Twenty-nine is often a very difficult age. It was for me, anyway. I spent most of my 29th year in a state of upheaval, questioning my career path, my relationships, my financial security. Had I accomplished anything I was supposed to by that point?
Luckily, by the time my odometer actually rolled over to 3-0, I felt much better. I had used all the uncertainty to my advantage; I’d looked head-on at the areas of my life that felt unsettled and done some work around them. I had a career plan. I had a savings plan. A week after my birthday, my boyfriend of nearly a decade and I decided to get engaged.
Ever since, I’ve blamed that wild year on my looming 30th birthday, and the expectations I had around that age. But I’m starting to suspect that there was something cosmic about all that anxiety: My 29th year coincided with my Saturn return.
At the time, I had never heard of Saturn return. It wasn’t until astrologer Lisa Stardust sent me a copy of her new book, Saturn Return Survival Guide, that I looked up when mine had occurred and put two and two — or rather, two and nine — together.
“Saturn return is your cosmic entranceway into adulthood,” Stardust tells Refinery29. “It happens every 27-and-a-half to 29 years, when Saturn returns to the degree and sign it was in when we were born.” It actually occurs more than once over your lifetime: Once in your late 20s, again in your mid- to late-50s, and if you’re lucky, again in your 80s. You can find out when yours will occur via an online calculator like this one.
“Being that Saturn is the cosmic taskmaster, during its return we’re basically learning a lot who we are, where we’re going, and what our boundaries and limitations are,” Stardust explains. A question that will keep coming up during your Saturn return is” Is the path that I’m on the right one for me?
Saturn is a karmic planet, notes Stardust. So during your return, you’ll start to see the ramifications of past actions. If you cheated your way through college, you may find yourself with a romantic or business partner who does you dirty. Unresolved family stuff is also likely to come up; Saturn is known as the “karmic daddy” of the zodiac.
Technically, only your first Saturn return is, as Stardust calls it, your astrological bar or bat mitzvah. The second one has more to do with thinking about your next stage of life — often retirement. And the third is about reflecting on the lessons you’ve learned throughout your life. Your inaugural Saturn return tends to get the most attention for good reason, though, because it often brings about a lot of noticeable change. People might switch their careers, rethink their friend groups, and cement — or get out of — their romantic relationships. And sometimes, the changes made aren’t just about external identity markers, but about more fully realizing one’s own relationship with the self.
“I started my 26th year in a cisgender, heteronormative relationship, and I identified as cisgender and bisexual,” explains Birdie, a doula based in New York. “I’m ending my 28th year queer as fuck and coming out as non-binary.” To call Birdie’s Saturn return intense would be putting it mildly — they prefer to refer to it as “a spiritual experience on growth hormones,” made more difficult by the fact that it occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have lost myself many, many times along the way. I’ve had to shed parts of myself that I loved very dearly, had to shed relationships that no longer served me or the person I’m becoming,” Birdie tells Refinery29. ”A lot of the time I’ve had to put my head down and put one foot in front of the other. I definitely had moments of isolation, especially since the last year of my Saturn return has been during a panic at the disco.”
Ultimately, they say, “I’ve come to know myself in a deeper and more profound way than I ever thought was possible. I like to think of a Saturn return as shining a spotlight on all the hidden parts of myself that haven’t come out to play yet or the universe helping me to become the truest version of myself.”
Some people’s Saturn returns are more of a roller coaster than others. “It depends on how much repressed stuff you have to deal with,” Stardust says. Some people may already be on a path that aligns with their true self, in which case they won’t go through as much tumult. Others may hold on really hard to their old lives, which could make their Saturn return a little rockier, as the ringed planet pulls them toward change.
Saturn can also shine more intensely on certain areas of your life during its return. Mitzye Ramos Ribas, for example, felt like her career was the only part of her life that stayed steady during her return in 2010. Her car had died, she was struggling to deal with her student loan debt, and her friendships felt strained. “I thought I was going through a string of bad luck,” says Ribas, an intuitive tarot and astrology reader in California. Once she was on the other side, though, she was able to put the lessons she’d learned during her return to work. She put the money she’d saved by taking public transit toward a new car, she repaired her relationships, and she ended up marrying her boyfriend. “That's the lesson we are meant to learn on our first Saturn Return — discipline, how to restructure and to find the tools within us to meet our challenges head-on,” she says.
Jessie DaSilva, on the other hand, says her Saturn return led to major transformations in her work, in part because it happened in her 10th house of career. “I hated my lawyer job at the time,” she says. But during her return, her boyfriend broke up with her, which led to her moving to Washington D.C. and landing her (then) dream job at a legal news corporation.
Whether or not Saturn was in retrograde in your birth chart can also impact how disruptive your Saturn return is, Stardust says. If Saturn was retrograde in your chart, “you really want to boss up and elevate your life,” she says. “Your return period will be about trying to attain success at work and in your relationships. Saturn retrograde people always want to be CEOs, and they’re meant to be them, because they have a relationship with authority that’s like none other. They’re meant to create the roles and take charge — in relationships too."
If Saturn was direct, though, you may be more focused on healing, dealing with past trauma, and loving yourself during your return.
While you can try to prepare for your Saturn return — by being flexible and willing to work on yourself and the parts of your life that may be causing friction — to some extent, you’ve just got to be willing to roll with the punches. Most people report being hit by at least some unexpected event.
"I'm an astrologer. So, I thought that by knowing what Saturn return was, I would be prepared when my own return came along. Yeah, that was false,” says Maisy Bristol, who is also a tarot teacher. “During my [Saturn] return, I totally lost interest in my life path. At that point, I decided to channel only my passions — which inspired me to break up with my boyfriend, pick up my life, move to the country without knowing a soul, get a dog, fully engross myself in my astrology and tarot business, and buy a horse. It was a lot. And the fun part? I'm only halfway through.”
Of course, there are plenty of naysayers who claim that Saturn returns aren’t real, that the period of time between ages 27 and 29 are naturally tumultuous, something that has more to do with that stage of life than planetary movements. Some people just call it their quarter-life crisis. For example, maybe I would have taken stock of my life before turning 30, regardless of where Saturn was in the sky at that point. Similarly, the second Saturn return occurs during another stretch of major change in the mid-to-late 50s. Menopause comes around that time, and it's also when people's kids may be leaving home, graduating college, or having babies of their own.
Stardust acknowledges that not everyone believes in Saturn return, nor does everyone need to. “Astrology is just really a math of the potential that we're unfolding,” she says. It provides people with a way to make sense of the world, and, for some, guidance for dealing with difficult periods. That’s not for everyone — though, Stardust says, she thinks more people believe in it than don’t.
While I find astrology interesting and fun, I wouldn't say I'm a whole-hearted believer in the practice. Ultimately, though, I’m not too concerned with whether or not Saturn returns are "real." I got through my 29th-year crisis without knowing that the astrological event even existed, after all. But I can certainly see their appeal. It would be reassuring to know that I wouldn't necessarily be faced with big existential crises at the turn of each decade; my next return isn't due until I'm 58 years old. It would also also be comforting and validating to have a clear-cut reason for my difficult year — to know that I hadn't done anything wrong, that the transitional period had been coming for me since the day I was born. As Annabel Gat, astrologer and author of The Astrology of Love & Sex: A Modern Compatibility Guide, previously told Refinery29, “What’s really great about astrology is that you have this set of reasons for why things are happening. It creates this cause-and-effect paradigm that’s really exciting for people to explore.”
Along the same lines, Stardust notes that many astrologers have pointed to Saturn in particular to explain some of the world-changing events of 2020. The celestial symbol of transformation shifted into idealistic and humanistic Aquarius in March 2020, setting the stage for the exact kind of progressive movements for change that intensified last year.
“Saturn takes 27 to 29 years to move around the zodiac, so it is a very important factor astrologically, and it has an effect on us,” Stardust says. “As above, so below.”