The next planet in the Chaldean order is Mars. With Saturn and Jupiter, we were dealing with semi-abstract ideas like restriction, expansion, limitations, and generosity. But starting with Mars, we are dealing with the faster-moving planets that represent personal characteristics and traits. Mars symbolizes the way you assert yourself and how you get angry. It shows how you defend yourself and how you go after what you want. And yes, it’s associated with the sex drive (despite the Mars symbol also being the male symbol (♂), that’s anyone’s sex drive, not just men’s).
Two of Wands: Mars in Aries
Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, the cardinal fire sign. Cardinal signs initiate action; fire signs are energetic, enthusiastic, and lively. Together, they show that Aries represents the need to take action and assert yourself. Yes, that pretty much sounds like a description of Mars itself, and yes, Mars is comfortable in Aries. At its best, Aries initiates things and is courageous and confident, although it can also be rash, impulsive, and selfish. So Mars in Aries acts in a direct, assertive, and bold manner.
With all of that energy behind it, you might expect the Two of Wands to show an action-filled scene like the Five of Wands does, but the Waite-Smith deck’s illustration is deceptively still. A man stands on a rampart, looking over the lands below him. In his right hand, he holds a globe; in his left, a wand. The other wand of the card is bolted to the wall behind him, which stabilizes the wand, but at the same time, restrains it. The man is dressed in shades of brown, suggesting pragmatism and groundedness; his red hat symbolizes thinking about action. The Golden Dawn title for this card is Lord of Dominion, and it seems as if the man is surveying his domains. “Dominion” itself is a neutral term, but the device of flowers on the wall suggests that this is a positive card. The red roses signify action and desire, which might be problematic on their own (as in a lust for power), but they’re paired with white lilies, signifying purity. With the drive of Mars in Aries, the man has achieved much in terms of wealth and power, but his energy seems constrained (his still pose, the wall that separates him from the rest of the world, the wand bolted to the wall, the white lilies crossing the red roses). He may be restless, planning his next project and preparing to take action.
Seven of Wands: Mars in Leo
Here, the drive and assertion of Mars is shaped by Leo’s need for self-expression and recognition. Leo is fixed fire. Aries’ cardinal fire is targeted towards one goal, and Sagittarius’ mutable fire wanders away in any and all directions, but fixed fire burns steadily where it is. Which is what we see in the Waite-Smith Seven of Wands, where the man defends himself against unseen opponents. Holding one’s ground in battle is a good illustration of Mars in Leo.
Somewhere along the line, I’d learned “self-defense” as a keyword for this card, and I still think it’s a fair summary of this scene. But in reading about this card, I happened upon Joan Bunning’s description of it as “going after what you want” and “asserting yourself.”* These are fine descriptions of Mars generally, but it wasn’t what I expected for the Seven of Wands. After all, isn’t the man backed up to the edge of a cliff? Why would you challenge someone from such a difficult position? But Bunning explains that taking a stand triggers resistance in others. To assert yourself, to express yourself, to do anything that makes you stand out from the masses—the essence of Mars in Leo—is to draw attention to yourself, and some of that attention will be hostile. The moment you take a stand, the cliff’s edge and the opposing wands will appear.The Golden Dawn’s title for the Seven of Wands, Lord of Valor, makes it clear that you will need courage and strength to defend yourself, but stand firm (fixed fire) and you could very well succeed.
Five of Cups: Mars in Scorpio
The similarities between Mars and Aries are clear. Yet Mars is also comfortable in Scorpio. While Aries brings out the direct and headstrong warrior side of Mars, Scorpio highlights the strategist: the aspect of Mars that pauses long enough to plan its approach, calculate the best way to get what it’s after—and prepare an alibi.
That’s a good starting point for considering Mars in Scorpio in someone’s birth chart, but it’s not all that relevant to the Five of Cups. I think we get further by taking the combination apart and seeing how Mars and Scorpio play off each other. Like Leo, Scorpio is a fixed sign. But it’s a water sign, so it stands firm emotionally, rather than in self-expression and action. Positively, this gives Scorpio its qualities of emotional depth, intensity, and complexity, although it can also produce obsession, possessiveness, and vindictiveness. Mars in Scorpio is the combination of a planet that triggers upheaval, change, and disruption in a sign that lacks flexibility. This can mean a refusal or inability to compromise, and this all-or-nothing approach can result in destruction, followed by grief and regret…and that is relevant to the Five of Cups.
In the Waite-Smith Five of Cups, the person (man? woman?) is isolated in their grief and loss. The ground around them is brown and lifeless. They could walk over to the city on the far side of the river and be with other people, but for whatever reason, they have chosen not to. They are focused on the three cups that have spilled, not the two upright cups behind them. Most people have an opinion about those cups, perhaps that the person should stop dwelling on the spilled cups and remember that they still have upright ones, or that the person needs to grieve the loss right now and deal with what remains at a later time. I tend more towards the latter interpretation. With the upright cups so close to the mourner, I suspect they know perfectly well the cups are there, but the time isn’t right to pick them up and move on. The Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Loss in Pleasure, but Aleister Crowley called it Disappointment. Neither seems quite strong enough to me; maybe if the Golden Dawn had called it Lord of Loss and left it at that?
Ten of Cups: Mars in Pisces
At the other end of the emotional spectrum is the Ten of Cups. Ever since I learned the astrology of the Ten of Cups, I’ve wondered about assigning Mars in Pisces to this card. I mean, even in Pisces, Mars isn’t a planet you normally associate with emotional/spiritual happiness. After all, this is a planet named after a god of war.
Pisces is a mutable water sign; emotional flexibility and pliancy to the max. Scorpio dealt with conflict by refusing to budge, even if it broke; Pisces flows away and avoids it, which can sometimes mean escaping into fantasy and illusion rather than coping with reality. The Ten of Cups in the Waite-Smith deck shows a happily-ever-after ending for the Cups suit. The adults admire a rainbow, while the children dance, all in a picturesque landscape. The Golden Dawn title, Lord of Perfected Success, fits this scene well. Perhaps we’re supposed to realize that this is an ideal, not reality—after all, rainbows are optical effects, and cups don’t appear in them any more than pots of gold sit at their ends. Also, this is one of the Waite-Smith deck’s “stage cards.” The happy family isn’t in the landscape they’re admiring, but on a plain floor in front of it. Perhaps the lush countryside is no more than a painted backdrop. This possible illusion may connect the Ten of Cups to Pisces, but I admit I just don’t see Mars in this card.
The Thoth deck is noticeably less romantic about the Ten of Cups. The Cups suit peaked at the Nine; the Ten is overstaying its welcome. The card is called Satiety, a word that can simply mean full and satisfied, but also means having had too much and the resulting feeling of revulsion. At first glance, all seems well: the ten cups are streaming light and are symmetrically spaced in the card in the form of the sephiroth of the Tree of Life. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see that several of the cups are tilted slightly and the structure is somewhat unstable. The force of Mars is a bit too much for Pisces, it would seem.
Nine of Swords: Mars in Gemini
The Nine of Swords reveals Mars’ capacity for viciousness. Gemini is no more brutal than any other sign of the zodiac, but in the context of the tarot, Mars brings out its worst. Sure, Gemini can be inquisitive, clever, and communicative, but in the Nine of Swords, we’re seeing its potential to be detached, scattered, and overly intellectual in its approach. Mars’ aggression, shaped by Gemini’s whirlwind nature (Gemini is the mutable air sign: ever-changing thoughts and communication), becomes a mental death of a thousand cuts: anxiety.
In the Waite-Smith Nine of Swords, the Lord of Despair and Cruelty, someone sits up in bed at night, suffering through anxiety-fueled insomnia. Nine swords hover near them, and there’s a scene of murder carved into the bed frame. Perhaps this person woke up from a nightmare, or perhaps they never fell asleep in the first place, kept awake by racing thoughts. But the nine swords are no more real than those ten cups floating in a rainbow. The worry and suffering is entirely in the person’s head: the whirling, sword-sharp thoughts of Mars in Gemini.
The card is not 100% dread and misery, however. The quilt on the bed is made of squares with planetary and zodiacal symbols as well as squares with red roses. The person is not truly alone, because the astrological symbols suggest the universe itself is with them. Like the red roses in the Two of Wands, the roses in this card symbolize desire and action, and here, nothing restrains them. This points to the positive use of Mars (in any sign): acting to defend yourself. Being able to act often reduces anxiety, although in the middle of the night, it can be difficult to do anything constructive.
Three of Pentacles: Mars in Capricorn
As you might expect, putting Mars in an earth sign produces tangible results. Capricorn is cardinal earth, a sign that builds in the real world, with structure and ambition. Used constructively, Capricorn is productive, industrious, and accomplishing, although it can also be controlling, rigid, and miserly. Mars does well here, with its energies turned towards material achievement. Glancing at the numerology of this card, 3 is the number of manifestation, and in the Three of Pentacles, what’s being manifested are real things.
It’s pretty easy to see this in the Waite-Smith Three of Pentacles. A craftsman is putting the finishing touches on a church, while a monk and another person (an architect?) consult with him. In the Lord of Material Works, what we’re seeing here is material accomplishment: a building. The three pentacles, earth symbols in their own right, are joined by a crossed circle which is another symbol of earth. The craftsman’s tools are in his hands; we see that this was achieved by physical labor. And this isn’t the mass production of the Eight of Pentacles, but a work of art by a master, someone who’s being recognized for his work (he’s important enough for the others to deal with him directly).
*Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners, p.172-173; online at SEVEN OF WANDS.
For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.