Taming Aries' Wild Horses

By Dana Gerhardt

bluehorsesImagine the way
those horses came
plunging and foaming
like a race undammed,
and how the
hot hooves crashing
scoured down
the hills of Thrace.

Fed by an unheard-of hunger. [1]

For his Aries labor, Hercules must capture and tame four savage horses, gifts from Mars to his half-mortal son, the barbaric King Diomedes. His unruly steeds tear across Thrace like earthquakes and thunder, splintering cities, devouring rivers, and razing mountains. Among terrified Thracians it's rumored that the mares even eat human flesh.

Experience in archetypes tells me the horses must symbolize the raw vitality of Aries, but the dark fury of this image gives me pause. Despite a few hot-headed Arians I've known (who were rather scary), I generally conjure sunnier pictures of this sign. Aries is the leap of joy, the charge up the hill, the flushed cheeks of exertion and laughter. It's the urge to be the first, to shout "Aiyeee!" to grab a lover and wrestle in the sheets. It's the crack of the bat as an all-star hits a homerun. It's the toddler exclaiming "I did it!" as a new milestone is achieved. It's the explorer heading without a map into an amazing adventure.

Zero Aries, that point when the north-climbing Sun crosses the equator, marks the beginning of the tropical zodiac and launches spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It brings warmer days, renewed vitality, new growth and new optimism. Where Aries appears in your chart, you have a gift for beginnings, for blazing new trails, for leaping where spirit wants to take you. Aries is sheer life force energy. That's one of the meanings of its glyph: a single line branching into two ram horns.

symbolMeditate on this image and you'll discover its essence all around you. Sit in presence with a simple house plant, for example. After you've relaxed enough to perceive what's there, you'll notice the bright life force energy that holds the stalk upright, that blazes out into space through its branches, reaching, exploring, pursuing the light. In your own body, with practice, you can find a fountain of electricity running up your spine, branching like the ram's horns, over your crown. This is the Aries glyph inside you, holding the bright charge of "I am!"

Zero Aries is also an angle in the world's horoscope. Without an actual birth time, the world has no real birth chart. Yet zero degrees of cardinal signs have proven to be sensitive points; transits here signal major cultural shifts, accelerating a tide of global events. When zero Aries is active in an individual's chart, by midpoint or planetary aspect, it can bring a significant connection with the larger world, perhaps increasing one's prominence or merging one's fate with the currents of history. Zero Aries is especially important these days, as three of four outer planets stalk this degree. Pluto in Capricorn has just squared it (editor's note: in 2008), Saturn in Libra will oppose it (editor's note: in 2009/2010), and Uranus in Pisces is heading to conjunct it (editor's note: in 2010/2011). What might these transits provoke from the Aries point? Will they inspire new beginnings? Ignite a new adventure? Or unleash the savage mares of Diomedes?

Aries' Shadow

Alas. We can usually count on the world to display a transit's lowest potentials. When Pluto made its final square to the Aries point last November (editor's note: 2008), King Diomedes and his man-eating mares took the stage. With stunning audacity, a team of terrorists brought mayhem and death to the streets of Mumbai, firing indiscriminately from waist-high AK-47s across crowded hotels, cafes, theaters, and railway stations. The siege lasted days. At the same time, half a world away, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled by Black Friday shoppers in a stampede for cheap electronics. Jdimytai Damour - described by friends as a lover of family and poetry - was killed at the Green Acres Mall when a waiting crowd became a mob, shoving and pounding on the store doors until they shattered. Pluto transits point with laser focus to what most needs purging and transformation. In this case it was Aries' dark side - its self-centered ruthlessness, brutality and greed - the shadow traits Aries doesn't like exposed in itself.

Few of us with Aries planets have shadows this ruthless or violent, but most of us are hiding a few dark traits. Now is an excellent time to explore any unconscious Aries behaviors, as Pluto, Saturn, and Uranus will keep triggering Aries degrees in the years ahead. Outer planet transits have a nasty habit of bringing what's unconscious to the surface. This is a celestial kindness - an opportunity to recognize old wounds and heal them, to unbind defenses and more fully express our greater divinity. But the road to healing is often bumpy by transit. So it's worth anticipating: How does Aries's sunny vitality ever veer into mayhem? What brings the inner Diomedes to life?

An Aries friend once told me: "The thing you've got to know about people is that underneath the surface, everybody wants to beat the crap out of somebody." I was startled. Nick is a Buddhist. And though we quickly arrived at the same conclusion, that everyone needs our compassion, it was a glimpse into the gritty, contentious world that Nick sometimes sees through his Aries eyes.

Nick is a daily meditator. But his spiritual practice can quickly unravel when a yoga class or parking lot - that appears calm to me - suddenly erupts for him with threats, competition and high-risk demands. Aries' ruling planet is the god of war. Mars lives on a battlefield, and so, it often seems, does my Aries friend. If planets aren't mere glyphs on paper or just rocky/gassy orbs in space, if they warriorare symbols of the very gods breathing into us, then perhaps Nick is the way he is because Mars keeps whispering instructions into his psyche and sharpening swords in his dreams. Mars is a warrior, courageous, strong and fired-up. In the heat of battle, he moves intuitively, subjectively, like a wild fire through a forest. His passions come quickly and can disappear just as fast. He's a brute, impetuous, impatient, and driven by desires. Besting foes and pursuing lovers are the needs that keep his world both exciting and dangerous. His sword and shield are never far from his hands.

Hercules must enter this Mars-ruled world to complete his Aries labor. King Eurystheus wants the destructive mares of Diomedes stopped in their tracks. This could take an army, but Hercules gathers a gang of hot-heads like himself, ready for anything. They dash to their boats and set sail for Thrace. Boldly they rush the beach where, in a surprising early victory, they overwhelm the stable grooms and capture the horses. It's almost too easy - until King Diomedes gets the news. A real Daddy's boy, the son of Mars has a wrathful temper and an impressive army. Hercules readies himself to meet it. He tosses the mares' reins to his young squire Admetos and drives into the middle of the fray. The battle is brutal, bloody, hard; several times the upper hand turns. In the end, Hercules is victorious. The barbaric king is dead. Returning to his boats, Hercules discovers the mares have vanished and Admetos is dead, torn and trampled by the savage beasts. Hercules goes after them and in a fury of clubbing, subdues all four. Back at the boats, he feeds them the flesh of their former master. Eating Diomedes is what finally makes them tame.

The Gift and Curse of Mars

It's often said that Aries is spoiling for a fight. Perhaps a truer statement is that Aries is simply fulfilling its mission to master its own fighting spirit, the gift and curse of Mars. I've battled a few Arians over the years, among them Georgette, a department manager from my corporate days. I'd been hired as a consultant to improve her group's performance. She was new at the job and upper management wanted to accelerate her learning curve. Advising an Aries about anything isn't easy, but I was eager to support her in building her group's success. Overnight the department became a war zone, ablaze with glares, whispers, and private meetings. Employees were afraid to be seen with me. Georgette was walling me out. Her campaign lasted six weeks. Each day I showed up, sat in a cubicle adjacent to hers and doodled for my hourly fee, until one day she announced that she was leaving the corporate world to become a teacher. Within an hour of her resignation, I had her job at twice my consultant's pay.

I had won by doing little, something an Aries may find hard to understand. Aries is action-oriented. It's a doer, and often enough, it can do itself in. Though Georgette had made my life difficult, I remember her fondly, with admiration even. I can still see her ruddy cheeks, alternately laughing and furious. She was tall and strong, like an athlete. If an earthquake had struck the building, I would have been glad to have her around. Even so, there was something so vulnerable in her eyes. She looked like a child playing at being an adult, and doing it bravely. She'd stepped into a job she'd known nothing about and left it for yet another new challenge. Georgette was unafraid to launch herself again and again. But the heart she wore on her sleeve made her fear danger where it didn't exist. She was quick to thrust, parry, attack and defend. It was her innocence that did it. The secret truth about Aries is that it gets deeply and easily hurt.

ariesThis makes Arians both lovable and maddening. The bright vitality that fuels their adventures can also, like the savage mares tearing across Thrace, send their worlds into chaos. Encounters with Arians are often ones that people need to talk about. "Paula is fun, but you know, whenever you're with her, it's all about her." "Bob just ran over me and didn't listen to a word I said." "You can't win with Cathy; you either give in or run for cover." When struggling with an Arian, it's important to realize her biggest fight may actually be with herself. The battle between Hercules and Diomedes represents an inner struggle - between the daring hero who wants to save and dazzle the world and the spoiled child who wants to punish it for her pain. The mares eating their former master describes the Arian gaining control over her own ego and its sometimes clumsy passions - the raw energy, restlessness, and resentment that results from innocence bruised.

Not all Aries assaults are intentional. Susan works at an investment firm with an Aries boss. She tells me he's forever butting into her private conversations. He stands too close. He ignores her gentle but persistent signals to stay away. She'll shut her office door and he'll open it without knocking, poking his head in, just to see what's going on. He's friendly enough, she tells me, always smiling or expressing concern, yet she feels harassed and violated. Initially she worried he was coming on to her until she realized that he treats everyone the same way. Still, she finds herself burning up with frustration. He's her boss and she doesn't know what to do.

Astrology is helpful in such instances. Like a naturalist's field guide, it can tell us who we'll meet on the human landscape and how to behave in return. Despite our awareness that not everyone is just like us, we're generally shocked to discover this truth again and again. The zodiac can help us identify particular styles and learn how to work with them more effectively. Eventually, we may discover we're not so different after all. We too have a Mars and one or more Aries houses. The dynamic personality of Arians is an especially shiny surface; it often reflects back those traits we can't see in ourselves.

ramI discussed the Aries style with Susan using its symbol, the ram. The ram's horns take it bravely where others fear to tread, and also where it shouldn't be treading at all. Dynamic, motivated, and energized, the ram can be like a tank, contained, self-involved and socially obtuse. Few of us grew up observing real rams on neighborhood hills, but encounters with the human variety generally teach it's unwise to meet them head-on. Jousting with an Aries requires more creative strategies.

Two of my best friends have Mercury in Aries. Our talks can be lively, wide-ranging, stimulating and aggravating. Mercury in Aries has a quick, agile mind that tends to talk more than it listens. One friend is forever racing ahead of me, finishing subjects and starting new ones before I have a chance to respond. The other disagrees with nearly every suggestion I make-at first-until she has a chance to reach the same conclusion herself. I wasn't thinking about their charts. I just became impatient and contentious. Sometimes I'd confront my Mercury-in-Aries friends, which rendered them shocked, hurt, then silent and fuming. Can you see how I was enacting Aries' shadow-becoming angry and self-absorbed myself?! I needed to shift my point of view. When I genuinely accepted how the Aries mind needs to think and speak, I could relax, even delight in the play of their chatter. Paradoxically, this opened up more room for both of us in the conversation. When Susan thought about how she'd been reacting to her boss, she realized that she had been meeting him with aggression of her own. Once she accepted his clumsy attempts to connect, she could relax and dance with this ram more artfully.

Egyptians named the ram in Aries' constellation "Amen-Ra." A potent solar god, Amen-Ra was responsible for regenerating the sacred year. He was called "the Ram, the virile male, the holy phallus, which stirreth up the passions of love, the Ram of rams."[2] The Assyrians named this same cluster of stars "Lu-Hun-Ga," referring to the day laborers hired to work the date groves during pollination season. Wind once pollinated the palm, but not in human memory, so it became the all-important job of these early cultivators to take pollen from the grove's one male tree and hand germinate each female palm, just when its blossoms opened.[3] This potent, fructifying mission is still integral to Aries' calling. I've known a few Arians who can move like the wind! They're energizers; they make things happen. I recall a business meeting years ago, led by a man with Sun, Moon and Venus in Aries. Leaning forward at the table, he said "I'm all for going with the flow, but sometimes you've got to push the flow along!"

Aries is the revitalizing force of nature. This gives us good motivation to work with it creatively, whether we meet its raw force in ourselves or others. If we allow Aries' sometimes aggression to run free rather than blocking it, we may find it leads us into new directions, toward more fruitful destinations. Yet many of us fail to actualize this bright potential in our Aries houses or planets. This indicates yet another corner in Aries' shadow territory - the one where our risk-taking trailblazer wears concrete boots. Why would we want to immobilize our own ram?

Aries' Sacrifice

jason statueAmong the Greeks, the ram of the Aries constellation was golden and winged, its fleece the well-known quarry of Jason's quest. Before that, the ram had its own famous adventure, involving the children of a Boeotian king. Their stepmother was planning to have them killed. In a bold and daring rescue, the ram plucked the children from danger, but while flying across the Dardanelles, the girl Helle lost her balance. She fell off the ram's back and drowned. The ram kept going until he brought the boy Phrixus safely to the Black Sea shore.

The winged ram is not a television super hero, capable of brazen rescues that are both safe and successful. The ram's ride is rough and ragged, his heroism tinged with recklessness. I am reminded of the death of poor Admetos in Hercules' Aries labor. Sacrifice is a common motif in Aries adventures. When Phrixus reaches safety, as gratitude he offers the ram in holy sacrifice. He kills the beast and hangs its golden fleece in an oak grove guarded by a dragon and dedicated to the war-god Ares (or Mars). Some thanks!

The ram has been perhaps the most sacrificed animal in sacred history. It was a ram who exchanged places with Isaac, the son Abraham was instructed to kill. Such is the price of its potency. The ram is meant to drive forward with courage - and be offered - not sheltered, stroked, or loved. With such a fate as reward, it's not surprising many of us instinctively restrain our rams. We may burn for a new adventure, but quickly shut it down with fear or self-doubt. We wonder what others will think of us if we fail. We've seen how those who charge ahead often end up: lonely and unappreciated. In truth, our admiration of Aries courage is more theory than fact. We send Arians forward to blaze our trails, yet even when we follow their lead, we don't always treasure their companionship. But the world needs its rams. Remembering both the trauma and heroism of World War II, poet Louis Simpson honors a figure who is the embodiment of Aries energy: "For the essential human virtue, courage, without which there is no other, I give you 'point,' the man walking up the road ahead of the company, his rifle held across his body at port arms."[4]

Hercules succeeds in his Aries labor. But Admetos is dead. This is an important element in the story. We can read Admetos as Aries' vulnerability - the innocent child in a role too big, getting sacrificed again and again. We can also read Admetos as evidence of Aries' wobbly leadership. Aries may fail to adequately size up its fellows. It can presume support where it doesn't exist. Aries tends to project itself outward: "If I can do it, so can you!" In the "You/Me" polarity of Libra and Aries, Libra knows others and often loses itself, while Aries knows itself but loses others. In situations rife with complexity and nuance, Aries is sometimes stalking itself in a house of mirrors.

Admetos' death could have been foreseen and prevented, but Aries tends to leap without looking too far ahead. In her delightful old book, What's Wrong with Your Sun Sign?, Barbara Watters identifies "lack of foresight" as the fatal Aries flaw. As proof she offers the Arian whose checking account is always overdrawn, the Arian who runs out of gas in the middle of the desert, and the Arian who sets sail after storm warnings have been posted up and down the coast. "(Aries is) a great one for trying experiments that are apt to blow his head off," writes Watters," like pouring a can of gasoline in the fireplace to jazz up a reluctant fire, or washing down a tumbler full of Jameson's Twelve Year Old with a vodka chaser." Aries is not one for details. Like other fire signs, its understanding of the balance sheet of assets and liabilities is often sketchy. Writes Watters, "(The Arian will) wangle thirty thousand dollars worth of mortgages on a twenty thousand dollar house, then use the extra ten thousand to buy a boat, two cars, a mink coat for his wife, and a trip around the world, all on time."[5]

ariesfrescoWe can try to shake the shoulders of our Aries loved ones so they hear us. But ultimately we have to respect the solo nature of their journey. The dead Admetos is a cautionary image: Hercules should have kept his own hands on the mares' reins. An Aries hero must work alone. The warrior's life requires valor and isolation. One of my clients hated this about her Aries husband. "In the weeks before his company's annual sales meetings," she complained, "he acts like the kids and I don't even exist. A wall goes up and he becomes very selfish. I know he's preparing and I'd like to help. He doesn't have to be so cold." I suggested his behavior was not a rejection, but the logical conduct of an Aries warrior. His preparation required a focused withdrawal. He sacrificed himself, so he could throw himself more effectively into the fray. "Well," she acknowledged, "when the battle is over, he always returns." A smile came to her lips. I took it to mean that without her sometimes aggravating Arian, her world wouldn't be nearly as fun.


  1. Deborah Warren, "Hercules' Eighth Labor: The Man-Eating Mares of Diomedes," First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, (March, 2003).
  2. quoted from G.E. Budge in Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Encylcopedia of Myths and Secrets, (HarperCollins), 1983, p. 841.
  3. Dr. E.C. Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon, (HarperCollins, 1991),
    p. 132.
  4. Louis Simpson, "Soldier's Heart," The Best American Essays 1998, edited Cynthia Ozick and Robert Atwan, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998),
    p. 214-15.
  5. Barbara H. Watters, What's Wrong with Your Sun Sign?, (Valhalla Paperbacks, 1970), pp. 5-6.
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