Mars retrograde (October 30 to January 12) describes an 80-day period when action can go haywire and erupt in mayhem—as the archetypal warrior is not at his best. Mars—the ultimate “doer”—needs his rest. Every two years, he requires these ten and a half weeks to cool his engines and replenish his battle-worn heart.
Yet for all the other archetypes in the psyche, life goes on. People must keep up with their doing. It’s this reality that defines the central Mars retrograde challenge: How do you handle life’s daily aggravations when your ‘doer” is feeling raw & wild—or injured, inept & depleted? How do you strive, compete, and win when your warrior is compromised?
Venus retrogrades challenge us to transform; Mars tests our emotional mastery. Unconscious action during his retrograde can reap disastrous rewards. As when during the last Mars retrograde tennis rock star Novak Djokovic (the #1 seed and favorite to win the US Open) was ejected from the tournament as Mars rolled into his retro station.
It was a little thing. Frustrated at losing his serve, Djokovic hit a ball in anger and accidentally struck a line judge in the throat. She dropped to her knees and Djokovic’s 29-match winning streak abruptly ended, along with his bid for an 18th Grand Slam title.
Mars is the keeper of our inner heat—our raw masculine power. He can fuel our victories and/or erupt in destructive violence. He’s a protector and a bully. But during the retrograde, his fury can be as ill-timed and dangerous as the human-caused fire, whipped by wild winds, that just destroyed over 2400 homes and businesses in my valley.
The anger of Mars retrograde is different from Venus’ fury. Hers is deep and transformative; it collects for months underneath her pleasant veneer of acquiescence. Venus is meant to transform during her retrograde and come out fighting. But Martian anger has no such deep meaning. Its fire is a machine stuck in the “on” position. Easily petty and superficial, it’s raw power in a frayed container. The depleted warrior can’t control his impulses. He’s the archetype inside that’s most likely to go berserk.
A warrior in battle mode for too long can’t be trusted in the community. During Mars retrogrades, the masculine impulse needs to be re-humanized. The driven and combative part of our nature needs to reconnect to the heart. The warrior can’t do this on his own. That’s why Mars needs women. During his retrograde weeks, the Divine Feminine–represented by Moon and Venus–must lead.
How Venus Tames the Wild Retro Beast
This scene in Sandro Botticelli’s “Venus and Mars” (c 1485) is just what you think it is. These two have just had sex in a grassy glade surrounded by bushes and trees. Mars—the God of War—is spent. Smiling satyrs carry away his weapons. Botticelli gives Venus the power position. The Goddess of Love commands from atop a red pillow (his color), as he lies unconscious and vulnerable, wrapped in (her) pink.
Make what you will of her expression—curious, frustrated, thoughtful, or indignant—art critics have debated this for years. Yet the overall message is clear: Love conquers war. The way to tame a warrior is with pleasure. You halt him with beauty, receive his heat, and tire him out with love.
Myths around the world have taken up this theme and come to similar conclusions. In Gilgamesh, one of the world’s earliest written epics, the wild man Enkidu—raised by animals—is meant to become the king’s companion. But he has to be tamed first. So the king sends Shamhat—a sacred prostitute with soft skin—to seduce him away from his primitive life. Shamhat (meaning “the luscious one”) has sex with the wild man. After a week of their lovemaking, his raw animal nature evolves. He acquires the sensitivity and awareness of a human.
Recently new fragments of the poem have been discovered. Apparently, it wasn’t just one week of sex—it was two! After the second week of their lovemaking, Enkidu is further civilized. He accompanies Shamhat to the temple and eventually the soft-skinned woman becomes so important to him, they marry. Through Venus—the warrior becomes fully integrated into society.
Four thousand years later, the story repeats (as archetypes do) in the schlock 1967 film, Mars Needs Women. Martians have invaded the Earth to save their civilization. With fertility problems on the red planet, their best hope is to have sex with earth women. Disguised as earthlings, they choose the healing powers of a homecoming queen, a stewardess, a stripper, and a Pulitzer-Prize-winning scientist.
The same archetypal story lives inside us too: in the dynamic between our own civilizing force, Venus, and our inner brute, Mars. If your raw animal nature erupts during the Mars retrograde, you’ll find the antidote in your Venus–in whatever brings you peace and pleasure. As a general rule, gazing at something beautiful will do it. So will spent time with nature. Genuine kindness can do it. As can genuine gratitude. Of course literally having sex can be the ticket. But remember sex is a powerful metaphor. It’s about the play of life force energy. There are infinite ways to engage this, which is the source of the popular phrase “It’s better than sex!”
Look for activities that take you into your senses. Whatever pleases your heart will likely relax your brute. Maybe you let your “luscious one” dance. With my 3rd house Venus, reading Rumi can do it for me–as can spending time in my garden, literally smelling the roses. It helps to know the house retrograde Mars transits in your chart, but even more useful is knowing how to awaken your Venus. Let her lead through these weeks. Consult her sign and house (and my Venus links below) for clues.
Cooling the Blaze with the Moon
When modern military groups release men who have been in battle or have been prepared to enter battle back into regular society without reducing the warrior fury within them, they violate old rules of humanity and turn the fire intended for their enemies on their own people. War is a state of frenzy subject to recurrent outbreak…
Michael Meade, The Water of Life
Ancient myths around the world depict how to properly return soldiers to their societies. This is usually women’s work. To the extent a culture doesn’t acknowledge the importance of women’s work—in particular, of emotional nurture—its protectors will suffer. Rates of suicide, substance abuse, and mental illness will be higher for that society’s veterans.
Emotions are the Moon’s realm. Water is her favorite medium. According to a wonderful Irish myth, it’s water that will guide us into reducing the frenzy, fight, and fear of the battle-worn warrior (during Mars retrograde, most of us are in this situation).
Cuchulain (pronounced “coo-hoo-lin”) was a young Irish warrior determined to make a name for himself. Driving his chariot home after killing three of the realm’s most formidable foes, he can’t stop himself. He sees 16 wild swans in flight, stuns them all with his slingshot and ties them to fly above his chariot. He sees a herd of wild deer—faster than his own horses. He runs them down on foot, catches two giant stags and harnesses them to his chariot, alongside the three bleeding heads of his enemies.
“Yikes!” says the King when he hears this news. Quickly, he sends out the village women, naked to the waist, breasts exposed. This sight slows Cuchulain so that the village men can plunge him into three successive vats of cold water. The water in the first cauldron boils and bursts apart. The second boils and bursts too. Finally, Cuchulain is submerged in a third vat. The water simmers for a bit then cools. The warrior is ready to enter the town.
Breasts are the Moon’s weapons. Michael Meade suggests they help to awaken the warrior’s memory of his humanity—of being an infant suckling at the breast of a woman. The vats of water suggest a metaphorical return to the womb, to the experience of floating safely, of being nourished, supported and held. Being dunked in the vats of water moves the warrior from reactivity into patience, from rage into calm. This allows our inner Mars to let his vulnerability, dependency, and trust surface–essential ingredients for a heart-centered human.
Water is a receptive medium. And being receptive to whatever shows up is the easiest way to make this myth practical. We must make it our business to slow down the warrior and receive him. As a society, we must receive our veterans, giving them the time, space and means to heal. As individuals, particularly during Mars retrograde, we must pay attention to the furies inside ourselves. We must listen to whatever fire rages within until it cools down.
Why are there three vats? Three is a magical number that simply means “long enough to get the job done.” When dealing with your own irritations and furies, that means you listen until the temperature changes. If your listening makes things hotter, you’re likely adding to the story with your thoughts. You’re talking more than receiving. Better to just notice, feel, and receive the energy–as water does–without judgment, impatience, or righteous words.
You become a vat. Cauldrons are a feminine image of containment. They’re a metaphor for giving yourself the time and space to heal. To drop yourself into cooling water, all you really need is time, space, and your breath. The archetypal Mother will do the rest. Plunge into your feelings, but be still. Quiet the mind, track the progress of your inner heat, until you find yourself floating in a new, healthier space. This is the Moon’s magic for Mars.
Know your Divine Feminine powers! It’s counter-intuitive–but the best way to get the most from Mars retrograde is to deepen your awareness of your Venus and Moon. For this you’ll find great support and unique insights in my Moonprints and Venus Unleashed reports! Buy both and get a discount. The Moon and Venus are two of the three essential ingredients to your happiness. Learn how to use them in The Astrology of Bliss.
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