Mars, War, Anger, and Violence
As war escalates in many places around the world, I’m thinking about Mars. War, violence, and anger are some of the oldest significations of Mars in astrology, in sources such as Teucer of Babylon, Vettius Valens, and Ptolemy, forward to Abu Ma’Shar and William Lilly, and even into 20th and 21st century sources. How am I to make sense of this within a framework of feminist astrology?
If Mars speaks of war, anger, and violence, then it requires us to question our socialization toward war, anger, and violence, the ways we have been conditioned to think of war as a legitimate form of engaging with conflict capable of producing outcomes that are legitimate because they were accomplished through violence. The ways in which anger is so often discouraged or suppressed, especially for folks who are socialized as girls and women, or projected as a deficiency onto those who carry incendiary rage after centuries of injustice, like the stereotype of the “angry Black woman.” Or the ways that anger is often times the only emotional expression acceptable from people socialized as boys and men, to the detriment of their emotional wellbeing and their connection to themselves and others. Mars in someone’s chart can provide us with important information about how that person might deal with conflict, how they may internalize or externalize frustration, whether their temper might be fiery or subdued, intellectualized or practical. But a feminist astrology would never allow someone’s Mars placement—or Mars transit or Mars progression—to function as an excuse or endorsement for someone’s violence, for their mishandling of anger or conflict. Rather, it can provide us with a sense of where and how to concentrate their own efforts toward generative conflict and channeling their anger in alignment with their values.
If someone’s Mars placement or Mars’ influence in dynamic timing techniques coincides with experiences of violence, that is a tragedy, but I refuse to accept that it was necessary that the archetype of Mars find expression in those ways. Rather, we must understand that violence is never an isolated event. As Miriame Kaba once said on How to Survive the End of the World, citing Danielle Sered, “No one enters violence for the first time by committing it … If that’s true, then all this shit that we talk about—these binaries about victims and perpetrators—that explodes it all." She expounds on this idea in an interview with Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement: “It is absolutely true that people who harm people were also harmed. I know people sometimes don’t want to hear that. I know that makes people mad, people feel like that’s an excuse, whatever. But I, with every fiber of my being, the both/and harm and survivorship really sits with me all the time. Cause there’s not one person I’ve worked with who harmed other people that was not also deeply and profoundly harmed themselves in some other context. So, it just makes me much more patient, it makes me much more empathetic, and it just gives me the real understanding that we have to live with the complexity of how harm plays itself out in ourselves, in our community, and in our world” (298). If no one enters violence for the first time by committing it, if every person who causes harm was also harmed, then we must understand every event of violence as an expression of a cascade of violence. This does not eliminate individual responsibility and the need for consequences, but it does suggest that the consequences for violence and harm must include healing for the person who inflicted violence or harm in order to end such cycles.
Bringing this back to astrology, Mars can indeed describe experiences of violence and eruptions of war, but only within social conditions that permit such expressions because we have not adequately done the work of personal and collective healing. And we are still living within such systemic conditions. What if rather than accepting Mars as descriptive of violence as an inevitable outcome, we instead choose to interpret Mars as descriptive of where and how harm must be addressed, where and how anger must be felt, where and how conflict can no longer be avoided? What if a feminist astrology insists on interpreting Mars as descriptive of where we must exercise our most fervent commitments to nonviolence, to refusing abuse and war? I believe this has potential for mundane astrology as well as natal astrology, and perhaps for astrological magic as well.
None of this is to naïvely suggest that simply by interpreting Mars different, we will avoid violence and war. Rather, it is to suggest that the archetypal powers of Mars are capable of more than the proliferation of endless war and senseless violence on this planet, and when we dare to articulate those other possibilities, we do indeed contribute to movements that carry us away from those narrow possibilities. Indeed, even under the conditions of wars that are already underway, how might the interpretation of Mars as a place where we must exercise our most fervent commitments to nonviolence generate more possibilities for how we might navigate war astrologically?
There is so much more to consider here. I feel drawn to return to Judith Butler’s Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable and The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind as resources within which to think more deeply about feminist analyses of war in relation to Mars. I want to return to Audre Lorde's essay, "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism" for the ways that it so clear articulates how we might work well with anger. But these were my initial thoughts I wanted to share, part of a larger ongoing project for thinking critically about feminist astrology.
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Michael J. Morris is a witch, an astrologer, a tarot reader, an artist, a writer, and a teacher.