Astrology with Alice: The Saturn Return and the time for adulting

This month's column is less about July and more about that big life change that happens around 30

Let's talk about the Saturn return.

Photo illustration by Ryan Quan

Words by Alice Smith

Astrology with Alice: Welcome to Astrology with Alice, a monthly astrology column aimed at helping readers understand the vibes of the month ahead in plain English. As a Taiwanese immigrant who grew up in Los Angeles, I specialize in combining western astrology with eastern philosophy. I’ve taught modern astrology through the lens of Buddhism and Taoism, and I also draw from the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Knowing the movements of the planets can help us make decisions around our careers, relationships, family. As the planets move around in the sky, they shift the energetic vibes we experience on Earth, and I believe in flowing with energy instead of fighting it—to work smarter, not harder. So join me on our monthly planetary lowdowns and learn how you, too, can ride the cosmic waves!

July looks lovely astrologically. The vibes look cozy, sweet, and lively, but there aren’t any big huge planetary transits or retrogrades happening this month. So instead of combing through the astrological minutiae, let’s talk about a popular topic: the Saturn Return.

The Saturn Return is a challenging astrological event that happens to all of us on the eve of our 30s—right around age 29—and it has an unpleasant reputation for bringing about identity crises and obstacles. In fact, there’s not much that gives young astrology enthusiasts the heebie jeebies like finding out that they’re due for a Saturn Return!

But what is it? Should we really be afraid of it? And what can we do about it when it happens?

While I would never dare undersell the cosmic punch that Saturn can pack, I want to show you how Saturnian energy can actually become an ally and friend. Yes, ye olde astrologers did call Saturn the “Great Malefic”—you gotta love that medieval flair for drama—but Saturn is also the planet of dignity, mastery, discipline, and responsibility. And in my experience, I’ve found that we do have the option to work with Saturn rather than helplessly let Saturn work on us.

But first, before we get too far into the starry weeds, just what is a Saturn Return? The Saturn Return is simply the moment when the planet Saturn orbits back to the position it was at the time of a person’s birth. And since Saturn takes about 29.5 years to circle the sun, the Saturn Return happens right before we turn 30.

Astrologically speaking, the Saturn Return is the time when the mic is handed to Saturn and you’re compelled to do your “Saturnian work.” To understand what that work is, we need to first understand Saturn, and the easiest way to explain Saturn is that it’s the “adulting” planet. Astrologers often say that Saturn has a constricting and limiting effect, which sucks when that contributes to self-doubt and fear, but limits also force us to commit to our paths and stop messing around. Hence, adulting.

The easiest way to explain Saturn is that it’s the “adulting” planet. Astrologers often say that Saturn has a constricting and limiting effect, which sucks when that contributes to self-doubt and fear, but limits also force us to commit to our paths and stop messing around. Hence, adulting.

The effects of an impending Saturn Return can be felt by some people as early as age 26, and as it creeps closer and closer to returning to its place in the birth chart, we begin to feel the pressure to make difficult choices. We feel as if it’s time to choose what we want to do, what we want to be, and what kind of life we want to live. We can start to feel the walls closing in with the realization that we can’t, after all, do all the things because we’re limited by time, energy, and funds.

There’s a word for all of this—maturity. Yup, it’s basically the point when we realize that it’s time to grow up and stop playing because we are beginning to develop a stake in the game. The time of exploration and youth is over, and the time for achievement begins. The first Saturn Return marks the point where we stop sampling our options and start putting down roots and doing adult things like raising kids, making careers, and buying houses. In my life, I made a huge career switch during my first Return.

The Saturn Returns mark the transition points between the three acts of life. In the eyes of astrologers, we’re in our first act of life (youth) until our first Saturn Return around age 29. Then, we start our second act (adulthood), which lasts until our late-50s, which is when our second Saturn Return hits. And the second Return marks the beginning of our third act (elderhood) and that’s when people go through the process of redefining who they are and what type of life they want all over again. (Here’s a great example of Saturn Returns at work: Jeff Bezos started Amazon around his first Saturn Return and then left Amazon around his second Saturn Return.)

So, back to the big question at hand—is the Saturn Return something to fear? Yes and no. It really depends on whether or not you’re ready to say goodbye to the previous act of life. If your first Saturn Return is around the corner, then ask yourself: “Am I ready to let go of youth and childhood and commit to a version of myself?” And that process can involve letting go of a certain lifestyle, an unbothered approach to life, and perhaps even friends. As a result, there is a lot of assessment that has to happen, and that’s why the Saturn Return can feel like such a confronting time.

“Confronting” is my favorite word to use to describe the vibes of a Saturn Return. When it happens, we’re confronted with the reality of what and who we are, we’re confronted with how we’ve outgrown our lifestyle or career or our friends, and we’re confronted with a sense that time is running out because we’re realizing that we’re not going to be young forever. It can feel frustrating, because we might also feel like we ought to do something but we might not know what it is yet. And if we know what it is that we should do, we begin to feel like it’s time to do it. (My partner wrote his first book around his first Return because he felt it was, in his own words, “now or never.”) So while pop culture attributes these frustrations to the identity crisis that happens when we turn 30, astrologers would call it the crisis of turning 29.

So how do we weather Saturn Returns? As with all Saturn transits, the advice is the same: Be proactive and be willing to roll up your sleeves and do your work. I’m a big fan of this advice often offered by OG astrologer Steven Forrest at his talks: “Work on your stuff lest your stuff works on you.” So, accept the Return as a period of transition, and honor it as an opportunity to become more intentional. Unlike some of the other planets, Saturn has a reputation for working with people who are willing to work, so it’s a time for acceptance rather than avoidance.

The Saturn Return is simply the point where we graduate into full-time adulting.

Published on July 1, 2024

Words by Alice Smith

Alice Smith has loved astrology ever since she read her first horoscope as a kid. She’s a certified, professional astrologer who reads birth charts for clients all over the world and has spoken at events throughout the Pacific Northwest. Alice learned to write horoscopes from her mentor Rebecca Gordon who was herself mentored by the grande dame of horoscope writing, Susan Miller. Alice has a degree in sociology from the University of Washington and is (too) obsessed with her “Furgo” (furry Virgo) cat, whose birth chart she often interprets on social media.

Art by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.