AMERICA IN TRANSITION, MAY 2008
by Jessica Murray
It’s time to talk about Mars.
The red planet has been exceptionally active lately. It was opposing Pluto when the latter crossed into Capricorn (1) in late January, ratcheting up the drama to a fever pitch by stationing five days later. And all this time it was hitting its own position in the chart of the USA (2). Thus did the part played by Mars in the historic Pluto ingress set the tone for the next 15 years, pinpointing America’s starring role. We may wish to leave the God of War well enough alone, but he clearly has no intention of leaving us alone.
Mars Photo by NASA
But Mars’ unquestioned identification with anger and war invites a closer look, and never more so than now.
In this column we have been going through the planets, one by one, to see what they can teach us about what’s going on in the world. The daunting crises that beset humanity at the moment seem to be multiplying like rabbits in the springtime. In order to keep our heads on straight, we need a way of seeing that can do more than simply equating Mars with violence and war and leaving it at that. We need a deeper astrology, no less than we need visionary leaders and a more intelligent mass media.
Of the three, let us start with the one we have direct control over: our understanding of astrological symbols.
Ground level and sky level
For astrology to lead to wisdom, we must allow its transpersonal viewpoint to guide us, all the while staying awake to the geopolitical dramas that inform this epoch.
There is a mistaken notion among some spiritual seekers that worldly affairs hold no interest to the sufficiently enlightened. But this view ignores the astrological importance of time—and place—as key components of our life purpose. Astrology contends that where we find ourselves (in a certain family, in a certain country) is no accident, anymore than when we incarnated. From the point of view of psychic health, we ignore the current state of the world at our peril.
While it is human to find ourselves wishing we could deny—as a coping mechanism—either our spiritual yearnings or our society’s dysfunctions, these two perspectives represent parallel levels of reality. Each requires acknowledgement. It is axiomatic in astrology that the soul knew what it was doing when it chose this particular era. The world beyond our picket fence, in all its complexity and foreignness and painful paroxysms, is part and parcel of our personal life play.
For Americans of conscience, the horrors we hear about on the news—or, worse, the ones the mainstream news does not mention—often feel downright unbearable to look at. The fact that so many of these horrors are paid for with our hard-earned taxes, to boot, strikes many a sensitive citizen as too excruciatingly ironic to think about. But we know in our hearts that denial rebounds back upon us in the end. (3)
As pathologies go, denial seems like a fairly innocuous offence. But in America denial has become epidemic, all the while achieving the imprimatur of normalcy; like a chronic disease that blots out all memory of health. It is not a good sign when a populace is unable to come up with responsible leaders, accepting instead a cabal driven by over-the-top greed and moral cretinism. As many commentators have urged, it bodes ill for the republic that so many American citizens remain ignorant of the fact that their country’s vast resources have, with increasing boldness lately, been spent not for the benefit of the public but for the benefit of a handful of mega-corporations and an exclusive club of oil-rich dictator-kings who rule in deserts far away. It causes a sickness in the soul for Americans to look the other way while companies like Halliburton, Lockheed, Blackwater and Bechtel—Bob Dylan’s masters of war—get fat and rich off the unspeakable suffering of millions of ordinary human beings. (4)
The cure for this soul-sickness begins with the refusal to deny. But astrologers who eschew denial must juggle a couple of seemingly very different perspectives. At the same time that we acknowledge all these unsavory worldly realities, we fix our focus upon their larger significance. Being politically aware does not contraindicate seeing life as a vast set of abstract symbols legible in the sky. Astrology can decode the meaning of our culture’s deadliest foibles, allowing us to get someplace more useful than merely railing against them or wringing our hands in despair.
It is not a contradiction, but a paradox: to be free of our national sicknesses we must take responsibility for the fact that here we are—right here, right now—living amidst a specific set of toxic worldly circumstances… at the same time that we must distance ourselves from them. We distance ourselves not to disengage, but to better understand. To disengage is not an option for the truth-seeker. Those of us alive today were born into an epoch that will harshly punish sleepwalking.
Mars: “malefic” or misused?
Of all the planets astrology uses, Mars is closest to the biological level of existence. It governs the urge to survive, a motivation humans share equally with plants and non-human animals. In its primal, healthy expression, Mars is the feisty “fight” in all vital beings: the seedling’s will to pierce through a crack in the sidewalk in order to reach the sunlight; the athlete’s adrenaline that keeps her going against daunting odds. It is when the Martial impulse is distorted by the ego-mind of human beings that things start to get complicated.
A seedling covered up by a pebble may resort to twisting itself around to survive the blockage; a tied-up dog may chew its leash in two. A human individual or group entity whose will is thwarted may either respond or react, depending on its level of consciousness; giving rise to the potential for the many faces of shadow Mars that have given the planet such a bad name over the centuries. (5) When frustrated, human willpower can strike out in anger, or—more pathological still, according to some psychologists—can turn anger back upon the self (depression).
Assertion is Mars in its natural form; aggression is what happens when blockage of some kind has led it awry. The further Mars strays from the innocent urge to express vitality, the more problematic things get. There is nothing “malefic” about the drive to stand out from the crowd through action. But when this drive is estranged from its natural state by human sophistry it becomes destructive.
The essence of Mars is the archetypal warrior, a noble figure that is mostly visible these days only in the imagery of ancient history (e.g. the samurai) or in the animal kingdom (e.g. the dignity of the tiger, whose new status as an endangered species is an apt symbol for the Mars-Pluto [extinction] warning above us in the sky). One notch lower on the consciousness scale and the warrior turns into a mere soldier, a distinction we will consider more fully in next month’s column. When the group mind is stuck equating Mars with soldiering, the result is shadow Mars at its most hideous (Darfur, Haditha, Tibet, the Congo).
Thanks to the Mars-Pluto opposition, Americans are learning, ever so reluctantly, an esoteric truth about misusing Mars this way: that the soldier’s ultimate victim is himself. With the transit overhead, newspaper stories started appearing about G.I. suicides (three to seven times the rate of the general population). (6) The most dystopic form of this trajectory of Mars—away from biology into man-made artifice—must surely be the current use by the Pentagon of robot fighters, or as the generals demurely call them, “unmanned vehicles”. (7)
Mars shows up as war when humanity knows no better. To use Martial energy for deliberate violence is to use the archetype blind: out of touch with its place in the Whole. Granted, this interpretation of the planet’s symbolism is less dramatic than the conventional reading of Mars as a definitive war god—an image which gets a lot of mileage in astrology for the same reason that allegories get used in literature: they are emotionally vivid and immediate, like pictures in a comic strip. But cosmic forces are not cartoons. To see Mars in such simplistic terms is as silly as reducing the concept of “God” to a bearded old white man in the clouds.
Humanistic astrology views the planets as numinous forces, every one of them value-neutral. They are, after all, just symbols —symbols that function as mirrors. Mirrors take on a different look depending upon who is using them, and when.
Here is where that old saw, we create our own reality, comes in. On an individual level, whether one uses Mars in bold, creative action or in anger and solipsism depends on the face looking in the mirror. On the sociopolitical level, how Mars is expressed by a given group reveals the consciousness of that group.
When Americans look into the mirror of Mars, what face looks back at us? And if we don’t like what we see, what can be done to change it?
To be continued next month.
1 Retrogradation will move Pluto back and forth over this threshold for the rest of 2008. The Mars-Pluto opposition was an unusually long one for the same reason: Mars’ own retrogradation kept the heat on that transit for five full months, with exactitudes occurring Sept. 21, January 2 and March 6-7.
2 I refer here to the group entity that rose into being on July 4, 1776; which receives transits and progressions just as a person’s chart does. Though historical controversy surrounds the exact birth moment of the USA, I use the widely-favored Sibly chart (see my book, Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer’s View of America, Jessica Murray, MotherSky Press 2008).
3 By astrological logic, this is so because denial, like sins of omission, is a form of distorted Saturn, the planet of karma. The remedy here, as for all such distortions, is perhaps not intuitively obvious: it is self-compassion. We start climbing out of denial by accessing self-forgiveness. This is easy to do when we remember that what motivates Saturn’s defense mechanisms is the simple desire to be safe. We deny out of a misguided need to protect ourselves. In this sense Saturn functions similarly to the Moon.
4 The current presidential campaign is bringing these long-running themes to the surface. While the followers of John (“Bomb-Bomb Iran”) McCain were under no such illusions, many peace-loving Americans who had hoped that the Democratic Party would redeem the barbarity of their country’s foreign policy over the past seven years were sickened in late April to hear Hillary Clinton promise to “totally obliterate” Iran (which has no nukes), were it to threaten Israel (which is armed to the teeth with them). Sen. Clinton’s statement epitomizes the win-at-any-cost mentality of distorted Mars, which in her natal chart is susceptible to being unmoored by the power of Pluto. Barack Obama’s warmongering is more muted. But his choice of reactionary consigliere Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the architects of the war in Afghanistan, and his militant projections for Pakistan and Palestine et al, cannot help but remind even his most progressive supporters of the unavoidable reality that no candidate can prevail in the current political system without paying blood money to America’s Mars.
5 In 1521, Cardinal Wolsey urged Henry VIII to desist from war in order to prevent “the effusion of …blood, the consuming of treasure, subversion of realms, depopulation and desolation of countries and other infinite inconveniences.”
6 The figure is an estimate, for the notoriously closed-mouthed Veterans’ Administration refuses to make such statistics public. Similarly verboten is any mention of the number of non-fatal casualties (maimings), which are widely believed to be overwhelming. Leaked reports indicate that in the supposed jewel of the V.A. system, Walter Reed Hospital, the wounded are overflowing onto cots in the corridors.
7 The US Congress has set a goal of having robot vehicles constitute one-third of its ground force by 2015. Four thousand of these artificial warriors, such as the MQ-1 Predator, are “serving” in Iraq right now; capable of striking from the air, under the sea and on land. When one of these robot fighters self-navigated above a car full of Al Qaeda suspects in 2002, the decision to vaporize the victims with Hellfire missiles was made by pilots 7,000 miles away.
Jessica Murray trained as a fine artist before graduating in 1973 from Brown University, where she studied psychology and linguistics. After a stint in political theatre in the heady early '70s, Jessica moved to San Francisco and began studying metaphysics, where she has had a full-time private practice in astrology for more than 30 years.
Her book, Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer's View of America, is available through her website, mothersky.com. In addition to her column in Daykeeper Journal and the monthly Skywatch on her website, MotherSky.com, Jessica's essays appear in The Mountain Astrologer, P.S. Magazine, Considerations and other publications. Jessica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica's writings appear every even-numbered month in Daykeeper. You'll find a complete list of them here.