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The Astrology of Childhood: Transits and Turning Points

The Astrology of Childhood: Transits and Turning PointsSeveral years ago a subscriber to a popular astrological quarterly asked an interesting question: Since we have Solar returns and Lunar returns, are there such things as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn returns? Having been posed in traditional terms his question demands a traditional answer, and in that context the right answer is easy to see. For a return the astrologer erects a chart for the moment, the exact moment, a transiting planet conjoins, or returns to, its birth position. She then interprets that chart in order to ascertain the nature of the intervening period between the current conjunction and the next one. For the Solar Return this intervening period is simply "the coming year"; for a Mars return it would be the coming 22 1/2 months; for a Saturn return it would be the coming 29 1/2 years.

But since 1940, when Grant Lewi's Astrology for the Millions was published, "return" has also been used in another sense. Lewi described how people experience a particular kind of maturational development between the ages of 28 and 30, the period during which transiting Saturn conjoins its birth position. Since he was referring to Saturn's return to its natal position Lewi borrowed from traditional terminology and called this important transit the Saturn Return. The label has endured, but its similarity to traditional usage has tended since to obscure an important point. In contrast to the other type of return Lewi's interpretation referred to the period of the conjunction, not to the interval between conjunctions. And this enables us to stand our opening question on its head. Since there is such a thing as the Saturn Return, as described by Lewi in Astrology for the Millions, are there also such things as Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and yes, Solar and Lunar returns?

One way to approach this question is through the study of developmental psychology. Theorists in this field, whether studying cognitive or affective development, have tended to time childhood developmetal phases similarly: 0 to 2, 2 to 7, and 7 to 12. Another group, the adult life cycle researchers, has noted subsequent developmental transitions during the late teens and early twenties, the late twenties, and the late thirties and early forties. Since theorists studying different kinds of development have been able to agree on the age boundaries of phases, it implies that they're viewing different aspects of a common observational reality. And since each phase is implicitly conceived as being of a piece (otherwise, how could it be a distinct phase?), the age boundaries acquire special significance as periods of transition between phases.

This is where astrology comes in. The transition from the first to the second phase, from the sensorimotor to the preoperational period in Piagetian terms, occurs during the months leading up to the second birthday, and this is precisely the period when Mars conjoins its natal place, the first Mars Return. The next major transition at 6-7 coincides with the opening square transit of Saturn to its natal place. And the third transition, at about 11 1/2 to 12 1/2, coincides with the first Jupiter Return? Is this mere coincidence?

To answer this question we need at least a rudimentary sense of how each cycle works and how it relates to the other cycles. Take Saturn. The Saturn Return represents the culmination of a line of development that begins at 6-7 and re-emerges at 14-15, 21-22, 28-30, 36-37, etc. - that is, as transiting Saturn conjoins, squares, or opposes its natal place. During the initial transit at age 6-7 the child makes a quantum leap in her ability to distinguish fact from fantasy, to see herself (and her viewpoints) through the eyes of others, to play social roles, to organize her behavior constructively. Underlying these social abilities are new cognitive abilities. She can play social roles because she can now perceive objects, including herself, both as wholes and as (functional) parts of greater (social) wholes. (It's this ability in individuals which enables society to exist as a system of interacting roles - accountants, administrators, parents, children, teachers, students, husbands, wives, nuclear physicists, astrologers, etc.)

The kinds of developments which occur during adult Saturn age transit periods - marriage, divorce, career change, relocation to facilitate career change - can best be understood as special cases of role change. And the tendency of so many people to get their act together at 28-30, to act decisively and purposefully, is the result of a clearer understanding of goals and purposes. Most people, without really realizing it, spread their energies and hold themselves back by pursuing a variety of not necessarily compatible goals. Once a person realizes which things are important and which are less so, and sets priorities, she may surprise her friends and associates with the degree of discipline and resolve with which she pursues her now clearly defined goals. In the cognitive sense, what emerges at 6-7 and matures at 28-30 is the ability to reason inductively, to reason from a set of facts to a more general principle that makes sense of them. That's why great scientists often get their first clear glimpse of things during their Saturn Returns.

Next, consider Jupiter. The transition at 11 1/2 to 12 1/2 is from concrete operational to formal operational reasoning. The child is no longer limited to adding five apples to six apples. She can now add five to six without specifying what's being added. She's no longer limited to the concrete situation but is now capable of dealing with abstractions. Hypothetical reasoning - if happens it should result - blossoms. The ability to use similes and metaphors reaches fruition. There is some evidence that the ability to use metaphors goes through growth spurts at three-year intervals. There are advances at 6 and 9 prior to the final breakthrough at 12. And although the evidence is meager so far, there is apparently a precursor to all this at age 3. The development which occurs then is to the Jupiter Return as the age 7 crises is to the Saturn Return. With each there is the emergence of a dimension of development which climaxes at the return.

Finally, consider Mars. During the months leading up to the second birthday the child undergoes what has been called a miniature Copernican Revolution. She realizes that each organism, including herself, has its own desires and its own will. (She learns to say "no".) She realizes that objects exist even when she's not looking at them. She also escapes from the present, as she develops the ability to remember the past and anticipate the future. Her vocabulary explodes. This is the age period, from 18 or 20 to 24 months, when the child makes a wonderful discovery. Every object has a name. She sets out to learn them all, and makes stunning progress. And, in a sense that the scientist finds difficult to articulate but which sensitive parents probably understand intuitively, she becomes in the space of a few weeks startlingly more human.

The preceding has been sketchy, but I hope one idea has begun to emerge. The dimension of development which climaxes at 12 is less complex and sophisticated than the one which climaxes at 28-30, and the one which climaxes just before the second birthday is less so than the one at 12. That should not surprise us. Simple things mature earlier than complex things. We learn to master our bodies and talk fluently before we master complex tasks such as driving a car or inventing a theory. Can it be that astrology can complement psychology by mathematically defining a hierarchy of development?

Turn now to the possibility of Solar and Lunar returns. Do they exist? I believe they do, but not in the usual sense. The returns that actually exist are not charts for specific dates but transits to the natal chart during certain periods. Real Solar and Lunar Returns - that is, the periods during which the Sun and Moon are conjoining their natal places - time lower-level maturational developments that serve as the foundation for successively higher-level developments that coincide with the first Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn returns. What kinds of breakthroughs occur at one week and one month, during the Lunar opening square and the first Lunar Return? [My editor noted that smiling begins at four weeks.] As for the first Solar Return, consider the fact that children begin to walk at around this time. What psychological developments, we should ask, cause them to want to do so?

Obviously, more questions have been raised than answered here. Do Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Solar and Lunar returns exist? The important thing is not that we have immediate answers to all our questions, but that we ask fruitful questions in meaningful contexts. The question that opened this essay was sterile. It asked, on the basis of an unproved assumption regarding Solar and Lunar returns, whether a similar assumption could be made about other planetary returns. My response is, I think the original assumption is untenable. There is no evidence for the validity of the traditional concept of return. To stand our opening question on its head, however, puts it in a different context. It enables us to juxtapose known astronomical temporal patterns to known psychological temporal patterns, and raises the fascinating possibility that astrological knowledge and psychological knowledge might one day turn out to be the same thing.