We’re inching closer to the season finale of 2020, and like any respectable television drama, the stakes are only getting higher in the leadup — pretty fucking ludicrously and dangerously at this point. Wildfires in California. An explosion in Beirut. Fire and ice in the same weather forecast (???). Uprisings against police brutality and authoritarian rule across the U.S., Hong Kong, and Belarus. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic. And as much as we love a good redemption arc, this isn’t a movie, and we can’t count on being whisked away to safety at the 11th hour.
Perhaps the one thing we can latch onto at this point is that we’re making our way into the last challenging stretch of the year right now, and to some degree, we’ll begin to finally turn a corner in December, so at least there’s that to look forward to. It’s hard to say whether things will be materially “better” after the hellfire dies down, but this particular 2020-flavored hellfire will die down. In the meantime, we’ve got one more test of courage and resolve ahead of us.
Mars is officially retrograde from September 9 through November 13, though we’ve been in the shadow period since late July, so the staging for this particular Renaissance painting has been well underway already. We have a sense of where the central tension will take place — how the characters are taking their places in opposition, alliance, or defiance of one another. Of where the dramatic lighting will fall, illuminating this particular discord over that one on the battlefield.
Every retrograde offers us a chance to either “go back” or sit more firmly in the “now” due to the slowness and stationary periods of that planet — the plodding back and forth over the same stretch of the sky. During Mars Retrograde, we might be invited to dig into an unresolved conflict or source of anger or frustration. When Mars initially hits the brakes, the whiplash might knock some of that calcified rage loose and bring it to the surface. Suddenly, it feels impossible to keep the show going at your usual clip — or at least maintain a pace or dynamic that once depended on you stuffing down your anger because it was too inconvenient for you to feel those feelings.
In Retrograde Planets, Erin Sullivan writes: “When transiting Mars is retrograde in a particular sector of the natal horoscope, it uncovers latent areas of psychic resources which are necessary to excite one into action. Some feelings uncovered during Mars Retrograde may of course be uncomfortable, such as rage, suppressed memories, old passions, infantile or knee-jerk reactions, or vengeful fantasies.” In so many words, the disruption is a beginning. It then takes on a life of its own.
That’s not to understate its difficulty. Of all the retrogrades, you could arguably say that Mars Retrogrades are the most challenging. That’s partially because it’s the least frequently occurring of all the retrogrades (every 26 months), so we experience it as an aberration that’s even more disruptive to the usual order of our lives, and partially because retrograde motion is so diametrically opposed to the essential nature of the planet, which simply wants to forge ahead and do stuff. Also because Mars is a malefic that already tends to be a destabilizing force in the cosmos — a knife we’re better off wielding when it’s sharp and skillfully aimed.
Especially when it’s in its home sign of Aries, Mars simply likes to shoot from the hip and go. But when it’s retrograde, the motivating force behind its impetus gets called into question. Are you just doing things on autopilot, and not because you’ve determined that these are the actions you need to take to reach the goals you care about? Society conditions us to believe that faster is better, but this fall will teach us the value of surrendering our own timelines to the process of review and recalibration — of slowing our roll so that we can steer the wheel in more careful and deliberate ways.
Not only is it a tough time to be an impatient person, it’s also a time when our usual fight or flight instincts might feel thwarted somehow. And with Saturn in an overcoming square to Mars throughout the duration of this thing, there’s certainly an underlined sense of “having some of our roads and exits blocked.” Individually, we might feel stuck. Politically, this looks like state suppression of political unrest. But adrenaline is there to keep us safe, and it needs a way to express itself when it’s activated. If you can’t fight back or escape the situation the way you’re inclined to, can the retrograde show you a way to divert those impulses into a different kind of action?
Retrogrades can sometimes signify an inversion of that planet’s usual function. But if Mars Retrograde is an inversion of “anger,” why do Mars Retrograde periods sometimes lead to even more hostility and combativeness? Consider this: a healthy Mars can blow off steam, engage in conflict in a way that ultimately resolves the dispute, or generally express itself in a way that advances the aggression forward. Mars Retrograde is like an ingrown hair. What’s meant to break past the surface creates a blockage that then leads to inflammation. It’s the difference between the sort of conflict we can easily overcome and the sort of conflict that can lead to permanent or longer-lasting ruptures. In so many words, it’s trapped heat. But trapped heat is also capable of producing certain kinds of outcomes.
It seems heavy-handed of the cosmos to lay it on thick with Saturn, Jupiter, and Pluto all squaring Mars throughout the course of its retrograde, but this is the real-life version of the movie montage where you see gradual progress happen due to consistent, strenuous, relentless effort. Maybe there’s an opportunity hidden in the punishment. Saturn is an immovable force. It’s not the sort of thing Mars can destabilize in one relatively quick hit, which is how Mars/Saturn aspects usually happen. With Mars and Saturn locked in with one another for months, might we actually be able to chip away at a seemingly intractable situation? Saturn might have the upper hand in this situation, but Mars is still capable of doing some damage. Approached with intention, these conditions may actually provide us with the sort of tension necessary to hoist that boulder five inches to the left, freeing up just enough wiggle room to eventually pass by the obstacle toward a deeper, more sustainable change.
The final consideration I’ll leave you with is that Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (and Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) all have orbits that lie beyond Earth’s. The mechanics of their retrograde cycles are similar in the sense that they always occur while they’re closest to the Earth and opposite the Sun. If they’re opposing the Sun, that places them pretty firmly in the night sky while retrograde. Of the visible planets with this pattern of retrogradation, Mars is the only one that belongs to the night sect. Jupiter and Saturn are both daytime planets. As Mars drives past our house real slow, it’s also visiting us at night, when it might seem slightly less ridiculous to shout outside your lover’s window or brawl in a fit of passion. Mars Retrograde is not just a stick in our gears, but a remembrance of the vital force that pumps through our veins and a recall of everything that animates us.