Blast Furnace: Mars’ 2016 Retrograde

Blast Furnace: Mars’ 2016 Retrograde

The Basics

Let us begin with the astronomical fundamentals of Mars’ retrograde.  The facts, as it were.  First, Mars assumes retrograde motion in relationship to the Earth approximately every two years.  These periods of contrary movement through our sky last for roughly 10 weeks.  This year, Mars stations retrograde on April 17th, and assumes direct motion on June 28th.

These retrograde periods occur when Mars and the Earth are on the same side of the Sun.  At the center of each Mars’ retrograde is the point in the Mars-Earth cycle where the two are closest together in space.  This year it will be on May 22nd, and see our planet and the red one only 76 million km apart.

The point where Earth and Mars are closest occurs when the Sun is one side of Earth and Mars directly on the other.  When we map these positions onto a chart, we have a Sun-Mars opposition.  While the more common Mercury and Venus retrogrades have a conjunction with the Sun at their center, the retrogrades of the planets further from the Sun than the Earth, such as Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, all have an opposition with the Sun at their core.

The dead center of Mars’ retrograde phase is also the point of maximum visibility in Mars’ cycle.  In late May, Mars will rise just as the Sun sets, and be visible for the entirety of night.

Naked Force

Mars spends an inordinate amount of time in the degrees which he retrogrades through.  If we consider the amount of time that it takes for Mars to move through those 15 or so degrees, once, twice, thrice, we get a number around 8 ½ months.  At most other points in his cycle, Mars will clear 15 degrees in about 3 weeks.  We can thus compare three weeks with eight and a half months.  Needless to say, with Mars spending such an unusually long period of time in the same territory, the qualities of that portion of the zodiac are unusually emphasized.

Mars’ last retrograde, which occurred entirely in Libra, was characterized by subtle and passive-aggressive power moves.  That cycle’s quality is perhaps best epitomized by the sequence of events which proceeded from Russia’s controversial amalgamation of Crimea- an event which occurred within a single day of Mars’ retrograde station.

The cycle we plunge into during the 2nd quarter of 2016 is of a very different quality.  It splits its time between Sagittarius and Scorpio, both of which testify to much more straight forward contests of power.  While the cycle in Libra augured velvet gloves, this one is much more likely to see the iron fists come out.  Look for simmering, latent conflicts to become overt.

Arrow Heads
arrowheadsMars’ retrograde this year begins in the 9th degree of Sagittarius, but then regresses back to the 24th degree of Scorpio.  This cycle thus serves to connect the significations of the two signs.

In Sagittarius, the red light of Mars shines outward like a sniper’s laser sight.  Sagittarius, symbolized by an Archer, speaks to a goal-oriented mode of awareness.  One’s resources are mobilized outward, toward targets.  As Mars turns around in this sign, some will begin to question the targets they were previously so intent on.  A layer of uncertainty descends, obscuring the line of fire.  What might have seemed a quick trip from point A to point B becomes circumambulatory and confused. With goals and direction in question, Mars seeks for a point of certainty to fall back to— the point from which a forward march can once again begin.

This retreat will take the red planet back into Scorpio by May 27th.  There Mars will tunnel deep, seeking untapped veins of raw desire and drive.  There we will work to extract and awaken the metals.  In time, we will begin the process of forging new arrow heads, whispering the names of our targets over each sharpened bit of cooling metal.  Re-armed, we will emerge from the cave equipped to tackle the next cycle.

Mars and His Rival

Mars’ retrograde station this year occurs while in conjunction with the star Antares.  Antares translates to “the rival of Ares (Mars),” for the star’s piercing red light rivals that of crimson of Mars in the night sky.  Antares is also referred to as the “Heart of the Scorpion” and in Chinese astrology, as the “Azure Dragon’s Heart.”  Together, Mars and Antares are the two brightest vermillion spots in the night sky. Around the time of the station, we should be able to look up and see a pair of red eyes peering down at us.

Antares’ significations are decidedly martial.  Although historically astrologers have disagreed whether the red orb was of the nature of Mars and Jupiter, Mars and Mercury or Mars and Saturn, they all agreed that it was indeed martial.

Antares is especially keyed into ambition, and is considered by several authors to signify dangerous ambitions, those that through hubris tempt one toward disastrous ends.  Unsurprisingly, one of Antares’ signature story lines entails the precipitous fall of eminent figures.  The state of the American presidential elections, and the names mentioned in the Panama papers guarantee that this story will get told a number of times this season.   If Mars backing away from Antares tells us anything, it may be a suggestion to reconsider our riskiest plans.

While the retrograde station sees the red planet retreat from Antares, Mars will indeed return to face his rival.  In mid-August, Mars will conjoin Antares again, but with Saturn for company.  It is an extraordinary coincidence and point of emphasis that Mars stations atop Antares and that this rare event is followed by a similarly-rare Mars-Saturn conjunction atop Antares only months later.   There can be no doubt that ambitions are due to be melted down, refined, and reforged in the furnace of the Azure Dragon’s heart.

The Warrior, the Smith and the Ascetic

Mars is commonly seen through the figure of the warrior, and there is no doubt that soldiers are indeed the red planet’s children.  Yet we can see Mars in and through other activities, other roles. Chief among these is the Smith.  As concerned with fire and metal as any war-monger, the smith shows the intemperate heat of Mars used for the intentional transformation of matter.  Yet the smith has a more internal side, which is recognized most clearly in the Indian traditions of astrology, which see ascetic self-cultivation as one of Mars’ primary interests.  Indeed, the planet does not speak to those whose needs are lavish.  One need only consider what a “Spartan” life style refers to.  Through the intentional embrace of hardship and austerity, the planet’s raging fire is used to heat the material of the psyche and soul, making the metal within just as capable of transformation as the metal without.

Mars the warrior represents the movement from intent to action, the exteriorization of the will in contested space.   During the period of retrograde motion, however, many people experience a reversal of that flow, with Mars transits triggering an inward turn.  Instead of proceeding outward, there is a movement backward, from action back to intention, which awakens the inner fire of the ascetic.

Furthermore, the form our martial action, our attack and defense, our sword and armor, often come into question under the red glare of the ascetic’s gaze.  Dissolving form, melting our tools, we retreat to worship the smith and ponder the alchemy of iron.

Fortunately, the human being is a grand palace of alchemical action, everyone a foundry the size of a kingdom. Though much of the equipment lies unused, and many of the fires burn low, it is a workshop of tremendous possibility.  One has but to reawaken the metal and ignite the blast furnace to unmake, remake and ultimately transform the steel within.

Martial Models

armorIn addition to our implements of war and labor, it is also our model of the martial which is due to be melted down.  Like an anatomical dummy, this iron sculpture is the result of all of our experiences of the hard, sharp, brave, accomplished and destructive.  It is something that at times we embody, and at other times superimpose on our friends, enemies and lovers.  One can wear it as a suit of armor— an empowering and constraining prosthesis.  One might also look upon it and long for a partner wearing just such a shining suit.  Though some might prefer to see themselves within it, and others to see a partner dressed up in it, each and every person both embodies and relates to the martial.  Some might call it masculinity, but it is bigger and more universal than that, and not, in truth, dependent upon the morphology of one’s genitals.

During Mars retrogrades, we are pulled to regard this model, this suit of armor, critically.  We are encouraged to take it apart, to melt it down.  In doing so, we return the psychic material which is its substance to a state of plasticity.  In this state the metal can be reworked, hammered and teased into new patterns, changing the way we both embody and relate to power.

The Duderang

One of the more literal manifestations of Mars’ retrograde cycle is the return of men who have left one’s life.  Although this “returning” is action is applicable to any of Mars’ children, old boyfriends seem to enact this pattern most commonly.duderang

These returns often have a mysterious component to them, as the reasons for the return are often unclear, with one layer or another of the motivation hidden to the parties in involved.  As Mars’ retrograde motion is a temporary anomaly, these returns to past situations rarely end with the happy union of those involved.  They do, however, often provide an opportunity for insight or closure that would not be otherwise be possible.

If you see a duderang heading your way, or find yourself compelled to return, engage the process, but do so with some ambivalence.  Wait for the cycle to complete itself before drawing any final conclusions or making any enduring commitments.

Energy Levels

Mars’ retrogrades often correlate with odd and sometimes inconvenient fluctuations of energy levels.  During the red planet’s retrograde phase, it is as if the middle ground is removed, replaced by either torpor or frenzy. Traditionally martial types- confident, vigorous and goal focused- often find themselves rudderless and lacking their usual enthusiasm for accomplishment.  Meanwhile, those not known for their fire may find themselves unusually driven, with rare blooms of both anger and strength breaking the surface.  With Mars supplying both power surges and outages, it will be up to us to moderate our energy levels.


2016 Mars Retrograde Cycle Time Line

Mars stations retrograde:  April 17th

Mars opposite the Sun: May 22nd

Mars returns to Scorpio: May 27th

Mars stations direct:  June 29th

Mars conjoins Saturn atop Antares: August 23rd





Horoscopes are not a real chart reading by an experienced astrologer. They are fun and can be reasonably accurate, however. In addition to referring to your Sun sign, read from your Ascendant and Moon if you know them. If you don’t, find out! I’m a long time fan of the free chart generation software at
Aries: The Ram

Your guiding star, red and contrary, starts walking backwards in Sagittarius, raising questions about your long term goals. It may be that the world rises up to block your progress towards these goals, or you might find yourself suddenly less passionate about them. Regardless, the terrain shifts, and pushes you to reflect on your goals, and what it will take to achieve them.
The second half of Mars’ backward march, which will begin on May 27th, takes place in the sign of Scorpio. This portion of the red planet’s journey will focus on what you need from other people in order to pursue your goals. You may need to borrow power or resources to make things happen, though you’re likely to spend June considering the cost. Furthermore, it may be that what you’re aiming for isn’t a solo project, but instead something that requires teamwork. In this case, figuring out how to harmonize divergent perspectives and abilities may be the primary topic of Mars’ backward trek through Scorpio.

Taurus: The Bull

Mars begins his retrograde in Sagittarius, and there highlights the power you’ve borrowed from others, as well as the strength you’ve loaned out. The Sagittarius portion of this retrograde will entail an inspection of and reflection on these type of arrangements. You’re likely to see the biggest challenges cluster around money loaned and borrowed, and difficult dynamics pop up in situations which require team-work.
After a time in Sagittarius, Mars will march backward into Scorpio, and there expose relational dynamics. Raw feelings are due to surface in a variety of relationships, both personal and professional. Yet embedded in those sometimes toxic upwellings are truths which won’t be found anywhere else. When the smoke clears, you may find your relationships possessing a clarity they never have before. Those born during the last week of the Bull’s reign are likely to have the most intense version of the experiences described above.

Gemini: The Twins

The red planet’s retrograde begins in Sagittarius. In the Archer’s sign, Mars is due to inflame your relationships, turning up the heat on a variety of dynamics. Some interactions might even spontaneously combust, so keep your fire extinguisher at the ready. Though sparky relations are likely to be experienced by a wide range of Gemini-heavy charts, those with planets in the first third of the sign are likely to see the most intense versions thereof.
After heating up relationship dynamics, Mars slides back into Scorpio. This shift, which occurs on May 27th, begins the second leg of the retrograde, which will take the heat off of relationships and reorient the red planet toward your health, habits and work ethic. Here Mars will use a red-hot poker to prod you to take care of business and take better care of yourself. This phase entails concrete problems, and thus the solutions will likely involve repeated application of blood, sweat and tears. You better work.
Though the two portions of Mars’ retrograde will highlight different sets of issues, there are likely to be some plotlines which connect the two. For you, the larger story arcs are likely to highlight the manner in which practical problems can create issues within relationships, and vice versa— how feedback from people can prompt us to take a second look at how we take care of business.

Cancer: The Crab

Mars’ retrograde starts in Sagittarius, and there the red planet will pass a ruby ray over your work ethic, dietary habits and exercise routines. You may find yourself having more small problems, such as broken appliances or achy knees, to deal with than usual. This portion of Mars’ retrograde is an excellent time to declare a reset on your routines. If you’ve been driving yourself hard for the last while, consider getting your oil changed.
The second leg of Mars’ retrograde, which takes place in Scorpio, is more focused on what you’re creating. The situation can be likened to a smith’s dilemma. You have before you raw ingots of metals- yet what will you make of them? Horse shoes? Armor? A cool sword? That materia could be heated and hammered into any shape you might dream, yet you have only so much. In fact, in order to forge the tools you need for this phase of your life, you may even need to melt down some of your old creations.
Though they will occur separately, there are likely to be threads which connect these two phases of Mars’ retrograde. Good habits will increase the amount of energy you have available for projects, and solving mundane problems will keep them from distracting you at your work bench.

Leo: The Lion

The first act of Mars’ retrograde begins in Sagittarius, where it is due to complicate whatever it is you’re trying to create. You may need to take a step back on projects you’d hoped would be done by now. It may be that things just aren’t pointed in quite the right direction, and a pivot of some sort is called for. In addition, you might also need to reassess just how much energy you do and do not have to make things happen. If you find yourself spread thin, that means its time to reprioritize. Mars’ retro through Sagittarius may also, for child-rearing Leos, signify difficulties with children.
The second leg of the Mars retrograde, which takes place in Scorpio, will likely hold the greatest challenges, especially for those with planets late in the sign. Here Mars is due to dig into the soil of your living situation and into the underbelly of emotionally charged family dynamics. Though some of the dirt may be unpleasant to pick through, there are a few hard jewels of wisdom in there, just waiting to be found.
The retrograde, taken as a whole, points to the connection between what you create and the support you do or don’t have. You may need to reconfigure the networks you rely on, reassess dynamics, or make changes to your living situation to provide the foundation you need to create the life you desire.

Virgo: The Virgin

Mars’ retrograde begins in Sagittarius, where the red planet will focus on matters of living space and family. Here Mars may oversee a variety of irritations around the house, such as broken appliances or annoying guests. Yet Mars also speaks to home improvement projects, as well as the labor and noise they inevitably entail. Family is also likely to get stirred up— It may be a family member who’s having a particularly hard time and acting out, or it may be that an old family friction sparks a small conflagration.
The second phase of Mars’ retrograde will take the red planet through Scorpio, which highlights your schedule. You can expect the pace of your weekly work, as well as your motivation to accomplish it, to wax and wane with unusual rapidity. The underlying question is what you are accomplishing with the time you spend, and what the pile of small achievements adds up to.

Libra: The Scales

Mars’ retrograde station occurs in Sagittarius, which centers the first portion of the retrograde on your schedule. You may undergo some uncertainty about your short-term goals during this first phase, and may well experience some disruptions to your regularly scheduled activities.
The second portion of Mars’ retrograde, which takes place in Scorpio, is due to highlight the state of your finances, as well as what you think your time is worth. Consider your actions as an investment of time and energy, and then ask yourself what kind of a return you’re getting.
Essentially, this retrograde asks what your time is worth, and to consider re-arranging your schedule and priorities to better reflect those assessments.

Scorpio: The Scorpion

Mars’ retrograde will begin in Sagittarius, its focus on your finances and the value of your actions. Monetary goals that seemed so reasonable last month may suddenly seem impossible, while other plans which seemed previously unfeasible may suddenly appear eminently doable. In addition to the strictly monetary aspect of this transit, you may also be pulled to reconsider what does and does not have value to you.
Though the first bit is likely to leave you with some interesting questions, it is the second leg of the retrograde which is of greatest interest, as it sees the red planet present in your own sign. This portion of Mars’ cycle brings the planet’s red light to focus on you- who you are and what you really want. A beam of crimson is due to burn slowly through what veils obscure these simple but essential truths. Though the process is likely to be, at points, unpleasant, at the end of this tunnel is clarity, strength and purpose.

Sagittarius: The Centaur

Mars’ retrograde begins in your sign, putting you directly in the red planet’s cross-hairs. Like iron in a blacksmith’s forge, you’re due to be super-heated and then hammered into superior shape. The going might get a little tough between the middle of April and the end of May, but do your best to rise to the challenges which emerge during this period, even if they are not the trials you’ve wished for. There is strength which only emerges under stress, and a calm that only descends in the midst of a storm, and these virtues are yours to claim. Though all residents of the Archer’s sign will feel some of the heat, this phases’ fire will be felt most acutely by November Sags.
The second half of Mars’ retrograde, which begins on May 27th, sees the red planet retreat to Scorpio. Here the ruby rays will fire deep into your unconscious, stirring up internal conflicts and awakening old ghosts. Both strength and determination are to be found in this haunted portion of your psyche, but you may have to renegotiate the contracts you have with your personal demons, or put a few shades to rest in order to do so.
Mars’ retrograde cycle starts in your sign, beginning with straightforward, if daunting, challenges. However, its motion will take it backward and inward, relocating the front line to a more subtle place. Its resolution will be in those inner reaches, where you will decide what you really do and not want and how much you will or will not endure to obtain it.

Capricorn: The Goat

Mars’ retrograde begins in Sagittarius, and the red planet’s tour of this territory will see its ruby light shine upon the strength you’ve forgotten you have. Here is a sword long buried, but one guarded by a terrible monster. To retrieve Excalibur, you’ll need to face down that beast. Is it a fear of will mis-using your power it? A fear of failure? Perhaps it is the ghost of someone who once convinced you that your will and determination were not eternally your own? Regardless its shape, a wrestling match is due to take place behind the veil of daily events.
The second half of Mars’ retrograde will be less subtle than the first, for it involves other people. The red planet’s time in Scorpio, which begins on May 27th, points toward your network of friends and contacts. This portion of the cycle asks, with particular clarity, when it is worth fighting with people, and when conflict merely makes things worse. It will also push your to consider the value of forging the right relationships, as there as little as precious as stalwart allies and reliable friends.
This cycle connects the subtle with the social. Recover your power and take it proudly into the part of your life where people can see it. If you need help, do not be afraid to ask for those you trust. Though the struggle with our inner demons is solitary one, the solution to these conflicts almost always involves the strength of our friends and allies.

Aquarius: The Waterbearer

Mars’ retrograde motion begins in Sagittarius, where the red planet will illuminate your life’s social landscape. The planet’s ruby light passes across your network of friends, acquaintances and contacts, exposing tensions between its various members and yourself. This phase of Mars’ retrograde will test your ability to navigate the frictions which develop within groups. Mars will alternately push you away and pull you deeper into group dynamics during this period- do your best to stay neutral. Watch the way various dynamics develop and dissolve before exiling someone or declaring another your eternal BFF.
The second portion of Mar’s retrograde is due to take place in Scorpio, where the red planet will shine across your professional life. This phase of Mars’ retrograde will serve to refine and define exactly what your professional objectives are. Obstacles and opposition present here will make clear what your campaign will entail, and put you in the position to make an informed choice not only about what you want, but how much grit and determination will be necessary to accomplish it.
As a whole, Mars’ retrograde will bring you to consider the relationship between your social world and your professional goals. There may be a temporary need to withdraw from the social in order to meet the demands of your professional life. Try to make what adjustments are necessary without burning any bridges.

Pisces: The Fish

Mars’ retrograde begins in Sagittarius, throwing a red light across your professional landscape. You may be prompted to back away or retreat from plans which require too much of you right now, or which will require considerably more preparation in order to ensure success. In addition, obstacles or opposition may emerge in your professional life during this time, slowing things down. Professional conflicts may also be exacerbated, so do your best to manage the friction present in that sector of your life.
The second half of Mars’ retrograde motion takes the red planet into Scorpio. This portion of the cycle, which begins on May 27th, shifts the action toward your long term goals and life direction. Here Mars digs into the dark soil of your dreams, trying to unearth what it is you really want out of life, and what you are willing to do in order to attain it. Mars’ iron spade can be used to excavate forgotten sources of power and meaning, and to bury plans which no longer shine with purpose.
Mars’ cycle, as a whole, connects the action you are taking in your professional life with the direction it is taking you. If you can address those gulfs between what you’re doing and what has meaning to you, your reward will be nothing less than the achievement of Right Work.

Austin Coppock is a writer, esotericist and astrologer based in Ashland, OR. He published paperback Almanacs from 2011-15 but began posting his prognostications online last year, referring to his collection of weekly, monthly, yearly essays and daily delineations as “The Online Almanac”. This work is made possible by his supporters on Patreon. Austin was President of the non-profit organization “Association for Young Astrologers” from 2012-2016. His most recent book is “36 Faces: The History, Astrology and Magic of the Decans”, published by Three Hands Press.


  1. Chandira 4 years ago

    Mars is due to retro over my Dsc, and back into my 6th. I quit my job on Monday! Won’t go into details here, but yes, this Gemini Asc/Aq Sun has had a hard time fitting in with the plan, and it’s time to move on.
    Thanks Austin, this article was awesome as ever. Xx

  2. christine 4 years ago

    Inspiring, thank you!

  3. Peter 4 years ago

    Hi there Austin , great synopsis ! I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of metaphysical poet John Donne’s holy sonnets, Batter my Heart , which likens God ( or today, higher self etc) to a blacksmith beating the soul into shape on His anvil. Search it out ! It’s exactly the retrograde Mars imagery you describe here. Regards, peter , Australia.

  4. Jennifer L Metro 4 years ago

    Dear Austin,
    Your writing is inspired. “Whispering the names of our targets” and “duderang,” brilliant! You touched something deep inside this Aries, with Scorpio ascendant. I will save your words to help me navigate the next few weeks. It gunna be an exciting time.

  5. Jen 4 years ago

    Really do appreciate your take on the introversion of Mars retrograde – the internal forging as it were. Brilliant. And yes, the image of the slow melding and creating of pointed weapons with strategy in mind. I find it fascinating that this retrograde is passing through 2 signs, and using Whole Signs, two houses. First the re-assessing of the goal and attempts to reach it, and then this dip into Scorp that allows for better strategy – maybe that is it, going back to get a better approach after discovering that no advance can be made without it. And how. I can only hope that I have figured out which arrows to use.

  6. Deb 4 years ago

    Your horoscopes are amazingly relevant to my sun, moon and rising signs as I have been forced to slow down only because of a raging head cold, which allows me time to focus on my current and future projects and consider their importance. As usual your poetic and powerful interpretations require more than one reading which I will also do whilst in a slowed state.

  7. dirkdev 4 years ago

    Thanks Austin for another inspired interpretation of our collective sky. Now that retrograde Mars and retrograde Saturn are in my 10th House I am truly retired!


  8. Nikki 4 years ago

    “Duderang” is actually hilarious. Reminded me hardout of Duran Duran video for Hungry by the Wolf – released during a Mars rx in Libra. I wrote an article drawing a lot on alchemical ideas which you might like or hate. I’ll leave a link 🙂

  9. John O 4 years ago

    deeply profound reading for Leo. thank you.

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