At 4:22 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 9, Mars will come to an apparent halt and begin retrograde motion.
For just over nine weeks, Mars will appear to move backward in the sky, before stationing again on Nov. 13 and renewing forward motion. Mars is the final planet in the astrological pantheon to go retrograde in 2020, and in many ways is the headliner as Mars retrogrades portend contests of will and crises of personal and collective power.
Mars spends less time in retrograde motion than any other planet, only about 10 weeks every 27 months, as compared to Pluto which is retrograde roughly 40 percent of the time, or Mercury who turns about face three times per annum. The last Mars retrograde took place over the summer of 2018 in Aquarius, whereas 2019 did not host one at all.
Mars retrogrades signal times of crisis for the warrior in each of us, and can manifest as times of struggle to accomplish one’s goals, physical lethargy, or feelings of fighting a losing battle. In the collective, Mars retrogrades can herald both major human rights violations and atrocities, but also their rectification in the forms of new legislature or reparitive movements. Mars retrogrades challenge progress of both individual and collective aims, prompting the question, “what is worth fighting for?”
This week’s retrograde takes place in the sign of Aries, which Mars itself governs, and where it can accomplish mission driven tasks and impulsive undertakings easily. Athletic and brazen, it is no accident that Aries is the most martial sign, its significations explicitly battle-oriented. Mars retrogrades in the sign of Aries rarely, an event only occurring three times in the 20th century. These periods saw such significant events as the beginning of the siege of Leningrad, the first experimental use of the gas chambers for mass execution (1941) and the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the execution of 50,000 Kurds (1988). The 1909 retrograde saw the more athletic version of Mars retrograde significations in a controversy over two explorers who each claimed to have been the first man to reach the North pole.
With many professional sports struggling to navigate both a pandemic and racial unrest, together with a historically volatile election, both the athletic as well as the political and martial significations will play out this fall.
Part of the heavy-handedness of this retrograde comes from the squares Mars makes to Jupiter, Pluto, and Saturn — all in the sign of Capricorn — throughout the period of the retrograde. Astrologers have attributed many of the challenges faced during 2020 to these three planets and their copresence in the sign of Capricorn. Capricorn is the sign that represents the establishment, institutions, and those with consolidated political power. One could say that in Capricorn, Saturn is the general of the army and Mars in Aries the star warrior gone rogue. Both are quite powerful, making their positions at cross-purposes quite volatile.
However extreme previous Mars retrogrades have been, the precedents of humanitarian outcomes should not be ignored. A previous Mars retrograde in Aries that took place in the fall of 1862 saw the bloodiest day in the history of the United States, the Battle of Antietam. The battle, despite crippling Confederate forces, failed to prove a decisive victory for the Union given the cautiousness of General McClellan, a crisis of martial courage indeed, and one that ultimately lost him his post when Mars moved direct that November.
However, while tactically a draw, the Union was able to claim a strategic victory that turned the tides of the war, giving president Abraham Lincoln the confidence to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that would ultimately free more than 3.5 million slaves. Several years later, during another Mars retrograde in January 1865, the 13th Amendmant would achieve the critical two thirds majority to pass in congress and upon ratification end slavery in the United States.
Astrology gives us the foresight to maintain emotional equilibrium despite upsets and crises, personal and collective. But this coveted equilibrium cannot come from a place of avoidance if it is to shift life and society towards a more empowered and just society for all.
The knowledge of such a transit shows where to throw our collective weight, while warning that progress may be slow and hard. When looking for examples of this dedication to progressive work, one need only look to the retrograde in the fall of 1941, wherein a politician was born who, though failing to triumph in presidential contests, continues to work toward humanitarian ideals. Happy birthday to senator Bernie Sanders, born Sept. 8, 1941, and best of luck to all of us during this fall’s Mars retrograde in Aries.