L’Enigme by Gustave Dore is a famous representation of profound despair over the destruction wrought by humanity, an apocalyptic atmosphere brought on by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Dore has been said to have been inspired by the Victor Hugo verse, “What a spectacle! Thus dies everything that man creates! A past such as this is a deep abyss for the soul!” When the war in 1870 between France and Prussia began, there was an opposition between Mars in Gemini and Saturn in Sagittarius. In 2016 we have been experiencing an extended period of time heavily influenced by Mars and Saturn that has coincided with numerous collective events inducing fear and terror.
Every night in recent months we have been able to watch the red planet Mars aglow in a triangular formation with Saturn and the fixed star Antares. Ever since Mars stationed retrograde in mid-April at nine degrees of Sagittarius conjoining the fixed star Antares, with Saturn co-present at sixteen degrees of Sagittarius, Mars has been destined to return to Sagittarius in August 2016 and come into conjunction with both Saturn and Antares. Mars and Saturn will exactly conjoin on August 24 at ten degrees of Sagittarius, but for most of August and September they will be co-present in Sagittarius and especially close between the middle of August and beginning of September. What has made this period of Mars and Saturn even more difficult is the simultaneous square formed between Neptune in Pisces and Saturn, a square that will become activated to new levels in August when Mars joins with Saturn in tension to Neptune.
Mars and Saturn are categorized as malefic planets in traditional astrology because they are said to cause trouble and signify difficult experiences. Yet, it is also not true that Mars and Saturn always signify negative experiences by transit, no more than do the benefic planets Venus and Jupiter always signify positive experiences by transit. The crucial aspect is what condition these planets find themselves in the natal chart when analyzing one’s individual experience. There are also of course positive ways to work with both Saturn and Mars.
An excellent source for the origins of these views on Mars and Saturn is Vettius Valens, a second century Hellenistic astrologer from modern day Turkey who traveled extensively, including through Egypt, in search of astrological knowledge. A working astrologer, Valens in his Anthologies gave lists for the significations of Saturn and Mars which reveal their malefic nature. For Saturn, Valens noted it is the “Star of Nemesis” and included such descriptions as malignant, petty, self-deprecating, solitary, deceitful, strict, miserable, humblings, sluggishness, obstacles and subversions in business, griefs, tears, and bereavement, yet also “puts into one’s hands great ranks and distinguished positions.” For Mars, Valens wrote it “controls the hard and abrupt” and gave descriptions including force, wars, violence, banishment, exile, lies, vain hopes, looting, anger, fighting, lawsuits, wandering, quarrels, yet also both love affairs and marriages, craftwork, masonry, campaigns and leadership, and actions involving fire or iron.
Across time in astrology there has been developed ways of working with Mars and Saturn that focus on positive outcomes that can come from their union, such as welding the passionate, burning energy of Mars to the disciplined, determined focus of Saturn. Yet even when put into positive terminology, Mars and Saturn correlate with overcoming challenges, working hard, and persisting with commitment rather than anything to do with luxuriating in soft comforts of pleasure. And indeed, Mars and Saturn can correlate with incredibly difficult, traumatic situations of loss and suffering that lay souls bare. In combination with the square between Neptune and Saturn, the difficult experiences of this time can provoke profound disillusionment and despair. In such circumstances in which external sources of stability are shaken, one must turn within in order to nurture one’s ability to find meaning and security or risk falling into despondency. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the brooding prince suffering from the murder of his father famously gave the following speech that voices disenchantment with the world of humanity:
“I have of late, -but wherefore I know not,- lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and, indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire,- why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither . . . “
Though Hamlet has been interpreted as struggling with inaction in his story, and Saturn can be a constrictive influence on Mars, typically Mars and Saturn correspond with the types of challenges that necessitate action in order to stabilize or survive. Interestingly, in late September 1604 Shakespeare would have experienced a transit of Mars conjoining Saturn at ten degrees of Sagittarius- this would have been a couple of years after Hamlet had been written and performed, and may have coincided with his writing of Othello which was performed in November 1604.
Unlike Hamlet in the above quote, recent experiences may have brought one to find greater sustenance in the radiance of the natural world as mediation for personal difficulties, or solace in relationships involving deep, loyal bonds- yet disillusionment and catharsis regarding past desires or beliefs is likely. The influence of Neptune in square to Saturn during this period of Mars-Saturn challenges was described brilliantly by Richard Tarnas in his essay The Ideal and the Real about hard aspects between Saturn and Neptune: archetypes which bring up issues of “matter versus spirit, the concretely empirical and literal versus the imaginative and the ideal, the finite and temporal versus the infinite and eternal.” Analyzing the work of William Blake, Oscar Wilde, and James Hillman (individuals who were all born with Saturn and Neptune in hard aspect), Tarnas wrote “in all three of these individuals, one can also recognize a definite impulse towards deconstructive skepticism, a passion to strip away illusions and hypocrisies, as well as emphatically critical attitudes toward conventional philosophical and religious beliefs expressed in work after work.” As Hamlet remarked to his good friend Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Adding Mars into the mix of the square between Saturn and Neptune influences the revelation of illusions and hypocrisies that will come about in August and September to involve archetypal themes of Mars such as strife, separation, conflict, and burning passions. Neptune and Saturn will form their third and final exact square in this series on 10 September 2016 at ten degrees of Sagittarius and Pisces, with Mars occupying twenty degrees of Sagittarius at that time. Previously, when Saturn and Neptune formed a square on 17 June 2016, Mars was retrograde in Scorpio. At the first square between Saturn and Neptune on 26 November 2015 at seven degrees of Pisces and Sagittarius, Mars was at eight degrees of Libra and so forming a sextile to Saturn but not creating a catalytic influence as it will in the month ahead.
This year’s conjunction between Mars and Saturn stands out for a few reasons: the extended period of time due to Mars retrograde that Saturn and Mars engage with one another, the square with Neptune in Pisces, and the additional conjunction of Mars and Saturn with the fixed star Antares. Antares is named for being the “rival of Mars” because it is a giant binary star that glows red in our night sky. Considered to be the heart of the Scorpion constellation, Antares is one of the four ancient royal stars of Persia that were utilized in the past by sky watchers to anchor the seasons, with Antares holding down the season of Fall. Ptolemy linked Antares with Mars and Jupiter, Vivian Robson portrayed Antares as destructive and obstinate, and while Reinhold Ebertin deduced Antares can give mental sharpness and courage, if combined with Mars Ebertin believed the bravery of Antares would become reckless and dangerous. There is a long tradition of warning about the dangers of hubris combined with headstrong martial force in connection to Antares, yet the clearly forceful and determined correspondences of Antares could also be put to thoughtful use.
The current presidential election in the United States of America fits well with these traditional themes of Mars, Saturn, and Antares as the two candidates are despised by the majority of the population in part for their hubris, dishonesty, and corruption. It is a unique election in which neither candidate is seen as being likable, and as a result both campaigns will likely be even more aggressive in attacks against one another than normal. Furthermore, the recent Republican Convention was dominated by chaos and conflict, with political rival Ted Cruz becoming booed off stage for refusing to endorse Donald Trump, and numerous speakers calling for opponent Hilary Clinton to be locked up in prison, Ben Carson going as far as to link her with Lucifer. Then, there was the acceptance speech given by Donald Trump that not only was the longest in recorded convention history but also had the unique presentation of having almost every word shouted with anger. Continuing the trend of disastrous conflict, as the Democratic Convention prepared to open a political scandal erupted confirming that the Democratic National Committee had been conspiring against the candidacy of Bernie Sanders during the primary elections.
In Europe and the Middle East, the refugee crisis has been a longstanding issue that links more with the timing of the square between Saturn and Neptune than the influence of Mars and Saturn. However, the use of fear over refugees helped fuel the shocking Brexit vote in which the United Kingdom separated from the European Union, a Mars shockwave of strife that will have far reaching influence and now needs to be dealt with in Saturn-like fashion. There has also been a string of mass murders that have caused terror in recent months in both the United States and Europe, as well as increases in violence in the wars that were already waging. In addition, the protests by Black Lives Matter and other activists in the United States against the killing of African Americans by law enforcement have risen to amplified levels of conflict in the past month following the killing of law enforcement officers by lone renegade gunmen. These are just some of the collective conflicts that will be feeding into the challenges being worked out in correspondence with the conjunction between Mars, Saturn, and Antares in the next month.
Typically when Mars and Saturn conjoin it is a short-term transit. Mars conjoined Saturn in Sagittarius the last time in February 1986 at nine degrees, and by the end of the following March the red planet had already left Sagittarius. The last time there was extended interplay between Mars and Saturn was in 1984, when Mars conjoined Saturn in Scorpio in February 1984 at seventeen degrees. In April 1984, Mars stationed retrograde at the end of Scorpio and moved back to come very close to conjoining Saturn again in June 1984 when it stationed direct at 12 degrees with Saturn retrograde at 11 degrees. During this time period in 1984 there were numerous collective conflicts such as Iran accusing Iraq of using chemical weapons in their war. It was also the period of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it was at this time that the Soviet Union announced it would boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles, California.
Athletics and other arenas of competition will be appropriate outlets to unleash the force of Mars and Saturn, and so the 2016 Summer Olympics that will occur during the conjunction of Mars and Saturn will no doubt feature incredible drama. In one’s personal life during August as Mars and Saturn come into conjunction, it will be an opportune time to diligently prepare and work hard. It will be enlivening to have a meaningful personal project to invest energy into, as well as maintain physical exercise and spiritual practices that release stress and foster balance. While Mars and Saturn can coincide with conflicts and difficulties, they are also vital catalyzers in the creation of great works, the building of supportive life structures, and the taking of ambitious initiative. As Saturn can have a restrictive influence on Mars, their union in Sagittarius (home of Jupiter) will reveal in personal experience how structure and containment can lead to expansion of wisdom and creativity in the end.
Currently Mars is finishing its pass through the sign of Scorpio that has dominated 2016 so far, as Mars will re-enter Sagittarius on 2 August 2016. Mars entered Scorpio on 3 January 2016 where it remained until March 5 when Mars entered Sagittarius. Mars re-entered Scorpio on 27 May 2016 while retrograde where it has remained since, meaning that for the vast majority of the year so far Mars has been in Scorpio. Mars dug up deep material in need of purging while retrograde in Scorpio, and although Mars stationed direct in Scorpio on June 29, the slow forward momentum of Mars through Scorpio has continued to be cathartic. The transit of Mars through Scorpio is additionally karmic due to the previous pass of Saturn through Scorpio from 6 October 2012 until 23 December 2014, and then again from June 14 until September 17, 2015. In the third decan of Scorpio where Mars has moved backward and forward in the past few months, Saturn in Scorpio previously transited from 29 December 2013 through 12 May 2014, 26 September through 23 December 2014, and from 14 June through 17 September 2015. The karma of events that occurred during these previous transits of Saturn through the third face of Scorpio likely have resurfaced to be processed and dealt with during the retrograde and stationing direct of Mars in the past couple of months.
From a traditional astrological standpoint, Mars in Scorpio and Saturn in Sagittarius have not been able to see each other by aspect during this time since the end of May, and so through their aversion have been operating independently of one another. Yet since Mars originally stationed retrograde in range of a very wide conjunction to Saturn, there is a way in which they have remained bound, especially visibly in the night sky. Scorpio is the home of Mars and yet Mars has been moving incredibly slow, leading to the past few months being potent in frustrating ways that have required patience. As Mars moved retrograde in Scorpio it kept peeling and then peeling even further deeper into the core of internal desires and complexes, bringing up agonizing experiences for those dealing with grief and loss, and shaking the foundations of identity for others. As Mars stood still and began moving direct again, the pain for many continued without the old desires and attachments fully burning off, or the new developing presence embodied. Now as Mars nears the end of its pass through Scorpio, I have been getting the sense that those who have been engaged actively with internal work will begin to feel a palpable shift in releasing the past and embracing the new.
Once Mars re-enters Sagittarius in August, the combined influence of Mars and Saturn working together will become more apparent. The last time that Mars and Saturn conjoined was in August 2014 in the sign of Scorpio, a month that was notable for upsetting events. This was the period of ISIL capturing cities while creating terror in global media, and the launching of air strikes by the USA in response. It was also the time of the suicide of Robin Williams, an event that evoked widespread collective mourning. Important with regard to recent current events in the USA, the shooting of Michael Brown on 9 August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement and led to widespread protests. Again, despite distressing collective events on a personal level it is entirely possible that productive actions and developments can occur as Mars and Saturn come together this next month in August. One thing I have noticed in my work is that projects initiated during a conjunction between Mars and Saturn can be long lasting and have tremendous staying power, but often are very slow to develop and may not manifest desired results until much later.
Finally, it is worth noting that during the calamitous square between Pluto in Capricorn and Uranus in Aries that has dominated astrology since 2011, Pluto has been in the home of Saturn and Uranus has been in the home of Mars. It has been so easy to become caught up in the dynamics between Pluto and Uranus and their wrecking ball impact, we can forget that both have been under the influence of Mars and Saturn the entire time. Recently there has been a quincunx formed between Uranus with Mars as it stationed direct that added to the atmosphere of frustration (the quincunx was most exact from mid June through mid July). Issues that have come up with the quincunx between Uranus and Mars will shift dramatically once Mars enters Sagittarius and both Saturn and Mars will be in a sign that forms a trine to Aries where Uranus is residing. Ideally, out of the difficulties corresponding with Mars and Saturn will arise some liberation from past restraints via Uranus. Mars will form a trine with Uranus in mid September.
The XIV Art arcanum in tarot, traditionally known as Temperance, is associated with the alchemical mixture of Fire and Water and the astrological sign of Sagittarius. My brilliant friend Pamela Coeur Norris who is an ingenious practitioner of tarot, recently made a comment on my Full Moon in Capricorn article on social media that the XIV Art card is the arcanum that truly addresses the intent to blend the powers of Fire and Water, in addition to being associated with Sagittarius. I asked her if she would share any insights she has about XIV Art in relation to Mars finishing up its time in Scorpio in order to enter Sagittarius and a union with Saturn. I’ve paraphrased her response in the following paragraph, with a minor inclusion of my own.
The Alchemist, XIV, is the mediator between XIII Death (Scorpio ruled by Mars) and XV Devil (Capricorn ruled by Saturn). This is a tumultuous meeting, and an arbitrator might be necessary. Sagittarius is the perfect spot—particularly since Jupiter’s “not home” and is instead in the mediating, Mercurial sign of Virgo. Who will dominate this meeting? Mars certainly has the fire power, yet Saturn has the staying power, and most likely the last word. The Alchemist must ascertain just how much Martian gunpowder to load into the Saturnian cannon. We must take into account that Mars is XVI Tower energy—the eye of Shiva (let’s destroy the world) and Saturn is XXI Universe energy—Karma king (let’s use our fire wisely to burn off only whats dead and complete). Sagittarius is the liberator here, the focus that creates the path for Mars and Saturn to aim toward freedom. When Mars and Saturn work together in the right measure we can let go of our drama and loosen the bondages of attachment.
The overt alchemical image of XIV Art in the Thoth deck is a modification of the traditional XIV Temperance card that also involves alchemical imagery and concepts. As the etymology of the word Temperance involves roots of “restraint” and “moderation,” there is a further compelling link with the fact that Saturn can have a restraining, moderating impact upon Mars. On a psychological level, this can relate to being accountable and responsible, with Saturn bringing integrity to the will-force of Mars in Sagittarius, a sign comfortable with living from an ethical philosophy. In alchemy, the work we could link to the XIV Temperance arcanum is about freeing the being of Light contained within our earthy, fleshy, incarnate form. This is why Carl Jung found resonance between the symbols of alchemy with his concept of individuation and the symbols produced by those he helped individuate. Even within surrounding external conflicts, it is possible to use the structure of Saturn to seal oneself from outside toxicity, containing and guiding the volatile Mars to bring about essential growth that will ultimately have a positive impact in the greater collective.
Tarnas, Richard. (2009). The Ideal and the Real: Saturn-Neptune. Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. Vol. 1, No. 1.
Valens, Vettius. Anthologies, Book One. Translated by Mark Riley.