Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius

Estimated Reading Time: 19 minutes

December 2018 Tarot Card Astrology: Ten of Wands

Today in my series on tarot card astrology, we’ll be looking at the Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius. This card is associated with the last third of the sign of Sagittarius, or roughly December 12 through the 21 this year. Although the card image and its attribution to Saturn can indicate trials and difficulties, the correlation to Sagittarius reminds us to meet these joyfully. I discuss the myth of the phoenix as it relates to Saturn in Sagittarius, and the ritual includes a recipe for Phoenix incense. Be sure to check out all the articles, upcoming and past, on tarot card astrology.

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Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius

  • The Ten of Wands is titled “The Lord of Oppression” and many readers associate it with difficult tasks, overwork, burdens, burning the candle at both ends, or the final stretch of pushing through a challenge just before you reach your goal.
  • Saturn is associated with endings, boundaries, time, limitations, old age, slowness, discipline, authority, and the father.
  • Sagittarius is a mutable fire sign ruled by Jupiter and expresses qualities such as exploration, philosophy, enthusiasm, and far-seeing vision. Its symbol is the archer and its glyph is an arrow.
  • Ten of Wands: Saturn Ruling the Third Decan of Sagittarius
  • Saturn was most recently in the final one-third portion of the sign of Sagittarius in 2017. It won’t return to this decan until 2046. So instead of working with Saturn as the decan ruler, we’ll work with the calendar timing, the time when the Sun passes through this section of the zodiac. This year this will be Tuesday, December 11, 2018, 8 p.m. through December 21, 3 p.m.
  • Best time for ritual work: the winter solstice, December 21 during the planetary hour of Saturn from 3:02 to 3:49 p.m., which coincides with the Sun’s movement out of Sagittarius and into Capricorn. Alternately, Saturday, December 15, 2018 at dawn.

Saturn in Sagittarius

Ten of Wands from different decks
The Ten of Wands from, left to right, Hanson Roberts Tarot, Wickwillow Tarot, Alchemical Tarot: Renewed, Tarot of the Sidhe, and Legacy of the Divine Tarot. The symbolism of the Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius includes hardship, sacrifice, and traveling the most difficult stretch before arriving at your destination.

Saturn is slow, disciplined, strict, and confining. Sagittarius is fast, free-wheeling, easy-going, and wide-ranging. One of my students quipped, “It’s like when the principal shows up at a party.” Yes, that’s Saturn in Sagittarius in a nutshell. Saturn in Sagittarius can feel like a nay-sayer, the negative Nelly who shoots down your lofty plan and points out all the reasons it will never work. When Sagittarius buys a gazillion acres of open land, it’s Saturn who fences it, foot by dreary foot. But Saturn and Sagittarius can work together. If Sag wants to build a rocket, it’s Saturn who engineers the plans. When Saturn and Sagittarius cooperate, boundaries can be broken and new frontiers opened for Sagittarius to explore and Saturn to map.

Image of the Ten of Wands

Ten of Wands from the Rider Waite Smith Tarot by A. E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, Pamela-A edition.

A figure is hunched over the heavy load of ten long wooden staffs. A house in the background is perhaps his destination, suggesting he’s almost done. The Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) image is an odd one. I have always wondered why he is carrying the wands in front of him instead of on his back. Looking closer, I notice that the figure actually holds the wands away from his body, not hugging them to him as physics would require. Despite the odd posture, the wands are obediently arranged in a spray in front of the man. His muscular arm seems to press the wands to his forehead, while his other hand easily holds the crossing stems with a loose grip, another impossibility.

Because we’ve all carried a heavy load at one time or another, often not being able to see around it, it is easy to appreciate this image. But careful consideration requires us to note that it seems like he has a much easier job than the rest of us. I am reminded of stage props — during the scene the actor struggles to move a boulder aside; however, during the blackout you notice a stagehand pick the boulder up with one hand and carry it lightly under his arm. I can’t help but think that this man places the obstacle of the wooden rods in his way. He pushes against the limit he himself sets.

Title of the Ten of Wands: Oppression

To oppress is to use unfair authority to keep someone in their place. The  word “oppression” comes from the Latin meaning “press against.” In this image, the man seems to be doing this to himself, pressing the obstacle to his own forehead. The Ten of Wands represents the burden of unjust work and tasks that are too difficult for one person to handle. But it is useful to discern when those difficulties are handed down from others versus when we block ourselves from advancement or achievement.

Astrology of the Ten of Wands

Saturn is the oppressive force, Sagittarius is the goal we strive toward. When reading for clients, I sometimes point out that the pleasure of the goal often motivates a difficult chore. For instance, gathering firewood is hard work, but the enjoyment of the campfire, toasting marshmallows, singing songs and telling ghost stories will make this tedious task easier.

Slow, practical Saturn rules this third and mutable decan of the mutable fire sign Sagittarius. The mutable mode winds things down so that they can be passed off to the next sign. In this case, Saturn in Sagittarius hands off to the first decan of Capricorn, ruled by Jupiter. Although not technically mutual reception, there are similarities to that concept in that these two planets are related to each other and in each other’s signs. Saturn, in Jupiter’s sign of Sagittarius, hands off to Jupiter, who is overseeing the first face of Capricorn, a sign ruled by Saturn. This remediates some of the difficulty in the task, as Jupiter in Capricorn, the Two of Pentacles, easily juggles the task Saturn found difficult.

Time constraints prevent Saturn from returning home more often than once every 28-30 years. Accordingly, when Saturn is in the final decan of Sagittarius, he is in the home stretch of finally arriving at his own sign. Old man Saturn is dragging at the end of this 29-year marathon, but the Sagittarius energy cheers him on. In Capricorn, Saturn is productive. His ability to slowly develop systems and structures is recognized and appreciated by the sign of the goat. Because Sagittarius is far-seeing, Saturn can use this time to plan for his arrival. Saturn in Sagittarius has the onerous responsibility of making the detailed checklist that he will have the satisfaction of dutifully completing in his home sign.

Mythology of the Ten of Wands

The story of the phoenix is an example of the mythology of the Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius. The Roman poet Claudian says that when “Phoenix’s bright eye grows dim….his wings, wont to cleave the clouds of heaven, can scarce raise them from the earth….and in his eagerness to be born again meets death with joy.”

Many people have heard the story of the phoenix, illustrated in Robert Places’s Ten of Wands from the Alchemical Tarot: Renewed. The phoenix lives to the age of 500 years, builds a nest of fragrant spices, then self-immolates and is re-born from his own ashes. But lesser known is the following task set forth for the new-hatched chick. As soon as he has enough strength, he must take the nest and carry it from India to Heliopolis in Egypt, the City of the Sun. He must undertake a harrowing trip home. The phoenix, whose body shines with the rays of the sun, carries this nest made of the branches of incense trees back home where he deposits it on the steps of the temple. This is symbolic of putting the Sun to rest. The final decan of Sagittarius ends at the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, and the time of the birth of the Sun. Saturn in Sagittarius reminds us to meet death with joy.

Ritual Work for Ten of Wands: Saturn in Third Decan of Sagittarius

So far, we’ve utilized rituals to connect with the energy of the cards. Certainly the Ten of Wands is not something most people will choose to invoke! But we can still do magical work around this card. You can meditate on the card to shed light on what causes you to block yourself, or you can call in Saturn/Kronos to ask why he is being so hard on you. But what I would recommend for this card is to perform a ritual that redirects the oppressiveness in your life toward a specific goal of transformation: the sacrifice that leads to rebirth. To this end, we’ll use our ritual to make Phoenix incense that can be burned when the situation is difficult in order to inspire us to make changes to our life.

Since Saturn won’t be in the third decan of Sagittarius until 2046, the next best time to do this ritual is when the Sun is in that decan, which it will be this year from Tuesday, December 11, 2018, 8 p.m. through December 21, 3 p.m. Saturday is Saturn’s day, so working on the day and planetary hour of Saturn would be a good time, Saturday, December 15, at dawn (or choose another one of Saturn’s hours by using the planetary hour calculator; remember to edit both the location and date).

However, an even better time is to use the date of the winter solstice, December 21. In fact, this year the Sun moves from Sagittarius into Capricorn at 3:23 p.m. MST, the exact moment of the solstice, during a planetary hour of Saturn. There is a planetary hour of Saturn on December 21 is from 3:02 to 3:49 p.m., which would make an ideal time to perform this ritual.

As always, remember to review all the details of the ritual ahead of time and gather your supplies so you can get started as soon as the planetary hour rolls around.

Saturn Hymn or Prayer

You can use the Orphic hymn to Saturn/Kronos if you would like to speak directly to the energetic force that presides over decrease and death. However, that energy can be overbearingly intense for some, so you might find it easier, especially if you’re in a challenging period at this time, to try a different tack. For this ritual, it may be useful to invoke the spirit of the phoenix, using a quote from Claudian’s poetic tale The Phoenix (follow that link and scroll to the Claudian section to read the story in its entirety). Alternately, as always, feel free to write your own prayer or adapt the following to fit your style better.

Happy bird, heir to thine own self! Death which proves our undoing restores thy strength. Thine ashes give thee life and though thou perish not, thine old age dies. Thou hast beheld all that has been, hast witnessed the passing of the ages. Thou knowest when it was that the waves of the sea rose and o’erflowed the rocks, what year it was that Phaëthon’s error devoted to the flames. Yet did no destruction overwhelm thee; sole survivor thou livest to see the earth subdued; against thee the Fates gather not up their threads, powerless to do thee harm.

Statement of Intention

What is your goal for this ritual? Whether spiritual, mental, emotional, or practical, your Statement of Intention clearly states this objective. I suggest writing this out ahead of time; however, you can always change it during the ritual itself if you are so inspired. I usually phrase my Statement of Intention as a request to the energies I’m working with. Some examples for the Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius might be:

  • To help me understand how I hold myself back from achieving my goals
  • May all the energy I expend in oppressive tasks now be redirected toward my own development and advancement, specifically, may I achieve ________________ (state your goal).
  • Give me renewal of strength that I may continue with this necessary task
  • Or write your own intention following the symbolism of the Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius and the myth of the phoenix

Here is some phrasing you can use to introduce your Statement of Intention:

On this day at this hour, the Sun, the Shining One, steers his fiery chariot through the final portion of Sagittarius, the sign of the Archer, the decan ruled by Kronos, the lord of time and bringer of endings. I ask Helios, the Son of Light, and Kronos, Father of Eternity: __________________ (use your statement of intention).

Helios’s Reply

In this particular ritual, after the Statement of Intention, we’ll imagine Helios in his Sun chariot replying to us as he did to console the phoenix in the story by Claudian. This is used in the ritual to spiritually charge the Phoenix incense that you make. Feel free to update the language if it sounds better and becomes more meaningful to you.

Thou who art about to leave thy years behind upon yon pyre, who, by this pretence of death, art destined to rediscover life; thou whose decease means but the renewal of existence and who by self-destruction regainest thy lost youth, receive back thy life, quit the body that must die, and by a change of form come forth more beauteous than ever.


Basic supplies include a candle, incense, and a symbol for the energies you’re working with. For this ritual, you’ll also need the ingredients and tools to make your Phoenix incense. Use other items that you have on hand to further express and reiterate the symbolism of your ritual and that express the essence of your intention.

  • Small table (one of those folding TV trays works great in a pinch) or clear area on a shelf to set up the altar
  • Altar cloth, such as a black cloth (Saturn color) with red and gold highlights or use a red and gold runner or accent cloth (Sagittarius and phoenix colors) over a basic black cloth
  • Saturn incense such as myrrh, spikenard, patchouli, cypress, or lily
  • Black candle (Saturn colors) and/or red and gold candles (Sagittarius and phoenix colors), also additional candles for general illumination
  • Ten of Wands tarot card
  • A printed checklist for your supplies
  • A printout of the ritual instructions or your own notes for your ritual
  • Prayer to the Phoenix (or appropriate prayer of your choice) printed or written on index cards
  • Your statement of intention for the ritual, printed or written on an index card
  • Helios’s Reply, printed or written on an index card
  • Phoenix incense — you will make the incense during the ritual
    • Ingredients for your phoenix incense
      • 1 part Frankincense resin
      • 1 part Myrrh resin
      • 2 parts ground Cinnamon (I use ground cinnamon from the spice rack; cinnamon stick is really hard to grind in a mortar and pestle; a spice grinder or pepper grinder might work in you want to use the stick)
      • a few drops Spikenard essential oil
    • Heavy mortal and pestle to grind your incense
    • Incense burner and charcoal to burn your phoenix incense
  • Coins or stones or other counters to mark repetitions of prayers and intentions
  • An hourglass or scythe to indicate the end of difficulties, or other symbol of Saturn; a red feather or other symbol of the phoenix
  • Stones such as obsidian, black onyx, smoky quartz, or diamond, symbol of transformation due to great pressure, or pearls, symbol of irritation that leads to beauty and also born of the sea, the world’s womb
  • Other appropriate symbols, including photos or art of the phoenix; personal items that remind you of your intention
  • Saturn beverage: I like using a pomegranate green tea
  • Saturn food: Anything spiced or flavored with Saturn-ruled plants, herbs, or spices, or Saturnian foods like a pomegranate or tamarind
  • Clothing and accessories: wear black and/or wear Saturnian jewelry made of obsidian, black onyx, smoky quartz, diamonds, or pearls, or whatever best expresses your intention.

Ritual Instructions

This ritual is a little different from the previous ones. You can stick to the earlier format if that has been working well for you. But this ritual is designed to integrate the story of the phoenix into the ritual format, which strengthens the focus of the ceremony. Rituals are very personal, so feel free to adapt it and make it your own, while staying true to the symbolism of the Ten of Wands: Saturn in Sagittarius and the story of the phoenix.

  1. Set up a basic altar. On a table or clear area of a shelf (you’ll need enough work space to make the incense), place your appropriately colored altar cloth, candle, and incense. You can also include any other related symbols or decorations that will help you connect with the energies of the ritual.
  2. Have on hand your prayer or hymn, your Ten of Wands tarot card, your statement of intention, and a printout of these ritual instructions or your own notes for your ritual.
  3. Light the candle(s)
  4. Find a comfortable seated position at your altar. Ground and center yourself, perhaps using the fourfold breath.
  5. Light the Saturn incense.
  6. Read the prayer or hymn that you chose. If you’re using the Orphic hymn to Kronos or otherwise connecting with Saturn energy, say it three times; if you’re using the Phoenix invocation given here or using a different Phoenix prayer, say it six times. You can use coins, stones, or other counters to keep track, moving one from a “to-do” pile to a “done” pile with each reading. Feel a deep connection to the energy you are calling on, remaining fully present and aware of that energy during each recitation, and taking a moment in between to feel those energies grow clearer and stronger.
  7. Next you’ll focus this awareness of the invoked energy by turning your attention to the Ten of Wands tarot card. Meditate on it briefly, becoming immersed in the scene. If appropriate, visualize the scene coming to life, perhaps the ten wands burst into flame and the figure lets go of his burden.
  8. Light the charcoal (if you haven’t already done so) so it will be ready (it takes a few minutes to get going) for your Phoenix incense. Place it in an appropriate incense burner.
  9. Begin making your incense. Grind the frankincense and myrrh in a mortar and pestle, repeating (silently or out loud) your Statement of Intention (say the statement ten times, the number of the card). Add the cinnamon and spikenard oil. Grind together with the mortar and pestle until it is reasonably uniform in texture.
  10. Hold your hands over the ground incense in the mortar and see bright light descending through your hands into the incense. As you do this, say Helios’s Reply six times.
  11. Place a pinch of your Phoenix incense on the charcoal and state your intention one more time. Watch the smoke carry the intention to the heavens.
  12. State the following summary, or summarize the symbolism of the ritual in your own way: “The Phoenix lived on tears of frankincense and built a nest of myrrh, cassia, cinnamon and spikenard. Cinnamon and frankincense correlate to the element fire, myrrh to water, and spikenard to air. The phoenix, even though he lived 500 years, knew that the physical body, the element earth, can be destroyed, but the higher planes are eternal. So he did not include the element earth in his nest. And after 500 years he built a funeral pyre and immolated himself, so that he could arise renewed out of his own ashes. We thank the Phoenix for carrying our intentions with grace and beauty and passion toward immortality.”
  13. Meditate on the Phoenix and your own transformation.
  14. It is then necessary to ground the energy. Thank any forces that you invoked, including Helios, Kronos, and the Phoenix, and ask them to return to their abodes.
  15. You can leave your altar out and burn your Phoenix incense whenever you feel the need, until the goal of your statement of intention has been achieved. Alternately, you can put everything away; you don’t need the full set up to use your Phoenix incense.

If you have any question about this ritual, please leave them in the comments! I’d also love for you to share your experiences with this practice in the comments.

Upcoming Tarot Card Astrology posts for Sagittarius

Ten of Cups, to be published on Wednesday, December 5, 2018

  • Ten of Cups: Mars Ruling the Third Decan of Pisces
  • Mars will pass through the third decan of Pisces from Sunday, December 16, 2018, 8 p.m. through Monday, December 31, 2018, 7:20 p.m.
  • Best times for ritual work: Tuesday, December 18 and Tuesday, December 25. I like Christmas Day better because the aspects are more supportive. December 18 places Mars square to the Sun. However, December 25 has no hard aspects to Mars and in fact highlights a lovely reception with Venus. I prefer the planetary hour of Mars in the evening (7:05-8:17 p.m.) to the one at dawn (7:15-8:00 a.m.).
Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

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