“Cruelty has a Human Heart, / And jealousy a Human Face; / Terror the Human Form Divine, / And Secrecy the Human Dress. / The Human Dress is forged Iron, / The Human Form a fiery Forge, / The Human Face a Furnace seal’d, / The Human Heart its hungry Gorge.”
— William Blake, “A Divine Image” from Songs of Experience
Mars Retrograde in Aries
Mars has long been associated with division and separation, catalyzing action, movement, and conflict through eruptions of fiery heat. Mars enters a phase of extreme heat when retrograde, and this will especially be the case in the next few months as Mars will be retrograde in its fiery home of Aries where it operates with directness and strength. For those who are not smiths with a working forge, we can imagine the transformative capacities when working with a forge, transmuting materials into a new, useful creation. As the flames of Mars intensify, we may also light a torch to be carried into the expanses of inner depths to illuminate not only what we desire to create from our forge, but what materials we need to gather for our operation.
Mars stations retrograde on September 9, 2020 at 28°09′ Aries and will station direct on November 13, 2020 at 15°14′ Aries. Ultimately Mars will move back and forth from fifteen to twenty-eight degrees of Aries three times from July 25, 2020 until January 2, 2021. However, the stretch of time from the stationing retrograde of Mars in September until the stationing direct of Mars in November is distinctly different than the other two periods of time that Mars traverses these degrees. As a result, whatever significance the second half of Aries has in your natal chart will be the subject of internal and external confrontations that can lead to vital renovations.
Mars moves through the midpoint of its synodic cycle with the Sun during its retrograde, and so it can be helpful to consider whatever was being set in motion at the root of the current cycle. The present cycle of Mars was seeded by its conjunction with the Sun on September 2, 2019 at 9°40′ Virgo, and became visible in its heliacal rise as a Morning Star around October 16, 2019 at approximately eight degrees of Libra. In the past year we have gone through many experiences exploring the meaning of the current Mars cycle, and as Mars slows down to station retrograde we are invited to pause in consideration.
During its retrograde phase, Mars transitions from being a Morning Star visible in all its scarlet glory before dawn into becoming a bright red star glowing all through the night. As Mars deepens into its retrograde, it will rise in the east into visibility closer and closer to the liminal transition of twilight. Mars is part of the nocturnal team in astrology, and so delights when it is shining down brightly from the heavens while the Sun is journeying through the darkness of the underworld. Mars also comes closest to us in orbit during its retrograde phase, altogether making it an extremely potent period for Mars.
As a result we need to come into relationship with an intensification of Mars in the coming months, which means working with volatility, change, and the relentless passion that can overcome us when working hard and taking action as well as the ensuing burnout. Mars brings awareness of instinctual drive, emerging desires, and how they align with our purpose through action and making things happen. Mars wants freedom of movement and expression, and when it is moving direct it enjoys the hunt of going after goals and competing for whatever we view as the treasured prize. Yet when Mars stations to shift retrograde it isn’t moving, and so there is increased potential to feel frustrated or blocked.
The typical feelings of infuriation over being restrained when Mars stations retrograde will be extremely exacerbated due to it stationing in a square aspect with Saturn in Capricorn. In fact from August 15 until the beginning of October, Mars and Saturn will remain in a colossal conflict with each other within three degrees of a waxing square aspect. The fiery force of Mars that can melt down solidified structures and bonds will be confronting the supremely solid presence of Saturn in its earthy home of Capricorn. It will be necessary to monitor energy levels, resting for regeneration as needed and letting go of goals meeting so much resistance that they are exhausting us and inhibiting our capacity to optimally respond to life.
Ideally we can sustain a slow burn approach that allows for periods of recuperation so that we can take advantage of the opportunities to initiate productive growth. There is similar symbolism in Saturn sealing off an alchemical vessel, with the fires of Mars separating the constituent elements contained within so they may be recombined in new forms. As James Hillman wrote in Alchemical Psychology:
“Nature subdues nature by means of fire. Heat dissolves the cohesion of a substance; that natural desire to hold to itself as it is. Heat separates the metal from the ore body and can calcine the metal into a more workable condition. In the only-natural state, the substances resist change. They intend to stay as they are and have been for millions of eons, buried and hidden away. Yet the innate urge toward perfectibility welcomes the fire. Hence, they rejoice also in their submission, allowing themselves to be smelted, hammered, and extracted from their home ground. Resistance of any thing is given with its essential nature . . .
Nature does enjoy its natural state and resist change, yet it also struggles against its predilection for stasis, subduing itself and making change possible. Nature sophisticates itself, dividing its ambivalence into two aspects – the unchanging and the changing. It is therefore folly to attempt to change the unchanging . . .
What changes and what does not change? What stays the same and what becomes different? In philosophical terms, the existence changes, but the essence remains unalterable.”
— James Hillman, Alchemical Psychology, p. 35
As Mars stations retrograde it slowly turns the separating and dividing function of Mars inward, stoking our inner flames and initiating a process of realignment with our most deeply felt desire and purpose. By embracing the corresponding constriction upon external martial flow and the magnification of inner fire, during Mars retrograde we can make breakthroughs instead of suffering breakdowns. Like telling our stories to one another around a great collective bonfire, we enter a liminal phase of changing the way we tell our own life narrative, shifting the trajectory of cyclic patterns at work. You may begin to notice the meaning of past experiences transfiguring in the flames, releasing you from ways you have been restricting or confining yourself to a particular story about yourself.
Mars moves retrograde less frequently than the other planets, so the relative novelty of its retrograde phase is an additional signifier of major changes that arrive in correspondence. Some people seem to be more profoundly impacted by Mars retrograde periods than others, and some people also seem to be more strongly impacted by Mars retrograde in certain signs than in other signs. Mars moves retrograde in Aries less frequently than some of the other signs- the last two times we experienced Mars retrograde in Aries were in 1988 and 1941. One way to sense how Mars retrograde periods impact you is to reflect upon your experiences during the past Mars retrograde periods. Below is a list of the Mars retrogrades periods that have happened since 1999:
- June 26 – August 27, 2018: stationed retrograde at 9º13′ Aquarius, stationed direct at 28º37′ Capricorn.
- April 17 – June 29, 2016: stationed retrograde at 8°54′ Sagittarius, stationed direct at 23°4′ Scorpio.
- March 1 – May 19, 2014: stationed retrograde at 28° Libra, stationed direct at 10° Libra.
- January 24 – April 14, 2012: stationed retrograde at 24° Virgo, stationed direct at 4° Virgo.
- December 20, 2009 – March 10, 2010: stationed retrograde at 20° Leo, stationed direct at 1° Leo.
- November 15, 2007 – January 30, 2008: stationed retrograde at 13° Cancer, stationed direct at 25° Gemini.
- October 1 – December 10, 2005: stationed retrograde at 24° Taurus, stationed direct at 9° Taurus.
- July 29 – September 27, 2003: stationed retrograde at 11° Pisces, stationed direct at 1° Pisces.
- May 11 – July 19, 2001: stationed retrograde at 30° Sagittarius, stationed direct at 16° Sagittarius.
- March 18 – June 4, 1999: stationed retrograde at 13° Scorpio, stationed direct at 25° Libra.
“Astrologically, Mars characterizes the instinctual and affective nature of man. The subjugation and transformation of this nature seems to be the theme of the alchemical opus.”
— Carl Jung, Alchemical Studies
Carl Jung in Alchemical Studies referenced the writing of the 16th century Paracelsian alchemist Adam von Bodenstein who conceived “Ares” (or Mars) to be the “prime nature of things” that determines “their form and species,” with Jung declaring that as a result Ares or Mars can be considered to “be taken as the principle of individuation in the strict sense.” Jung further described Ares as the “preconscious, creative, and formative principle” that gives life, purifies, and transforms. In Jung’s Liber Novus or The Red Book, a pivotal chapter involves Jung meeting “The Red One” whose garments “shine like glowing iron,” and clearly embodies attributes of Mars. Liz Greene aptly summarized the impact of the Red One as bringing Jung into contact with a “vitally important yet previously neglected unconscious potency necessary for the fulfillment of Jung’s personality.”
Jung’s meeting with the Red One in Liber Novus follows a period in which Jung’s narrator was feeling stuck and unsure of what he wants and where to go. The Red One shatters and brings new life not unlike the Tower card of tarot that is also associated with Mars; in fact, Jung’s narrator is standing guard on a high tower when he observes the Red One approaching from a distance. Similarly, the stationing of Mars in Aries may feel like a call to change course or the approach of vivifying presence that can penetrate our defenses and make us vulnerable to an infusion of new desires from a contrary source.
Aries is the diurnal home of Mars and the exaltation of the Sun. The fiery cardinal sign, Aries is the optimal zodiac sign for pioneering new territory and initiating decisive movement, but it is not known for its staying power. The tension, friction, and contraction that will be felt as Mars engages in its fraught aspect with Saturn will make the first month of Mars being retrograde a time for taking considered action that takes account of external variables and internal energy levels. If we make sure to look before we leap and cultivate patience and resolve in enduring difficulties, we will be able to make some steady progress but may need to oscillate between periods of action and contemplative inaction. It will be a period for work that leads to long-term rewards rather than short-term results and gratification.
In world events, Mars retrograde in Aries will amplify the polarized conflicts already set in motion, shaking and shattering structures and systems of the status quo as it collides with Saturn, Pluto, and Jupiter in Capricorn. The astrology of 2020 has involved the ending and beginning of cycles between Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto that has forced confrontations with underlying issues of systemic oppression and inequity that have been festering across society. In particular, the cycle between Jupiter and Saturn that is ending is drawing to a close a two hundred year era of conjunctions between Jupiter and Saturn in earth signs that began in 1802, and so part of the martial conflict will center on societal issues that have plagued the past couple of centuries such as colonialism, racism, sexism, and the impact of the industrial revolution on economic and environmental systems.
The first month of Mars retrograde will be especially incendiary in relation to Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn, as Mars will form a square with Saturn on September 29 and with Pluto on October 9, with Saturn and Pluto within three degrees of one another in Capricorn. These jarring aspects will be inescapably striking due to Saturn and Pluto stationing at the same time, with Saturn stationing direct on September 29 and Pluto stationing direct on October 4. With Saturn and Pluto ending their retrograde phases and stationing direct, we will be coming to terms with however we have been questioning external systems of power and the way we wish to operate within society.
Rick Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche highlighted the tendency of Saturn Pluto alignments to constellate mass projections of subversive elements within the populace upon an other or scapegoat, projecting whatever is deemed heretical or inferior, whatever we are in denial about ourselves. Tarnas stressed the shadowy complex of Saturn-Pluto is further matched by a compensatory empowerment of repressive and reactionary forces that utilize authoritarian methods. Rather than enacting cruelty on a scapegoat with all of the insidiousness you are projecting upon the other, be curious about whatever aspects of your inner multiplicity are being stirred up. Explore the deeper meaning of the stories you are drawn toward, the people you are attracted as well as repulsed by. Discern how the volatility can lead you toward considered and constructive action rather than reactionary impulsiveness.
We can use the catalyzing influence of Mars to claim more of our inner authority to make the changes we wish to see happen. There will be a need to be protective of others and to forge resiliency and courageousness out of whatever conflict emerges, yet it will also be important to not become stuck and rigid with defensiveness. Allow whatever aspects of yourself are being shed to fully putrefy and provide compost to nurture whatever wants to emerge from within. Mars retrograde in Aries will provide the burning fires of Eros needed to forge bonds of fellowship as well as motivate a honing of whatever skills we need to cultivate to perform the role we need to play within the great changes taking place.
“Do not act out; do not hold in. A paradox. And a double negative that suggests a via negative, a de-literalizing cancellation of both commandments. A mercurial escape from the exhausting oscillation between them. Instead of holding in or acting out, act in. Cook in the rotundum as one vessel was called, referring both to a container and to the roundness of the skull. Hold the heat inside the head by warming the mind’s reveries. Imagine, project, fantasize, think.”
— James Hillman, Alchemical Psychology, p. 37
An extremely inflammatory Full Moon in Aries on the first day of October will demarcate the transition of Mars from completing its square aspect with Saturn into engaging fully with its square aspect with Pluto. Mars will bring a more energizing and activating impact at this point due to it increasing in speed and movement as well as leaving the bounds of Saturn (25° – 30° Aries) to enter its own bounds (20º – 25° Aries). From the Full Moon on October 1 until Mars completes its aspect with Pluto on October 9, there will be an intensification of desire and ambition as Pluto stokes the flames of Mars.
Yet it’s also wise to invite consideration of the dwarf planet Eris, as Mars will unite with Eris at 24°07′ Aries on October 3. Astrologers are still researching and coming to terms with the meaning of Eris in astrology, but there does seem to be resonance with her mythology which has connection with the Strife that Empedocles stated was at the root of creation along with Love. Homer in the Illiad said that Eris is the wrathful sister and companion of Ares, while Hesiod in Theogony said that Eris is the daughter of Nyx (Night) and the mother of kakodaimones (evil spirits) who plague humanity. Hesiod also said that while there is one kind of wholly blameworthy Strife, there is another who is praiseworthy in her capacity for stirring up hard work and productive competitiveness that leads to important creations.
Peter Kingsley in Reality noted that the force of Love is idealized without question, but that the force of Strife described by Empedocles can bring awareness of the illusions and deceptions brought by Love. Kingsley wrote that Strife can lead one toward ultimate freedom despite all of its associated difficulties:
The situation is starkly simple. If we let it have its way without cooperating, then Strife will manifest as violence and destruction all around us. But if we are willing to cooperate, we can consciously channel its energy instead into destroying ourselves- our beliefs and illusion, our attachments, our clinging to the ways things are. For what can be so difficult to realize is that the very act of becoming conscious is, itself, a process of destruction; of separation; of learning to die before we die.
–Peter Kingsley, Reality
The strife stirred up between Mars and Eris will have a direct impact on the ruptures emanating from Mars and Pluto. Mars clashing with Pluto can stir up potent ambition that can lead to extreme frustration and anger when facing restrictions or obstacles that impact your ability to manifest aspirations. There will be a need to be cautious of becoming so strongly driven and competitive that you become enmeshed within destructive power dynamics with others. Yet Mars and Pluto can also bring an indomitable tenaciousness in pursuing goals against all odds. By patiently building toward your goal and accepting the circumstances of your current stage of development, you will cultivate the flexibility needed to release yourself from repressive influences, adjust to changes of necessity, and draw from the depths of Mars and Pluto in ways that weld together your desire, purpose, and resolve.
Both Pluto and Mars have ancient associations with the underworld. Pluto is named for the Roman lord of the underworld, and similarly in astrology signifies our inner subterranean realm of circulating unconscious patterns that drive our instinctive reactions. In contrast, the planet Mars was known as the underworld deity Nergal in ancient Mesopotamian astrology. Michael Baigent in From the Omens of Babylon: Astrology and Ancient Mesopotamia wrote that Nergal was “lord of both the fires of hell and the heat of the fierce summers which destroyed both man and crops.” Nergal was the god of plague, fevers, and pestilence who forced his way into co-rulership of the underworld with Ereshkigal, becoming a god of the grave and judge of the dead.
We may feel dragged down into the chthonic and volcanic fires of Mars and Pluto in moments, yet the intensity of their heat will be capable of simultaneously reforging your will force. There may be tests of your ability to claim your personal power and a need to release yourself from dynamics that have been excessively repressing or restricting you. When we resist the cathartic change brought by Pluto for security reasons we often experience breakdown, but when we surrender to its process of regenerative decay there can be a fiery purification of old restrictive patterns that sets the stage for us to give birth to a more potent vitality.
The mysterious meaning of the plate from the Gundestrup Cauldron above has been interpreted in many ways by scholars, including as an ancestralization ritual. Michael Enright proposed it depicts an initiation rite in which the large, divine smith on the left is quenching the warriors on the lower level in a vat so that they transition from being “hot blooded adolescents into the cooler and more relentless realm of responsible adulthood” shown in the regal figures on the upper level. Just like a blacksmith dips spear and sword blades into quenching liquid so they become harder and more durable, so the initiate’s “nature undergoes a metamorphosis in the vat such that he can then be accepted as a rightly made adult.” There are echoes of the legendary Cú Chulainn whose battle frenzy burned so hot he had to be quenched three times in order for him to operate within society.
Mars will plunge us into the initiation that comes at the midpoint of its retrograde journey on October 13 when it forms an opposition with the Sun in Libra, with Mars at 21º04′ Aries. Mars at this point of its retrograde phase will be as close to us in orbit as it gets within its entire cycle, and it will also be glowing as bright red as possible in the night sky. As the Sun sets in the west, Mars will rise in the east; as the Sun rises in the east, Mars will set in the west. Adam Gainsburg has described the solar opposition phase of Mars as being a period for making a radical commitment to one’s authentic vision, as well as reframing the meaningful motivation of Mars from being all about one’s own needs into serving societal needs.
The same day that Mars forms an opposition with the Sun, Mercury will station retrograde in Scorpio under rulership of the star of Ares. Since Mercury will be stationing retrograde within range of an opposition with Uranus in Taurus, the middle of October will be exceedingly volatile and ripe with potential for sudden revelations, breakthroughs, and breakdowns. Mercury will remain retrograde in Scorpio until October 27 when it returns to Libra. With Mercury retrograde being ruled by Mars retrograde, let the tricks of Hermes guide you toward whatever needs to be released or reevaluated. While the delays and disagreements in communication that can come with Mercury retrograde periods will be activated, it can also be an extremely potent time for shedding what needs to be laid to rest while more deeply refining your purpose.
As Mercury in Scorpio takes on its chthonic psychopomp role in the middle of October, Mars will finally complete its square aspect with Jupiter on October 18 with Mars retrograde at 19°27′ Aries and Jupiter at 19°27′ Capricorn. Jupiter being in a superior square to Mars will amplify the potency of the Mercury retrograde phase in Scorpio happening simultaneously, with intimations of new visions erupting from the cracks of the tectonic shifts that will be happening in world events. As Jupiter in Capricorn will be entering its final stretch of bringing to a close the old era with Saturn, the square between Jupiter and Mars can help in separating the inessential from the past that needs to be left behind while centering within the essential we need to cultivate and carry forward.
“There is a certain kind of peace that is not merely the absence of war. It is larger than that. The peace I am thinking of is not at the mercy of history’s rule, nor is it a passive surrender to the status quo. The peace I am thinking of is the dance of an open mind when it engages another equally open one–an activity that occurs most naturally, most often in the reading/writing world we live in. Accessible as it is, this particular kind of peace warrants vigilance. The peril it faces comes not from the computers and information highways that raise alarm among book readers, but from unrecognized, more sinister quarters.”
– Toni Morrison, The Dancing Mind speech when accepting the 1996 medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
Before Mars stations direct on November 13, it will form an opposition with Venus in Libra on November 9, with Venus at 15°21′ Libra and Mars at 15°21′ Aries. The tension between Venus in Libra and Mars in Aries as Mars is beginning to station direct will bring to fruition something that was catalyzed on September 4 when Venus in Cancer formed a square aspect with Mars in Aries when Mars was beginning to station retrograde. With both Venus and Mars empowered within each of their own domiciles, there will be an amplification of whatever volatile tension has been building within relational dynamics.
Furthermore, once Mars stations direct on November 13 at 15º14′ Aries, Venus in Libra will begin engaging in a series of square aspects with Pluto, Jupiter, and Saturn in Capricorn. Venus will square Pluto and Jupiter on November 15 and then Saturn on November 19. Combined with Mars stationing direct, we will have opportunities for aligning whatever purpose and meaning we have forged from the fires of Mars with the needs of society so that our efforts will make a worthwhile, effective impact in our wider community.
The hard aspects between Venus and Mars that bookend the retrograde movement of Mars points to the role each of us will be playing as active creative agents during this key three month period of 2020. As we come to an end of the earth era of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions in order to firmly establish ourselves in an era of air at the end of December, our capacity to wield technological innovation to empower our agency will be key. Yet the influence of Venus in Libra at the finale of Mars retrograde illuminates the need for actively deep listening within the agency we cultivate, as well as using our creativity courageously in the face of systemic oppression. Rather than insistence on the self serving, we will need to align with what will serve society for the greater good.
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Baigent, Michael. (1994). From the Omens of Babylon: Astrology and Ancient Mesopotamia. Penguin Arkana.
Enright, Michael. (2007). “Ritual and Technology in the Iron Age: An Initiation Scene on the Gundestrup Cauldron.” Myth in Early Northwest Europe. Edited by Stephen O. Glosecki. ACMRS.
Greene, Liz. (2018). The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus: Daimons, Gods, and the Planetary Journey. Routledge.
Hillman, James. (2014). Alchemical Psychology. Spring Publications.
Jung, CG. (1967). Alchemical Studies. Translated by RFC Hull. Bollingen.
Kingsley, Peter. (2003). Reality. The Golden Sufi Center.
Tarnas, Richard. (2007). Cosmos and Psyche. Plume.