Back in the 1980s, while reading about the history of astrology, I came across the description of Saturn as the “Sun of the night,” which was apparently how the Babylonians viewed the ringed planet. This idea of Saturn playing the role of the sun at nighttime intrigued me and, not quite understanding exactly what it meant, I noted it in my first book on horary astrology back in the 1990s and have pondered it ever since. This post updates some of my reflections on Saturn as the Sun of the night.
There are certainly overlaps between the symbolism of the Sun and that of Saturn in the astrological literature. Both planets have been used to refer to father figures, authority, profession, career, command, achievement, etc. The prominent American astrologer Grant Lewi popularized the notion of Saturn transiting around the natal chart as an important indicator of one’s career trajectory. With reference to Saturn’s position by transit in the birth chart, he wrote:
“Strong men of destiny ride the full tide of their natures, upward and downward. They start obscurely, rise meteorically, and fall spectacularly…Standing at the midnight point, they proclaim their will to be, and catch the hour hand as it swings up the circle from obscurity to fame. Still proclaiming their individual pre-eminence, they stand for one fearful hour at the noon point, and then, orating about their indomitable will, they have not the will to let go of their fate, but clutching the indicator with a death grip, sweep with it down the slope to darkness.”
Like the Babylonians, Lewi appears to have viewed Saturn as symbolically equivalent to the Sun. For example, he delineates transiting Saturn at the natal MC as “proclaiming their individual pre-eminence, they stand for one fearful hour at the noon point.” I wondered whether this concept of Saturn as “Sun of the night” would be more evident in night births than in day births, and this speculation led me to study the Thema Mundi of Hellenistic astrology, the heuristic horoscope for the creation of the universe, used to explain the assignments of planetary rulers to the signs of the zodiac.
The fact that Saturn, a father symbol as “Sun of the night,” is exalted in Libra in the Thema Mundi may be one of the reasons that the 4th house was assigned to fathers in ancient astrology. The sign Libra, as the exaltation of Saturn, lies opposite Aries where the Sun is exalted in the 10th house position of this ancient chart.
In addition, if we superimpose the planets in Chaldean order from Saturn as the slowest to the Moon as the fastest onto the Thema Mundi chart, beginning with Saturn on the 1st sign, then the Sun falls in the 4th place where Saturn is exalted:
1 – Saturn, 2 – Jupiter, 3 – Mars, 4 – Sun, 5 – Venus, 6 – Mercury, 7 – Moon, 8 – Saturn, etc.
It seems likely that the Hellenistic Greek astrologers inherited the concept of Saturn as the “Sun of the night” from the Babylonians and incorporated this concept into their conception of the birth of the universe. In the above depiction of the Thema Mundi the Moon is rising on the eastern horizon while Saturn, the Sun of the night, is setting on the western horizon. The Sun will be the next planet to rise at daybreak. Because Saturn in this scheme rules both Capricorn and Aquarius, the planet Saturn will set in the west as the Sun rises in the east. The Moon most fully reflects the light of the Sun when the two luminaries are directly opposite each other in the sky, but in the Thema Mundi the Moon is directly opposite Saturn, the “Sun of the night.”
Firmicus Maternus, in commenting in the Mathesis about the originators of the Thema Mundi, tells us that “they wanted to put the Moon in such a place so that she would conjoin herself to Saturn and hand over to him the rulership of the times.” (Holden trans., p.92). It may be that by “conjoin” he means to unite by aspect, in this case an exact opposition so that its role is analogous or equivalent but occurs in the opposite “sect,” that is in the other half of the 24-hour hour period as it is divided into “day and night” or “light and darkness.” According to Joy Usher in A Tiny Universe, however, Firmicus suggests that “humankind’s journey on Earth coincides with the Moon’s arrival in Aquarius, and befitting its nature, Saturn becomes the inaugural ruler of Time.”
It is also noteworthy that the Earth’s Moon was the original “chronocrator” which handed over the function of regulating Time to Saturn, making the ringed planet the universal “lord of time.” Perhaps Firmicus Maternus was thinking about the fact that the Moon spends about 2.5 days in each sign of the zodiac while Saturn spends about 2.5 years in each sign.
Why should the Moon and Saturn, the “Sun of the night,” be so closely associated with time? I think the reason must have to do with how time is measured on Earth. Our year is based on a complete cycle of the Sun around the Earth in a geocentric system. In addition, our month is based on complete lunar “synodic” cycles of the Moon with respect to the Sun.
By analogy, Saturn, being the outermost and slowest visible planet, behaves much like the Sun. It has a steady, predictable orbit and takes about 30 years to complete a cycle around the solar system. Because of its slow rate of motion, the synodic cycle of Saturn with respect to the Sun is just slightly longer than a year (about 378 days). Just as the Sun was the major “chronocrator” on Earth, giving us the annual cycle or revolutions of the year, Saturn became the major chronocrator in mundane astrology, playing the role of the Sun in the greater cosmos outside of the sublunar sphere described by Hesiod about 700 BCE.
If the synodic cycles of the Sun and Moon give us earthly “months” as units of time, then the synodic cycles of Saturn (the “Sun of the night”) and Jupiter (the “moon of the night”?) give us roughly 20-year units of time (“cosmic months”?) by which to measure broad periods of history in the mundane realm. As a chronocrator, Saturn behaves in the greater cosmos in a manner analogous the role of the Sun in determining how we measure time on Earth. This may also explain why Saturn as a ruler of the night, a planet equal but opposite to the daytime Sun, is associated with cold and darkness.
A good reference for the history of this concept can be found at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298447154_Saturn_as_the_Sun_of_Night_in_Ancient_Near_Eastern_Tradition.
The authors of his paper present a similar idea to my understanding about the steadiness and regularity of Saturn being one of its thematic ties to the symbolism of the Sun. They write on page 288: “… if Saturn was linked to the Sun for the regularity and steadiness of its path, a similar line of reasoning could explain why the Babylonians, followed by Indian astronomers, regarded Mercury as the counterpart or the “son” of the Moon. Changing direction every 98 days, Mercury can be seen as the epitome of mobility among the planets, akin to the Moon’s fast pace. This might indicate that the comparison of Saturn and the Sun based on their motion was part of a system.” (bold mine)
This fascinating theory about Mercury being regarded as the child or son of the Moon in Babylonian and Indian astrology is consistent with and similar to the reasoning about Saturn at night being symbolically linked to the daytime Sun.
All original material in this post is copyright Anthony Louis 2021