Karmic Lessons (or Growth Areas)

Maritha Pottenger

Our thanks to a query from Sally Klinkon who asked us to discuss the issue of karmic lessons, especially as indicated by Saturn and the South Node. We welcome inquiries from our readers and try to (eventually) get to all those we can feasibly answer.


Let us begin with a definition of terms. Karma, as I view it, is simply consequences. Karma refers to cause-and-effect in life, or the idea of “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” When we act in a certain manner, we set up the logical consequences. If, for instance, we step off a roof, gravity ensures that we will fall to the ground. How we feel about gravity does not affect the outcome; the consequences logically follow from our initial action (stepping off the roof).

In metaphysics, many people extend karma to include the idea of past lifetimes. Thus, we assume that some of the patterns which we experience now have been initiated or “set into action” in past lifetimes. Although I feel this is a reasonable hypothesis, it is important to remember that karma is primarily HABITUAL ATTITUDES AND ACTIONS. And, equally important, karma is being created right now, so if we change our attitudes and actions now, we change our karma.

In that sense, I do NOT agree with the “literalists” who espouse karmic “retribution.” I do NOT believe that karma means an “eye for an eye” as some people suggest that being murdered today means you were a murderer in a past lifetime. Rather, I see karma as the continuation (until we learn better or differently) of INGRAINED habits. If I tend to disown my own power, I will continue to be out of touch with my own abilities and strength, and will continue to attract other people who may use or abuse power against me. An extreme form of this is being murdered. In my view, being murdered does NOT suggest the individual was a murderer in a past life. Rather it suggests that the individual was a VICTIM (possibly of murder) in a past life and has not yet learned to fully own his/her own power and to defend his/her own rights. (Obviously, I am simplifying an extremely complicated situation here for purposes of this example. In an actual situation of murder, many complicated motives and interactions are likely to exist. To name just a few: (1) people may be motivated by a need for excitement or to take risks and live on the edge; (2) people may need to learn to be more practical about the situations in which they place themselves or (3) about the people with whom they choose to interact; (4) people may be entangled in complicated swamps of jealousy and vengeance; (5) people may be self-destructive but unwilling to take responsibility for the action, etc.)

The point is, if we change our ingrained attitudes and actions, we change our karma—and we change our future. This is one of the reasons astrology cannot be an exact tool of prediction. The horoscope mirrors the psychological issues. Our level of evolution determines how we handle those issues—and is subject to change at any time. Someone who “always” has a fight with the boss when transiting Mars hits his natal Saturn can get in touch with the principles involved and positively channel his Martian assertion into building endurance (Saturnian) with work-outs or exercise; into carpentry or construction work (applying Martian energy to create Saturnian tangible results); into martial arts involving vitality and structure—or many other variants. He does NOT have to experience a certain result when Saturn/Mars issues are highlighted. He can express the principles in a different way, by shifting his habitual actions and attitudes.


If karma is habitual patterns, then everything in the chart is “karmic” in the sense that it all reflects our basic tendencies (strengths and weaknesses). We single out Saturn because it is a key to our relationship to physical reality, to the rules of the game of life on this material plane. Saturn seems to indicate our relationship to life’s rules, regulations and limits—things we can do, cannot do, and must do in order to live in a material world. As such, it seems to represent a part of life that is very difficult to ignore. Unless one retreats totally into psychosis, Saturnian issues of survival have to be confronted. It is hard to continue living on Earth without eating, getting air, water, and proper rest. In many ways, Saturn is the “bottom line” of physical existence.

Thus, for most of us, Saturn in our horoscope points to where our ingrained habits (attitudes and actions) come face to face with physical reality. Generally this begins with our confrontations with authority figures (starting with Dad) and the limits we see in the world. I think of Saturn as where “the buck stops.” It represents issues in life where we must learn to work within the rules and structure, or we will face the logical consequences of trying to break the rules. (One does not break the law of gravity when stepping off a roof. One is more likely to break a leg—or one’s neck!)

Saturn lessons are likely to be faced because they do involve physical reality and the establishment, the hierarchy of authorities in life. This also includes the controlling instincts of our inner governor—the conscience. (When we ignore our conscience, one logical consequence is guilt—another Saturn-associated experience.) Saturn is karmic because it points to ingrained issues, and it is important because they are usually issues we cannot ignore, that we will be “forced” in some way to face, due to the structure of life/reality.

The challenge of any Saturnian lesson involves finding the middle ground of accomplishment, while avoiding the extremes of overdrive (pushing or carrying the world, fighting the limits, butting against the stone wall of reality) or self-blocking (refusing to try, giving up too soon, stopping before one starts, convinced failure is inevitable). The “cosmic state” of Saturn (aspects, house and sign placement) reveals issues that are likely to be central for that individual.


As with any message in the horoscope, repeated themes are the most important ones. Also, planets are weighted first in significance, then houses, with signs last. The sign is less individualistic since Saturn stays in a sign for more than two years but only stays in a house for about two hours each day.

Let us examine an example chart to help illustrate the principles. Looking at Harry Robbins Haldeman, we note that his Saturn falls in the 2nd house in Scorpio. It is in a grand water trine with the Moon in Cancer in the 10th and Uranus in Pisces in the 6th. Saturn is also EXACTLY conjunct Mercury (less than a one degree orb) and square Neptune (also less than a one degree orb). Saturn is widely sextile the Virgo Ascendant and more closely sextile the Vesta rising in Virgo, as well as being widely semi-sextile Venus and Ceres in Libra in the 2nd.

I find the rising Vesta fascinating—as it can indicate great dedication, thoroughness, willingness to work, but can also show as compulsiveness, tunnel vision, a critical eye and the work attitude alienating the individual from other human beings. Haldeman was described as “a robot type” and called “Iron Chancellor”—both fitting the Vesta rising in Virgo as well as the Mercury (Ascendant ruler) conjunct Saturn. Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England who has earned the title of “Iron Maiden” has Saturn rising in Scorpio.

So, what do we have as potential issues/lessons for Haldeman?

(1) Mercury issues (a close conjunction to a planet is enough to emphasize a theme)—could be lessons around communication, speech, intellect, writing, detachment, objectivity, the light touch, capacity to be a spectator rather than the doer and to be versatile. (2) Fixed issues (Scorpio and 2nd house)—could be lessons around power, sensuality, money, sexuality, will, loyalty and endurance. Sometimes a letter two lesson involves learning to enjoy life “as it is” rather than having to change it. Letter eight calls for learning to share power, possessions and pleasures, to fully respect the rights of others in these areas.

(3) Water/earth issues (Scorpio and 2nd house plus grand trine in water signs and earth houses)—could involve security, stability, status quo, conservatism, protection, preservation, hidden (inward) matters, compassion, hanging on.

(4) Letter 12 issues (close square to Neptune)—could involve compassion, ability to sense Oneness of life, aesthetics, spiritual ideals, ethics, deception, illusions, savior/victim issues. The water instinct to protect only becomes deception and manipulation when the individual feels too weak to achieve the protection by open action.

In light of the above, it seems rather appropriate that Haldeman was charged with conspiracy (water, especially Scorpio and/or Neptune), obstruction of justice and perjury (Neptune/Mercury issues). He was even called a “professional liar.” His ultra-loyalty (water/earth) to the Nixon administration contributed to the Watergate fiasco.


It is worth remembering that Saturn can be a key to one’s professional role in life, as well as to lessons. We may develop the career skills indicated by Saturn before, after or while working on Saturn’s karmic lessons. (Usually, lessons are a spiral. We master them on one level, and then move on to meet them on another level.) It is worth noting that Haldeman was an advertising executive (Mercury/Saturn equals professional communicator and their square to Neptune connects the career to the creative imagination with its capacity for illusions and “magic.” Advertising may range from an honest concentration on the assets of a product or service to simple exaggeration to actual lies and deception.) Had he handled his potentials differently, Haldeman could have managed the “ideals versus reality” or “compassion versus pragmatism” of his Saturn-Neptune square more constructively.


Astrology shows issues, not details. Saturn/Mercury conjunctions may indicate people who have mental limits (e.g., retarded) or communication blocks (e.g., stuttering, phone phobias, etc.). Saturn/Mercury lessons might involve detachment—too much sometimes, implying a lack of empathy for people if the rest of the chart is heavily air and earth, or too little sometimes, with excessive emotional involvement if the rest of the chart is heavily water and fire. Some people are learning to balance lightness and casual flippancy (Mercury) with serious responsibility and hard work (Saturn). Sometimes the Saturn lesson is learned or faced primarily through interactions with a sibling or other collateral relative, or someone in the early or immediate environment. Many times, the Mercury/Saturn conjunction points to people who are self-blocking when young (inhibiting communication due to fear of making a mistake, not believing they are very bright). Such people must learn to realistically assess their verbal/intellectual skills and continue to develop them with practice. If they come to terms with their potentials, such individuals often do move into a field (teaching, counseling, advertising, etc.) which puts their mind to work and uses it professionally. A Saturn-Mercury conflict with Neptune could deny the Saturn side and live mainly on the Neptune side with dreams or lies, or the individual might lack any faith in the immaterial side of life and be compulsive about only dealing with “facts.” With integration, we can distinguish between what we want and what we can do. We can work to bring our dreams into the physical world. We have choices and there are always both positive and painful options. Incidentally, Einstein had Mercury conjunct Saturn in Aries in his tenth house. He used his mind to create a new model of the physical laws of the universe.

Many texts talk about karma as if it were ONLY negative. Karma is also positive—strengths and talents we have already developed. So, Saturn/Mercury points to the potential ability to be highly realistic, professional, organized, thorough, and hardworking in our intellectual and communicative activities. We may have used our minds or tongues in a career in the past, and we can continue to build on our strengths in the present and future.


To a certain extent, saying we focus on Saturn and the South Node is misleading. We do NOT want to imply that the South Node is all one needs to look at. The nodal axis is an opposition. Like any opposition, it represents a potential seesaw—an area where we tend to have lots of activity and action, and where we may flip from one extreme to the other, overdo one side and underdo another, or attract individuals into our lives who will manifest one end to excess while we manifest the other. Wherever the nodes fall, we are (ideally) learning to balance the polarities they indicate by house and sign placement.

The ancient tradition, however, was that the South Node was like a little Saturn and the North Node like a little Jupiter. That is, we tend to feel a bit more ease (generally speaking) at the north end, and a bit more tension (facing reality/limits) at the south end. Naturally, this also depends on the chart as a whole. Since Letter 10 in general represents the reality principle, the North Node in Capricorn or in the 10th house could also be experienced as “limiting” or “frustrating” in some fashion (until integrated). In many charts, there are tensions at BOTH ends of the nodal axis, especially if other planets or angles aspect the nodes with squares, an octile-trioctile, or a semisextile-quincunx.

Since water is considered a key to the past (presumably including past lives), the nodes (relating to the Moon and thus being water factors) ought to be a possible key to past habit patterns. (If we want more clues about possible past life experiences, we would examine all water factors in the horoscope. The problem with such theorizing is that we have no way to test our theories). The nodes seem related to our closest emotional security needs and those people to whom we are tied by bonds of dependency or nurturing. Where other people are involved, we also often “have” to face the issues, because it is not just our own personal wants/needs which are in question.

The way in which we will combine the South Node and Saturn is in the search for repeated themes. When they both point to the same areas as significant issues, it is worth noting!

In the case of Haldeman, we see his nodes across Cancer/Capricorn by sign and the 4th/10th by house, so the 4/10 polarity is a repeated theme, with both sides a part of the South Node placement. We note that the nodes are closely square his Pallas in Libra in the 1st and more widely sextile/trine Mars in Taurus in the 8th (over 4 degrees) and Sun in Scorpio in the 2nd (over 6 degrees).

The 4/10 polarity could manifest in a variety of ways:

(1) tension between working in the world and staying at home

(2) tension between pragmatism and “hard-nosed” reality versus compassion, nurturing and protection

(3) confrontations between mother and father (in a literal or an inner sense)

(4) pull between power/dominance and dependency/closeness.

The sextiles/trines to Mars/Sun suggest potential harmony in terms of willpower, action, excitement, vitality and sexuality (fire issues). The squares to Pallas in the 1st in Libra suggest tension or conflict in integrating parental themes (4/10) with the capacity to be an equal, to respect “fair play” and to support social justice (part of the air principle).

When we look for repeated issues, we see that air is part of the repeated issue (Mercury conjunct Saturn and the nodes square Pallas in Libra). Air points to issues around detachment, communication, objectivity, ideas, people and equality. We also see repeated themes revolving around earth/water blends (perhaps overdoing the security, stability, loyalty, preservation or conservatism instincts which are emphasized in the chart as a whole). And, we see potential power issues with Saturn in Scorpio, the South Node in Capricorn and Saturn in the 2nd house. Letter two seeks power over personal money, possessions and pleasures and adds willfulness to the power drives of Scorpio and Capricorn, the latter two bringing other people into the situation.

So, H. R. Haldeman has several “karmic issues” highlighted by his chart. We must remember that karmic issues are just as much potential areas for growth and evolution. As we gain increasing mastery over the themes highlighted by Saturn and the South Node, they become areas where we can make a real contribution to the world, through our profession, or through the gifts we give to the world. If he has learned from Watergate, Haldeman is in that process now. If he has not, he is likely to repeat similar mistakes another time, another place. Fortunately, the universe never runs out of potential learning experiences. Life’s adventure is ongoing!

* * * * *

I wanted to give a few more examples of themes reiterated by Saturn and the South Node, so I leafed through The American Book of Charts (by Lois Rodden). A few of the obvious, easy-to-spot examples follow.

Billy Carter, often noted for his “big mouth” (willingness to talk about almost anything for publicity) has Saturn in Pisces in the 3rd and the South Node in Gemini in the 6th. The repeated message is Letter 3: communication issues (among others). Also note the “mutable dilemma” inherent in all the placements which often has to face “ideals versus reality” issues, the possibility of being scattered and overextended, or of having his ultimate values in conflict with those of other people and with his capacity to be effective (Virgo).

Bobby Fisher, noted for his originality and inventiveness (as well as his recalcitrance and excessive aloofness) has Saturn conjunct Uranus in Gemini in the 11th as well as South Node conjunct Mercury in Aquarius in the 8th. Certainly the repeated issues around Letter 11 (and air in general) come through loud and clear.

Larry Flynt, who published Hustler (a pornographic magazine) became a “born again” Christian through the auspices of Ruth Carter Stapleton and was later paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by a sniper. He has Saturn in Gemini in the 12th and the South Node in Pisces in the 9th, another mutable dilemma, particularly highlighting the issue of faith and ethics-morality which are based on our belief system (repeated Letter 12 plus Letter 9).

Another person facing the issue of faith was Ernest Hemingway, who committed suicide. His Saturn was in Sagittarius in the 4th and his South Node was in Gemini in the 10th, conjuncting Neptune. Running away by suicide is sometimes a loss of faith in our power to escape pain or to improve our life here or we could reverse the statement and say that suicide expresses the faith or at least the hope that destroying the body will stop the pain. Our capacity to hope rests firmly on our faith.

Along parallel lines, we see the horoscope of Jean Paul Sartre (proponent of existentialism—belief that life has no inherent meaning and the individual must create his/her own sense of purpose) with Saturn conjunct the South Node in Pisces in the 4th (repeating the Letter 12 issue of faith and the capacity for union, transcendence). Sartre’s probing writing seems well-reflected by his Gemini stellium (Sun, Mercury, Pluto) in the 8th while his rising Mars in Scorpio (conjunct the Ascendant) emphasizes the loner quality (each person creating his/her own meaning). Often Saturn (and sometimes the south node) will be connected to letters nine or twelve in the horoscopes of atheists or agnostics. But as is always the case when dealing with psychological issues, the details can represent opposite ends of a pole. At one end, materialistic scientists who accept only forces which can be measured with physical instruments are unable to deal with a vast amount of human experience and with the deep human need to have faith in something higher. They may handle the need by turning SCIENCE into an absolute. At the other end of the challenge are the people learning not to be overly gullible, learning to test their faith against some kind of external criteria.

A different theme comes through with Lenny Bruce (biting comedian) who had Saturn in Scorpio in the 11th and the South Node in Aquarius in the 2nd. A repeated emphasis on Letter 11 might suggest challenges around originality, rebelliousness, individuality, humanitarian principles, or progress. Bruce was noted for his unconventionality. The repeated focus on fixity also reflects his challenges around handling the material/sensual world. (He died of a heroin overdose.) The Scorpio Saturn certainly fits his career use of filthy language. (His autobiography was titled How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.)

Someone who has handled fixed issues more positively is Jacques Yves Cousteau, noted for his concern with the shared resources of our water planet. He has Saturn in Taurus in the 8th and the South Node in Scorpio in the 2nd, strongly emphasizing the issue of resources, sharing, pollution, finances, etc. (Of course, the Cousteau Society depends on the donations of people to survive—very much a 2/8 theme.)

Another person who had a repeated focus on the area of joint resources was Karl Marx, author of The Communist Manifesto. His South Node is in Scorpio in the 8th, so both sign and house indicate Letter 8 issues. Saturn is in the 1st in Pisces, a potential atheist position which fits his description of religion as “the opiate of the people,” with the house position pointing to issues around self-assertion, anger, freedom or spontaneity. The issue of independence versus dependence was a major one for Marx.

Norman Mailer’s placements emphasize faith/compassion/Union issues with the South Node in Pisces in the 12th (conjunct the Ascendant) as well as challenges in the area of relationships, equality and balance with Saturn in Libra and in the 7th house. (Mailer has been married many times.)

Issues revolve around independence, originality, humanitarianism, rebellion or detachment for both Mick Jagger and Peter Fonda. Jagger has the South Node in Aquarius in the 7th, while Saturn occupies Gemini in the 11th. His Leo stellium, including the Sun, Jupiter and Pluto all conjunct a Leo Ascendant, strongly suggests he might overdo a sense of royalty or emotional extravagance. The Leo combined with Letter 11 can be addicted to excitement and thrills, while connecting Lessons to air factors suggests that learning to be logical, detached, objective or equalitarian might be a challenge.

Peter Fonda has both the South Node and Saturn in Aries in the 11th. Saturn also widely (7 degrees) conjuncts Mars, but is solidly conjunct the midpoint of the South Node and Mars. The combination of Letter 1 and Letter 11 clearly points to challenges around independence, freedom, individuality and rebellion. Fonda played some of this out professionally in his movie role in “Easy Rider.”

William Jennings Bryan, the silver-tongued orator, had the South Node in Leo in the 3rd conjuncting the IC, while Saturn was also in Leo in the 4th. Issues are suggested around pride, self-esteem, perhaps arrogance or the need for recognition/applause. The 4/5 combination can be intensely warm and emotional (and sway public opinion), but that can be done negatively as well as positively, of course!

Lois’ book has several Nazi leaders in it and an interesting pattern emerged in the ones I saw: they all had Saturn OR the South Node connected to Letter 11 in some way! This implies lessons around humanitarian, democratic principles and equality, and perhaps around detachment and objectivity (i.e., the opposite of fanaticism). Certainly we can agree they were lacking in the Aquarian spirit of equal opportunity for all! Adolph Eichmann had Saturn in Pisces in the 11th with the South Node in Aquarius in the 10th (issues around faith and power/authority/limits as well). Paul Goebbels had Saturn in Sagittarius in the 4th conjunct Uranus with the South Node in Leo in the 12th. (Nazism became their religion. Compassion is often a water issue). Hermann Goering had Saturn in Libra in the 10th and the South Node in Scorpio in the 11th. (Power is the counterpoint to equality; we cannot have both to their fullest extent at the same time. The 8/10 mixture confronts the Libra-11th house air.) Heinrich Himmler had Saturn in Sagittarius in the 11th (faith and morality again highlighted in addition to Letter 11) and his South Node in Gemini in the 3rd repeated the air lesson of equality. His Saturn was also opposite Neptune to repeat the lesson in beliefs and the ethics based on them. Both Letters 9 and 12 can include moral principles and ethics but letter 12 adds the issue of compassion, sensitivity and empathy.

To end on a more constructive note (although I disagree with almost all of his politics), we can look at William F. Buckley. Noted among other things for his conservative bent and precision of thinking and speaking, we note that his lesson factors emphasize earth and water (more stable, oriented toward safety and status quo) as well as the three “obsessive-compulsives” which are excellent for precision, organization, thoroughness and doing things “right”: Saturn in Scorpio in the 6th and South Node in Capricorn in the 8th. (The repeat of Letter 8 also fits his political involvement and concern with financial issues and a challenge around issues of sharing. He is certainly opposed to sharing the resources of the planet). He has clearly made a profession of being a “stickler” for exactitude.

When looking for repeated themes, consider all forms—not just the simple repetition of one letter of the alphabet. All the usual themes might appear—power (through 5, 8 and 10 especially), freedom (1, 9, 11), closeness/intimacy (4, 5, 7, 8), etc. And do remember that the lesson factors are ALSO keys to where we can give something to the world, to a real contribution that we can make after we “learn the lesson”!

Copyright © 1988 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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