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Solar Hero or Deadly Villain?

By Deborah Houlding

"In astrology Mars represents the compelling force of action and initiative. In personal horoscopes the position of this planet indicates an area where we are challenged to defend or assert our will."

Mars is notable amongst the planets for its striking red appearance. In telescopic observation the redness is intensified - now known to originate from the surface of Mars being covered by heavy deposits of iron, the metal it has long been said to 'rule'. The resulting colour reflects the characteristics of the planet, denoting heat, energy and danger. Like fire, its quality is hot and dry; burning, activating, inflaming passions and arousing emotions. The Mars influence is capable of mass destruction when allowed to rage out of control or remain untempered by the softer qualities of a more beneficial planet such as its female partner, Venus.

In 1898 Herbert George Wells wrote his fantasy tale of alien invasion, War of the Worlds, depicting the Martians as fierce and terrifying creatures whose purpose was to destroy and conquer. Possibly influenced by the planet's archetypal association with warfare and conflict, the radio broadcast of his story was to cause widespread panic and terror, whilst inspiring a host of films in the fifties and sixties that drew upon the same theme. We all enjoy some adrenalin-pumping 'safe' terror from time to time, and there are times when Mars drifts from being an agent of ruination to a noble, valiant hero and warrior; but always the essential principle of action, the need to dominate, and the urge to assert power underpin the Martian motives. In its diurnal rulership, Aries, Mars does so overtly and directly, with an immediate response; in its nocturnal rulership, Scorpio, Mars garners a cold and deliberate intent, tinged with subtlety and deceit.

The ancient Babylonians paid particular attention to the blood-red colour of Mars; they associated it with warfare, and personalised it with the identity of Nergal, the feared lord of the Underworld and author of devastation. Nergal was a powerful and much feared god. His spouse, Ereshkigal, was queen of the Underworld and his messenger, Namtar, was the demon who brought plague to mankind.

An Akkadian myth tells how Ereshkigal was invited to a banquet of gods but, being unable to leave the Underworld, sent her messenger to receive her portion. On his arrival the gods stood up out of respect for his mistress, but Nergal remained seated withholding his tribute. Subsequently, he was ordered to the Underworld by the other gods to make amends. Once there he attacked Ereshkigal, sparing her life only when she promised to marry him and give him rulership of her realm.

In this myth we see the Martial principle in motion. Venus invites: Mars takes; and such assertiveness can quickly turn to the direction of tyranny, thievery and brutal oppression. In its noblest form, Mars stands its ground where others yield, is brave, courageous, dares to challenge and pursues a course that few would dare to tread. When activated by Mars, even the most retiring disposition is inspired to face and fight the enemy. Yet Mars also has a malevolent quality, explained in Ptolemaic terms through its excess of heat; and when afflicted and angular in event charts it can indicate times of intense danger and conflict.

Whilst many ancient cultures have celebrated this planet as a warrior god, it was the Romans who wholeheartedly appreciated the diurnal qualities and fully recognised the solar-hero principle. Mars, God of War, in Roman mythology was one of the most important deities, a patron of the Roman people because he was the father of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. The month of March, in which the Sun began its ascent, was named after him and he was largely identified with the Greek god Ares whose name is similar to Aries, apparently, only by coincidence.

Astronomers have also acknowledged the fearful imagery of Mars. It is circled by two small moons: Phobos (fear) and Deimos (panic), named after the mythological attendants of the Roman god. Its surface is immensely cratered with evidence of vast volcanic activity. Mars is, of course, the traditional ruler of earthquakes and volcanoes, and some of the solar system's largest volcanoes are known to have taken place on this planet. Mars is also the ruler of stormy, disruptive weather and destructive heatwaves. Though the surface of Mars is cold, it is often likened to a vast barren desert and catastrophic dust storms occur on a regular basis when Mars is at perihelion and the heating of the equatorial regions is most intense. Some of these storms reach global proportions, obscuring the planet's surface for weeks or even months. Strangely, since its surface is covered with iron, Mars has no recordable magnetic field, a mystery that baffles our scientists.

In astrology Mars represents the compelling force of action and initiative. In personal horoscopes the position of this planet indicates an area where we are challenged to defend or assert our will. The dignities and aspects reveal the details, but remember that even the admirable qualities of a beneficial Mars - bravery, courage, leadership and victory - are only developed through the experience of trials, disputes and confrontations. Hence Mars is never an 'easy', planet - it is traditionally a 'malefic', the 'author of quarrels, strifes, contentions'. But its energies represent our instinctive urge to survive and conquer, arousing us from apathy when we are under attack, and inducing us to take action in the choice between 'fight or flight'.

  Archetypal Mars - Mars as a symbol in the horoscope

  Traditional rulerships - dignities, illnesses, plants, places

  Mars in ancient Myth, Cabbalism & Tarot

  Astronomical data on Mars

© Deborah Houlding

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