Throughout our lives, we experience significant ups and downs and transitions. In astrological language, these are called transits. A transit of a planet represents crossing from the old and familiar into new and unfamiliar territory. Nearly all transitions force us to re-examine our values, beliefs, and lifestyle. Transits enable us to make fundamental changes to how we see the world, giving us the opportunity to respond creatively to our new reality, good or bad. If navigated consciously, with the aim of growth, these movements lead to transformation. It is estimated that there are ten to twenty major events in a person’s lifetime. Some are voluntary, such as marriage, relocation, or planned birth, and others may be thrust upon us like unexpected job loss, death, divorce, and illness.
In Gail Sheehy’s Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life massive life events occurred at particular ages, explaining how we could negotiate life’s rapids, re-evaluate and re-examine life from one event to the next. It could best be described as a series of pivotal points in a human lifespan as times of transformation occur for every one of us. Passages was one of the publishing phenomenons of the 1970s. The subject of adult life crises was obviously a ‘popular’ one. Passages became a bestseller.
Sheehy realized that a current event was simply a trigger for deeper changes going on within her – some kind of midlife crisis. It sparked her interest in other people’s turning points, and to her surprise she discovered that these ‘passages’ happened with predictable regularity at roughly the same ages. People tried to blame external events for how they were feeling, but as with herself often the outer events were not the answer. Dissatisfaction with a life that had seemed fulfilling only a couple of years before indicated there was something going on at another level.
Astrology describes all of these ‘passages’ along with every birth chart. Planetary markers of the transits for specific decades explain why many of these familiar junctures of life happen with such recurring predictability.
In our 20s, we have to work out our path in life, whatever ways of being or doing give us a sense of aliveness and hope. We are likely to go one of two ways: do what we ‘should’ in terms of family and peer expectations; or pursue adventure and ‘find ourselves’. We either seek security and commitments, or avoid commitment altogether.
At around age 21, we experience our Saturn square Saturn & Uranus square Uranus. This explains the adventurous pull into our unlimited possibilities and the seeking of something more lasting. The ages of 28-29 are when we are beginning to move into our 30s and experience the Saturn Return. Saturn has a rotational cycle of 29.458 years; it spends about two and a half years in each sign of the zodiac. The late 20s is when it returns to its own position at birth. Saturn is connected with the structure of life, worldly success, and the crystallization of an individual. The Saturn Return coincides with the return of the progressed Moon and often marks the individual’s transition into maturity.
The thirties are the ‘deadline decade’ .We suddenly realize, as Sheehy herself did, that there will be an end somewhere. “Time starts to squeeze”, which refines our priorities. While the twenties are the ‘anything is possible’ decade, the thirties let us know that we may not have all the answers, and this can be a shock. We demand authenticity of ourselves and begin to see that we can’t blame anything on anyone else. For women, who may have bet everything on their marriage and family, there may begin a rising assertiveness, as they realize that their life is not simply about pleasing others or living up to cultural norms.
In our thirties, there is another Saturn square Saturn transition at around age 35. It is interesting to see the author list the age of 37 as a crisis year. “For both sexes, the conclusion arrives that life is a lot more serious and difficult than they understood it to be in their twenties. The ages between 37 and 42 are peak years of anxiety for most people. In Sheehy’s research, the age of 37, in particular, came up again and again as a crisis year.” Around 42 years of age and entering the famous Uranus opposition Uranus transit (read more below). Saturn also opposes natal Saturn, further explaining the crisis years.
A sense of stagnation or disequilibrium is felt entering midlife. Those who have seemed to climb upwards through life effortlessly find that life catches up with them. Having intensely pursued a career, a person may think, was it really worth it, why don’t I have children? Many a man turning 40 will feel underappreciated and burdened, with the sentiment, ‘Is this all there is?’
You can read more about the mid-life Uranus crisis here Uranus Opposite Uranus. Uranus rules liberation, freedom, expression and new mental perspectives forcing their way into the life of the individual. Jung describes this as a period when the unlived potential of the person comes crashing through and bangs loudly on the door.