As Jupiter (the king of planets) and Saturn (mythologically associated with suffering and wisdom), aligned in the skies on December 21, 2020, I can not help but wonder at what symbolic significance one can attribute to the event – without “going astrological” – especially given the pandemic-wrought suffering of 2020 as the year comes to a close amidst the joyous and hopeful notes of Christmas. These jumbo-sized planets align to the Earthling eye to some extent every 20 years, though they have not done so quite like this since March 4, 1226 (there was 1623, but the sun was too bright for anyone to see it), as per a recent USA Today article. The appearance suggests to some that of the Bethlehem Star, rising 2000 years ago to announce the reign of a new King on Earth, Jesus, the long-awaited and much-heralded Messiah and King figure of the Jewish scriptures.
As we pause to consider the suffering wrought by the corona virus pandemic in 2020, and the meaning of hope and joy at Christmastime as we put 2020 behind us, we can ponder the wisdom induced by the sufferings of Saturn, and the hope and joy brought by a regal Jupiter, and how they can both be found in the hope and hero of Christmas, Jesus.
Born to be a King, the prophet Isaiah said of His coming that
“The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God …
Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand” – Isaiah 52: 10,15
Yet He was also born to suffer, suffer the consequences of our sins, as Isaiah continued
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief …
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows …
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities,
Upon him was the punishment that has brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed” – Isaiah 53: 3-5
Isaiah was written in the 8th century B.C., nearly 800 years before Jesus (the “Christ” or Messiah, long-awaited and prophesied figure of Judaism) lived; however, the figures of reigning King and agent of suffering, Jupiter and Saturn respectively, can be found in the mythologies of Greece and Rome, upon which so much of modern Western culture has been formed.
Jupiter, the Roman name for the Greek figure of Zeus, god of sky and thunder and leader of the gods, hearkens back even further into Indian religion as Dyaus Pitar (“Shining Father,” carrying into Greek as “Zeus Pater” and Roman as “Jupiter”), and speaks of the sovereign deity. Jove, as Jupiter could also be referenced, also gave the sense of jubilant, triumphant reign, with the phrase “By Jove!” taking on a, if we must, “jovial” or jolly sense. As a planet, Jupiter protects Earth from a swarm (yes, that’s a scientific designation) of meteros and asteroids that would otherwise render our fair planter inhabitable only by the most ferocious of dinosaurs, should they manage to themselves survive.
Saturn, a Roman god of wealth, agriculture and known for producing the long, Golden Age of prosperity and peace, came to signify suffering and tragedy as he reacted (rather than properly ‘responded’ one might say) to prophecies of his demise with violent digestion, it could be said. Just as he violently overthrew his own father, the tyrannical Uranus, so was he foretold (by Uranus) that he would likewise be overthrown by his own son; to forestall this possibility, Saturn reportedly (in mythology, all is possible) ate every child as it was born, though his wife eventually fooled him by feeding him a stone instead of his son Jupiter, who later freed all his siblings from Saturn’s digestive tract. Saturn became associated with the Greek Kronos, deity of time, and is often seen with a sickle (for harvesting) and and hourglass containing the sands of time; his obviously misfortune handling of succession issues (eating his children) associated Saturn with suffering, though as well with a certain wisdom that comes from suffering (relating perhaps more to his role as Kronos, god of time which can also breed wisdom).
The nature of Jovial reign and Saturnine suffering are depicted in C.S., Lewis’s poem, The Planets, from which the Planet Narnia enterprise was ultimately born (fining different planetary influences in each of Lewis’s 7 Chronicles of Narnia stories; for instance, a Jupiter theme is found in the series opener The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, as discussed here, while the suffering found in the series finale, The Last Battle, illustrates such Saturnine wisdom born of grief, as discussed here. Oxford Prof. Michael Ward’s own Planet Narnia site introducing his uncovering of these themes is instructive, as is Prof. Donald T. Williams enlightening discussion at his A Pilgrim in Narnia site.
Lewis’s depiction of Jupiter’s confident, jovial rule (and the plot of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which clued Michael Ward in as to its hidden significance) are found in these lines of Lewis’s poem The Planets, otherwise found in the collection C.S. Lewis Poems, ed. Walter Hooper:
He is cold and strong,
Necessity’s song. Soft breathes the air
Mild, and meadowy, as we mount further
Where rippled radiance rolls about us
Moved with music – measureless the waves’
Joy and jubilee. It is JOVE’s orbit,
Filled and festal, faster turning
With arc ampler. From the Isles of Tin
Tyrian traders, in trouble steering
Came with his cargoes; the Cornish treasure
That his ray ripens. Of wrath ended
And woes mended, of winter passed
And guilt forgiven, and good fortune
Jove is master; and of jocund revel,
Laughter of ladies. The lion-hearted,
The myriad-minded, men like the gods,
Helps and heroes, helms of nations
Just and gentle, are Jove’s children,
Work his wonders. On his white forehead
Calm and kingly, no care darkens
Nor wrath wrinkles: but righteous power
And leisure and largess their loose splendours
Have wrapped around him – a rich mantle
Of ease and empire.
“Of wrath ended
And woes mended, of winter passed
And guilt forgiven,”
seem to follow the LWW plotline of Edward’s betrayal of his siblings to the White Witch of Narnia, and Aslan’s Christ-like atonement. Lewis concludes the poem with his description of suffering brought by Saturn:
Up far beyond
Goes SATURN silent in the seventh region,
The skirts of the sky. Scant grows the light,
Sickly, uncertain (the Sun’s finger
Daunted with darkness). Distance hurts us,
And the vault severe of vast silence;
Where fancy fails us, and fair language,
And love leaves us, and light fails us
And Mars fails us, and the mirth of Jove
Is as tin tinkling. In tattered garment,
Weak with winters, he walks forever
A weary way, wide round the heav’n,
Stoop’d and stumbling, with staff groping,
The lord of lead. He is the last planet
Old and ugly. His eye fathers
Pale pestilence, pain of envy,
Remorse and murder. Melancholy drink
(For bane or blessing) of bitter wisdom
He pours out for his people, a perilous draught
That the lip loves not. We leave all things
To reach the rim of the round welkin,
Heaven’s heritage, high and lonely.
The suffering depicted here fits easily with the mayhem and death which end the stories of so many characters in The Chronicle of Narnia‘s finale, The Last Battle. Nevertheless, Saturn dispenses wisdom (albeit “bitter”), and brings us to the rim of heaven. For more information, we turn to Malcolm Guite’s presentation of the workings of Jupiter and Saturn on the human soul.
For both Saturn and Jupiter, Guite presents first a sonnet of the natural workings of such inf;uences (Saturn’s suffering and Jupiter’s tyranny), then another sonner depicting how such matters can redeem us when they themselves are redeemed, that is, when suffering and rule operate in a pure, unfallen states. Malcolm Guite is Ward’s cross-[United] Kingdom colleague at Cambridge. Guite produced paired versions for all the planets in his collection of poems, After Prayer (Canterbury Press, 2019), but we give here those for just the regal Jupiter and longsuffering but wise Saturn.
Saturn I: [Unredeemed, think 2020]
In every heartbreak he is to be found.
He is the end. He makes things fall apart.
There is a prison where his slaves are bound
In every heart.
He crushes hope before we even start
His prisoners must tread the dreary round
Of repetition, lonely and apart.
In him there is no mercy to be found,
No truth, no grace, no beauty and no art,
Only the grave, the cold and stony ground
In every heart.
Saturn II: [Redeemed, true wisdom born of suffering]
In every heart-break wisdom can be found,
The end of things may be the place to start,
The hard frost helps to break the stony ground
In every heart.
Nothing remains the same, things fall apart.
We listen for the music; not a sound.
But we discover, silent and apart
As meditative minutes circle pound,
There is a deeper dance, an inner art,
There is a hidden treasure to be found
In every heart.
The suffering of Saturn, giving life-nourishing wisdom, prepares the heart for the true reign of Jupiter. Not this, of course:
Jupiter I [tyrannical, fallen state]
Come fill the cup, whether you will or no,
For the Great Leader, you will drink it up.
His grateful people must [put on a show.
Come fill the cup.
Or you and yours will suffer. One false step
And someone disappears. They say below
His banquet hall the tortured cry for help
But Death, delaying, comes to them too slow.
So you must march and cheer and make things up.
That you may drown the truth you should not know
Come, fill the cup.
But, instead, Jove’s true rule is anything but predatory and despotic.
Come fill the cup and let the fountain flow
Your king has come! There is a feast to keep
With kindled eyes and faces all aglow
Come fill the cup.
There is a joy that makes the spirit leap
And makes the humble greater than they know.
You break the bread, the wine is at your lip,
Rich music stirs your spirit, solemn, slow
Whose true nobility still draws you up
Beyond your self with blessings to bestow.
Come, fill the cup.
As a figure of both sorrow and joy (“by Jove!), Jesus speaks to both our sorrow and desire for godly reign. To the train wreck that was, in so many ways, 2020, He says that while “nothing remains the same, things fall apart. We listen for the music; not a sound. But we discover, silent and apart” and “there is a deeper dance, an inner art, there is a hidden treasure to be found in every heart.” Of 2021 and beyond, he points us to Christmas, and declares “Your king has come! There is a feast to keep … There is a joy that makes the spirit leap
And makes the humble greater than they know;” we need only listen for the music “whose true nobility still draws you up, beyond your self with blessings to bestow: Come, fill the cup.“
Ward, Guite … Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton: with the former great students and teachers of the latter, it is only fitting to stuff just a little bit more into this already filled cup of a discussion. Chesterton spoke of both the Saturnic and Jovial in Jesus, when he concluded his Orthodoxy with the following memorable and oft-quoted passage:
“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian… the tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in e very other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the stairs of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show when He walked upon our Earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”
Saturn but, most of all, hidden or not, the mirth of Jove. Tolkien places just such a duality, one destined to be won by Joy (Lewis would argue, he was indeed Surprised by Joy as his autobiography tells), in the Christ figure of Aragorn:
“Thus he became at last the most hardy of living Men, skilled in their crafts and lore, and was yet more than they; for he was elvenwise, and there was a light in his eyes that when they were kindled few could endure. His face was sad and stern because of the doom that was laid on him, and yet hope dwelt ever in the depths of his heart, from which mirth would arise at times like a spring from the rock.” – Return of the King, Appendix A.v.
2020 be danged, Christmas and beyond here we come.