An Epic Journey with a Karmic Twist: Mars Retrograde 2018

This summer’s Mars Retrograde, happening from June 26th-August 27th in the sign of Aquarius, is going to be a major karmic catch-up session. Whether we embrace the events it brings as an opportunity, or attempt to discard them as unwanted burdens… well, that part is our choice.

Mars in Aquarius has already been kicking up a storm for several days. It’s pretty much impossible to miss; in fact, it’s sprawled across our headlines.

Donald Trump and his administration have been forcibly separating the children of asylum seekers from their parents at the US Border, detaining both kids and parents in inhumane conditions and defending a “zero-tolerance” policy intended to crack down on illegal immigration. It’s heartbreaking, rage-inspiring, and way more American than most of us want to admit.

The pressure around this story has been building since mid-May, when Mars entered Aquarius. But the intensity jumped up several notches as the station approached, with disturbing reports from the border driving protests, incessant news coverage, and hashtags like #wherearethechildren and #babyjails.

Interestingly, the few days at the beginning and end of any planet’s retrograde period are called its “storm phase.” Although the planet is barely moving during this period, its energy becomes particularly potent. In this case, we have all the raw strength and aggression of Mars being acted out in the social realm of Aquarius. As Mars stations, it seems to be reaching a fever pitch.

As always, we can move through the retrograde period most productively if we are intentional as we enter it. My hope is that this article helps you gain some awareness of the energies at play right now, and get a sense of how you might work with them in your own life.

The Mars Cycle

One of my favorite astrological branches currently is the study of synodic cycles. Working with the inner planets, in particular, has helped me trace the journey of each archetype through my life, and tune in to its essence more precisely.

The synodic cycle that we’re typically most familiar with is that of the Moon. Words like “gibbous,” “balsamic” and “crescent” all refer to specific phases of the Moon’s eight-part cycle, and represent different incarnations of its energy. Similarly, we can trace planets through their orbits in roughly the same way, looking at aspects they make either with the Sun or with one another.

When it comes to Mars, astrologer Adam Sommer has made a connection that really resonates for me: he looks at the Mars cycle through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, overlaying the “monomyth” laid out by Campbell on to the different phases of Mars’ path around the Sun. It makes sense—with Mars we are called out into the world, into action, into forward movement, into proactive expression of ourselves and our desires.

And there are always dragons to be slayed along the way.

Mars retrograde, and specifically the opposition to the Sun that occurs halfway through, represents the climax of the cycle, often referred to as The Ordeal. So that’s where we’re at: about to move through a test, a chance to draw our courage out from the deepest corners of ourselves.

To place the ebbs and flows of the journey in your own life, think back to July 26th of 2017. This was the day Mars was conjunct the Sun, and the cycle began. It happened in Leo, less than a month before the Great American Eclipse in the same sign. What kind of issues were you dealing with? What kind of choices were you making? In Hero’s Journey lingo, what Call to Action were you hearing?

Because now, we’re just about halfway through, and it’s too late to turn back.

In general, Mars retrograde is a chance to get really real with ourselves about what we truly want.

Usually, Mars is out in the world, doing everything it can to get what it wants. When the energy is turned inward, we get to do a deep check-in around the true nature of what we are chasing, and whether we’re taking fully aligned steps towards making it happen.

And here lies the battlefield, the dragon’s lair, the belly of the beast. Because ultimately, getting what you want, like everything else in life, is an inside job. And as we all know, that’s where the scariest stuff is hiding.

The exact halfway point this time around is July 27th. But Mars the Warrior is already gearing up, testing his armor, sharpening his sword. Where is he being called within you?

This piece of the journey will last until mid-October, when Mars moves out of the retrograde shadow. Then, we have nearly a year of return before the cycle begins and ends at the next conjunction on Sept. 2, 2019.

If you’re interested in exploring the Mars cycle more deeply, here’s a podcast that does just that. But even without knowing the details, perhaps this wider context can give us a clue about what kind of battle we’re facing as Mars starts its inward exploration.

The Karmic Twist

There are two things that make this Mars retrograde a very unique one. One is that it’s happening in Aquarius, the sign in which Mars is retrograde least. The last time it happened was 1971.

The second is that it interacts with the Nodes of the Moon, lending an essentially karmic nature to the entire retrograde period. It crossed the South Node once on June 8th, and the meeting will happen two more times, once on July 20th and finally on Sept. 26.

Not only that, but the current position of the South Node, right around 6 Aquarius, is also the position of the South Node in the US Natal Chart. That means we’re also dealing with our collective historical karma in a very pronounced way. To me, the immigration crisis a blatant example of this. And since Mars is about to go retrograde, I have a feeling that it’s not going to go away quickly.

So there’s an added layer to our responsibility during the next two months: to pull our social and political weight with diligence. This looks different for everyone, but the key is daily action, large or small--and self care.

The meaning of the US Aquarius South Node is a subject for another article, but it has to do with the ideas and the ideals on which the United States was founded. Aquarius is brilliant, but it can get far away from reality and justify just about anything to itself. Similarly, there is genius in the canon of political thought preceding the establishment of the US, but genocide and slavery were justified in the name of making those theories a reality.

Today, the situation at the southern border, along with so much else in Donald Trump’s America, is making us question all of those ideals, and all our stories around what it means to be an American. Since Aquarius also rules groups of people, tribalism, and public awareness, it makes sense that this crisis involves aggressive behavior (Mars) against a large group of people (Aquarius) as well as public (Aquarius) outrage (Mars.)

The karmic twist, though, is around the ideals of freedom and democracy that run so deeply through our sense of national identity (US South Node.) As these ideals are trashed by our government before our very eyes, what action (Mars) can we take to hold them up?

Some activists have traveled to the border and are speaking directly to guards on duty:

But of course, this is not an option for most of us, and hundreds of thousands more have been taking action by making calls to congressional reps and showing up at local protests. I believe we cannot underestimate the importance of these “smaller” steps, especially when they are taken by vast amounts of people. Aquarius always reminds us of the interaction between the individual and the group, and the fact that they are inseparable.

Moreover, as we move into the retrograde, we must also consider the importance of diligence, and resilience.

This is not the first atrocity committed by the Trump administration, and it won’t be the last. If we want to keep standing firmly in resistance - if we want to tip the consciousness of the country towards the Light, instead of the long-suppressed darkness that is bubbling to the surface now - we must learn how to turn our anger into action, not just occasionally but on a daily basis. We must harness the fire of our outrage, managing it well, and never letting the flame go out.

Perhaps this is a collective study we should all embrace as Mars goes retrograde--or at least anyone living on Turtle Island. Pluto in Capricorn is pulling down pieces of our government that have been rotten for a long time, and the transit has 5+ more years before we reach any kind of resolution. We need to take our moment in history seriously.

This Mars retrograde will be a training ground for our inner warriors. When it’s over, I have the feeling we’d better be ready to fight.