- One of many Mars rovers, sent up by curious Earthlings.
"My definition of learning is discovering that something is possible." —Fritz Perls
Our planet began its passage between Mars and the Sun recently, which astrologers call Mars retrograde. That started April 17 and ends June 29. Mars is rarely retrograde, so this qualifies as a special event. It will be retrograde in Sagittarius and Scorpio, and my horoscope will describe some of the particulars as they manifest by sign and rising sign.
We inherit Mars from its Roman origins as the god of war. In contemporary astrology, Mars is the planet of desire, drive, and aspiration, and potentially of violence and domination. Without whatever Mars symbolically represents in the psyche, nothing would go anywhere.
With healthy Mars, one is motivated, and connected to one's motives, and acts on them, more or less appropriately (and concepts of appropriateness constitute a central problem with the expression of Mars). When Mars is working well, it's about expressing the power of decision more than anything else. Mars can also represent curiosity, which is the intellect asserting itself into the environment (that of self, or that of the world around us).
There are two other possibilities. One is that Mars is allowed to run wrangle, trampling over people and things. This might come as aggression, greed, or transgression, which we see plenty of in the world today. Toxic Mars can be found lots of places, especially here in the age of the suicide bomber, stop-and-frisk, and the preemptive strike.
Another possibility is that Mars is turned against itself. An example of this is when a person has been pruned or transgressed (what we call "abused" in current parlance) and, naturally, they resent having been treated this way. Then, unable to push back, they turn that resentment onto themselves. This is really a form of self-directed attack, which usually manifests as guilt or depression. It can last a lifetime if not recognized and healed, and many people are walking around in this situation. The way I see it, one's experience of Mars falls into one of three main camps: a conscious, mediated response to desire; attacking others; or attacking oneself. There can be some combination, but usually one of these states dominates. I would propose that most people fall into the third category, living lives of guilty pleasures, self-criticism, resentment, and restraint that block the ability to express creativity or desire.
I cannot even count the number of clients who have told me they stayed in a relationship or marriage 15 years too long, knowing they were miserable. That's one metric. You can also hear it in how people speak about the things they want to do or like to do.
How many times have you been asked what you want, only to ask yourself what you're allowed to want? Or to ponder what you will give yourself permission to want? For many, it seems like the moment desire is evoked, it provokes some form of self-regulation or guilt. Desires are often substituted. If sex is considered bad, then chocolate might seem to suffice. This whole game eclipses an honest expression of one's existence.
It's no mystery that desire is a point of conflict, however. There seem to be two major forces working in society. One is advertising, which is stoking the fire of desire like sugar stokes the growth of cancer. Advertising is intended to drive desire out of control, fueled by the greed of the advertiser. It can be manipulative—you don't sell Mountain Dew; you sell sex on the beach. You don't sell beer; you sell the most interesting man in the world.
The second, counteracting, force is typically some form of religion, which is supposedly all about restricting desire. Religion figured out that core desire is sexual on the level of biology, and so it has long sought to inflict a specific injury to erotic feelings, including erotic curiosity—to shut down all natural feelings and inquisitiveness. This is often coupled with a direct attack on the biological realm: brainwashing us that the body and all its feelings are bad.
This process of injury is also used by seemingly secular society, which in the Western world closely tracks religious values. On what other grounds would a state legislature pass a law against sex toys? (That is the position of one of the leading presidential candidates.) Plenty of religious teaching comes through parents, school, the legal system, and various forms of peer enforcement.
When someone attempts to connect honestly with their desire, the result can be a seizure of guilt or conflict. And when advertising is designed—using all the power of psychology, art, music, and sexuality—to inflame desire, that desire typically swells into the thorns and barbs of guilt.
That is an intentional formula for conflict—and that is one of the main contexts of our society, manifesting in countless, seemingly infinite ways.
And now, Mars has just turned to retrograde motion; that is, it's turning all of this into a question.
The question—or perhaps the quest—begins in Sagittarius, a sign closely associated with "isms"; that is, with belief systems. True, that's one of the less organic, culturally constructed manifestations of Sagittarius, which in its more natural forms is the sign of high adventure, aspiration, and exploration.
But, calcified by religion and society at large, Sagittarius is more about what one is supposed to believe rather than what one actually, in fact, believes to be true.
In its most honest form, Sagittarius is about a quest for that very experience of personal or universal truth, and Mars retrograde symbolizes precisely that. So we could say that the inner quest of Mars retrograde in Sagittarius is about an examination of every belief you hold, especially about yourself and your existence—a genuine inner quest for truth.
Mars treads the astrological wheel of the zodiac backwards for 72 days. Approximately six weeks into that process, Mars retrogrades into Scorpio. Among the many ways to describe this sign are death and transformation, surrender, regeneration, and evolution. What most of that points to is sex. From ancient astrology, Scorpio is the sign that represents the genitals; and in modern astrology, the genetic process. That involves sexual reproduction and programmed cell death (called senescence).
When we consider Scorpio as a biological function, we really do come back to sex and death. That alone is frightening; we often think about or want sex, and we often dread or obsess over death. Therefore, Scorpio also evokes all the feelings connected to these things. That is a complex world, and it's directly related to profound feelings, deep mysteries, and deep attachments.
After penetrating through the layers of constructed belief in search of some actual experience of faith, Mars is heading into what for most people is the murky, confused, and conflicted world of their response to their own biology.
In doing so, my sense is that Mars is penetrating through layers of conditioning in search of the truth; and when it arrives there, that truth involves the most basic levels of existence, which are to be found in Scorpio. By existence I mean our relationship to existence and to the possibility of nonexistence.
To go there directly is really a plunge. It's going to require patience, awareness, and the willingness to let go of prejudices, especially about one's own feelings.
If you allow that to happen, the question that's likely to come up is: What do you actually want from life? Recognizing the facts of existence (sex and death primary among them), what is your desire for your remaining time on Earth? If, for example, you recognize that you only get finite time in your body, what might you say that you want? Could you cut through some of the conflict and distraction?
If you allow your biology to speak to you, what would it say? In this Mars retrograde, biology trumps belief. Mars ends up in Scorpio. Then it returns to Sagittarius, where belief can be reconsidered in light of biological bottom lines.
You might consider desire outside the confines of what you believe is possible (that's just more toxic Sagittarius). You might apply your curiosity to the experiment of what is possible—and consider learning as the discovery of what is possible. If you listen to your body, your desire, and your senses, you just might be surprised at what that includes.
• • •
In last month's column, I compared the long-in-development, forthcoming Uranus-Eris conjunction in Aries (first contact, June 9; last happened in 1928) to the Uranus-Pluto conjunction of 1965-66. That was the astrological or perhaps archetypal spark at the center of that thing we now call the Sixties.
I wondered out loud whether astrologers at the time were aware of this event developing—however, I didn't get it right. Based on the available information, I grossly underestimated how much astrologers knew in that era. Here's how I found that out.
Shortly after press time last month, Richard Tarnas, author of Cosmos and Psyche, sent me a link to an article from 1965 written by the late, great Dane Rudhyar, wherein Rudhyar explains the conjunction that was about to change the world—or, by some metrics, already had, since by the time he was writing, JFK had been assassinated and the Beatles had already shown up in New York City. Both of these events were points of origination of the Sixties era, and are described by the Uranus-Pluto conjunction that was then in the works.
I mentioned Rudhyar, who was perhaps the most influential astrologer of the 20th century, helping to bring astrology out of medieval thinking and into a useful, contemporary context. He is best known for his book An Astrological Mandate.
Writing about the first of three meetings of Uranus and Pluto that would take place later in 1965 and into 1966, he said in an article, "This should hardly be news to any person interested in astrology as the magazines have spoken for a long time of this aspect made more disquieting by an opposition to Saturn.
So—now we have a direct reference to a discussion that was developing at the time.
"We therefore are confronted with an extensive and prolonged situation, and it would be rather foolish to expect that this first Uranus-Pluto conjunction on October 9th, 1965 will end a process. It is more likely to begin one."
He refers back to the Uranus-Neptune conjunction of 1821 and the immediately ensuing Uranus-Pluto conjunction of 1850-51, which "paved the way, as it were, for what has slowly been unfolding until now."
Then Rudhyar wrote, adding his own emphasis in italics: "These two cycles were preludes; they marked critical states, the periods of transition between the old and the new. Now the real thing is about to happen, and obviously many people will not like it.
"The institutionalized minds of political leaders, university regents, and boards of trustees or directors will fight against the change, just as classes and groups owning privileges and special positions have always fought against inevitable social, political, and cultural changes. But the new always wins in the end, tragic as may be the victory." Yes indeed. He may as well have been browsing ahead into the next eight years of the New York Times.
• • •
This month's column marks 20 years of consecutive monthly articles and horoscopes for Chronogram. I started writing horoscopes when the founders of this magazine, Jason Stern and Amara Projansky, were just getting their idea for a monthly events magazine going. My column in Chronogram has grown into something of an international phenomenon, and I've written your horoscopes and articles from many countries and regions of the US over the years.
All during these years Chronogram has provided me with a steady place to publish, an educated audience, and the feeling of a solidly grounded home base for my work. Of note, this year is also the 20th anniversary of Chronogram's editor, Brian Mahoney.