August 6, 2020
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Saturn Cutting off Cupid’s Wings with a Scythe (1802) by Ivan Akimov (Tretyakov Gallery)

Saturn (LatinSaturnus) is a god in ancient Roman religion, and a character in myth. Saturn is a complex figure because of his multiple associations and long history. He was the first god of the Capitol, known since the most ancient times as Saturnius Mons, and was seen as a god of generation, dissolution, plenty, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation. In later developments he came to be also a god of time. His reign was depicted as a Golden Age of plenty and peace. The Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum housed the state treasury. In December, he was celebrated at what is perhaps the most famous of the Roman festivals, the Saturnalia, a time of feasting, role reversals, free speech, gift-giving and revelry. Saturn the planet and Saturdayare both named after the god.

The Romans identified Saturn with the Greek Cronus, whose myths were adapted for Latin literature and Roman art. In particular, Cronus’s role in the genealogy of the Greek gods was transferred to Saturn. As early as Livius Andronicus (3rd century BC), Jupiter was called the son of Saturn.[1]  Saturn had two consorts who represented different aspects of the god. The name of his wife Ops, the Roman equivalent of Greek Rhea, means “wealth, abundance, resources.”[2] The association with Ops though is considered a later development, as this goddess was originally paired with Consus.[3] Earlier was Saturn’s association with Lua (“destruction, dissolution, loosening”), a goddess who received the bloodied weapons of enemies destroyed in war.[4]  Under Saturn’s rule, humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor in a state of social egalitarianism,[5] in the “Golden Age” described by Hesiod.

According to Varro,[6] Saturn’s name was derived from satu, “sowing.” Even though this etymology looks implausible on linguistic grounds (for the long quantity of the ain Sāturnus and also because of the epigraphically attested form Saeturnus)[7]nevertheless it does reflect an original feature of the god.[8] A more probable etymology connects the name with Etruscan god Satre and placenames such as Satria, an ancient town of Latium, and Saturae palus, a marsh also in Latium. This root may be related to Latin phytonym satureia.[9] Another epithet of his that referred to his agricultural functions was Sterculius or StercutusSterces[10] from stercus,“manure.” Agriculture was important to Roman identity, and Saturn was a part of archaic Roman religion and ethnic identity. His name appears in the ancient hymn of the Salian priests,[11] and his temple was the oldest known to have been recorded by the pontiffs.


The Cult of Saturn

Saturn is associated with a major religious festival in the Roman calendar, Saturnalia. Saturnalia celebrated the harvest and sowing, and ran from December 17–23. During Saturnalia, the social restrictions of Rome were relaxed. The figure of Saturn, kept during the year with its legs bound in wool, was released from its bindings for the period of the festival.[28] The revelries of Saturnalia were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost “Golden Age” before the rule of Saturn was overthrown, not all of them desirable except as a temporary release from civilized constraint. The Greek equivalent was the Kronia.[37]

Macrobius (5th century AD) presents an interpretation of the Saturnalia as a festival of light leading to the winter solstice.[38] The renewal of light and the coming of the new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun,” on December 25.[39]

Tree of Life Attributions

Three is Binah, then, translated by “Understanding,” and to it is attributed Saturn, the oldest of the gods, and the Greek Kronos, the god of time. (Israel Regardie, A Garden of Pomegrenates, p. 43)  Aleiser Crowley’s classification aslo add Juno, Cybel and Hecate as possible attributions. (Aleister Crowley, 777, p. 11)


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