Mars, named after the Roman god of war, is one of Earth's closest neighbors, the next planet from the Sun after the Earth. Because Mars is farther from the Sun than the Earth, it can appear anywhere on the ecliptic, rather than staying close to the Sun, as Mercury and Venus appear to stay when viewed from the Earth. When Mars is at its closest point to the Earth, it is a mere 35 million miles from away and appears as bright as Sirius—the brightest star in the sky. At its farthest point from Earth, the eccentric orbit of Mars may place it approximately 250 million miles away. Mars's orbital period is 686.98 days which is somewhat less than 2 terrestrial years.
In 1726, Jonathan Swift wrote in Gulliver's Travels of the discovery of two Martian moons. This occurred 150 years before Asaph Hall actually discovered the two moons that were named Deimos (terror) and Phobos (fear) after Mars's sons. This seems appropriate since Mars is often associated with impulsive or precipitous actions. In traditional astrology, Mars rules over the signs of Aries and Scorpio and is exalted (a place of special import) in the sign of Capricorn. In Hellenistic astrology, it is considered to be of a nocturnal sect, that is, it operates at its best in charts of night births.
In the Mesopotamian astral religion, Mars was associated with Nergal, the god of the underworld. Nergal was also the god of the noonday Sun and said to spread plagues, pestilence, forest fires, fevers, and wars. Robert Powell thinks the Babylonians connected the planet's eccentric movements along the ecliptic—often said to reach
6° of south latitude—with the gods' negative associations. Mars was thus known as "he who is constantly wandering about," "the angry fire god," or "the god of war." According to Nick Campion, Mars's malefic qualities were thought to be heightened when it was bright (and therefore closest to the earth), diminished when it was faint, and when at its reddest could signify prosperity but also epidemics. The Babylonian legend of Irra speaks of the gods' attempt to overthrow Marduk, the patron god of the Babylonians. In it, Irra lures the god of good (Mar-duk) into the underworld and seizes the reigns of power on Earth. As the new ruler of humans, the god perverts their minds and gets them to war against each other so that he may attain his goal to destroy and annihilate Earth. When Marduk returns from the underworld, he finds his worshippers slain and his cities in ruins. In his book History of the Planets, Powell said:
The poem ends with an exhortation to mankind to appease the evil god by allotting a place in their cult to his service, so that he may spare them from another catastrophe like the one described. The subject matter of the legend as well as its treatment implies that, in his quality as a planet, the patron god was unable to protect the community of his worshippers during his periods of absences from the nocturnal sky.
Thus, the Babylonians recognized the need to tame the dangerous, warlike qualities of life by including the god into the sphere of human affairs. This may be looked at as a psychological metaphor for the pacification of man's wrathful and destructive side through its integration into the psyche.
In another story, Nergal stormed into the land of the dead, deposed Ereshkigal, the queen of the underworld, and set himself up as ruler. A variation of the story has him having a passionate affair with her and ruling the underworld alongside her. This second version mirrors the story of Hades and Persephone, king and queen of the netherworld in Greek mythology. Both of these stories therefore connect the planet Mars with rulership over the underworld, a role that was given to Pluto (Hades) by modern astrologers since the planet bore the name of the Roman god of the underworld. Until modern times, when astrologers assigned the rulership of the sign Scorpio
to the planet Pluto, Mars had ruled both Aries and Scorpio. Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac and marker of the spring equinox (the month of March is named after Mars), connects the planet to initiations, births, pioneering situations, initiative, impulsiveness, precipitous behaviors, uniqueness, aggression, and survival instincts. This ruler-ship appears to connect better with the solar qualities of Mars and appropriately, the Sun is said to be exalted in Aries. Scorpio, appears to connect to the underworld qualities of Mars and its association with death, sexuality, diseases, adulteries, prostitution, losses, banishments, murders, and bloodshed.
The sexual impulse often connected to Mars also has its roots in his Greek heritage. In the classical Olympian Pantheon, Mars was known as Ares, the god of war. He was the son of Zeus and Hera who allegedly lived in Thracia, a region known for its fierce people. As a warrior god, Mars is often contrasted with his sister Athene, goddess of war and wisdom, who fought and vanquished him in a battle between the gods. Unlike Athene, Ares embodied the more unrefined, evil, and brutish aspects of warfare—prompting Zeus to call him "the most hateful of the gods." Only Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, could tame the wild Ares through her ability to incite his passions. After one of their illicit affairs—as Aphrodite was married to his brother Hephaestus—Ares was forced by Zeus to endure public humiliation for his adultery. Through Ares's union with the goddess of love, a child named Harmonia (harmony) was produced. Ares also gave birth to two sons, Deimos and Phobos, who gave their names to Mars's two moons and were said to pull his war chariot.
In Hindu mythology Ares is called Mangala, a personification of the planet Mars. He is often depicted with a chariot being pulled by eight fire-red horses. According to some authors, Mangala is a form of the cruel side of Shiva. In one Hindu myth, the gods were being terrorized by a demon who could only be slain by a "seven-day-old son of Shiva." The gods thus created the illusion of a beautifully enticing woman who so moved Shiva sexually, that the great ascetic god ejaculated at the sight of her. His sperm fell into the ocean, which, nourished by the Pleiades (the seven sisters), gave birth to Karttikeya—the god of war who, born out of the necessity, killed the demon.
Although the original Roman Mars may have originated as a vegetation god, he became closely modeled on the Greek god of war. However, among the Romans who valued military prowess, Mars quickly rose to the ranks of most popular deity and patron for all soldiers. He is depicted by the Romans wearing a suit of armor, a plumed helmet, and carrying a shield and spear. In the Roman myths, aside from Mars's affairs with Venus, he is also linked with a vestal virgin Rhea Silvia, who is buried alive for violating the laws of her sisterhood. From this union are born Mars's twin sons, Romulus and Remus, who become the founders of Rome. It became the custom in Rome that generals, before heading out to combat (typically in March when campaigns were started), would invoke the god in his sanctuary.
The myths thus explain the planetary gods' associations with many of the significations listed in The Anthology of Vettius Valens:
The star of Ares signifies violence, wars, rapine, screams, insolence, adulteries, taking away of belongings, losses, banishment, estrangement of parents, captivities, ruination of women, abortion, sexual intercourse, weddings, taking away of good things, lies, situations void of hope, violent thefts, piracy, plunderings, breaches of friends, anger, combat, reproaches, enemies, lawsuits. It introduces violent murders and cuts and bloodshed, attacks of fever, ulcerations, pustules, inflammations, imprisonment, tortures, manliness, perjury, wandering, excelling at villainy, those who gain their ends through fire or iron, handicraftsman, workers in hard materials. It makes leaders and military campaigns and generals, warriors, supremacy, the hunt, the chase, falls from heights or from quadrupeds, weak vision, apoplexy. Of the parts of the body, it is lord of the head, rump, genitals; of the inner parts, it is lord of the blood, spermatic ducts, bile, excretion of feces, the hind-parts, walking backward, falling on one's back; it also has that which is hard and severe. It is lord of the essence iron and order, clothes because of Aries, and wine and pulse. It is of the nocturnal sect, red with respect to color, pungent with respect to taste.
Robert Schmidt has extracted from all of the planetary significations a primary principle representing the basic nature of each of the planets. He says Mars represents the principle of separation and severance in a birth chart. Thus Mars's association with impulsiveness or pioneering tendencies are derived from the planet's desire to separate from others; the same may be said of competitive behaviors as one might find in sports, for example. The severing principle is also fundamental in Mars's use of sharp cutting objects and why he is perhaps associated with weaponry and armor, which cuts one off from one's enemy.
Modern astrology, with its emphasis on inner psychological dynamics, focuses more on Mars's correlation with the impulse to act and react. Psychological astrologers point to the planet's representation of one's need to assert, to initiate, to vitalize, to act, to do, to endeavor, to survive. Behaviors characterized as aggressive, self-assertive, enterprising, independent, combative, ambitious, etc., are derived from these basic inner drives. When other factors in the chart point in this direction, these behaviors often make use of Mars-ruled situations or objects such as: new births, enterprises or projects, competitions, accidents, permanent departures and exiles, divorce, mechanical work, fights, operations, sexual acts, etc.
Some of the most conclusive (although not without its detractors) statistical work involving the confirmation of astronomical correlations with human affairs have centered on the planet Mars. In the 1950s French statistician and psychologist Michel Gauquelin began his studies that attempted to demonstrate—under the rules laid down by science—that the planets could be significantly (statistically) correlated with certain professions. While the results showed a statistical correlation between eleven professions and five planets, the statistical effect shown by Mars in the charts of sports champions was by far the greatest. This has been coined the Gauquelin Mars effect in the astrological literature and has yet to be refuted—although many have tried. Gauquelin's work also showed that the positions of the planets just past culminating and just past rising had the greatest strength in producing the professional patterns demonstrated.
Masculine Signs (Positive Signs)
Campion, Nick. Cosmos: A Cultural History of Astrology. London: London Books, 2001. DeFouw, Hart, and Robert Svoboda. Light on Life. New York: Arkana Penguin Books, 1996. Gauquelin, Michel. Cosmic Influences on Human Behavior. Santa Fe, NM: Aurora Press, 1994. Guttman, Ariel, and Kenneth Johnson. Mythic Astrology. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1998.
Holden, James Herschel. A History of Horoscopic Astrology. Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers, 1996.
Perry, Glenn. Mapping the Landscape of the Soul. San Rafael, CA: Association of Astrological Psychology, 2001.
Powell, Robert. History of the Planets. San Diego: ACS Publications, 1985. Schmidt, Robert. Original Source Texts and Auxiliary Materials for the Study of Hellenistic Astrology. Cumberland, MD: Phaser Foundation, 2002. Wilson, James. A Complete Dictionary of Astrology. London: W. Hughes, 1819. Reprint, New York, S. Weiser, 1969.
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