The simplest way to understand the function of Mars, is to commit this sentence to memory.
“Venus is what we want, and Mars is how we go about getting it.”
One of the biggest misunderstandings among people who are interested in Astrology, and astrologers alike, is most think Mars is the planet of Desire. It isn’t, in my opinion. Oh, I know, if you go to other astrologers and their sites, Mars will be described as the planet of desire. But it isn’t. Trust me. Venus is the planet of Desire. Every time Venus sees something it wants, a “Desire” is born. Mars is the planet of Passion. The passion and drive to go after that which is desired by Venus.
Passion and Desire are yin and yang. They work together, and are so interwoven that they are difficult to separate, but they are separate and distinct. Venus is what we desire, and Mars has the passion to go get it for his yin-Venus. So no, Mars is not the planet of “Desire”, it is the planet of “Passion”, and the degree of passion will determine the degree of action Mars takes to get what Venus wants.
It won’t take any of you long to recall a time when you wanted something really bad, but somehow could never successfully make it happen. So, if everyone has a Mars placement in their chart, and Mars is action, then why is it easy for some people to get what they want, and difficult or impossible for others? Just saying Mars is the planet of action does not do it justice in my opinion, it is more complicated than that.
Let me explain that. Not all Mars’ are created equal. Mars can be placed extremely well in a chart, placed well enough in a chart, or placed detrimentally in a chart. This placement, and how it interacts with other planets, will determine how each individual goes about getting what he or she wants, and how easy or difficult that might be throughout the life.
Unhindered, Mars will naturally move in a straight line to get what Venus wants. Move with deliberation and purpose to achieve its goal. Simple, right? No, not so simple. Mars isn’t just action, controlled or modified by cultural norms, and full of politically correct ambitions, in fact it is unencumbered in many instances, and will act with complete disregard for the rights of others. Mars, taken alone, is immoral and has no conscience. It only sees the goal, and rushes to obtain its goal. People are merely competitors who are just in the way. Mars is a planet of pure instinct, and will not consider the laws of man, the feelings of others, nor the rights of others. There is no intellect controlling Mars. There is no emotion. There is only instinct, and instinct is the most simple of things to understand and the most difficult.
Humans are full of instincts, but we all prefer to think we’re too sophisticated and have overcome them in the 21st century. There is the instinct to survive, and the instinct to procreate. We learned this is school, but most never really understand the function of instinct. It’s laughingly called the “lizard brain” and while a cute nickname, it is closer to the truth than any might imagine. Instinct is not a function of thinking. We don’t think about surviving. We simply do what is necessary in any given moment to survive.
It’s exactly why there is a defense in criminal law called “self-defense”. When any of us are in real fear for our lives, the instinct to survive will take over, and we will do what that instinct demands. Not everyone will fire a gun at an intruder, or shout at and fight an attacker, but we will all have that instinct to survive kick in, and we will be in survival mode. Survival mode might be do nothing, or cooperate, or any of a million strategies that the instinct to survive might utilize. The object is to survive, and that instinct won’t care about honor, politically correct methods of defense, or any number of things that the intellect can come up with. There is no intellect in those moments, there is only the instinct to survive. And that is the reason it is legally accepted as a defense. The law recognizes that the brain was not making a decision, an instinct was triggered, and acted without thought to consequences. Its goal was only to survive.
This is Mars. Mars rules all human instincts, and will act in cahoots with those instincts to achieve the goal. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, it can be as simple as staying alive, or procreating [which is genetic survival btw, but that’s for another article I think], or it can be how to gain power to ‘rule the world’. It can be big or small, peaceful or dangerous, good or bad, but it is always acting to achieve some goal or desire. This is all Mars knows, but [oh come on now, you knew there was going to be a but…] depending on what sign, what house, and what aspects Mars makes to the other planets, Mars can be smart or dumb. Successful more often than not, or fail more often than not. Left alone, Mars cannot be stopped, but Mars is never alone in a chart. It has a placement, and that placement will determine how Mars behaves in civilized society.
Traditionally in astrology, Mars is the ancient god of war. The nature of the planet is yang. It is the complement of Venus’-yin. Mars is positive, outgoing energy, and masculine in nature. Martian expressions include: initiative, assertiveness, aggressiveness, executive ability, courage, impulsiveness, resistance, self-will, adventurousness, and rashness. Mars is not concerned with consequences, it acts in its own self-interest every time. Remember it is not the ruler of a thought, or an emotion. Thoughts think about consequences, and emotions are always connected to past consequences. That is the nature of emotion. No, Mars is instinct and action without thought or emotion.
As you can all see, Mars is the ‘bad-boy’ of astrology. It is called one of the ‘malefics’, and for good reason in many cases. Mars can be the most loyal of comrades, or your worst enemy. Mars will run into a burning building to save a child, or shoot you without a thought for hitting a woman. Mars has great courage if placed well, or can be paralyzed in emergencies if badly placed.
When I do a chart, I usually study Mars the most because it will tell me how effectively the individual has been able to pursue his or her own happiness. Getting what we want in life is wonderful, especially if we do it legally. But, not getting what you want, or failing more often than not creates a frustration and an anger that can blind a person to different strategies for getting things done effectively.
In closing, let me just explain about how a good or bad placement can influence a natal chart. When any planet is place in a sign compatible with its energy it is able to function well. When a planet is in its ruler, for instance, it will operate optimally because the sign itself is like a mirror of the planets energy. So, if the Sun is placed in Leo, the Sun shines its energy the brightest. The Sun functions really well because there is nothing opposing its expression. However, if the Sun is placed in Aquarius [the opposite sign to Leo], the Sun is not compatible with the goals and function of the sign Aquarius. The sign and the planet are in conflict, so the Sun cannot express itself effectively. Any planet in its own sign will function well [if nothing else is in the way, work with me here people], and if it is in the opposite sign it will not be able to function well. The whole point of astrology is for planets to express themselves. That really is the whole point. Placed well, they all happily express themselves, placed badly they are thwarted oftentimes.
As you can imagine, Mars placed well would be considered aggressive, and placed badly would create a lot of frustration. Why? Because if Mars can express himself effectively, he is nothing but aggressive, and if he is stopped or slowed down he becomes angry and frustrated because he can’t get what he wants. Placed well, picture the alpha male, a business tycoon, or a charismatic leader. Placed badly, picture someone that is overwhelmed and unable to see a way forward. Poorly placed, Mars has less effective instincts, and must rely on Mercury for a plan. The problem with relying on the intellect is that instincts are much quicker than thought. Many times, success relies on speed of action. Instincts are more aggressive than thoughts. Instincts take action faster and more deliberately. Placement of a planet is everything. Placement by sign, then house, and finally aspects to other planets will draw a picture of a person who can take effective action, or is stifled by too many obstacles to turn action into success. The chart will reveal it all, and also tell the astrologer how to effectively overcome the obstacles in any chart.
Next, Part two will explain what signs Mars is well placed in, and which ones are not so effective.