I was about twenty-three when someone first mentioned to me that they were going through their Saturn Return. A friend with an inclination towards astrology, crystals, and all things magical and mystical, they had just turned twenty-seven and frequently described themselves as experiencing a quarter-life crisis: not exactly an uncommon experience, only they were the first person I had ever heard lay blame for it on the planets.
A quick Google search told me that the Saturn Return wasn’t just some hokey excuse for a hard time that my friend had dreamed up: Gala Darling blogged about it, there are entire books written about it, and Gwen Stefani even named an album after it. In short, the Saturn Return is an astrological phenomenon named after the orbit of the planet Saturn. Between twenty-seven and thirty years after your birth, Saturn returns to the same place in the sky it occupied when you took your first breath, and with it come a hell of a lot of changes and challenges. If you believe in astrology – or if you can suspend your disbelief long enough to take a chance on this theory – Saturn is generally regarded as the planet that governs work, time, and the lessons we learn from the experiences we go through. During our Saturn Return, we are warned that our personal and professional lives may be shaken up completely, we could end major relationships or begin new ones, we might find ourselves taking a completely different career direction, and we could even end up moving house, city, or country.
In writing this article I put the word out on social media that I was seeking people to discuss the changes they went through in their late twenties, and whether or not they believed there may be something cosmic behind it. The responses I got surprised even me, an avowed believer in Saturn’s mystical workings: friends and friends-of-friends got in touch to share stories of spontaneously moving across the world, escaping abusive relationships, seeing their careers change in the blink of an eye, and even undergoing huge realisations around their gender and sexuality.
“I remember hearing about the Saturn Return in the months leading up to my 27th birthday,” says Erin Marie, who is a lawyer and co-creator of the Anxiety Shut-In Hour podcast. “Over the course of that year, every time something new would happen, someone in my life would say, ‘Ahh, Saturn Return strikes again’ or something similar, and in a way I found it comforting – both that other people had experienced similar things, but also that there might be an external factor contributing to the upheaval.” In the months immediately after turning twenty-seven, Erin quit a promising job in a private law firm, broke up with her fiance, moved interstate, and left the Uniting Church, where she had previously been a member for seven years. “These were all huge changes from the generally settled and predictable life I had envisioned for myself before then,” she admits.
Similarly, Brodie West found that his Saturn Return left him questioning his high-profile job in Sydney’s media. “Growing up in Hobart, Tasmania, I always felt that I was born into the wrong place and that I was destined for something bigger and better. My entire life I wanted to be popular, in the know, in the media, and living the life in Sydney, but as soon as I turned twenty-seven something changed within me and I was wondering if this was really how I was going to live my life forever. Was it really what I wanted? The answer was no. After spending a great two weeks [back home] over Christmas with my nearest and dearest, I packed up my life in Sydney, left my job in media, and moved back to Hobart. At first I wondered what the hell I had done – perhaps it was too drastic? However, it wasn’t long before things started falling into place.” It was a former boss who first mentioned the Saturn Return to Brodie, and he found himself sceptical at first. “He dropped it into conversation after explaining that I would be in a dating black hole until I was in my thirties, after breaking up with a long-term partner at the age of twenty-five. When I asked why, he quickly explained that everyone goes through some major life changes at the age of twenty-seven and those changes can take a few years to settle down. I brushed it off as a smug man in a happy relationship giving me the ‘everything happens for a reason’ rhetoric, but he couldn’t have been more spot on!’
For performer Christopher Welldon, his Saturn Return involved some big career shifts – but some pretty big internal changes as well. “I was a breakfast radio announcer, and was taken off-air when my co-host quit. For seven months after that career-ending shift, I was in a constant, low-key rage. It was like going through puberty again: I was angry at everything and everyone, convinced that nobody understood me, and I was completely at a loose end with regards to the direction my life was going in. Conversely, at the end of that period but also in the same year, I stopped actively hating myself for being gay. I had come out three or four years earlier, but it was only towards the end of the year that I started to wind back the amount of guilt, shame, and disgust I felt over it.” While Christopher’s Saturn Return has since ended, it still has a concrete effect on his dating life: “I’m pretty sure one of the contributing factors to the end of the biggest, most important relationship I’ve had so far was my partner having his Saturn Return. The circumstances around our break-up were so nebulous, to this day I still don’t understand them. But I have a theory that [the Saturn Return] was at least part of it, and to this day I’m wary of dating anyone under thirty because I refuse to be collateral damage in someone else’s astrological bullshit storm.”
Of course, while I know countless people who have experienced huge upheaval in their late twenties and are willing to accept that the reason could be astrological, there are surely just as many who swear that their lives were never calmer and more level than after their twenty-seventh birthday. Plus, it’s a pretty big leap of faith to ascribe the changes in your life to the position of a planet: surely everyone experiences a shake-up in their late twenties? After all, it is the period of our life when everything starts to seem a whole lot more serious than before. Our fun and freewheeling early twenties are over, we might’ve finished a degree, we’ve probably moved out of home, and those directionless, ‘just for fun’ relationships we filled our young lives with might give way to more stable and serious partnerships. I tend to err on the side of Saturn, though – I’m in the final month of my twenty-seventh year at the moment and after going through a break-up, finding new love, moving house twice, coming out to my family as a sex worker, and even landing an agent for a memoir within the past eleven months I’d be willing to believe there’s some cosmic luck sprinkled throughout my life. But to get a more scientific answer, I spoke to someone whose twenty-seventh birthday saw them committing to the kind of change that could see them leaving Earth to live among the planets for good.
Comedian, physicist, former soldier, and explosives engineer Josh Richards found himself lost – physically and emotionally – as he finished a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “The day of my twenty-seventh birthday I had my laptop stolen while working at the festival, I had no idea where I was going to live after Edinburgh, and generally no idea what to do next. Without anything else better to do, I set up in a friend’s garage in Brighton and decided to get started on my third solo show. I’d known from my physics degree that we could probably get people to Mars but couldn’t bring them back, and I had been wanting to write a comedy show asking what would happen if we just went anyway, consequences be damned. Three weeks after my 27th birthday, sitting down in a little coffee shop around the corner, I typed ‘Mars one way’ into Google…and my whole life changed.”
Josh stumbled across Mars One, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to send humans to Mars in 2026. He applied then and there, and has since become one of the final 100 candidates out of a pool of over 200,000 applicants. “All the things I’d done before I turned twenty-seven – studying physics and psychology, problem solving as an army engineer, communicating science through comedy – were pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle, but I couldn’t see the bigger picture or how it all fit together. Finding Mars One a few weeks after I turned twenty-seven was like someone handing me the cover of the jigsaw box, and I’ve been fitting the pieces together with a clear vision ever since. A few years on I now work for the International Space University, I’ve worked on a Mars simulation mission for NASA, and in July I’ll be helping lead a team to develop what could be the mission design NASA uses to put people on Mars in the 2030s. Call it Saturn Return, call it cosmic intervention, call it whatever you like: the year I turned twenty-seven was the year I discovered my childhood love of space.”
Josh’s Saturn Return is almost too perfect, a journey from directionless comic to potential Martian colonist in only a few years. But as a veritable expert and possible eventual traveller to the cosmos, is there any truth in Saturn’s seemingly mystical power to shake our lives up and watch the pieces land? “I was sceptical that the orbital period of a giant ball of ammonia, rock, and ice roughly 1.4 billion kilometres away would have any impact on my life, but I do think that for many people who’ve felt lost through their teens and twenties – especially those with a creative bent who feel they haven’t found their place or calling – then twenty-seven to twenty-nine is often a period where circumstances align to force you to make a choice: when you get knocked down really hard, you either stay down, destined to live out a small and safe but ultimately frustrated life, or you spit out your teeth, give the world a bloody grin, say ‘not today’ and scramble to your feet again. There’s nothing stopping any of this happening earlier, or much later, or not at all, but the last years of your twenties seem to be when a lot of creatives in Western culture face their biggest and toughest decision: stay safe on the ledge, or take the leap and risk oblivion.”
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