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The Mountain Astrologer

Shadow Transits - A Hidden Forecasting Tool

by Frank Clifford

Solar arcsArguably (always a good word to use when introducing astrological ideas), as psychological astrologers we’re in the profession of illumination, helping clients to see patterns and recognize repetitive behaviour. The way I see it, one of our jobs is to enable clients to make meaningful connections between their past and present circumstances in order to make more informed decisions and choices now.

In my client work, I accidentally stumbled across a tool that I later called a “Shadow Transit” and now use frequently. We astrologers can, at times, be a little bit too generous with orbs, particularly in forecasting work, but I started to wonder why clients were coming (or returning) to see me at age 31–32 with the same issues they had at their Saturn return (at 29). This often came with the cry, “You told me it would all be over two years ago!” Inaccurate and a little unfair, but … This “repetition” was happening long after the planet had moved beyond a reasonable orb of influence. I started to realize that the Saturn return ain’t over until the Shadow Saturn return, which occurs two to three years later, has been completed. But more on that in a moment.

A Brief Introduction to Solar Arc Directions

If you can add, you can make rough Solar Arc (SA) estimates by simply looking at the horoscope. For example, if the Ascendant is 5° Libra and Saturn is 19° Libra, then, if one degree of arc symbolically equals one year of life, the SA Ascendant conjoins natal Saturn at approximately age 14. This is essentially Age Arc, but Solar Arc is a more sophisticated calculation (preferably done by computer!), moving the whole chart forward based upon the exact speed of the Sun each day after birth.

I never fell in love with progressions. I always wanted a predictive tool that would give me results fast — something I could work out quickly while glancing at the horoscope. It must have been a fellow Aries who prayed, “Lord give me patience … but hurry!” So, when I discovered Solar Arc directions, I ran with them and saw how useful they could be in spotting major life events. As everything moves forward at the same rate, angular distances between the chart points remain the same, so “double whammies” occur when tight aspects (e.g., squares or oppositions) direct over a particular point in the chart, or when a planet directs over a tight aspect.

But I always wondered what the difference would be between a transit to a natal position and a transit to a Solar Arc–directed position. Is one more important? Is it a case of either/or? When I asked around, the reply was, simply and unsatisfactorily, “Ah, yes, that’s interesting.” And the matter was left dangling. Only my dear colleague Melanie Reinhart had an opinion (on transits to natal and progressed planets) that answered some of my questions. Melanie saw the period between, for example, a transit over natal Uranus and progressed Uranus as an intensification and elongation of the transit process, where it stretches the trail and “echoes” the theme through that period of time.

I didn’t (and haven’t yet) come across astrologers who had a theory on transits to Solar Arc positions or used this much in their work.1 So, I began to research the idea. And, as is usually the case, clients brought the research to me — often in the form of an extended Saturn return.

The Shadow Saturn Return

When transiting (TR) Saturn completes one lap of the zodiac and returns to its natal position, we experience a Saturn transit: the landmark, coming-of-age Saturn return. But in those 29 years, Solar Arc Saturn has directed forward roughly 29 degrees ahead of the natal Saturn (and usually into a new sign and a new house). It will then take the transiting Saturn in the sky a further 2.5 to 3 years to catch up with Solar Arc (SA) Saturn, which by then would have moved another 2.5 to 3 degrees (one degree for each year).

ShadowgirlThis is the Shadow Transit — a hidden event that links a planetary transit to the natal chart with a later planetary transit to the Solar Arc chart position.

I’ve discovered that these Shadow Transits repeat themes, events, and feelings that transpired during the original transit to the natal horoscope. They give us another chance to tidy up unfinished business, another stab at an opportunity, or another possibility to recognize a pattern from the past — and to make different choices, if necessary.

If a client has not yet undergone the Shadow leg of the transit, we can use this tool to predict patterns that are likely to be repeated when it arrives. Knowing what happened during the transit-to-natal period enables us to understand the themes that might be revisited when that transiting planet finally catches up with the SA position. Of course, the length of time it will take to catch up depends on the transiting planet, so it may not happen in our lifetime. (We know, for example, that in an average life span, Pluto won’t travel further than one-third around the horoscope.)

Consider the case of “Anna,” which first got me interested in Shadow Transits. In her early 30s, Anna arrived for an astrology–palmistry consultation in April 2005, during the transit of Saturn conjunct SA Saturn (her Shadow Saturn return). Natally, Saturn was in Gemini in the 8th house (by Placidus and Equal houses) and formed the handle of a bucket pattern (chart not shown). Saturnian issues of privacy and respect, emphasized by the planet’s 8th-house position, assumed even greater importance with her natal Moon in Capricorn and a Scorpio Ascendant. Treading carefully, and before discussing her current situation, I asked Anna what had happened during her original Saturn return. She explained that her partner had had an affair and hurried back to confess all, leaving Anna to deal with the knowledge of a betrayal and the burden of a remorseful confession.

Arguably, given Saturn in Gemini in the 8th house, one message of the Saturn return might have been to voice (Gemini) deep or volatile feelings such as betrayal (8th house), to process (mutable) this experience (Saturn) and communicate (Gemini) a range of Saturn/8th-house issues. In The Twelve Houses, Howard Sasportas writes: “The 8th House yields the opportunity to re-examine the connection between present relationship issues and those problems encountered with the mother and father early in life … The ruins and rubble from childhood are excavated in the 8th House … The gift of the 8th House is greater self-knowledge and self-mastery, freeing us to continue our journey renewed, less encumbered by unnecessary baggage.”2 But my client had said nothing to her partner at the time and, in her words, “just buried it.”

Now, in April 2005, she sat with me in my office undergoing the final leg of her Shadow Saturn return, this time in Cancer in the 9th house. I asked her if there were links between the events of her first Saturn return and her current situation, possibly with a 9th-house (travel/education) or Cancerian (home/family/motherhood) theme. There were.Shadow kiss She and her partner had been discussing whether to start a family, but my client had gone abroad (9th house) for a holiday on her own in August 2004 (first hit) and had begun an affair with another man. When she returned, she kept silent about the holiday romance. When asked if anything occurred during the second hit (January 2005), Anna replied, “I went back and spent another week with him.” I mentioned that the final hit would happen in mid May 2005, just a few weeks away, and Anna smiled nervously. She had already booked another trip for a week during that period. The Shadow Saturn return brought up the same issues but with a different emphasis (sign) and in another arena (house).

We spent much of the remaining time discussing the possibilities of exploring and articulating her natal Saturn in Gemini in the 8th. It is at this point that the astrologer feels privileged to be engaged in a process that is meaningful and empowering to both parties; it is not a matter of “getting it right” and impressing clients with accurate past dates. When a dialogue is opened, it is more pertinent to ask, “Where do we go with this information now?”


I was able to look at my own Saturn return (in Gemini in the 12th near the Ascendant) and make this connection, too (chart not shown). I had been publishing my own (and others’) astrology books from the age of 24, but at 27 I signed a contract with a major publisher to produce my first book on palmistry (not surprisingly, Gemini is highlighted frequently in the charts of hand-readers). The writing process had been a therapeutic joy, but the editing had been a struggle. I was greatly looking forward to the editing process (my work being shaped and moulded by the sort of editor you read about) but discovered that the book didn’t really have an editor, just a proofreader, who had managed to add a few hundred mistakes of her own to the manuscript! I rectified most of these and hoped the publisher would incorporate them in time for the printing.

boxingWhen the book was published during my once-only Saturn return hit in May–June 2002, it contained even more errors. I was livid at the shoddiness of the work and how it would reflect on me. By speaking out and being unhappy with the mistakes I had encountered, I had become a “difficult” author. The publisher corrected most of the errors in the second print run later that year, but I took the opportunity to sign with another publisher when the chance arose.

I wrote a second palmistry book, and the editing process was again stressful, as I seemed to be the only one who wanted the book to be as error-free as possible! It was published during my Shadow Saturn return, when TR Saturn was conjunct SA Saturn. I’m not sure whether the Saturn/12th-house “lesson” of letting go of the control-freak side of my character was fully learned during either transit, but the experience did make me realize that I needed greater control over my work and reputation.

After making this discovery in my own chart, I began to research the idea of connecting current Shadow Transits to events in the past. As an astrologer with a Gemini Ascendant, it’s my experience that if you can help the client to link up patterns that occur in different areas or times in their life, they’re able to step away and look objectively at their situation and clearly see those patterns at work.

The Iron Lady

The chart for Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, makes captivating reading and is a master class in forecasting, perhaps because her natal Saturn in Scorpio on the Ascendant depicts a controlled, stern Iron Lady who was famously “not for turning.” Margaret ThatcherShe was an unyielding conservative with a strong work ethic, and her agenda was to restore her country to its glory days as a middle-class and prosperous Victorian nation (Moon conjunct Neptune on a Virgo Midheaven): “Thatcher has taken her early life and used it as a touchstone to identify the old fashioned values that she holds, admires and would like to see restored.”3 “The codes of right and wrong lie at the bottom of every decision ... They account for her inflexibility ... and for the lack of imagination or real interest in debate.”4

During Thatcher’s second Saturn return and the planet’s passage over her Ascendant (both in January–April and September–October 1984), she faced two of the sternest tests while in office (famously dubbed her “acid reign”).5 First, there was the year-long (from March 1984) coal miners’ strike (surely a fitting illustration of a Saturn return over her Scorpio Ascendant). This was followed by a narrow escape from an assassination attempt6 by the terrorist IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) — another apt example of the transit and its ties to her natal chart.7

In October and November 1990, while experiencing her Shadow Saturn return, she was vulnerable again. Transiting Saturn reached SA Saturn and SA Ascendant (by then, Saturn–Ascendant had directed 65 degrees, thus the transit took more than six years to finally catch up). By 1990, SA Saturn was in Capricorn in the 2nd house (Placidus) or the 3rd house (Equal). In late November, Thatcher resigned over conflicts with key members of her Cabinet concerning European integration and a single currency, as well as the poll tax (a government house tax deemed unfair by much of the U.K.). A leadership challenge and lack of support from her Cabinet (Capricorn) had been the deciding factors in her resignation.

Feed the World

Bob Geldof’s natal chart speaks volumes about his charitable work, as well as the lofty role to which he has been elevated. This is the chart of a singer who was the front man for a rock band but suddenly became immersed in raising money for famine relief, and later became a political activist. The Sun in Libra is straddled by Mercury, Saturn, and Neptune, all opposed by Jupiter in Aries.Bob Geldof This axis describes a musician who realized that he had a higher calling to make a difference to those who were starving to death in Ethiopia. Neptune relates to the human condition that recognizes charity, inspiration, compassion, and suffering, and in Mercury–Saturn, we have an authoritative spokesman for justice and the restoration of equal rights (Libra). Jupiter in Aries opposing these planets suggests a zealous, idealistic, and well-intentioned crusader. But wherever there’s Jupiter, there’s also the temptation to believe one’s own publicity, to adopt the godlike status bestowed by others, and to cut corners in an attempt to keep the gold plate from peeling off one’s reputation. In short, Jupiter’s challenge is to adopt and maintain integrity.

In late 1984, as TR Pluto hovered near his Midheaven (MC), Geldof saw TV reports of starvation in Ethiopia.8 This awareness of famine (Pluto) marked a transit that profoundly changed his direction, reputation, and world perspective (MC). Whether Geldof’s MC is in late Libra or early Scorpio, either ruler (Venus or Mars) is in Virgo, a sign related to health, (mal)nutrition, and victims (the small and overlooked). Geldof enlisted the help of celebrity friends to form Band Aid, which raised money through the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” released in December 1984. Famously, Saint Bob (as he was later dubbed) said during the Live Aid TV transmission (July 13, 1985), “We need your f**king money! People are dying now.”

Twenty years later, Geldof planned Live 8 (July 2, 2005), which was a concert to “Make Poverty History,” and the Long Walk to Justice (July 6, 2005), in which Geldof called for leaders to cancel debt and to make aid/trade equal for all (note the Mercury–Saturn conjunction in Libra). During both events, TR Pluto was at 22° Sagittarius, conjunct his SA MC (and natal Ascendant). The MC, once in Libra, was now in Sagittarius (the long walk to justice).

But on this occasion, the Long Walk idea was less practicable, as he urged one million people to descend on Edinburgh during the G8 political summit being held in Scotland. When asked where people would stay, he responded that they should knock on the doors of strangers, who should accommodate them. At the time, he was accused of compromising the cause and supporting political agendas, and was criticized as an egotistical figure who set himself up as a messiah.

Interestingly, at the same time, Geldof had another Shadow Transit: TR Neptune on his SA Ascendant. The original event (when transiting Neptune hit his natal Ascendant at 22° Sagittarius in late 1981) was when his band, The Boomtown Rats, hit an all-time low in popularity.

From Peter Pan to Pied Piper?

In May 1992, teenager Jordan Chandler met superstar recluse Michael Jackson. Within 18 months, news of his sleepovers and his accusations of molestation were to rock the singer’s life and tarnish, in many people’s eyes, his reputation as a fundraiser and supporter of underprivileged children. The world wanted to know if Peter Pan had turned into an abusive Pied Piper in Neverland.

I’m not convinced that the natal horoscope can show innocence or guilt, but it certainly describes the various scripts that we can perform, depending on numerous other social factors (gender, society, privilege, race, generation). A more interesting question to pose, perhaps, is: Can we see powerful, abusive, or reclusive male figures “written” in Jordy’s script? And what of unusual friendships? Well, consider the Sun on the Ascendant in Capricorn closely square Pluto, Mars–Jupiter in the 8th, and Venus in Aquarius tightly square Uranus in Scorpio. Jordan Chandler Whether or not Jackson (or, indeed, Chandler’s father) played out these roles, the stage was set.

Chandler began his sleepovers at Neverland in March 1993. The scandal erupted on August 20–22, 1993, and an out-of-court settlement was reached between Jackson and the Chandler family on January 25, 1994. During this period, transiting Neptune and Uranus travelled over Jordy’s Sun–Ascendant. The Neptune transit to Sun–Ascendant in Capricorn (and square to Pluto in Libra) depicted his contact and close relationship with a male superstar who introduced him to a glamorous lifestyle. It would suggest the alleged blurring and overstepping of friendship boundaries and the resulting tabloid sensationalism and media frenzy. The scandal brought accusations of dishonesty and extortion against Jordy and his father (the Sun), and during this confusing, disorientating time, Jordy’s contact with both his father and Jackson came to an abrupt end (TR Uranus and Neptune).

Ultimately, and regardless of the truth of the matter, Jordy’s silence was bought and he went into hiding. His whereabouts were shrouded in mystery; he never publicly spoke out and was only occasionally photographed, usually wearing dark sunglasses or in some disguise (note the Scorpio MC).

I was tempted to look at Jordy’s chart during Jackson’s second legal trial. Surely there must be a Shadow Transit occurring. There was talk, during January–March 2005, of forcing Jordy out of hiding to testify against his former friend. Would he or wouldn’t he show? And if he did turn up, what on earth would he say? Again, Neptune was transiting his Sun and Ascendant, but this time it was conjunct their SA directed positions at 16–17° Aquarius. As it turned out, Jordy wasn’t called, didn’t make any comment or appearance, and was even alleged to have fled the country during the trial.

Some Clients’ Stories

During a consultation, there’s usually at least one occasion when Shadow Transit connections are made, and it’s often a valuable part of the session. One client, “Larissa,” was experiencing TR Uranus on her SA Mercury at 15° Pisces (client charts not shown). I asked her what had happened the first time around (when TR Uranus conjoined natal Mercury at 10° Aquarius in the 2nd house). Back then, out of the blue (Uranus), an eccentric architect friend (Mercury in Aquarius) had offered her some work space in his building for a minimal fee. shadowAt the start of her burgeoning art career, this had helped Larissa’s finances enormously. Now, during the Shadow Transit, the friend had come back into the picture with another building space and another offer — this time free of charge (Pisces!).

Another client had TR Pluto conjunct her Moon–Neptune–IC in Scorpio while her father was dying of cancer. Part of the stress during this time was keeping his illness secret from her mother, who was herself incapacitated. When TR Pluto moved to 0° Capricorn in early 2008, it was now sitting on my client’s SA Moon, which had directed into Capricorn and into the 5th house. Under this transit, she began a difficult separation from her long-term partner. During the consultation, she said, “This situation has been even more painful than losing my father to cancer.”

A student of mine came for a consultation, and we discussed TR Neptune conjunct SA Jupiter in Aquarius. The original Neptune transit to her natal chart occurred in Capricorn, when she had given up (Neptune is associated with resignation) just before her finals at university (Jupiter in Capricorn). At the time of our consultation, she was training to be a professional astrologer but had decided not to take the final qualifying examinations in astrology (Jupiter in Aquarius). The outcome of the consultation was that she chose to stick with her training, and I’m delighted to say that she passed the exams.

Another client shocked his family by coming out of the closet when transiting Uranus hit his MC, only to shock them again by dating a woman when the Shadow Uranus transit hit his SA MC!

Disgraced Champion

With Saturn on the MC in Leo, it is not surprising that this athlete would be held up as a shining example of blue ribbon (and gold medal) achievement. Marion Jones But with this aspect, she could also be held accountable if corners were cut or her cheating revealed. Saturn says, “You may not get what you pay for, but you pay for what you get.”

The athlete is Marion Jones, disgraced Olympic champion. Here’s a brief chronology of events during her Saturn return to the MC and the resultant Shadow Transits:

  • Up to February 2006: After being accused of taking steroids, Jones wins/settles a defamation lawsuit, but the IOC (International Olympic Committee) says it will investigate further — TR Saturn return and TR Saturn conjunct the MC.
  • October 2007: Jones retires after admitting steroid use and lying in a federal investigation — TR Saturn conjunct SA Saturn (Shadow Saturn return).
  • December 2007 to January 2008: Jones is formally stripped of her Olympic medals in December and banned from competing; in January, she is sentenced to six months in prison — TR Saturn conjunct SA MC.
  • March 7, 2008: She reports to the prison facility — Shadow Saturn return again.

Saturn–MC conjunctions (natally or by transit) are occasionally “fall from grace” aspects. And with a Leo MC, the impact of a male Svengali figure on Jones’s life is likely.9 (Remarkably, two of her partners have been involved in drug scandals.)

I find it interesting that, at the time of her ban and public condemnation, Marion’s SA MC and Saturn were at the same degrees as Florence Griffith-Joyner’s (Flo Jo’s) natal 12th-house Moon–Pluto conjunction in Virgo (chart not shown). Flo Jo’s extraordinary (and much debated) 1988 Olympic gold medals and world records had been the inspiration for the teenage Marion Jones.

Final Words

When trying to anticipate how a transit to a Solar Arc–directed planet is working in a client’s life (possible themes, experiences, areas of life, and events), I now track the date of the original transit to the natal chart and ask, “What happened back then?” More often than not, the client recalls an event that has a direct link to current circumstances. But the new aspect will usually be in a different sign or house, so there’s a twist in the interpretation. In a way, it’s the same visitor at the door, but in a different costume.

Try it out yourself. Play detective and look at your Shadow Saturn return or other transits (not just conjunctions) to Solar Arc positions, and make the links. It may be a repeat, “here we go again” experience but in a different setting and with different players. With the benefit of some hindsight, we can make useful and meaningful links between past and present conditions that can empower our clients, and ourselves, to make more informed choices about our lives.

Chart data and sources:
(in alphabetical order)
Client details withheld for purposes of confidentiality.
Jordan Chandler, January 11, 1980; 7:08 a.m. PST (+8:00); Santa Monica, CA, USA (34°N01’, 118°W29’); AA: Birth certificate in hand (Jordan Christopher Chandler).
Bob Geldof, October 5, 1951; 2:20 p.m. GDT (–1:00); Dublin, Ireland (53°N20’, 06°W15’); A: Jo Logan quotes Geldof’s letter.
Florence Griffith-Joyner, December 21, 1959; 12:11 a.m. PST (+8:00); Los Angeles, CA, USA (34°N03’, 118°W15’); AA: Birth certificate in hand (Florence Delorez Griffith).
Marion Jones, October 12, 1975; 8:01 a.m. PDT (+7:00); Los Angeles, CA, USA (34°N03’, 118°W15’); AA: Pat Taglilatelo quotes birth certificate in hand.
Margaret Thatcher, October 13, 1925; 9:00 a.m. GMT; Grantham, England (52°N55’, 00°W39’); A: Charles Harvey quotes Thatcher, via her private secretary.

References and Notes:
1. The author would welcome correspondence from astrologers using this method and would like to hear their stories and observations: info@flareuk.com
2. Howard Sasportas, The Twelve Houses, Flare Publications, 2007, p. 61.
3. N. Wapshott and G. Brock, Thatcher, Futura, 1983.
4. Penny Junor, Margaret Thatcher: Wife, Mother, Politician, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1983.
5. A phrase coined by renowned wit and raconteur Quentin Crisp.
6. According to news reports at the time, the bomb exploded at 2:54 a.m. BST (–1:00) on October 12, 1984 in Brighton, England (50°N50’, 00°W08’).
7. Thatcher has a tight and pivotal Jupiter–Pluto opposition, which suggests themes such as deep exploration (e.g., mining), religious extremism, and titanic power struggles. The opposition squares Mars (and her Sun), and the t-square ties in with her Saturn–Ascendant conjunction — the chart rulers are Mars and Pluto, and Jupiter is disposited by Saturn.
8. In The Book of World Horoscopes by Nicholas Campion (The Wessex Astrologer, 2004), a chart for Ethiopia’s revolution — September 12, 1974, 6:15 a.m. BGT (–3:00), Addis Ababa (09°N02’, 38°E42’) — gives a set of astonishing inter-aspects: Venus at 4° Virgo (exactly conjunct Geldof’s Venus), Neptune conjunct Geldof’s Moon (feeding the helpless), and Mercury–Pluto conjunct Geldof’s Mercury–Saturn in Libra. This horoscope for Ethiopia, like Geldof’s, has Jupiter as the handle of a bucket-shaped chart, but in Pisces on the Descendant.
9. I explore further the Svengali aspect of a Leo MC in my book, The Midheaven: Spotlight on Success (due in 2009, Flare Publications).

Image sources:
All images by: pixabay.com
All charts by TMA

First published in: The Mountain Astrologer, Dec2008/Jan2009


Frank CliffordFrank Clifford is an astrologer, palmist, data collector, publisher and writer who won the prestigious Charles Harvey Award in 2012 for lifetime contribution to astrology. Frank has been Principal of The London School of Astrology since 2004 and is launching a series of accredited astrology and palmistry courses online via the LSA in 2016. Frank has a column in The Mountain Astrologer and has guest edited five themed issues. His dozen publications include Palmistry 4 Today, Solar Arc Directions, Getting to the Heart of Your Chart, and his latest book of essays, Horoscope Snapshots. www.flareuk.com

© 2008 Frank Clifford - first published by The Mountain Astrologer

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