When Mercury, Venus or Mars is retrograde, it is customary for astrologers to interpret this type of transit by itself. But, when studying and practicing astrology, a deeper and more meaningful experience of these periods will emerge if one looks at the retrograde period as part of a much larger cycle, that is by seeing it “wholistically”, rather than by trying to interpret it as a stand-alone transit. The following article by Kevin DeCapite examines the Sun/Mars cycle we are in right now, including the deeper nature of the Mars retrograde period, from this ‘Wholistic’ perspective.
In addition, I have posted an interview that I conducted with the author, Kevin DeCapite, about this approach that was recorded in Los Angeles while the transiting Sun was opposing retrograde Mars. To watch this interview click here. This article originally appeared on LunaAstrology.com. – Jim Sher
More Than Mars Retrograde
Few astrologers probably realize that the Mars retrograde period occurring this summer in 2018 is really just one phase within a larger, two-year cycle between the Sun and Mars. Why is this significant? When studying and practicing astrology, a deeper and more meaningful experience will emerge if one looks at the process wholistically. That is, if one considers not just particular planetary aspects and phases (such as transiting Saturn or Mercury retrograde), then the actual meaning of the factor at hand will be set into a context where real understanding and growth can occur. One can even become excited about such acute planetary phases, as I’ll explain later.
Their Call, Our Charge
Turning specifically to the Sun-Mars cycle that is the focus here, we begin by first reflecting on the nature of this planetary pair. No deeper integration of the Mars retrograde period can be ascertained if we do not first grasp the framework of meaning between these two astrological factors.
The Sun – what we might call the great luminary of the horoscope – is the astrological chart factor that seems to be known by just about everyone, even non-astrologers. In fact, this is the one factor where the key phrase of identification is heard anytime the subject of astrology enters the conversation: “I am a Cancer”, for example. Why is this? For one, the Sun is the easiest of all the planets to locate. Simply knowing our birthdate will tell us our Sun’s sign. There’s more to the story, however, for it’s what the Sun represents that is the vital component of any astrological chart. Though astrology is geocentric, and thus has all of the planets (including the Sun and Moon) revolving around us in the chart, we would be remiss to ignore the empirical fact that it’s we who are revolving around the Sun. We can use this basic astronomical principle to anchor the significance and potential meaning of the Sun in our astrological interpretation.
We find with the Sun’s principle meaning at least some commonality among astrologers. This could be called the function of beingness in the chart, for it is where a sense of purpose and life (or soul) fulfillment is typically found. Another way to articulate this quality is to say that the Sun signifies the chart’s essence, meaning it is both required (essential) and ideal. For instance, I have found that when an activity or experience of any kind is in harmony with the principle functions of our Sun’s sign, we generally feel a deeper connection to life; we often feel more alive in such moments. It is almost as if being in the nature of our Sun’s sign is the psychic (or internal, subjective) equivalent of basking in the warm Sun on a clear day. It is a “right-ness” of being that seems to transcend simply “feeling good” or just being happy. It’s much richer and vibrant than that.
As such, I often consider the Sun a vitalizing force within us. This force can then be what moves us towards the experiences necessary for our higher purpose, and to help us become more in tune with our truer natures. We might even call this process a pulling towards something greater – something that is within us as potential, but which we have not yet become. This is perhaps a somewhat unique perspective on the nature of the Sun, for I am asserting that being born while the Sun is in a particular sign is not enough to warrant that we actually embody the sign’s energy. It is instead something that we are here to discover and learn so that we can eventually radiate its essential meaning and purpose.
If this is so, then we can start to see how the principle factors associated with our Sun’s sign are actually not automatic, but rather something for us to grow into and become. For this reason, we might start moving away from saying, “I am a Cancer”, to the statement that vitalizes our focus and attention towards the horizon of beingness as we proclaim: “I am becoming a Cancer.”
We turn now to the red planet. Mars is probably the easiest of all the planets to discuss, because it tends to be so straight-forward, at least in its basic interpretation. So to start, I’ll simply say that in Mars we often see a direct, and even primal, energy and drive. Here we have the will and power to initiate some ambition, to carry forward and through our agenda and desire. Mars is a catalyzing force. By this I mean that it can ignite the impetus to act, the motivation to move. There is a similarity between this prime mover and the Sun, but one key distinction is to remember that Mars is not necessarily associated with a sense of purpose the way the Sun is. Of course, the entire horoscope is a layered symbol of purpose, but the point here is that while activities and experiences associated with our Sun’s sign connect us to life in a very real way, those associated with Mars are best used when directed towards that end. If Mars takes the lead, which it can certainly do, we may very well find ourselves at odds with life in some manner. This may even be why many intrepretations of Mars aspects and transits end up so negative; because the person with Mars operating strongly is not using it towards a purposeful end, but is instead caught up in some type of egoic ambition. If our metaphysical astrology is real – and I believe that it is – then what else could be the outcome of our Martian activity other than some form of friction, fighting or anxiety, unless that activity is in alignment with the wholistic purpose of the entire chart and its attendant transits?
I urge the reader to seriously consider a metaphysical integration of Mars which is not merely the basic function of primal drive and catalyzing energy – not only a fired-up ambition to assert one’s will into the world – and instead I propose a conscious alignment of our intentional will with a cosmic, or higher, purpose. A will that is intentional is one that does not operate unconcsiously, nor automatically. It is a will that is deliberate in its actions and clear about its motivations; it is our willpower directed towards a focused action. Ideally, I view Mars as a “teaming up” of our conscious will with the cosmic force of universal energy — represented by our birth chart and ongoing transits, progressions, etc. — as we learn to marshal our energy towards its call.
The Sun-Mars Synthesis
Now we are ready to discuss the integration of the Sun and Mars energies into a cohesive process that we can understand and apply, the “Sun-Mars Archetype”, if you will. Together, this Sun-Mars pairing (and actually the entire cycle) signifies a charge of some kind. We might articulate this a little more by calling it the charge of beingness. Now what does this mean exactly?
The word “charge” is appropriate for at least a couple of reasons. First, it clearly indicates some kind of energetic capacity. Something with a charge has the power and ability to perform its intended task. While this much is clear, there is another reason why this word fits our synthesis here. That is because the word “charge” is also a verb. To state that an entity has a charge describes one of its fundamental qualities, but to charge that same entity is to deliberately and directly empower it to do its work. Thus a charge of beingness suggests both the resolve to the process of becoming, as well as providing us with the means to do it. For to become something greater than what we already are – to transform into the highest expression of our Sun’s sign – requires a catalyst and a repository of resources to lead and support us along our way. It is to this end that we find the regenerating energies of the Sun-Mars cycle charging within us.
A Cycle of Wholeness
Four Phases of a Pattern
Now that we have established a basic meaning of the Sun-Mars Archetype, we next need to look at the structure of the cycle between them. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll break down the phases into a standard fourfold cycle.
Phase 1: Sowing Season
All cycles begin with a conjunction, and this one is no different. For our current Sun-Mars cycle, the conjunction occurred on July 26, 2017. The local time and house placement will vary depending on your location (the date may, too), but for the entire world, it occurred at 4-degrees Leo.
The basic interpretation of any conjunction is essentially the same: A new seed representing the archetypal configuration of the two planets is sown as we are provided the opportunity — or, perhaps, responsibility — to cultivate and develop their growth within us. In Leo, we know that — among many other things — there is a call to love and joy, a call to allow the creative and pure spirit to shine through us as we radiate it out to the world. I’ve italicized the word “through” to draw a distinction between ourselves as the source of this radiant splendor, versus being the prism through which it is expressed. Though we are clearly the latter, this does not suggest complacency on our part. For to sow seeds is indeed an act, an intentional act of the will to encourage something new to come into existence.
Yet when we sow, we do so with much uncertainty. All conjunctions, therefore, are like a New Moon in that they are dark, unknown, and carry with them only the potential fulfillment of the planetary pair. Our task during this time is to begin to acknowledge and contemplate the ways in which these two planets can unfold within our lives. During the sowing season, we are entering a new phase of development where we can begin to constellate the energies represented by the planetary pair into our concsciousness.
Phase 2: Cutting Over
All cycles between the Sun and planets from Mars outward go into their second cyclical phase as a kind of crisis. Astrologically speaking, this is the first-quarter square between, in our current case, the Sun and Mars. To be more meaningful about its technical description, however, I prefer to refer to it instead as a 90-degree arc. This helps remind us that we are in a cycle (or spiralic circle), and indicates that there has been some distance already traveled on this journey, with of course much more to go.
This square — this 90-degree arc — marks a time when a conscious and deliberate decision must be made in order for the cycle’s fulfillment to manifest fully in our consciousness. In many respects, this 90-degree square is simultaneously the most delicate phase and yet the one that requires the most courage and will (regardless of the planets involved). This is because we are tasked with making a decision to move into a new direction, to open ourselves up to a new way of being, a new way of operating. The nature of this first quarter square is to break free from the inertia of the past. While the conjunction has been simmering below the surface until now, this phase of the cycle draws out our attention with heat and charge, especially given the particular planets involved here.
Yet the maturity of the cycle is still quite young, so the question of, “To what new way of being am I to turn towards exactly?” cannot be fully answered. Fortunately, we have a strong dose of courage in this particular square (which occurred March 24th of this year, only a few months back, and very near the Spring Equinox), as it not only involved the planet of catalyzing initiative (Mars) but also had the Sun in courageous Aries. Mars itself encountered this 90-degree arc while in Capricorn, suggesting that the nature of our challenge is to begin learning how to integrate our personal quest for a purer state of beingness with our will to achieve or even just maintain progress in the world. How do we seek out personal meaning when challenged by the practicalities of the outer world? Receding into an ashram for several months may not be a realistic option for those of us with families. Less dramatically, simply trying to take more time for personal introspection and study can be duly thwarted by the inertia and momentum of life. It’s much easier to remain as we are, even when dissatisfied and unhappy, then it is to charge into new and unknown terrain. Yet the call is upon us, and as we stated earlier, the fruits of such a new way of being are worth more than our muster: love and joy.
The task for us here then is to marshal the courage to “cut over” into this new territory. We may not always realize it, but our consciousness has an intertia to it, a mode of operating that is fairly repetitive and flat. Many of us make the mistake in thinking that time qualifies as age. Though our physical bodies age and mature automatically, our being does not. In life we are challenged to perform our own “bootstrapping” process, to take the experiences that come our way as opportunities for learning and growth, rather than as annoyances or grievances to our stasis and equilibrium. While the world at large considers the even road as the valuable initiative, the call for the metaphysical practitioner is to allow his or her stability to be disturbed. This 90-degree arc – the waxing first quarter square – is the exact moment for such a disturbance to rumble within us as we intentionally decide to move away from – or, rather, cut over from – the inert mode in which we’ve operated up to this point.
What we decide during this cutting over phase will, at least in some significant way, influence our experience of the upcoming fulfillment phase which we will now discuss.
Phase 3: Fulfillment Returned
This is where the cycle gets really interesting. Actually, this is the portion of the cycle that began this article, although again, most astrological information published doesn’t even speak to the nature of this phase other than with glib statements such as, “Be patient and wait it out, it’ll be over soon.” — or something to that effect.
Critiques aside, as we enter the Mars retrograde period towards the end of Phase 2, we are entering a stage of preparation for the main event. At the opposition aspect (July 26, 2018), the Sun and Mars will be 180-degrees of arc away from each other, the farthest distance possible. Yet to call this an opposition is such a disservice to all that we’ve learned and gained so far. Though our subjects are technically opposed in terms of their geometric positions in the zodiac, they are actually not facing-off with one another, but rather fulfilling their purpose within us. This purpose, whether integrated consciously by us or not, is at its maximum vibrational tone. It is resonating as loudly as it can possibly resound and is revealing the fruits of the cyclic process, now midway along its journey.
Will we experience such vibratory pulsations as a friction-force confronting us, or as a ringing out of this Sun-Mars ideal?
What is so fascinating about this phase, is that not only is the fruit of fulfillment becoming known to us, but it’s also occurring while one of the planets is retrograde. Specifically, Mars is actually going backwards in the zodiac as the cycle’s manifestation point culminates. This at least suggests that in order for such a process to unfold and fulfill, some kind of internalization of the factors and energies involved must be made. If we are to consciously integrate this charge of beingness, then we must, as Mars does during this phase, slow down. By slowing down we can turn inward and allow our deeper natures to become charged with cosmic essence, with love and effervescent joy. What a perfect blend of the Leo-Aquarius axis:
To personally experience each moment with creativity and pure love radiating through us as we charge the world with the visionary message of this universal love.
The above is what I would consider to be the ideal fulfillment of our current Sun-Mars cycle, though I’m well-aware that it is an extreme vision and is also perhaps a bit abstract. To bring it into our everyday awareness, we could simply say that the fulfillment of this Sun-Mars cycle is to experience whatever level of increased joy that we can, and to become as comfortable expressing that with others as possible. Leo at its best is warmth and simplicity (what we could call radiance), while Aquarius is idealized in the sharing of a communal vision. Our beingness – our sense of who we are during this time – can partake in the fruits of this Mars retrograde period by presenting to others not our egoic ambitions (and attendant frustrations in not being able to carry them out), but rather whatever quality of radiance we can find within ourselves. The fact that this fulfillment phase occurs during the Mars retrograde period means that invoking this charge of beingness will take time, and is perhaps best accomplished not through force but through pulling back and slowing down.
On a realistic note, though our world doesn’t seem to allow us to slow down, part of our challenge is to find a way to do this anyway. Especially for those of us who practice or give any credit to astrology, what do we think is going to happen if we outright reject the very thing that this cycle is so clearly communicating to us? For the metaphysical astrologer, the purpose is to live according to the higher ideals, and not conform to the typical norms of our culture and society.
I can personally attest to the value of reducing overwhelm by simply slowing down whatever I am doing. This not only increases effectiveness of the task at hand, but — better yet — allows us to be more open to new and creative ways of being and operating. More often than not, not having enough time is just a perspective, a viewpoint, an illusion even. A direct experience of this is needed to fully comprehend what I’ve stated, but take a few minutes next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few breaths and force yourself to step away and slow down. Do it for just a single minute — do it fully — then see what happens.
This current Sun-Mars cycle is especially potent due to a few other chart factors occurring during this third phase. First of all, the Sun-Moon fulfillment phase (the actual Full Moon that will light up the night sky) also occurs at the same time as the Sun-Mars one, as both 180-degree arcs find themselves aligned on the nodal axis of the Moon. In fact, we are experiencing a total Lunar Eclipse (which is also a Blood Moon due to its closeness to the Earth) during these third phases of both the Sun-Mars and Sun-Moon cycles. Although I prefer to avoid complexity when looking at a chart, I must also mention the powerful t-square between the Sun, Moon, Mars & Nodal Axes to Uranus. All of these points are also in fixed signs, with Jupiter not exactly part of the configuration but still carrying a potent fixed quality from its recent retrograde period in Scorpio.
In keeping with our wholistic approach to the t-square, we might prefer to say that the Sun is at a 90-degree arc away from Uranus as it ventures outward on the spiral to encourage our individuation process, while the Moon and Mars are at a 270-degree arc away from it. Thus they are collapsing back to their seed positions with this titan of individuality, suggesting our emotional drive to break free from the status quo has already been established, at least to one level of commitment.
The above is a lot of astrological information to digest, let alone synthesize into something applicable and meaningful to our lives. I tend to take Dane Rudhyar’s position in cases like this one:
“The study of our birth-chart, and of progressions and transits, should help us to realize the meaning of what happened… more often than not after it has happened, because our mind then is probably clearer, more objective.”
– Dane Rudhyar, From Humanistic to Transpersonal Astrology
The short answer is that this is a significant time where a brand new and innovative shift of energy can occur within us. Our willingness to be open to new insights and deeply personal drives during this time should allow us to experience our true natures unfolding more deeply, leading us towards a higher state of consciousness. The caution here, if there is one, is that becoming more of who one actually is may not be for the faint of heart. There is a reason most people do not break free from the status quo definitions of their self.
Phase 4: Collapse to Expand
During this final phase of the fourfold cycle (starting December 2018), typically referred to as the third-quarter square, we find the Sun now at 270-degrees of arc away from Mars. Most astrologers regard this aspect as just another square — as the Sun is also approaching Mars at 90-degrees — but for the astrologer who is integrating a wholistic “big picture” into his/her practice, this square is of a different nature than the first-quarter discussed earlier. After all, the Sun has journeyed away from Mars for 270-degrees. All the while, we have been challenged more ways than one, and yet our challenge continues.
Yet we need not be daunted. By now, we have taken on this charge of beingness — including the resolve and energy thereof — which means we are more capable than ever to embrace the crisis of the 270 arc: the call to release. So what needs to be released?
As each cycle fulfills and turns towards its return – towards the next eventual Phase 1 conjunction, the next Sowing Season – there may be a tendency to identify with the fruits of the still operating cycle. This may sound odd, especially in light of the significance outlined above regarding all of this, but continually moving towards de-identification (or non-attachment) is a critically important part of any wholistic cycle. This is because all things in our existence are sown, fulfilled and destroyed. Not only do all living creatures experience birth, growth and death (sowing and destruction by the natural rhythm of our biosphere), but even our subjective experiences of our selves, our relationships and of life must go through such a process.
For the metaphysical practitioner, to be born into each moment, while dying fully to the previous one, is the path of non-attachment, the path of transcendence of all burdens of existence. It is the nature of true freedom and expansion, for any sort of attachment whatsoever is actually a bond or burden which can only serve to keep us weighed down, stagnant and spiritually dead. Thus the 270-degree arc challenging us here in Phase 4 is asking us no small thing. It is most definitely a crisis, though now we can see that this crisis is of a different quality than the first quarter square.
In this one, the crisis is to let go and release all identifications to the past. By doing so, we embrace our freedom to expand into another phase of growth which we are now turned towards. Integrating all that’s been experienced during the cycle thus far, we are challenged here to “cut over”, not into a new way of being in the world, but a new way of seeing the world, and what it could become. Only by relinquishing all attachments to past ways of operating can we be open to this new vision. This does not mean that a past way wasn’t the best way at that time, nor does it mean that it won’t ever again be the appropriate way at some other time. It simply means that any identification to a particular way of operating – of being – is best left behind so we can fully explore new paradigms as we charge forth into new realms.
And what better support could we ask for while experiencing this Collapse to Expand challenge than with the chart of the third quarter square for this Sun-Mars cycle (December 1, 2018)? In it we see Mars in Pisces, conjunct Neptune, allowing us to release any egoic tendencies we may have into the broad seas of redemption, knowing we’ll be be supported by the truth of the forthcoming mystery. To complete this square, we then see that 270-degrees away from these planets is the Sun conjunct Mercury and Jupiter in Sagittarius, indicating freedom of thought and new ideas to be explored and accessed. It is almost as if the astrological factors in play during this phase are themselves archetypally resonant with the nature of the 270 square:
To align ourselves with cosmic will, to let go of our personal need to just accomplish a set of tasks or go after what we want simply “Because it’s what I want”, and to re-charge our sense of purpose with love and joy.
Spiral Out, Keep Going
Finally, a new cycle will approach as this one moves further and further towards completion. When the Sun and Mars will sow a new seed together in September 2019, the potential of this will be endowed with all that we bring into it from this one.