Leisa Schaim is a professional astrologer based out of Denver, Colorado. Her recent article on the ancient concept of sect, and its role in interpreting the Saturn return, was featured in last year’s premier issue of The Ascendant – AYA’s official journal. In this interview, Leisa speaks with AYA VP Nick Civitello on her experiences with Saturn as a tempering force, and how it shaped her role as an astrologer.
NC: Saturn’s on the rising here in New York as I type this, so let’s start there. Saturn returns have become a specialty topic of yours in the last few years. What drew you to this topic in particular?
LS: Well, I became interested in the Saturn return very early in my process of learning astrology. I had started to notice how pivotal that period of time was in so many people’s lives – that things that ended up defining their adult lives for decades afterwards would often have either their beginning or a defining turning point then. I’d always been sort of fascinated by the very different paths that people’s lives take, even before I was introduced to astrology, so this seemed like a major puzzle piece of how that happens.
At the same time, I’d also seen more than a few instances of tragedy or inordinate difficulty befalling people around this time. And as someone with a rather melancholic temperament, this had been a longtime preoccupation of mine more generally, that whole ‘why do bad things happen to good people’ question. So I guess that made me initially keep thinking about and watching the Saturn return phenomenon, to see if it could help me understand anything more about that question.
NC: And yet, cross-culturally, it doesn’t seem like there is any sort of adulthood ritual that centers around this time of life. In honesty, I hadn’t observed this make-or-break threshold period before I began studying astrology. What do you think it is about this time of life that is so crucial, and why do you think it’s not prominently recognized outside of our community?
LS: There have begun to be some pop culture references, especially the ’27 Club’ and so forth (musicians who died at age 27), and some references to the ‘quarter-life crisis’ (seems to be referring to either mid-20s or late 20s, depending on the author). But you’re right, it doesn’t seem to be a prominently recognized marker outside of astrology. I think this is partially due to it having such different specific manifestations in different people’s lives depending on their specific chart placements. Also, in terms of adulthood rituals, they traditionally would have been held so much sooner than the end of one’s 20s. So I think that another part of why it doesn’t have a recognized, fixed meaning in the larger culture has to do with longevity increasing so much over the last century or so; the late 20s occupies quite a different space than it used to, in which it’s almost acceptable to still be figuring out your place in the world, rather than having to be settled into that for a decade or longer already. So you’ll see Saturnian effects happening either way, but ones that seem to interact some with the cultural space of that age. Also, remembering back to my undergrad social sciences days, it was considered notable to even talk about adult developmental stages at all, and the models that did look at that included large age ranges together, like Erik Erikson’s young adult stage spanning 18-40 – they were really concerned with broader strokes of adult life stages than the Saturn return would be describing.
NC: As we’ve discussed, you’re well-known for working with Kronos. In fact, you co-write a blog named “Saturn Return Stories.” I don’t know your chart well. Is Saturn prominently placed? Do you consider yourself Saturnine in character?
LS: Saturn is near the top of my chart, so yes, somewhat prominently placed. It’s not the only planet that I’d consider prominent, but one of them. My primary temperament is melancholic, which is considered the Saturnine one. I’d say more life experiences than character, but that definitely becomes a bit circular.
NC: How did you come to astrology?
LS: I was always someone who wondered about the big picture of life, the ‘why’ behind everything. So I had done some searching, including living in Buddhist meditation centers towards the end of my college years. Around the same time, I found my first astrology book that went beyond sun signs and was temporarily very excited, but then put it aside.
Perhaps appropriately for the continuing Saturn theme, I returned to astrology through suffering. At one point in my early twenties I had gotten suddenly very ill, and I stayed that way for quite a while. Eventually I got a lot better, though not completely, and I thought it was behind me. But then a few years later I had a relapse, and consequently had a lot of free time alone. Browsing the internet, I came upon sites that featured full astrological charts, and I curiously started looking at my own to see if it could answer why I was going through hell. It seemed to match up with my experience, and so I kept learning from there.
NC: And what keeps you involved?
LS: I’d say what keeps me involved is that astrology continues to match up so well with life, and I find that fascinating. It’s remarkable that there are these maps of how we experience our lives, ourselves, and other people, that can show both the arcs of decades as well as the quality of a brief part of a day. In addition, I’ve had the experience of occasionally learning a new technique that gives new insight into the structure of how life and time actually operate, and I find that so fulfilling and kind of mind-blowing. I’ve always been a person who is both spiritually interested but also skeptical/wanting proof for things, and astrology is positioned so well at that exact overlap between the two.
NC: Out of curiosity, what was that first astrology book that went beyond Sun signs?
LS: That first astrology book was one that some astrologers like to laugh about, The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need – because of course, it’s hardly the only one you’ll need. But it does introduce a lot if you’ve only known about sun signs before that.
NC: I’ve only thumbed through that one, but I’ve heard other astrologers cite it as a great beginner text. Any other influences that you’d like to give some love to?
LS: Early on, I read pretty widely amongst the common modern astrology books and websites – Steven Forrest, Stephen Arroyo, Rob Hand, many others. I later studied Hellenistic astrology with Chris Brennan, which initially gave me quite the paradigm crisis, because the fact that those principles and techniques worked as well as they did led to immediate philosophical implications that changed my entire orientation to astrology. However, I now find that learning invaluable for accurately understanding concrete areas of a person’s life, as well as providing some eerily specific timing techniques; I currently focus more on that side of things in consultations, though I appreciate knowing psychological approaches as well to bring in when relevant.
NC: What do you think the astrology world needs now?
LS: In my dream world, there would be colleges offering financial aid where one could learn astrology, much like Kepler College was trying to do before with earning accreditation. That is pretty near impossible right now given the status of astrology in the larger culture, but I say that because otherwise the path to comprehensively learning astrology well can be extremely piecemeal and take longer than it needs to. Of course there are some schools, but then you need the money to attend, which not everyone has.
NC: Any advice that you could offer to young astrologers and aspirants?
LS: There are two main pieces of advice I would offer to younger people interested in astrology.
The first is to meet other astrologers. You can learn so much more quickly when not in a vacuum, and it helps more quickly filter out the non-essential or questionable things out there. The internet is great resource of free information, but the quality completely spans the spectrum, and on your own you can waste a lot of time sorting through it all. So I’d say go to conferences and join dedicated astrology forums, and then you can continue those conversations when you’re back home.
The second would be to always test what you read against real life. Astrology, at its best, puts our lives into a greater meaningful perspective and offers insights we might not have realized on our own. But the flip side of that is that spiritual/metaphysical theories can be put forth that may or may not line up with reality. So it’s an important discernment process to try on what you’re reading and see if it does line up or not with your life and those of others you know well, and what you know non-astrologically of the wider world.
NC: Thanks very much for talking with us, Leisa.