The Trials and the Triumphs of Sade Sate

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This is courage in a man: to bear unflinchingly what heaven sends.” 

— Euripides

Vedic astrology singles out transiting Saturn’s Conjunction to the natal Moon as a particularly ominous event that brings about a host of calamitous developments in a person’s life. To make matters worse, this period is known as the ‘seven and-a-half’, since it is believed to take that many years to unfold. It is said to begin when Saturn enters the sign before your Moon sign and ends only after Saturn leaves the sign following your Moon sign.

In my experience there’s certainly some validity in viewing transiting Saturn Conjunct natal Moon as one of life’s most trying astrological milestones, and it is also true that it can cast its shadow over a protracted period, but I would suggest that it does not, in practice, cause a full seven and-a-half years of total chaos. Considering that Saturn completes its journey around the zodiac in about 29 years, that would mean that we spend at least a quarter of our lives in Sade Sate’s living hell.

Even if we limit the period to only the time during which Saturn is occupying the same sign as the natal Moon it would still be a long and drawn out process lasting over two years. Naturally, the effects will be particularly acute close to the exact Saturn-Moon Conjunction. The key point to note is, the effects tend to noticeable for some time before and after the exact Conjunction, apparently more so than with most other transits.

Sade Sati is said to bring about “the loss of those who have protected us”, and this description of its effect, taken broadly as a time when we have to stand alone and endure personal struggles with little to shield us from harsh realities, tends to be accurate. On the more extreme end of the spectrum it’s quite common for people to suffer some sort of bereavement under Sade Sati. Grandparents or parents may die, your tribe thins out and you are left more alone and exposed than you were previously. If you are old or frail you may die. Sade Sati is not a certain indication of a person’s imminent demise, but it may be a last straw under certain circumstances.

Transiting Saturn Conjunct natal Sun or Ascendant are comparable in many respects and can bring about similar trials and tribulations, but the reason Saturn crossing over natal Moon is considered particularly severe is because the Moon is by nature so soft, vulnerable and tender and therefore less able to withstand Saturn’s withering influence.

Sade Sati typically brings about a period of general adversity. Sometimes it will seem as if literally everything in the person’s life is falling apart; their health may suffer, they may lose or be separated from loved ones, and there may be financial and professional setbacks. Even without any dramatic external misfortunes it tends to bring about a period of austerity and gravity in the person’s general mood and outlook.

It is not impossible for a person to enjoy some positive developments in their life under Sade Sati. After all, it doesn’t operate in a complete vacuum to the exclusion of the all other astrological factors and forces, but even when there are other relatively helpful and benign astrological cycles overlapping with Sade Sati, Sade Sati will tend to claim its pound of flesh in the form of some kind of loss or sacrifice. Even in the very best or circumstances transiting Saturn Conjunct Moon will pressure a person to be patient and disciplined and attend to important developments in their domestic or professional life that leave little room for fun and games. There’s absolutely nothing casual and carefree about it. That said, people who are innately cautious, careful, frugal and modest are more likely to experience a relatively mild dose of Sade Sati’s potentially brutally humbling effect, and although Sade Sati is pretty hard on most people, it will be most devastating when a person has been reckless and irresponsible in some area. It is described by some as a time of karmic reckoning.

The more extreme manifestations of Sade Sati are naturally offensive to our human sensibilities, particularly our lunarsensibilities, which is to say, the part of us that seeks comfort, safety and happiness. Nobody wants to suffer hardship, and nobody less than Luna.

Indeed, the trials of Sade Sati would be a case of dark and cruel cosmic sadism if its only purpose was to ensure that we’re all periodically force-fed a fat dose of misery and deprivation. You could be forgiven for feeling that its something you’d rather not even think about!

But although life is sometimes difficult, and often apparently unfair, Sade Sati (and the other comparable transits of Saturn over the Sun and Ascendant) are not merely periods of needless loss and futile suffering. There are certain precious gifts that are all but impossible to receive without a stripping away of those elements of life that serve to keep us comfortable, content and complacent. Only when we’re forced to dig really deep inside ourselves for hope, courage and purpose do we find the radiant gems that lie hidden deep beneath the surface layers of our life experience. These gems are rarely recovered without suffering.

Robert Svoboda has written a truly wonderful book titled “The Greatness of Saturn” that not only acknowledges Sade Sati’s distressing reality as a life crisis that is not to be underestimated, but also points to the silver lining that is easy to lose sight of when the storm clouds are so vast and so dark and so grim. This “therapeutic myth” immerses us in the story of a certain good and noble King Vikrama who has his life turned upside down by Saturn’s transit over his Moon.

In fact, the reading or hearing of this tale (ideally on a Saturday, which is Saturn’s day) is itself said to be something of a remedy for those in the throes of Sade Sati’s cursed afflictions.

In brief, the story goes that this good king finds himself, quite by accident, in a foreign land, and he is there falsely accused of theft by a wealthy merchant’s daughter whose sexual advances he had spurned. As punishment the ruler of that region sentences him to having his limbs chopped off and decrees that he is to be abandoned in that pitiful state on the outskirts of the city, and that nobody is to assist him.

Despite this injunction that nobody should come to his aid, some good people take pity on him, and he is given food and shelter, despite the fact that as a limbless man he is incapable of any meaningful contribution and participation in social life. And so for an extended period of time he endures with stoical fortitude a life of deplorable helplessness.

Then, in the midst of his surrender to his tragic incapacity, King Vikrama awakens to a wonderful truth that was there waiting all along; he remembers that he still has a voice, and that therefore, even if he can do little else, he can still sing!

And so he starts to sing, and the profound depth of all the suffering he had endured infuses his song with richness and substance and a beauty that cannot be matched. In fact, his song is so powerful that at the end of each day it ignites the street lamps, and ultimately his hauntingly beautiful song reaches the ears of the daughter of the local regent who had ordered King Vikrama to be immolated and left to die; and, as fate would have it, she declares that no matter who this singer is, she will have him as her husband!

And so as Sade Sati’s torturous term comes to an end for King Vikrama, he not only has all that was taken from him restored, he returns to his own kingdom richer than before. Not only does he return with a beautiful princess as his wife, but with a gift that was, in potentia, there all along, but which was only going to be discovered, unveiled and shared with others, to everyone’s benefit, because of the great trials he had endured.

This lovely story points to a deep truth about Sade Sati. Yes, it can and often will strip you of much of the agency you have previously enjoyed. Yes, your freedom may be curtailed and you may not be able to get your way using your own “limbs” to manoeuvre through life. Your ability to manipulate circumstances to your ends will be limited, and you will need to accept the loss of comforts, whether in material circumstances or through human relationships, that you may previously have enjoyed. And yet these very privations, humiliations and torments may be the only way you will ever be successfully steered towards a discovery of the most priceless hidden gems in your own being, which are invariably also the most precious gifts you can offer your tribe and community.

And so, in conclusion, if you find yourself in the cold and relentless winter of Saturn’s transit over your Moon (or Sun or Ascendant), take heart, because not only shall this too pass, but you are forging in these great struggles and pressures indestructible diamonds of character without which your life would ultimately be monotonous, sterile and superficial.

It is these very trials that lead us- if they don’t break us– to more clarity of purpose and intention and a deeper and more unshakeable alignment with our true values than would ever be possible had our lives been insulated from Saturn’s withering touch.

Om Shanaye Namah