While studying Tara’s charts, I noticed some difficult Mars patterns in her transits and progressions. What I knew of her before our session was that she was looking for a better job, and her mother had died some months earlier, about which she was understandably still feeling depressed. Halfway into her reading, I asked, “Are you mad at anyone?”
She laughed. “I should be. My therapist keeps urging me to get angry at my mom.” Ah, so here was the thread leading into her Mars issues. Working with her therapist, Tara had uncovered the fear beneath her resistance to getting mad at Mom: It was the same fear she’d felt as a child. Her bipolar mother was volatile and unpredictable. For little Tara, expressing anger meant scary consequences, like getting smacked or abandoned. This knowledge was wired so deeply into her psyche that, even after her mother was gone, Tara wasn’t willing to risk it.
Fear typically trumps anger in the internal debate between these two. Even a brute like Mars must bow to our fragility. That’s his job. He serves the king (our internal sense of self) who is both mighty and thin-skinned. Mars rising in anger is often the sign that our ego has been hurt. As “king protector” and first responder, Mars sounds the alarm, leaps into his boots, and heads for the fire. In energetic terms, he’s the adrenalin spike that gets our heart racing. He’s our sudden strength to react.
Early traumas are quickly wired as learning. Let’s say Mars reaches the scene and discovers there’s no water to stop the flames that have just switched direction and are now surrounding him. Maybe he does get burned. It wouldn’t take too many such fires to send our inner protector into what psychologists call “learned helplessness.” This is a Mars who no longer jumps into his boots when he smells smoke. He no longer trusts that his efforts will make any difference.
Outer-planet aspects to Mars can tell the story of a warrior’s disempowerment. Mars in hard aspect to personal planets (the Sun, Moon, Mercury, or Venus) may feel just as irritable and under siege, but the Mars who wrangles with outer planets (Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto)  seems to be facing more formidable foes. These slower-moving “collective” planets hold greater cultural authority, which can increase the sense of isolation, powerlessness, and/or outlaw status of a Mars who goes up against them.
Mars opposite the Sun will battle against the father (and eventually the self). Mars opposite Pluto may battle against the father and everyone else (including, of course, the self), while enduring more intense storms of impotence, desire, rage, and/or shame.
It’s a law among conquered peoples that what you can’t beat, you may as well join. A Mars overwhelmed by Neptune will entertain himself with fantasies and addictions. A Mars wired into Uranus may become an adrenalin junkie or just reckless — a magnet for conflict or accidents. Mars in hard aspect to Saturn, as was the case in Tara’s chart, will lock himself in the dungeon, with the assigned task of repeatedly kicking its stone walls. This is one definition of depression: anger turned inward, against the self. A Mars like this drains rather than renews our vitality.
God bless the therapists who, instead of prescribing antidepressants, encourage people to express their feelings. For Tara, getting angry would be a way to drive her Mars out into the upper air, where he could blink and begin to revive himself. This is what indigenous healers call “soul retrieval.” When a part of the psyche has been dispossessed, the shaman may smoke an herb or shake his rattle, sending both healer and patient into a trance that lets them journey to another world, where they can locate what’s been lost and lead it back home.
Soul retrieval gets our mojo back. Reclaiming lost archetypes makes us feel stronger, more present, more like ourselves. We can perform this same magic using astrology. Transits and progressions indicate which energies are most available for retrieving. Because planets often speak through people’s situations and emotions, a skilled astrologer can also hear an archetype’s cries for help and use the chart to pinpoint its location. Sign, house, and aspects suggest favorite hiding places and default settings (i.e., unconscious patterns) that may have locked this planet up.
Astrology is a great tool for reviving an impaired Mars. The chart gives us a way to open up his control panel, study the circuitry, and identify which wires need to be reconnected or uncrossed so that we can direct our protector’s power into more successful expressions. With Mars — whether using astrology, therapy, or shamanism — it’s good to also have a guide who understands anger. This isn’t easy to find in a culture that so shames and shuns this emotion. I know one therapist who suggests throwing balled-up socks when you get mad, which honestly is insulting to any real warrior.
More common are the well-meaning counselors who confuse expressing emotions with telling people what you think. We’ve all met the new therapy patient trumpeting belligerently around the office or home, because her therapist has said she’s been stifled and shut down for too long. Ugh! The worst way to revive a Mars is to sing him an epic poem of his victimization, then send him out, unarmed and outnumbered, to give everyone a piece of his mind. This just whips up more anger and, worse, makes the king more vulnerable.
* * *
Anger is better approached as a spiritual practice. Its expression should be like any good ritual. It needs a sanctified space and the right steps performed in the proper sequence. You get better at it with time. And it helps to be initiated by someone who has this archetype’s blessing. Thirty years ago, I was fortunate to learn about anger from a woman I knew only as “Barbara.” She lived in the California desert east of Twenty-nine Palms, in a community miles beyond the last named town, among a handful of small houses scattered like loose change in the scrub.
This was an ideal location for a shaman or medicine woman — beyond the city and at the doorway to a wild landscape. It was the kind of liminal space between culture and raw elements that encourages a more direct conversation between people and the forces underlying all things. But I didn’t know this at the time. A friend had insisted that I go with her to one of Barbara’s weekends. There was no printed flyer with details. I was told to bring cash, since apparently Barbara was evading the IRS.
It was a confusing time in my life. My husband was newly sober. He’d driven us into debt with a cocaine habit that was far more involved than I knew about. He’d gotten sober for the attractive young assistant at his office with whom he’d already begun an affair. He intended to leave me. Intuitive as I am, I hadn’t allowed any of this into my consciousness. As far as I was concerned, we were separated, working things out, and I was doing fine.
On the first morning at Barbara’s house, we awoke at dawn for a meditative sit with warming tea in her living room. After a time, the other women began putting on their jackets and heading out the front door, where each picked up a shovel and, still in silence, followed Barbara, who was walking into the vast desert. Somewhere near the shadow of the Pinto Mountains, we stopped. We were told to find a spot to dig a hole about three feet deep, after which we should gather rocks in a pile beside it.
That done, it was time to begin. We held hands and formed a circle around the woman who volunteered to go first. We offered prayers for blessing and protection. Then, she picked up her stones and threw them, one by one, into the hole. With each rock, she shouted something like, “You treated me like garbage!’ “I hate you!” or “You stole the best years of my life!” I was shaken by the force of her emotion — it was a palpable thing. When she finished, we helped her cover the stones with enough dirt to fill in the hole. We prayed that her anger would be accepted by Mother Earth and transformed into positive energy.
The next woman dropped each of her stones calmly but firmly, with a tale that made me cry. “Harold, I never liked you. When you said I was ugly, I believed it.” Each woman had her own style of expression, and I was anxious to discover mine. When it came my turn, the women formed a compassionate circle around me. We offered prayers. My heart was pounding as I picked up my first stone.
“LIAR!!” An immense voice thundered out of me. I felt myself disappear as some other force claimed my arms and fingers, grabbing and throwing rocks with such power that many of them split and shattered. Screaming and crying, my throat expelled all that I hadn’t allowed myself to dare think about my (soon to be) ex-husband. I felt giant-sized. Words poured and the sky filled with rage. I continued until my voice was ragged and I collapsed, with nothing more to say.
When I came to, I noticed that the women surrounding me had backed up considerably. On their faces was a mix of fear and concern. Only Barbara was smiling. I was exhausted. I was also fully in my body for the first time in a year. As my marriage was disintegrating, I’d become a ghost haunting my life. But now I’d returned. Later, in the bathroom mirror at Barbara’s, I noticed how the tension in my face had vanished. My skin wore the rosy glow of a contented child.
* * *
For years, I thought it was the action of shoveling dirt and throwing stones that had released me. I recommended Barbara’s ritual to friends and clients, and performed it myself several more times before moving on to other tools in emotional mastery. Digging a hole in the woods was neither easy nor practical every time I got mad.
It’s a beginner’s mistake. I had literalized the form and missed its energetic essence. Eventually, I realized that Barbara’s ritual drew its potency from a formula that was both supple and portable. The trick was being willing to perform all the roles yourself: medicine woman, compassionate witness, and mad demon.
It’s important to note who was missing from Barbara’s ritual. None of the people we were mad at were actually there. You may eventually need to speak to those who’ve triggered your ire, but at the height of your fury, it’s the wrong time. If you don’t already know this, experiment. Hurl your anger at a husband, daughter, or boss, and watch how quickly their Mars rises in response. Yell and a battle begins. Anger often signals that your boundaries have been breached; yet going mano-a-mano with your enemy further collapses the border between you, which leaves most people feeling weaker and more vexed.
Anger moved properly is sobering and strengthening. But first, you must become your own medicine woman and create the sacred space for this work. Barbara walked us out into the desert and surrounded each person with a circle of kind-hearted witnesses. She made it safe for us to express our feelings. The circle is a significant ritual form. It’s often made literal with a ring of candles, crystals, sacred thread, or hand-holding people. But underneath this spiritual theater is the important first rule for any magical work: Make sure you’re in a safe place.
When you get angry, that’s where your medicine woman should lead you: somewhere safe. Therapists advise us to take a time-out. But the difference with a spiritual approach is that you’re not leaving the scene because your anger is an awful, fearsome thing, but rather because it’s something precious. You regard it as it appeared through Barbara’s eyes — as sacred energy.
And then your body needs to get involved. It’s got adrenalin pumping through it, which is useful if a thief has just grabbed your purse. But if a co-worker is taking credit for your idea in front of the boss, a more considered response is advised. Still, that spike in your nervous system has to be addressed. You need to shake it off. Barbara made us walk into the desert, dig holes, gather rocks, and throw them, which was an economical way to both rouse a sleeping Mars and then exhaust him.
Mars is about doing something. He’s a physical god. He loves the feel of impact and straining muscles. Our bodies are wired for this. Just watch a toddler in tantrum. Her whole body gets into it. Legs kick. Fists clench. Arms wave. It’s a veritable anger dance. When the Irish hero Cuchulain rode home still high with battle frenzy, the king had great vats of cool water placed along the road, with a bare-breasted maiden at each. This halted the hero enough so that he could be successively dunked and chilled before reaching town.
If you skip this step, the adrenalin often goes to your head. You can think of nothing but what made you mad. You go a little crazy. Likely you have an urge to talk about it — to anyone who’ll listen. You’re “venting” or “blowing off steam,” which is another way to calm down. But it’s less environmentally friendly. Anger expressed outside of a sacred container has a noxious quality. Everyone senses this. Instinctively, they back away and wish that you’d shut up.
The bare-breasted ladies perform a function similar to the compassionate witnesses. At this point in the ritual, the warrior requires some feminine attention. Mars Needs Women is a schlock 1960s movie, but its title has a ring of truth. To redirect the warrior — he needs to be received. He needs to be welcomed with compassion or affection. A roaring Mars just wants to be heard, and listening is a feminine art.
The employee who keeps venting about his boss is instinctively searching for compassionate witnesses. But the only one who actually needs to listen is himself. Maybe he’s working at the wrong job. Maybe he’s been given more responsibility than he’s being compensated for. Or maybe he’s just impatient. Until he gets this clarity, he won’t know the next right step. Anger is a signal designed to lead us to new clarity. But we have to listen to it first. We can do as the enlightened teacher Byron Katie advises: Write down everything that makes us mad, and then take a clear-eyed look at our list. Deconstructing our anger (I highly recommend using Katie’s “Four Questions”)  can turn this seeming poison into gold.
I didn’t want to get angry at my husband because I didn’t want to admit that I’d already lost him. But once I heard what I had shouted, I couldn’t return my warrior to his netherworld. I had to do something. My life began to change that day. Listening to my anger brought me new strength. Such is the transformation that can occur when the rocks are thrown, the anger is witnessed, and the past is left buried cleanly behind. We move forward in the world. That’s the beauty of Mars.
- I exclude Jupiter from this list because its fiery nature is so comfy with Mars that those who have these two in hard aspect rarely consider it a problem (just don’t ask the people who have to live with them).
- See http://thework.com/thework.php
© 2014/2016 Dana Gerhardt – all rights reserved