The Saturn Return of Pinocchio

An extract from Stories in the Stars

In my experience, the Saturn Return is one of the most important features in the path of the zodiac hero, because metaphorically-speaking, Saturn is the planetary governor that represents the father who has to be redeemed by the son (Jupiter) in the Underworld, and the redemption of the ancestral line is a major part of the work for any initiate or shaman.

This theme is writ large in the story of Pinocchio, which is derived from an ancient folktale from Tuscany about how a wooden puppet, called ‘pine-eye’ or pineal gland, becomes a ‘real boy’. In other words, it is about the trials that the mythological hero has to face and overcome to achieve the ultimate enlightenment.

The character of Pinocchio steps straight out of the Italian travelling marionette theatre which developed from of an older tradition called the Commedia dell’Arte that featured the likes of the battling Harlequin and Pulcinella who were earlier prototypes for Punch and Judy. The Commedia dell’Arte had its roots in Roman and Greek “new comedy” that was, in itself, an evolution of the Mystery Plays of the medieval period. So we don’t have to dig down too deeply to find the mythological blueprint underneath, and it is choc-full of magical clues and golden keys that will unlock many doors and build new pathways, bridges and crossings in the mind of the budding initiate.

Let’s start with the Italian Carlo Collodi’s book Le avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio) which was published in 1883. And we should also include elements from Walt Disney’s movie, Pinocchio, because there are even more symbols in that 1940s cartoon classic than in the book, which all go towards making the point that the narrative of the tale is a metaphor for the journey of the initiate right from its opening sequence with the fibonacci-coiled candlestick holder mirrored in the curlicues of the legs of a table, to the sphinxes guarding each side of the fireplace and the chess board design on the coverlet of Pinocchio’s creator, the carpenter and clockmaker Gepetto.


The motif of the clockmaker father is perfect for Old Father Time, which is one of Saturn’s epithets because it refers to the meting out of the allotted heartbeats of a human life that, in astrological myths, begins in Capricorn, on the Winter Solstice, which is governed by Saturn. The first stage of the journey, which represents early childhood, is also watched over by the Father of Time in Aquarius.

In the story of Pinocchio, the clockmaker carpenter’s name of Gepetto is a dimunitive of Guiseppe, which is Italian for Joseph, another carpenter father who taught wood-working to a son that was required to sacrifice his life by going down into the Underworld, as much as Pinocchio has to rescue his father, Gepetto, from the belly of Monstro the whale (according to Disney) or Collidi’s “horrible dog-fish” that was larger than a five-storey building.


It is not included in the Disney version, but Collidi’s story is set in Tuscany and Pinocchio is carved from a piece of “talking pinewood” that Gepetto gained from a master carpenter, Antonio, whom everyone calls Master Cherry. “Cherry” translates to “cerasus” in Latin and, along with it referring to the dark red, juicy fruit, one of its other meanings is “hymen”: the membrane or “veil” of the virgin which is broken when she first has intercourse.

So Collidi here is giving us an alchemical clue about an act of fertility that resulted in the birth of a talking wooden puppet. If so, this would make Pinocchio quite typical in that most mythological heroes come from the coupling of one human and one divine parent and like Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh (who we will meet later) and Adam in Genesis, they are initially made of natural earthy materials, like wood or clay, which symbolises the pre-initiate stage.

Illustration by Sam Richardson

Most of the scrapes into which the young wooden Pinocchio lands himself, that form the trials and tribulations of his passage around the zodiac, come about because he has not yet transformed into a real human.  It is metaphor for a rough crude substance that needs carving or moulding, refining and polishing before it is fit for purpose.

That is why I believe it would be a mistake to view the story of Pinocchio as a mere morality tale about the perils that befall naughty boys who refuse to listen to their elders, although it may appear that way when our Overton window offers only a narrow purview caused from wearing the horse blinders of religious thinking. But most of the scrapes into which the young wooden puppet lands himself were obviously developed from the trials and tribulations of the zodiac hero, and they are necessary because they exist to make him, in the end, a “real boy”.

One has to develop certain qualities in order to proceed up the alchemical Ladder of the Wise, and these can only come about, it seems, by running headfirst into a series of mishaps and brick walls which turn out to be disguises for otherworldly teachers. For instance, when the great Serpent appears to block his path, in the Collidi story, and refuses to budge, Pinocchio’s pleas in its direction are described as if he is “talking to a wall.”

Pinocchio only wins through in the end with the help of the Blue Fairy who appears in the story on two occasions, just like the double-headed goddess Venus. This again is typical of many such mythological heroes – from Hercules and Jason to Theseus and Ulysses – who are only able to conquer the terrifying monsters that they encounter with the help of a beautiful maiden.

But what exactly is the Saturn Return?

Well, when you go to an astrologer for advice, you will find that they ask for the date and hour of your birth and also the place where you were born. From this, the astrologer can calculate the positions of the stars as they were in the skies at the exact time you came into incarnation, in order to plot what is known as your birth chart, which is unique to each individual. The planets, or planetary governors, will be in certain of your sun signs and so this is what is meant when someone says that they have their Mars in Leo, or their Venus in Virgo.

The birth chart is, in effect, a map of your life and all the challenges you will have to face can be deduced from that map by an expert astrologer who will find the position of Saturn at your birth to be very telling, particularly if you are just reaching your thirties or are just past your mid-fifties or are in your late eighties. This is because Saturn returns every 29 years to the place it occupied in the skies at the time of your birth and its influence can be felt for a few years either side of the ages of 29, 58 and 87.

Words most associated with Saturn’s influence are control, structure, limitations, practicality, discipline, sense of reality and responsibility. In short, in my experience, Saturn is the strict teacher that makes us face parts of ourselves that we would rather not look at because we know that they are our weaknesses. Some psychologists call it facing the dark side of our character, but it is only in the dark until Saturn shines a light on it.

However, it is not because he wants to be cruel to us that the Father of Time tolls the school bell. It is because, whether we remember it or not, we incarnated with a destiny, like the gingham-wrapped package on the end of the pole of the wayfarer, that needs to unravel over time. When Saturn returns into our chart, it is to signal that recess is over and that it is time to return to our classroom in the School of Hard Knocks.

His final appearance in our lives is as the Grim Reaper and hopefully by then, we will have achieved our destiny. But we begin our journey almost entirely ignorant of the ways of the world and at the mercy of our impulses.

As the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in his Laws 1: 644:

“Our impulses are like cords and strings, which pull us different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein lies the difference between virtue and vice.”

Pinocchio’s song “I’ve got no strings to tie me down,” must have been inspired by Plato. Man has free will; that much is true. But how free can we really be when the stars at our birth dictate our character and our strengths and weaknesses which, in turn, inform the sorts of challenges that we will meet? It seems to me that the only freedom we have is that we get decide whether to continue climbing the Ladder of the Wise, or just sit down on the rung we’re on and sulkily refuse to budge.

End of extract


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