The Planets: Mars

by Dana Gerhardt

After interrupting daytime shows willy nilly to show live feeds of car chases and gun battles with innocent lives at risk, then taunting me nightly with more tales of violence, the local news runs what seems to be a much needed series: "Surviving Danger: What You Need to Know." Suitably cowed, I watch. After fifty seconds of real-life scenes of terror (as if I needed to be reminded), a cheery reporter offers this ten-second sound byte of advice: "If you're caught in a dangerous situation, experts say, don't do a thing. Cooperate. Don't distress the criminal. Above all, don't be a hero."

No doubt this is wise counsel. It's the same my auto club offers if I meet with aggression on the road: Keep a safe distance, avoid eye contact, always yield. But for my inner Mars-my warrior, my defender, my inner brute-these are confusing messages. We're told the world is dangerous-as even our President and Vice-President insist. Yet we're also told our best bet is to remain passive. Avert your eyes and don't add to the trouble. The path of the hero is closed. De facto this divides the world into two types: Berserkers and Weenies. What's a Mars warrior to do? It's no wonder movie audiences are so fond of alienated action heroes, living in the margins, at odds with the prevailing structure, until the moment arrives when only they can save the world. How comforting to lie on my couch and watch Jack Bauer on 24, as he tortures, shoots and slits the throats of dozens of terrorists, evades the corrupt feds, hijacks a commercial jet, kidnaps a villainous president-all in a single day! Meanwhile, the rest of us may take our Mars to the gym and pump a bit of iron, pedal on a stationary bike, or run a lonely treadmill marathon. A Mars without big missions will often find petty ones, swelling with little irritations or meaningless competitions. That's Mars arguing at condominium board meetings or outmaneuvering another driver for a better parking space.

Mars likes action. Notwithstanding the media's lust for violence, most of us lead relatively safe and quiet lives. This puts many a Mars warrior behind a desk, staring at a computer, attending business meetings, shopping, doing the laundry, maybe fantasizing on porn sites, or watching a privileged few athletes parade their Mars on TV. But Mars doesn't go happily into domesticated bliss, a fact even Madison Avenue has noticed. Witness the recent Burger King commercial converting the feminist anthem "I am Woman" into a resounding manthem, declaring "I am man. I've had enough of chick food. I need to wrap my sturdy hands around a burger!"

Mars is not delicate. In the Star Trek universe, he would have been a Klingon. He's bursting with raw physical vitality. He's fiery and impulsive, also competitive and selfish. He's the anger we don't like to admit, the illicit passion we work to transcend. He's also powerful, independent, and courageous. With the force of Mars we can climb mountains, wage ambitious campaigns, protect the defenseless, stand for what we believe. But listen to conversations around the water cooler and you'll find more people criticize Mars expressions than cheer them on. "Allen is so competitive." "Did you hear the mean remark Emily said?" Mars is what other people have that gives us trouble. If we bring our own Mars into an astrology reading, we often do it indirectly, complaining how we're tired all the time, or not "getting any," or that we hate what we do. Of course the real problem may be that our assertive lusty Mars is idling in an unemployment line.

We have a contract with our archetypes. They pour their psychic energy into us, driving the intrigues of a hundred ancient pantheons into our personal stories. They fill us with their dreams and needs. They turn us into lovers, warriors, kings, and craftsmen, and in the container of our individuality, we give these archetypes new expression. Archetypes want to participate in our developmental process. They give us human continuity; we give them evolutionary possibilities. So we shouldn't blame Mars for hounding us, nagging from behind our desks, our shopping carts, our automobiles. Mars wants a role in our dramas. He says:
"Let me into your world. Give me new life. Raise me to new heroic heights."

What is not given conscious expression emerges in shadow form, through fantasy, unconscious action, or projection. Against the polite culture that marginalizes him, Mars will raise the terrorist, the gang member, the military coup. Then he'll draw back into his victims and re-emerge as a veritable rage to punish, stocking the good society's prisons with his outrage. He'll hypnotize us with his fantasies, something that can start quite young. When my son was a toddler, I kept him on the tissue-soft public channel for as long as I could, but eventually he discovered cartoons. I'd wander into the living room and find Branden, chin in hands, eyes wide, rapt. On the screen in front of him there'd be a cartoon maiden tied over a flaming pit waiting for her potent, acrobatic super hero, or a gang of tribal figures waving spikes and swords. Even at four years old, there's something in us that's hooked on Mars, craving the strange nourishment of his imagery. I'll never forget the little boy down the street whose parents wouldn't allow toy guns or knives at home. The boy would knock on our door and instead of joining the kids trading Pokeman cards in the den, he'd head straight for Branden's box of plastic weapons, holding and stroking them with an eerie fascination.

My son is now thirteen, yet occasionally a plastic ray gun or gladiator shield will still appear in the backyard, where it must have played a role in some recent Mars fantasy. As a pre-adolescent, Branden liked to commandeer vacuum cleaner parts and turn them into elaborate spears to jab at invisible enemies or spin with a warrior's skill. On his way to bed, he would suddenly duck behind the couch and shoot an imaginary machine gun at the dog. Now Branden parks in front of the computer, his body passive, but his mind still captivated by Mars. He's absorbed in vast inter-galactic wars or goes marauding through labyrinths and castles, clubbing trolls to achieve some grail. The violent action of the games often horrifies me. ("Mom, I made it to Level Five by blowing up 300 guys!") But the video games do get one thing right. They're designed so that each player has a specific mission, somewhere to go, something to win, a job to accomplish. It's not the violence my son and his buddies find so addicting. It's this promise of victory, the rush of demonstrating one's strength and skill.

Mars craves a mission. And the Mars in our charts is no different. We can look to the Mars sign or house to name this mission, but more often it comes from elsewhere, just as warriors generally take their marching orders from more authoritative powers. The Sun, our King, declares our purpose and decides which battles are important to pursue. When Mars wins, our Sun shines. Our special gifts are made visible. The Moon is our Queen, with Mars in willing service to her emotions, striking out at those who hurt us, pursuing those we want to draw near. Mars' sign may describe how tenaciously we hold onto our desires; it suggests our fighting style and how we like to express our passion. If Mars' house is a comfortable abode, it suggests where we're most stimulated, where we may strengthen our vitality, or sharpen our strategies and weapons. If it's an uncomfortable place, we may burn there and cause trouble.

When Mars goes wrong it's often not the planet but the mission that's at fault. Perhaps our lunar Queen is a little paranoid or our solar King an egomaniac. Maybe Saturn has leveled the Sun and Moon with insecurities, squashing any dreams of new mountains to climb. If a Mars is troubled-if it's enraged beyond control, seething with tensions, drowning in failure, or listless and loitering-we have to ask, what were his marching orders? Does the mission fit the chart's true purpose and values? Case in point: America's Mars. Under the pressure of Pluto's transiting opposition to America's natal Mars, the country's military force is currently floundering in Iraq, stretched thin, facing an elusive enemy who, like the Hydra, sprouts several new heads each time one is lopped off. Pluto/Mars transits can bring to-the-death battles where nobody wins. They also uncover whatever stinking stuff has been hiding in the shadows, the ugly secrets no one wants to admit-like the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, the lawlessness of Guantanamo, the civilian massacre at Haditha. Clearly these are stories of a Berserker Mars gone wrong. But whose shadow are we seeing? Does it belong to sporadically vicious young soldiers-or to the greedy miscalculating elders who sent them there? Does anyone know what the mission there really is?

How different this Mars image from the one projected on VE Day in 1945, when America's progressed Mars marched in glory over the chart's Midheaven.[1] Then our military was a powerful and much-loved force. French cultural critic Clotaire Rapaille describes seeing this Mars as a boy, when suddenly the Germans started throwing off their helmets and running away, and out from the forest came a huge tank with a white star. A big friendly man stood in the turret offering chocolates and chewing gum. Says Rapaille, "I wanted to be in that tank, to be those guys. I didn't want to be with the French, those losers."[2] From that moment, the young Rapaille declared America would become his true home. Nothing is more attractive than a well-principled, victorious Mars.

[ Natal Chart and Progressions for 8th May, 1945 (Method Astrodienst/Placidus)
Born on: 4th July 1776, 5.13 pm, Philadelphia PA, USA
Date: 20th December 1776 6.21 pm UT ]

Energy Crisis

My friend Cheryl has a 4th house Mars. She's often told me she hates her home because she can't find the energy to clean it. The 4th house does represent one's home and Mars is anger, but to get much value out of this correlation, we must be willing to take it deeper than that. A friend recently suggested that the closet is a room's subconscious; in Cheryl's house, the closets have spilled out and overtaken the whole space. All is clutter and stacks of forgotten projects waiting to be acknowledged. Cheryl's energy crisis began at an early age. She told me she spent much of her childhood just lying on her bed. This sounds like depression, which is one manifestation of a Mars without outlets. The anger turns inward, and one is drained of all initiative or joy.

It's easy to imagine the challenge of practicing a young Mars in the 4th house of family and home, perhaps even more so for a little girl. Cheryl's chart bears witness to this difficulty: A 10th house Pluto opposes her 4th house Mars, suggesting a no-win power struggle between parent and child. Cheryl has always hated her mother and is convinced her mother always hated her. With a potentially subconscious planet, it's wise to read between the lines. So when Cheryl tells me that her mother once ran at her with a knife, shouting "Go ahead and kill me!" while Cheryl cowered under a table, I have no doubt it's true. But I also have to wonder what Cheryl did with her Mars when it wasn't lying on her bed. The struggle of coping with a suppressed Mars can be quite painful and irritating; eventually, it becomes aggravating just being oneself. The irritation seeks release and may explode at an unsuspecting target. During a brief first marriage, Cheryl was charged with assaulting her husband with a knife. The police came and she spent some hours in jail, but in telling the story Cheryl just waves her hand, like it was all a stupid misunderstanding.

Clearly, it's hard for Cheryl to possess her Mars. And this is why it's not only difficult to muster the energy for housecleaning, it's also been hard for Cheryl to energize a career. She's had many starts and few follow-throughs. She currently lives on public assistance. Lacking the nurture and support this Mars needed from its 4th house foundation, it's as though it just crossed its arms and said, "I'll show you-I won't support myself either!"

Somewhere in our charts, we all strike strange bargains. It's tempting to want to blame someone. Blame Cheryl's mother, blame Cheryl for not getting it together-but if we look at their story from another angle, we'll find it's not too different from the one being played out on a larger cultural stage. The hostility between mother and child has a long archetypal history. The earth is our mother, and human warriorship, particularly of the scientific kind, has for centuries been struggling against our mother nature as though she were a hostile, antagonistic force. We too suffer an energy crisis in our global home.

Conservationist Wendell Berry draws an interesting link between the world energy crisis and what we would understand as a distinctly Mars purpose: "...the basic cause of the energy crisis is not scarcity; it is moral ignorance and weakness of character. We don't know how to use energy, or what to use it for. ... Our time is characterized as much by the abuse and waste of human energy as it is by the abuse and waste of fossil fuel energy." [3] Warrior cultures, from the Samurai to Camelot, teach us that the link between a warrior and the high ideals he serves is a necessary one. This moral cultural vision contains and feeds the warrior's application of force. Lacking those shaping ideals, much energy is wasted. To heal our global crisis, this apparent "scarcity" of energy, Berry argues for a return to values, specifically, agricultural ones. This is culture in its deepest sense-as an appreciation for the cycles of energy, working with the laws of nurture, harvest, and conservation, serving the continuity of a larger whole. This kind of culture represents a reconciliation of Moon and Mars, the task we might expect of a 4th house Mars or a Mars in Cancer.

In one of those remarkably suggestive details, one of the happiest events in Cheryl's life was a sexual liaison with a farmer, which produced a daughter, which dramatically revitalized her Mars. "The birth of my daughter has gotten me motivated," says Cheryl. The assignment of nurture renewed her drive; serving this ideal brought new purpose to her otherwise recalcitrant Mars. Housecleaning still gets to her and she's still struggling with a career. With her 4th house Mars falling in Aquarius, we might be tempted to prescribe a literal career of ecological activism for Cheryl. But I think that kind of reading often misses the point. Whatever house or sign, with Mars especially we might want to embrace the dictum to think globally and act locally. Each personal act of growth, each resolution of our personal Mars story, can help to heal the world Mars.

Fire in the belly

Storyteller and myth master Michael Meade suggests that we can learn much about the nurture of energy, passion and anger by studying tribal cultures.[4] The Gisu people in Uganda call this emotional force "Litima." It's eruptive, reckless, ruthless and brutal, as well as powerful, courageous, independent, and full of high ideals. Says Meade, the Gisu tradition recognizes that the ragged expressions of Litima in its youth need the skillful attention of its elders; in turn, the culture knows that it depends on the intensity of this youthful fire to keep its spiritual center vigorous. Tribal initiation rites offer a channel through which the raw Litima can be expressed and refined. During their months of training, young initiates are allowed great freedom and emotional volatility. They may quarrel, steal, behave promiscuously-temporarily breaching the limits of their society, so they can find themselves, says Meade, "in some deeper place beyond." Many tribal initiations include a ritual dance of anger, a physical model for moving the emotion through the body-offering a kinesthetic memory for containing and shaping the Mars force. When a culture neglects this duty of Mars nurture, either ignoring young rage or actively trying to suppress it, Meade argues, something powerful is left unresolved. As these children grow into adulthood, they may simply act out the deep conflicts in their culture, lacking the confidence and wisdom to resolve them. And, if they were not nourished by their elders, they will have no reason to remember them.

Civilized parents lack such culturally sanctioned rituals. They're on their own when it comes to growing a child's Mars. How well does this work? Think of the notorious "terrible twos." Mars takes two and a half years to circle the zodiac. That means the "terrible twos" roughly coincide with the first Mars return, a key moment in the emergence of a child's developing Mars. Full of raw energy, a child comes into gleeful possession of the word "No!" It is the child's first weapon, a magic word potent as a fist or sword, and it demonstrates an important Mars capacity-the ability to set boundaries and exert one's will. But watch closely the next time you're in a supermarket and you see a parent with a Litima-filled two-year-old. It may be hard to determine who is more terrible-the screaming adult or the screaming child. Parents don't react well to those first challenges of a child trying to exercise his or her Mars. I learned this firsthand.

Initially, when Branden began throwing tantrums, I was a brute. Utterly unprepared and lacking in creativity, I was helpless as I sank to new lows, participating in some bizarre de-initiation process, the aim of which was to overpower my child and squash his Mars. Mars can be terrible, but with archetypes, you can't neatly divide what's good from what's rough. Lose the rage and you may lose the motivation. Punish a child's will and you may not only disengage his Mars, you may train him to expect a hostile world. Even worse is to let this energy run un-checked, a fact proven with each new episode of Nanny 911. When parents don't place any limits on a child's inner brute, Mars never gets out of his diapers, remaining selfish, spoiled, reckless and rude at each subsequent Mars return.

We should teach our children how to respect other's boundaries and to set healthy ones of their own. Battling adults doesn't do this. I am grateful to those who, acting as my tribal elders, showed me how to cultivate Mars without fighting. I had to learn how to draw smarter lines in the sand. When getting Branden dressed for school became a conflict, I set the boundary at school. Going to school was non-negotiable. But it was his choice whether he went in pajamas or play clothes. He tested me of course. But the first time he left the house in his pajamas, he ran back and got his clothes before I opened the car door. A few weeks later I was tickled when Branden announced, "Mom, I can get dressed whenever I want to." "Oh really? How did you find that out?" "In my tummy," he gaily replied. "I just stuck my head in my tummy and I found it out!" He had discovered his own desire. He didn't need to read a dozen books on chakras to learn where his will was located. He could get dressed with his Mars in tact. And my Mars was getting better too, as it gathered more patience and conviction. Dancing with his Litima developed my own.

I pray my son never goes to war as a soldier. I don't know what destiny his future holds. But this part is non-negotiable: Should he ever be directed to violate his principles, I want his Mars to be strong and self-possessed enough to say "No!"


1. Based on the Sibley chart (corrected by Rudhyar); July 4, 1776, 5:13:55 pm, Philadelphia PA

2. From an interview with Clotaire Rapaille in Salon.com: http://salon.cm/books/int/2006/05/20/rapaille

3. Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, (Sierra Club Books: 1986), p. 13.

4. Michael Meade, Men and the Water of Life, (HarperSanFrancisco: 1993), pp. 233-245.

MOONPRINTS by Dana Gerhardt

Go to Moonprints Popular with readers of "The Mountain Astrologer" for almost two decades, this beautiful report takes an in-depth look at your emotional foundations. You will gain new insights into your birth moon - its phase, sign, aspects, and house. Discover your life purpose, hidden talents and danger zones through the moon's nodes. Use the moon to position yourself in time - through transits to the moon, your progressed moon sign and house, dates for two progressed lunation cycles, plus a year of new and full moons around your chart. You'll want to read every page of this report, designed to please both beginners and advanced students of astrology.
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