synodic cycles

between Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune

This page provides an astrological perspective on the synodic cycles of the four giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and describes in more detail Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions and the triplicity shifts or elemental eras associated to their cycle. See also our pages about the stellia and about the alignments of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The six synodic cycles between the four giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune

The giant planets have the following orbital periods:

  • Jupiter: 11.86 years

  • Saturn: 29.46 years

  • Uranus: 84.01 years

  • Neptune: 164.8 years

They can be grouped by pairs in six different ways, creating six different synodic cycles with synodic periods ranging from 12 years to 171 years:

  1. The Jupiter-Neptune synodic cycle: 12.7 years

  2. The Jupiter-Uranus synodic cycle: 13.5 years

  3. The Jupiter-Saturn synodic cycle: 19.5 to 20.5 years

  4. The Saturn-Neptune synodic cycle: 35 to 37 years

  5. The Saturn-Uranus synodic cycle: 44 to 47 years

  6. The Uranus-Neptune synodic cycle: 171 years

The length of each heliocentric synodic cycle is not constant for several reasons:

Because astrology uses a geocentric perspective, it's important to distinguish a geocentric synodic cycle from a heliocentric synodic cycle. The geocentric perspective implies that every outer planet goes into apparent retrograde motion once a year, and that some conjunctions appear as triple conjunctions from the earth's point of view.

The patterns of the six synodic cycles around the zodiac

The timelines of the conjunctions of each synodic cycle form different patterns:

    1. the conjunctions of Uranus and Neptune, every 170 years, move forward around the zodiac in "small steps" of about 17 degrees, so that they either occur on the same sign or in the following sign.

    2. the conjunctions of Saturn and Uranus, every 44.1 years, move in "big steps" of 190 to 200 degrees, so that they occur in the opposed sign or in the inconjunct sign.

    3. the conjunctions of Saturn and Neptune, every 36.4 years, move forward about 80 degrees, so that they move to the 3rd or 4th sign relative to the previous sign.

    4. the conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, every 20 years, move backwards about 130 degrees, so that three successive conjunctions form a triangle, and the 4th conjunction occurs about 10 degrees further from the 1st conjunction (see the visualisation below).

    5. the conjunctions of Jupiter and Uranus, every 13.5 years, move forward 55 to 62 degrees, so that they occur in sextile to one another.

    6. the conjunctions of Jupiter and Neptune, every 12.7 years, move forward 27 to 29 degrees, moving steadily through every sign of the zodiac.

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The meaning of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions

Every 20 years, the greatest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, meet in the sky for their conjunction. Sometimes they have a single exact conjunction and they stay within 5 degrees of each other for about 2 months. More rarely, they have 3 exact conjunctions - a triple conjunction - during a timeframe of about 6 months.

System and organisation

"Always, function stands as the opposite, but even more as the complement, of the concept of structure. Structure refers to Saturn; function to Jupiter. The former is static and relatively permanent; the latter, dynamic and unfolding." Dane Rudhyar

This outstanding formulation of the metaphysical meaning of Jupiter and Saturn is the key to understanding how Jupiter - the organiser of functions - and Saturn - the lord of form and structure - work together. At any level of complexity, from subatomic particles to galaxies, from an individual to a multinational organisation, from a small village to a federation of states, Jupiter and Saturn are the two cosmological principles that establish an organisation or system and hold it together, as a unified whole.

Establishment and government

And yet we want to suggest that the word establishment is perhaps the most basic, almost literal interpretation of Jupiter and Saturn. First of all, based on their astronomical qualities as the two greatest planets in the solar system, the following keywords seem to be the most obvious:

    • grandeur

    • power

    • authority

    • influence

Furthermore, the mythological perspective confirms that the main topic of this planetary pair is indeed power, and more specifically political power. The main story between Zeus and Kronos - Jupiter and Saturn's counterparts in greek mythology - is as follows:

"Cronus, Cronos, or Kronos was the leader and youngest of the first generation of Titans, the divine descendants of Uranus, the sky, and Gaia, the earth. He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own son Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus. " (Wikipedia).

What is at stake between these two giant planets is clear: it's about rising in power, about staying in power and about loosing power. Simply put, it's about power games. In other words, it's about the Establishment: the existing power structure in society, the dominant groups in society and their institutions. Again, the two keywords are structure and function: what we call "the Establishment" is not a simple thing, it's all the structures and functions of power in society.

Last but not least, the core concepts and ideas related to government are all primarily related to Jupiter and Saturn: monarchy, empire, state, nation, federalism, nationalism, separatism, separation of powers... However, one could argue that some specifically modern concepts and ideas are primarily related to the other two giant planets Uranus and Neptune: liberalism and democracy with Uranus; communism and internationalism with Neptune.

In any form of society, from the most archaic to the most modern, we can look at its dominant groups and institutions as manifestations of the Jupiter-Saturn duality or polarity:

  • In a modern democracy, it's the ruling party versus the opposition.

  • In a traditional monarchy, it's the King versus the Prince(s), or the King versus the nobility.

  • In an empire, it's the Emperor versus the Kings of the kingdoms that are part of the empire

  • In an organisation, it's about the Leader and its Leadership Team.

  • In society, it's the relationship between the older generations, and the younger generations.

  • And at the level of the world it's about the power games between those nations that have the highest influence on a global scale, the so-called great powers and those that have a lower but increasing influence, the so-called rising powers. And that's precisely the object of study of World History.

By focusing on the 2 pairs of keywords for the Jupiter-Saturn duo - system, organisation, establishment and government - we can suggest that the cycle of Jupiter and Saturn corresponds to the growth of any system, organisation, dominant group within a society (establishment) or government.

The triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

During the past 1000 years there were only 7 triple conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn. Such a rare astronomical phenomenon deserves all our attention.

A five months interlude between two cycles

The sequence of a triple conjunction can be broken down into the following stages:

    • The first conjunction marks the end of the previous Jupiter-Saturn cycle.

    • The third conjunction marks the beginning of the next Jupiter-Saturn cycle.

    • In between the two, there is roughly a five-month timeframe when something mysterious happens:

      • "time stands still" during the full month of September: at this point, both planets are standing almost still on the degree of their retrograde station.

      • October-November-December: during this 3-month timeframe both planets are in retrograde motion. At some point they make their second conjunction, their opposition to the Sun, and their synod (heliocentric conjunction).

      • "time stands still" for about a week in January, when both planets have reached their direct station, standing almost still for a number of days.

An opportunity to revise and renew any system or organisation

Retrograde motion can be interpreted as a moment for redirecting inwards the topics or energies related to the planet's signification. Dane Rudhyar suggests that a retrograde planet turns its energy towards the unconscious. The retrograde season represents an opportunity for contacting new unconscious material, and for the personal and the collective unconscious to manifest itself. In other words, it's an opportunity for new meaning to emerge, a moment when the present can be actualised to move into the future or the unknown. It's like opening the window of our consciousness, creating a unique opportunity for a new vision to emerge.

In a nutshell:

    • Jupiter stationary is about stepping back to meditate about our unquestioned assumptions about how functions of people and organisation are defined and understood.

    • Saturn stationary is about reflecting about our unconscious beliefs organisational structures, norms and rules.

    • Jupiter retrograde is about reorganising functions, roles, job titles and mission statements.

    • Saturn retrograde is about reorganising structures, boundaries, rules, laws and responsibilities.

A triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is when the retrograde seasons of Jupiter and Saturn coincide. It's a unique opportunity to for a quantum leap in any system or organisation.

The triplicity shifts of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions

Triplicity shifts and Elemental trigons

Among the six combinations of giants planets, the conjunctions of Jupiter-Saturn are the only ones that form a triangle pattern through the zodiac wheel. The trigon usually involves three signs of the same triplicity, described with the corresponding element, for example "the fiery trigon" or "the watery trigon".

Ancient and medieval astrologers gave great importance to the so-called "triplicity shifts", when the new conjunction would happen in a different triplicity from the previous one. As an example, medieval Persian astrologer Masha’allah ibn Athari (740–815 CE) wrote a whole book about Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions where he speculated, among other things, about the biblical Flood, about Christ's nativity, and about the triplicity shift indicating Muhammad's birth and the emergence of Islam (Astrology of the World II: Revolutions & History, Benjamin Dykes, 2014). However, they were using a geocentric model of the solar system standardised by Ptolemy, which used epicycles to explain the retrograde motion of the planets. See also Benjamin Dykes' article about the mean conjunctions of the Jupiter-Saturn cycle.

See also our page about planetary cycles which suggests an alternative perspective on "long cycles" or "astrological ages" that span across several centuries.

Kepler's trigon, a diagram of great conjunctions (from the book De Stella Nova (1606) by Johannes Kepler)

Triplicity shifts relative to the tropical zodiac

The tropical zodiac wheel below shows the pattern formed by the successive conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn during a timeframe of five centuries.

From the 17th century, we can identify the following triplicity shifts :

  • during the 17th and 18th centuries, the conjunctions of 1603, 1623, 1643, 1663, 1682/83, 1702, 1723, 1742 and 1762 all occurred in the fire triplicity (Aries, Leo and Sagittarius)

  • The conjunction of 1782 and 1802 shifted to the earth signs Capricorn and Virgo, while the next conjunction of 1821 remained in a fire sign (Aries).

  • It is only from the next conjunction that the "triplicity shift" was completed, and the conjunctions of 1842, 1861, 1881, 1901, 1921, 1940/41, 1961 all occurred in the earth triplicity.

  • The triple conjunction of 1980/81 shifted to an air sign (Libra), while the 2000 conjunction remained in an earth sign (Taurus),

  • From the next conjunction of 2020 the next "triplicity shift" will be completed, and the conjunctions of 2020, 2040, 2060, 2080, 2100, 2119 and 2140 will all be occurring in the air triplicity.

Visualisation of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions timeline since the 17th century and into the 21st century on a tropical zodiac wheel
Visualisation of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions timeline since the 17th century and into the 21st century on a tropical zodiac wheel

Triplicity shifts relative to the sidereal zodiac

The visualisation below displays exactly the same dataset as the one above, the only difference is that it's using the sidereal zodiac instead of the tropical zodiac:

Visualisation of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions timeline since the 17th century and into the 21st century on a sidereal zodiac wheel

We can do the same exercise of identifying the triplicity shifts relative to the sidereal zodiac:

  • All the conjunctions of the 17th century - 1603, 1623, 1643, 1663, 1682/83 - and the first conjunction of the 18th century in 1702 occurred in the water triplicity (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces).

  • The next conjunctions of 1723 and 1742 shifted to the fire signs Sagittarius and Leo, while the next conjunction of 1762 remained in a water sign (Pisces).

  • It is only from the next conjunction that the "triplicity shift" was completed, and the conjunctions of 1782, 1802, 1821, 1842, 1861, 1881, 1901 all occurred in the fire triplicity.

  • Then, in 1921, the conjunction shifted to an earth sign (Virgo), while the 1940/41 triple conjunction remained in a fire sign (Aries), the next conjunctions of 1961 shifted to earth sign (Capricorn and Virgo), and again back to a fire sign (Aries) in 2000.

  • It is only from the next conjunction that another "triplicity shift" was completed, and the following conjunctions of 2020, 2040, 2060, 2080 etc... will be occurring in the earth triplicity.

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