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.
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.
Mars’ 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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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