Just what does the astrological Mars truly symbolise? He is, of course, the old Roman god of War – but there are two very different ways of looking at him:
Under the influence of Greek culture, Mars was identified with the Greek god Ares, whose myths were reinterpreted in Roman literature and art under the name of Mars. But the character and dignity of Mars differed in fundamental ways from that of his Greek counterpart, who is often treated with contempt and revulsion in Greek literature … Although Ares was viewed primarily as a destructive and destabilizing force, Mars represented military power as a way to secure peace, and was a father (pater) of the Roman people. (Wikipedia)
Thus, on the one hand, we have an image of unquenchable rage and anger; on the other, something much more admirable and magnificent. For the Greek intelligentsia, this aggressive urge was to some extent ignoble (and in the myths, Hera – the wife of Cronos/Saturn – positively despised Ares, the Roman Mars). Caesar Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD), who had been a successful soldier himself – having prevailed over Marc Anthony for the rulership of Rome – was naturally very keen on this latter ‘imperial’ version. This is the god of War as a proud embodiment of valour, ‘manliness’ and skill in warcraft. In other words, all the best attributes of the archetypal Warrior.
We come across this attitude again in medieval Japan with the Samurai, who represented the military nobility and officer caste. Wikipedia notes how the Samurai embodied the virtues of ‘reckless bravery, fierce family pride, and selfless, at times senseless devotion of master and man’, and how a warrior ‘looked forward to a glorious death in the service of a military leader or the Emperor.’ This self sacrificing quality – going in to danger with no thought of one’s own safety – is also an aspect of the astrological Mars.
Indeed, there’s something worthy and impressive when this archetype is more fully expressed, and we find the image of the heroic person of action whose vigour and strengths can be used to protect others, or to perform daring feats (the fireman/woman, soldier, fighter pilot). We also find it in someone whose great physical vitality and skill wins competitive sporting events (gymnasts, footballers, boxers). Mars is that part of us which likes to test our strength against others. That Mars is an archetype about actual vitality, our life-force, can be proven to oneself – a Mars transit invariably means one will have more physical energy whilst it lasts.
Then, as we’ve seen, there is Mars’ reputation for belligerence and war. Mars alone, however, is not about conquest or seeking to subjugate enemies for the sake of it. In short, it doesn’t thirst for power or dominance (one would need Saturn or Pluto involved for that). Then again, Mars doesn’t mind fighting – it even quite enjoys it – for here is another opportunity to say: ‘I am strong, don’t mess with me.’ But let us get to the core issue: the basic meaning of this ‘masculine’, ‘yang’ planet is essentially about our will to survive, concerned – at its most basic level – with the very survival of whatever entity it works through A proper functioning Mars has good survival instincts and assertive power and resists the attempts of others to coerce or weaken it. This is its underlying archetypal meaning, embodied in the memorable phrase culled from evolution theory, ‘survival of the fittest’. Wikipedia notes that:
‘Herbert Spencer first used the phrase, after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, in his Principles of Biology (1864), in which he drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones: “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.’ 1
The will to survive is innate in every living creature, whether a house fly avoiding the swatter, a gazelle trying to escape the lion that pursues it, all the way up to our own inbuilt aversion to physical danger. When an animal runs from a predator or fights back – this is Mars. When an individual stands up against an oppressor this is Mars. On an everyday level, when anyone simply asserts themselves so as to make an individual statement (either in deed or words), this too is Mars. These days, of course, most of us don’t live our lives in fear of being attacked or preyed upon, and yet the ‘will to survive’ still exists. We all possess a defence mechanism and – usually – the thing we’re really most protecting is our ego. Mars can be described as the ‘small i’, and has resonances to aspects of the ego in Freudian psychology: ‘The ego (Latin for “I”) … is the organized part of the personality structure that includes defensive … and executive functions.’ (Wikipedia)
By executive functions, what is meant is the exercise of the will, and Mars is mainly interested in fulfilling its basic needs and drives as an individual. This, in turn, has echoes in the personality theory of another Austrian psychotherapist, Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937) who observed that
‘The question of what drives us—what great force underlies our motivation as individuals, propelling us forward through all manner of trying circumstance—was a matter of longtime fascination for psychologist Alfred Adler … to describe his single motivating force …[Adler used] phrases like aggression drive (to describe the frustrated reaction we have when our basic needs, such as the need to eat or be loved, are not being met)—yet even this term had obvious negative connotations; aggression is, after all, seldom seen as a good thing, and using the term “assertiveness” may have served Adler better.’2
The Astrological Mars – what he’s doing on your chart
This sums up the function of the astrological Mars very well: if Venus on the birth chart is gentle, persuasive, sociable, diplomatic, charming, seductive, seeing more ‘like’ than ‘unlike’ Mars acts in a way that is independent, wilful, decisive, competitive, preening, and sees more difference than similarity in others. Closely tied in with this assertive, egoistic side to the psyche is that Mars energises whatever it touches. Saturn may narrow or slow things down, Jupiter may enlarge, but Mars quickens the tempo. It’s an energy that is outgoing and active, and – moreover – wants to release its energies quickly, hence its reputation for impatience and short tempers in individuals in whom it is strong.
Depending on the rest of the chart, Mars in the first house is often individually pushy and impetuous and likes to get its own way; Mars in the sixth is in a hurry to achieve work aims and complete its duties: there may be lots of enthusiasm and energy available for tasks, though – characteristically – there may be little thoroughness in carrying them out! Mars in the second can be a selfish pursuit of money and possessions to the exclusion of all else; alternatively, a blithe disregard of material security, and expressed through someone impulsive with money, as they simply do not highly esteem it (perhaps trying to assert their independence from it). Mars in the third is likely to find a channel through a lively mind, maybe even a sharp tongue, in someone who enjoys letting you know their opinions; who likes a good argument and vigorous debate.
And so, wherever you find the astrological Mars on a chart you express the ‘small i’: you want to assert your ego, you want to get your own way and above all define yourself. This is a key concept: when we assert ourselves we are trying to define what we are, in what we both say and do. This is a vital function of Mars – it assists us in forming an outer personality that has ‘shape’ and definition, and is (ideally) unique, and not like anyone else. We are basically saying: ‘this is who I am, I am a distinct individual from you, with different opinions, values etc. Take it or leave it!’
1. Herbert Spencer in his Principles of Biology of 1864, vol. 1, p. 444,