Virtuous Pagans with Lon Milo DuquetteAugust 7, 2009
The Lawyer and the Loser: Pop Culture Exploration of Mercury in LibraAugust 26, 2009
“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up”
In traditional astrology, Mars is considered to be in his “Fall” or “Depression” in Cancer. This means that, of all the Signs of the Zodiac, Mars functions most poorly in Cancer.
In order to fully appreciate this statement, we must make a brief segue into the relationship between a Planet and a Sign in Astrology. A planet represents a particular role on life’s stage. In Mars’ case, that role is the warrior. The one who fights. For love, sex, survival or the bloody joy of it. The reason is up to those of us who play the role, not Mars. He simply heralds the role.
As Mars moves throughout the Zodiac, we see the warrior changing clothes and equipment as he is outfitted for different myths. Mars’ journey through the Signs of the Zodiac represents the warrior’s journey into different arenas. The Sign provides both the challenges Mars will face as well as the tools he needs to conquer those challenges.
The collection of myths which comprise the cycle the warrior walks contain both his greatest victories and most humiliating defeats. In each Sign, Mars places a focus on a particular myth. But, as previously stated, not all battles are of equal difficulty. Therefore Mars performs differently in each Sign. Some he performs beautifully in, where we see the virtues of strength, courage, and tenacity. Unfortunately, in those Signs where Mars is especially poorly placed, we tend to see Mars’ less impressive qualities: misdirected anger, insecurity, selfishness, and crudeness.
Astrologers use one pair of terms to describe the Signs where Mars is especially effective, and another pair to describe those signs in which Mars functions poorly. On the positive side, Mars “Rules” Scorpio and Aries, and is “Exalted” in Capricorn. Mars rejoices in the bloody intrigue of Scorpio, revels in the open battlefield of Aries, and he provides his most ruthless and effective performance in patient, ambitious and disciplined Capricorn. On the flip, Mars is in his “Detriment” in Taurus and Libra, and in his “Fall” in Cancer.
Mars is far from home, and has difficulty putting his talent for conflict to much good use in Taurus’ well appointed house or in Libra’s pleasant social gathering. In Cancer, Mars is staying at his mom’s house. And living with Mommy does not a proud warrior make. Just ask Norman Bates.
And so Mars is considered in his “Fall” in Cancer. The Sign in which a planet takes its “Fall” is the setting where that planet’s character is prone to fail the most miserably because of the incompatibility of the Sign’s circumstances and the Planet’s nature.(
What is the conflict between the nature of Mars and the circumstance that Cancer represents? Mars’ nature brings about and resolves conflict. He symbolizes the necessary desire of every individual to burst their confines and establish themselves as independent, reliant only upon their own will. This desire to burst forth from behind confines has its primordial beginning with the desire to escape the womb and extends to rarefied spiritual peaks, with the desire to escape the confines of material reality altogether.
On the contrary, Cancer is the most maternal of the 12 signs of the Zodiac- it is the sign that represents the action of the Moon. Cancer encloses Planets within it in a womb, a matrix of growth. It directs their efforts and energies to our deepest and most sensitive foundations- to childhood, old friends, old fears and the pursuit of deep intimacy. Here, sensitivity and care are absolutely necessary to create the firm emotional foundation which is the Sign’s purpose. .
Put simply, Cancer collects, nurtures and connects while Mars burns, severs and fights. Therefore Mars brings conflict to the sensitive foundations Cancer represents, while those sensitive foundations attempt to stifle that conflict which is contrary to their process.
The God Who Gave Up His Sword
As we stated earlier, in each sign Mars moves through the territory of a different myth. Different hero, different monster, different magic weapon. With the case of Mars in Cancer, the problem is divisive conflicts in one’s emotional and physical foundations. Civil war, culture war, family dysfunction, a problematic relationship, or an unresolved past all qualify.
The power that Mars provides most easily is that of division- the ax, the sword, the knife. In the case of the problem provided by Mars in Cancer, further division is of no value. It exacerbates the issue rather than solving it. In Cancer, Mars approaches his most difficult lesson- how to unify. Deep reconciliation and connection are priorities here. This is a job for neither the sword nor the ax.
In the book, “Astromythology” (Llewelyn, 2004), Raven Kaldera assigns a different mythological figure to each combination of Planet and Sign, for a total of 120 combinations. In this handy tome, Kaldera assigns Mars in Cancer to Frey, a god from the Norse pantheon who gives up his sword in exchange for love. Though I take issue with some of the assignments in this book, this one is spot on.
Frey gave up his sword in exchange for love. The strength to assert individuality and personal power is a fine thing. But in order to create a foundation of comfort and intimacy, the sword must be sheathed. That is a job for weavers, not warriors. Here Mars denies his nature in order to defend what is important. In this case, from himself.
I Was A Teenage Werewolf
But the story does not end with Frey’s noble sacrifice. The energy of aggression and independence submits to the ideal of defending what truly matters. But that energy does not disappear. It goes underground. And here we come to another important figure in the mythology of Mars in Cancer- the Werewolf.
In the many tellings of the story of the Werewolf, the suspected monster is often especially weak and powerless in his standard human form. Whereas after he undergoes his transformation into the Werewolf he becomes a heaving, hairy tribute to manly power. This, friends, is Mars in Cancer too. In the Sign of the Crab, the most primitive form of life, Mars connects with the primal and uncivilized strata of aggressive instinct that the Werewolf represents. In Cancer, Mars taps directly into the primordial pool of blood and bathes in the glory of it. Because it is too primitive and too powerful to be of much use in the modern world, the connection to this reservoir is suppressed. And here is the conflict with our foundations that is the very character of Mars in Cancer.
The Werewolf illustrates the contradictory alienation and addiction that modern people feel toward raw aggressive potency. But the Werewolf is not the only character that does this. As Stephen King points out in his book on the horror genre, “Danse Macabre” (Everett House, 1981) Jekyll and Hyde is essentially a werewolf story, and so is the Incredible Hulk.
If we refer back to the Norse Myth from whence our swordless warrior, Frey, comes, we find our friend the wolf playing a center stage role. The great wolf, Fenrir, who lies safely chained beneath the earth, will one day break free and swallow the Sun and the Moon. This event heralds the Norse version of the end times- Ragnarok.
And so bad horror movies repeat the same symbolic fears encoded into Norse mythology, the fear of the wolf.
If we search human stories for the motif of “the warrior at home,” we come up with 10, 001 anecdotes. The soldier, having learned war, comes home to a family he fought for, only to find that he has forgotten how to be part of it. Explosions of anger, frustration and hurt occur. Unprocessed experiences destabilize both the soldier and his family. He is at his finest when the shit is flying, but cannot exist in the peace his victory creates.
“The warrior at home” is also “the warrior who fights to defend his home.” Just as in the mythology of Mars in Cancer, we have the soldier at his most vulnerable and his most fierce. When the enemy is already in one’s country or house, and one’s very way of life is threatened, the warrior’s willingness to fight is at an all-time high, in proportion to his vulnerability. Here is Mars at his most fanatical and disadvantaged.
Which brings us to another illustration of Mars in Cancer’s mythological complex- civil war. In the microcosm, Mars in Cancer creates angry rifts within a family. If the country is a macrocosm of the family, then the internal feud is a civil war. Again, the situation of Mars in Cancer is supremely disadvantaged- in an ugly family conflict, or a bloody civil war, neither side truly triumphs. Aggressive efforts destroy the very foundations fought for.
Beyond Monsters and Heroes
In Cancer, Mars is in his Fall. His most difficult trial. Possessed of both a selfless aspiration to surrender power to love and a deep, primal connection to the roots of aggression, Mars is placed on the merciless cross of his own extremes. Neither the symbolic castration of losing his sword nor the bloody joy of regression are real answers for the problem that Mars in Cancer poses. The question is how to prevent aggressive drives from damaging what one is sworn to defend without losing the positive virtues that Mars and his attendant energies provide.
Beset with as many problems as it is, what positive quality does the power of Mars in Cancer have? By reconciling internal conflicts, it unifies its foundations. A strong and coherent foundation is power.
In considering Mars in Cancer, I consulted the I Ching, the Book of Changes. The result was Hexagram 45 Assembling, changing into Hexagram 7 Collective Force, alternately titled The Army. Although numberless commentaries and descriptions exist for these configurations, the titles speak for themselves.
Working out the conflicts between people is necessary in order to create powerful bonds. Powerful bonds between people allow them to act as a collective unit, pooling their energy and resources together in order to accomplish what no individual can. Think Voltron, think Constructicons. This vision of Assembling into a Collective Force.
To paraphrase Confucius: Two people unified become a family. Families, unified, become a tribe. Tribes unified become a people. When peoples unite… well, that doesn’t really happen, does it?
(Originally published October 2007, modified over the years)