Mars enters Aries this Saturday, and it won’t leave that sign until January. That’s almost seven months of Mars in the cardinal, fire sign it rules. So let’s talk about that.
“The Lesser Malefic”
Mars is considered the “Lesser Malefic” in traditional, Western astrology. Another planet, Saturn, is called the “Greater Malefic.”
The term “malefic” means that the significations of the planet tend to be experienced as subjectively “bad” or “unwanted.” It’s not a moral judgement, but rather a description of subjective experience.
Some people bristle at the very idea of “malefic” planets, believing that all planets are essentially neutral, and that ideas of “bad” and “good” are entirely in the eye of the beholder. But think of it this way:
If your house burns down, with all of your possessions inside, you are probably going to feel “bad” about it. And you probably won’t feel differently if your neighbor comes over and says: “Well, you did say you wanted to get rid of a bunch of your old junk!”
So that’s the idea of “malefics” in a nutshell. But why the “lesser” and “greater” distinction? Is one more or less malefic than the other?
Not really. The distinction arises because different planets move at different speeds. Because of this, the significations of Mars and Saturn aren’t experienced in identical intensity or duration.
Mars moves faster than Saturn, and so its significations tend to be experienced in shorter, more intense bursts, whereas Saturn’s significations tend to be felt more deeply and over longer periods of time.
Now, just because Mars’s significations tend to describe events which are of relatively short duration, this doesn’t mean that they can’t have long-lasting after-effects. If you were to slip, fall, and break your hip, the actual breaking your hip probably took less than a second. The recovery from that event might take months.
In traditional astrology, Mars is associated with action, aggression, challenge, combat, competition, conflict, courage, destruction, exile, fire, robbery, separation, struggle, violence, and war. These are all things we tend to imagine and experience as short, extreme bursts of energy, though they often have lasting consequences.
From this list, it might be obvious why some folks are a little nervous about Mars spending seven months in a sign already known for being aggressive and action-oriented. As the cardinal, fire sign, Aries favors initiating things with great energy, passion, and enthusiasm. On the surface, that’s not necessarily the sort of thing you want to bring to the Mars party.
That said, there’s more going on here with Mars in Aries, and it’s not all bad news.
Malefics and essential dignity
A malefic will always be malefic, but that’s not always a bad thing, believe it or not.
For example, Mars rules knives and cutting. If you accidentally cut your hand while preparing dinner, you probably won’t think of that as a good thing. However, Mars also rules surgery. If you’re diagnosed with cancer, and require surgery to save your life, you’re still not going to be thrilled at the prospect, but it’s clearly a more positive Mars expression.
So what determines how positively or negatively a planet’s significations will be experienced? In part, it comes down how much essential dignity the planet has.
In traditional astrology, the essential dignity of a planet is an extremely important factor in its interpretation. If a planet has essential dignity, its significations tend to be more constructive. If a planet has no essential dignity, or if it’s actually “essentially debilitated,” the planet’s significations tend to be less constructive.
A planet has essential dignity if it’s in a sign that it rules, the sign of its exaltation, or in its own triplicity, term, or face. A planet has essential debility if it’s in a sign of its detriment, or the sign of its fall.
Triplicity, term, and face are considered minor dignities. While they are important to consider if you want the whole picture of a planet, they’re not as impactful as the other, major dignities.
Mars in Aries
So what does this mean for Mars? Well, Aries is ruled by Mars, so for the next seven months, Mars will be essentially dignified. This means that it will tend to put its best foot forward, and its significations will lean toward being more constructive.
Don’t misunderstand this. There’s no guarantee we’ll get only “good” things from Mars in Aries. Rather, there’s a decent chance that whatever Mars brings to the table might be experienced in more subjectively positive ways than if the planet were in a sign of its detriment, such as Taurus or Libra.
Also? Mars is still a malefic planet, and the significations of malefics are rarely what you’d call “pleasant.”
That said, look again at some of Mars’s associations, and consider how they might be expressed or used in positive ways.
Sometimes action is needed. Sometimes groups or situations need to be challenged. Courage is often a valuable and necessary trait. Sometimes, in order to create something new and beautiful, we need to destroy what is old and ugly.
It’s not going to be all sweetness and light (because malefics don’t do sweetness and light), but it’s not going to be all doom and gloom either.
That said, there are a few more wrinkles we should probably look at.
The reason Mars is spending so much time in Aries this year is because the planet is going to get all the way to the end of that sign and then, on September 9th, it’s going to station and turn retrograde until November 14th.
When a planet is retrograde, its expression is challenged. Its significations tend to be interrupted, delayed, cancelled, or prone to reversals. In some ways, this is the best case scenario for a retrograde Mars—it can effectively “mellow out” the planet.
Think of a retrograde as making the planet go sit in the corner and think about what it’s done. It acts as a restraint, a sort of muzzle if you will, which prevents the planet from having full freedom to act. Of course, that doesn’t always happen.
When a retrograde doesn’t interrupt a planet’s significations, or limit its power of expression, the planet’s energy is often experienced as “going in the wrong direction.”
That’s not exactly good news. Even on its best behavior, Mars is sudden and intense—more-so when it’s in the cardinal, fire sign of Aries. Mars during a retrograde? It’s adding another layer of unpredictability and instability to an already unpredictable and unstable planet.
A retrograde Mars can sometimes seem like a race car running at top speed with no steering wheel. Or someone trying to burn a pile of brush in their driveway, but the fire spreads to their garage.
Some gnarly transits
When Mars enters Aries it also enters into a sign-based square to Jupiter in Capricorn. In Capricorn, Mars is exalted, but Jupiter is in its fall. In effect, you can look at this as an essentially-debilitated Jupiter being in the power of (or being in awe of) the lesser malefic.
What’s more, thanks to the retrograde cycles of Jupiter and Mars, this aspect becomes an exact, degree-based square on August 4th. Then it makes another degree-based square on October 19th. Mars will make a third square to Jupiter in January, but by then both planets have moved into the next signs.
What does this mean? Nothing particularly good.
Jupiter, as the “greater benefic” planet, is usually seen as bringing “good stuff” to the party. It’s often associated with abundance, justice, authority, and wealth. “Expansion” is a word frequently used by some astrologers to describe Jupiter’s basic nature.
However, as we’ve already discussed, a planet that’s essentially debilitated tends to act in less desirable or constructive ways. This goes for benefic planets as well as the malefics.
A debilitated Jupiter often “expands” things you’d rather it not, so this prolonged Mars-Jupiter contact is less than ideal.
And then there’s Saturn.
Once Saturn retrogrades back into Capricorn on July 1st, it also enters a sign-based square to Mars in Aries. This will become a degree-based square on August 24th, then again on September 29th.
Since Saturn is known as the “greater malefic,” this is probably worth looking at, especially since this square might actually be good news.
Although Saturn’s nature is malefic and generally not the sort of thing you want around, Saturn is well-placed in Capricorn, which is one of the signs it rules. Like Mars in Aries, Saturn is essentially dignified in this situation. So while it’s still malefic, there’s a better than average chance it will put its best foot forward.
Some of Saturn’s more constructive significations include limitation, responsibility, reserve, and patience—all things which actually sound pretty good to me right about now!
There’s still the retrogrades to consider, as well as the fact that the square aspect is a challenging or difficult one, but I think the Saturn contacts are going to turn out much more positively than the Jupiter ones. Or, at least, they’ll cool Mars out for a bit.
The bottom line
This isn’t the whole Mars in Aries picture, of course. Seven months is a long time, and sorting out how the aforementioned aspects and retrogrades will shape up is anybody’s guess. Overall, I’m really only concerned about a few key times:
- Mars’s ingress into Aries on June 27th is probably going to tell us a lot about the next seven months. Whatever Mars things we see for these last few days of the month is going to make a world of difference in how we should navigate this transit.
- The first Mars-Jupiter square on August 4th is what I’m most worried about. Mars is playing with matches, and Jupiter’s got a can of gasoline. That whole week is going to be nerve-wracking.
- Mars’s retrograde station on September 9th is also something to keep an eye on. When a planet stations, it usually tells us how the whole retrograde will go. If things quiet down, great! If things start to rapidly spiral out of control, well…that’s a bummer.
All of that said, a big part of how Mars’s protracted stay in Aries will play out for you comes down to where Aries is in your chart, and whether or not Mars is activated for you this year.
As for how to get through it? Do Mars stuff!
I’m a big fan of directing the energy of challenging transits into productive or constructive activities. Mars is great for separating out the things you need from the things you don’t, and for tackling those tasks which require more-than-typical energy to get started.
Mars doesn’t usually have a whole lot of staying power, but short bursts of intense action can absolutely be used in positive ways.
And when the retrograde hits in September, step back, take a breath, and exercise some patience.
You don’t want to set the house on fire.
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