Caution: Mars Goes Both Ways

It’s 11:30 am in Northern California and my house is completely dark inside. Outside, the sky is also dark; a deep sepia color caused by an inversion of wildfire smoke in the upper atmosphere moving over a marine layer. The air is cool and damp, as if the fog rolled in rusty.

The Light at 9:30 AM, September 9, 2020 in Mill Valley, California. Photo Credit: Lilly Falconer

I’ve spoken a bit in past posts about the way an astrologer, or really anyone skilled in a divinatory art, begins to read the patterns of their archetypal language in the world around them. Over the course of the past few months I have begun writing posts on the current patterns many times but stopped because it felt too much like trying to lasso a speeding train when what I really needed to do was simply ride, watch, and wait (and hang on for god-damned dear life). This morning, with the rusted sky and my coffee gone cold; the world on fire, and the knife of a Mars retrograde twisting in the sky, it feels like time has slowed, or the train has changed tracks, or something has happened that makes it feel like time to write it down.

Let’s talk a little bit about Mars and catch up about these days we’re in. Since my last blog post (where I spoke briefly about the Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto synchronicities and correlations in the stories of John Barleycorn as told by Jack London and Robert Burns) the many fires of our world have been raging: George Floyd’s death hit a nerve that woke many white people in the US from a complacent slumber; protests, counter-protests, the Covid-19 pandemic, and a tidal wave of conspiracy theories pointing to and from unimaginable angles of collective psychosis, illness, and absurdity have been raging across the United States. To say there is unrest is a criminal understatement. An increasingly brazen form of modern nationalist and white supremacist-driven US fascism is boiling over as we wind tighter toward the center of the inferno of election day. The pressure we spoke of in January and March has intensified so much that many of us are experiencing internal collisions of anxiety, depression, and burnout on scales only previously known to us in abstract theory as stories heard from the past, wartimes, or from the places like the Middle East and Central America, who have been terrorized by a web of US bombs and trade warfare for decades.

Mars is an archetype of action, courage, anger, zero hesitation, ignition, aggression, passion, and instigation. Mars imagery includes but is not limited to: a raging wildfire; a blaring red siren; a razor-sharp knife; a warrior in the fury of battle; an inflamed lover; a passionate encounter; the breakout excitement of a young child running – yelling at the top of their lungs – out to play; the dive, pounce, and ripping into flesh of an apex predator to their prey; the blaze of spark on tinder.

When a client has a heavily or un-aspected Mars I will often find us exploring themes of anger in a reading. My most common question is simply, “how do you deal with anger; your anger?” Often, they don’t know and I invite them to explore that a little. Mars, anger, is like a knife we have with us all the time. It is part of who we are, included in our basic form; so, I ask myself as often as I ask clients, “where is your knife right now?” One cannot simply toss this thing into the bottom of their bag and pretend it isn’t there; it will cut its way out because that is its nature. It is not sharp or hot or pushy because it’s wrong; it just is those things. Where is the knife? Is it being taken care of? Sharpened, sheathed, and at the ready? Is the knife-bearer skilled enough to know when and when not, or how and how not to use it? A sharp knife is useful for cutting away the bindings of time, habit, and oppression. It can be necessary when freeing ourselves from our own fear or complacency. So in this time of mounting overwhelm remember the red flame of courage and compassion in your heart that shines like the well-loved knife or the well-tended flame; what can it tell us?

What does it mean when Mars goes retrograde and what is so special about this one?

First, we must acknowledge that every planet goes retrograde (Mercury is just the chattiest about it). I tend to think of retrogrades as a waltz in that they have three steps that repeat in an orbital dance around our Sun: a planet moves direct, then circles back (retrograde) over a portion of its previous path, then it turns again and passes for a third time over the same space until it moves beyond in a large stride before turning again and circling in a continuous repetition of the dance.

This particular Mars retrograde feels to me a bit less like a waltz and more like a boomerang, and is significant for a few reasons: one, Mars is in its home sign of Aries, which it rules and so is extra Mars-ey; two, the point at which Mars has paused to turn around (the twisting of the blade/returning of the boomerang) is very close to a square (90 degrees) from Saturn and Pluto, which are still in late Capricorn, tightening back up in their ongoing conjunction. This Mars retrograde will double back through Aries until it turns direct in early-mid-November, after which it will again square Pluto from Aries in mid-late-December and then Saturn from Taurus in early-mid-January. Suffice it to say, we are not at the end of the hellfire and fury, but we may be in a position of greater understanding of what heroics may be necessary to receive the blows that are doubling back upon us.

What is Mars great for?

Well, since you asked, Mars is amazing at practically everything it does: from igniting the passion of lovers, to sparking the fires of the final blaze of late-stage Capitalism toward full climate change and the sixth mass extinction, even on to a falsely orange-faced US president (with Mars on his Ascendant, receiving a trine from this transiting Mars) who incites violence in rapid-fire tweets that are full of lies and thickly fascist bravado. But let’s not lose the signal in the fog! Pay attention. Mars is also excellent at boosting the courage of protestors and progressives who are running for office, calling to defund the police, reform incarceration and the legacy of colonization and white supremacy; and combined with Saturnian wisdom, Uranian insight, and Plutonic depth it can be an excellent strategist for collective liberation and a thorough composting of the extractive and exploitative evils of our world: remember the Zapatista saying, “Other Worlds are Possible,” and know it to be true.

What can we do?

At the moment, I think it is a good idea to reflect on what it feels like to experience Mars as it turns back on us. Modernity is experiencing the ricocheting boomerang of centuries of colonization, extractive capitalism, racism (primarily in the form of white supremacy), sexism, Christocentrism (I said what I said), cisheteropatriarchy, transphobia, ableism, and so much more. The bravado driving most of these movements is the same Mars energy that plunges us seemingly so suddenly into full-on Fascism; and the answer must be, “I SEE YOU COMING, Mars, and I will no longer pretend that you and I have nothing to do with each other.”

I speak for myself as a descendant of colonizers who were also colonized at some point; we have got to get ahold of what our knives are doing. Instead of wildfires, let’s repair our relationship to place-based regenerative indigenous fire ecologies. Instead of boosting military and police budgets let’s fund and build back up public education, healthcare, childcare, eldercare, and basic necessary domestic infrastructures. Instead of border walls, fences, and prison camps for refugees let’s bring some courageous compassionate heat to immigration reform and become a sanctuary for anyone fleeing violence. Instead of billionaires, let’s imagine ourselves as earth defenders: plugging excess profits right back into public services, environmental regeneration, and the wellbeing of our fellow creatures in the Earth community. We can be heroes; warriors for peace; thoughtful architects of other ways and other worlds right here where Mars waltzes.

Peace and blessings to each of you. Please be kind to yourselves and each other.

Jimi Hendrix: Bold As Love

Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto themes in John Barleycorn through Jack London and Robert Burns

I came across this passage today which my father, the Jack London scholar in my family, had sent to me a couple of years ago. Both my dad and I grew up very near the old Jack London ranch in Glen Ellen, California and my dad is a docent at the state park there now, often leading silent meditative hikes for folks wanting to connect with the place in a deeper way.

This passage comes from John Barleycorn, an autobiographical novel focused on themes of drinking, alcoholism, and masculinity (published 1913). 

“Wander with me through one mood of the myriad moods of sadness into which one is plunged by John Barleycorn. I ride out over my beautiful ranch. Between my legs is a beautiful horse. The air is wine. The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountain wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smoulders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive. I am filled with dreams and mysteries. I am all sun and air and sparkle. I am vitalised, organic. I move, I have the power of movement, I command movement of the live thing I bestride. I am possessed with the pomps of being, and know proud passions and inspirations. I have ten thousand august connotations. I am a king in the kingdom of sense, and trample the face of the uncomplaining dust…. And yet, with jaundiced eye I gaze upon all the beauty and wonder about me, and with jaundiced brain consider the pitiful figure I cut in this world that endured so long without me and that will again endure without me. I remember the men who broke their hearts and their backs over this stubborn soil that now belongs to me. As if anything imperishable could belong to the perishable! These men passed. I, too, shall pass. These men toiled, and cleared, and planted, gazed with aching eyes, while they rested their labour-stiffened bodies on these same sunrises and sunsets, at the autumn glory of the grape, and at the fog-wisps stealing across the mountain. And they are gone. And I know that I, too, shall some day, and soon, be gone.”

― Jack London, John Barleycorn

Jack London, who was born with a Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto T-square (also in a grand cross with Uranus and possibly his Moon –– the birth time of 2pm has a Rodden Rating of B), likely wrote John Barleycorn during the year of 1912 when Saturn was transiting conjunct his natal Pluto, opposite his natal Jupiter; and Pluto was transiting trine his natal Saturn. Saturn and Pluto were, at that time, tightening into the August 1913-June 1916 conjunction which would coincide with the first world war.


Jack London natal


John Barleycorn itself is an old folk ballad from the British Isles which chronicles the life cycle of barley as it is grown, harvested, and made into alcohol. The great Scottish poet Robert Burns published his version of John Barleycorn in 1782 while a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction made multiple passes conjunct his natal Pluto.


Robert Burne 1782 John Barleycorn


In Burns’ version John Barleycorn is buried and reborn (Pluto’s themes of passage to and from the underworld may be seen here), and then in the Autumn the reapers come with their scythes (here we see the common Saturnian image of the reaper with his scythe who rings in death at the harvest). John Barleycorn of course, is made into alcohol which gives courage and joy (Jupiter) but not without the taste of death, as we can see from London’s both buoyant (Jupiter) and bleak (Saturn) reckoning with it in the passage above.


John Barleycorn: A Ballad

by Robert Burns, 1782

There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all.

The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong;
His head weel arm’d wi’ pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.

His colour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.

They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then tied him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turned him o’er and o’er.

They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim;
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.

They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They toss’d him to and fro.

They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller us’d him worst of all,
For he crush’d him between two stones.

And they hae taen his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise.

‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy;
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!