malaise that is less easily defined. Astrology suggests these periods are more like two-and-a-half years, and that they are predictable and, to an extent therefore preventable.
Not forgetting Saturn is the planet of success. Being dragged unwillingly into situations we wouldn’t have volunteered for is Saturn’s stock in trade, and we end up with more wisdom than we thought possible. It's all about facing up to the challenge, and fated situations in business and love that repeat several times before we absorb the lesson. Saturn exalts in Libra and the message is often to strike a middle way between avoidance and obsessive control. With enough hours logged, Saturn the Gatekeeper lets us through to the next level.