Building Momentum: Mars Retrograde 2016

Archers in East Timor; author unknown via Wikimedia Commons. 

Mars Retrograde in Sagittarius/Scorpio April 17- June 29, 2016

Feb 17      23 Scorpio 03'       Enters Shadow

April 17    08 Sagittarius 54'  Stationary Retrograde

June 29     23 Scorpio 03'       Stationary Direct

Aug. 22    08 Sagittarius 54'   Leaves Shadow

On the days surrounding April 17, the planet Mars will appear to completely stop, turn backward for a little over two months, and then stop again to resume its normal west to east direction on June 29. This is known as a Mars retrograde cycle, and it happens roughly every two years. Unlike Mercury retrograde (occuring three times a year) Mars retrograde is a rare retrograde event, the rarest of all. The last Mars retrograde occurred from March through mid-May 2014 in the tropical sign of Libra. This year, Mars will backtrack through two signs: Sagittarius and Scorpio. That gives us two distinctly different archetypal themes through which Mars retrograde will find expression.

But first, let’s learn a little bit about Mars. Mars is associated, in Roman mythology, with the God of War. To the Greeks, it was known as Ares. But the Roman perception of Mars was more than just a war god; Mars was a source of virility; it was a life-sustaining impulse needed to bring crops to fruition. From the Roman perspective, Mars was also an agricultural guardian. The planet's bright, red color evokes a sense of passion, lust, desire, stamina, assertion, competitiveness, and very often anger, hostility, and violence. If we view the solar system as an archetypal depiction of the structure of the human psyche (the basis of astrology applied psychologically), then Mars, as an inner planet (that is to say, within the bounds of the asteroid belt, preceding the gas giants and other outer planets), it is symbolic of an archetypal construct that is close to the ego and individual identity.

But where Mars differs (from Venus and Mercury), is its ability to travel further away in the zodiac from the Sun’s position at any given time. Venus and Mercury are never too far away and are incapable of forming certain aspects or geometric relationships (such as a 90 degrees square or  180 degrees opposition) to the Sun—the symbolic core of personal identity. As an archetype, Mars has the ability to challenge the Sun, the center of gravity and heartbeat of the solar system. Mars is the first archetypal symbol of tension and confrontation. This corroborates with its ancient association with the warrior archetype and its relation (in its entropic expression) with violent or hostile compulsions.

But ultimately, Mars symbolizes our ability to defend ourselves and our right to existence. Mars embodies a philosophy that we must act, with courage and intention, to get what we want from life and to defend our right to live. From Mars’ perspective, actions are the path to freedom and the attainment of desire. But Mars is equally a source of passion and life force. Mars symbolizes vitality and vigorous life force that animates all sentient beings. For whatever lives, desires to do so, and desires to defend its right to existence. When a planet turns retrograde, first, we experience a change in the flow of archetypal energy related to that planet. In the case of Mars, our ability to defend ourselves, fight for what we want, to attain our desires, and to cultivate the will to exist goes through a shift or change of direction.

Mars is also associated with physical exercise, stamina, libido, sexual lust and the building of strength to enhance one’s capability and confidence to withstand challenges. My view of Mars retrograde is to imagine that throughout the duration of the retrograde, it’s as if you are building momentum that will, once the planet turns direct, catapult you onto a new path of decisive action. That path or direction will have the flavor of Mars and will be seasoned by the sign(s) which it retrogrades through. Throughout this process, we must step up to a new challenge and rediscover strength, courage, and stamina that we didn’t know we had.

 Mars retrograde can also work to renew our life force energy and our desire to exist. We may discover the passion for something we left behind or something we have pushed aside. The house placement of Mars in your natal horoscope will provide a deeper understanding of where this process is likely to take place and the sign it's in will flavor it.

Imagine yourself as an arrow placed against the string of a bow, and as Mars turns retrograde, that string is getting pulled back, further and further, until it reaches its point of maximum tension. And when the planet turns direct, if we have worked cooperatively and consciously with this process, we are flung forward and our efforts throughout the retrograde will carry us far into the future. This is the most practical understanding of this cycle and one that you will find most useful. Many astrologers would caution you to reconsider launching major projects or pushing forward with the initiation of anything you deem important.

I think the reasoning is that Mars retrograde is a time to build momentum and that the launching pad will ideally be when Mars has turned direct. Consider that when a planet is in retrograde, its archetypal function is going through a revision process. But the mistake is to suggest that we will not have the energy, drive or desire to push forward with important matters, and that is simply not the case. Mars is Mars, retrograde or direct. Its retrograde cycle highlights the reality that the archetypal current associated with Mars is undergoing a change in its expression, and for Mars, that expression is always related to actions. However, consider that Mars, depending on where it is in your chart, may relate to actions taken outwardly or inwardly. It takes courage to face your inner demons just as it does to face the “demons” in the outer world.

But like anything in astrology, we have free will. A Mars retrograde cycle will not force itself upon you. Often, during these times, we are responding to an inner need to change something. But the choice is yours to make. When we fail to respond to a Mars moment, it is often because we allow fear to keep us from moving forward. What scares you the most is usually something that could greatly strengthen you. Often, this cycle will reveal an opportunity or will generate a desire to accomplish something challenging, or to finally step up to something or someone you fear. It is simply the season for this to happen, and if you take this time to build up strength and a strong foundation; you’ll be tougher and more resilient in the future.

The Changing Face of Mars

This brings us to another layer of a retrograde process. Interestingly, all classical planets that turn retrograde (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), have dual sign associations. Traditionally, they are said to “rule” two signs. In modern, evolutionary language, we prefer to say that these planets have a resonance or archetypal association with these signs. In the case of Mars, it is associated with Aries and Scorpio. Aries is Mars’ extroverted function, and Scorpio is its introverted function. When a planet turns retrograde, its archetypal face often reverses. We are going from Mars’ introverted expression to its extroverted function, or vice versa. 

However, this does mean that the initiation of action is hindered in some way. As I said, Mars is Mars, retrograde or direct. It is simply changing the way that it expresses itself. The Aries side of Mars places an emphasis on outward action; Aries relates to the optimum expression of willpower to initiate change, to push forward, to face stress and challenge, ideally, in healthy ways to build the strength we need to assert ourselves. The Aries side of Mars seeks new adventures outwardly in the world. The Scorpio side of Mars places emphasis on the acquisition of courage to face the inner dimensions of our own psyche and intimate lives.

As I said, it takes courage to face our inner demons. Scorpio is a sign that also relates to deep intimacy and connection with another soul—certain individuals whom we can be vulnerable enough to share ourselves with fully, to reveal parts of ourselves that we do not share with those we do not trust as deeply. This takes courage and bravery to do. It takes courage to be vulnerable and real with someone as well as ourselves. And it takes the ability to assert our will to enter that kind of deeply intimate space. Intimate relationships can be a battle ground, just as the outer world can be.

If we have been primarily outward prior to Mars turning retrograde—seeking new, external stress and adventures, fighting for freedom and independence, then Mars retrograde can indicate a time where we may need to turn inward and channel our Mars energy into the intimate chasms of our personal lives. Conversely, if we’ve been in that deeply intimate space prior to the retrograde, we may find ourselves switching to a focus upon challenges and stress seeking in the outer world. The retrograde will change the face of that Mars function. And as we build momentum throughout the retrograde, we will be placed on to the pathway of a new phase of Mars’ expression as it transits the zodiac.

Karma and Serendipity

There is a curious association with Mars and Venus retrograde cycles relating to profound shifts and turning points in our personal lives and relationships. The rule of thumb here, however, is that often this is most notable when the retrograde planet stations on an angle of our chart, or a significant planet or focal point. The station is the degree of the zodiac where that planet will stop and change direction (either move from direct to retrograde or retrograde to direct). In the case of this particular Mars retrograde cycle, Mars will station and turn retrograde at 8 degrees of Sagittarius. It will station and move direct at 23 degrees of Scorpio.

Look to those areas of your chart. If an angle (the first, fourth, seventh, or tenth house cusps), or if a significant planet is placed there (or in the general vicinity, within 1 to 2 degrees, possibly more), then this particular cycle will likely be more pronounced for you. Also, if the retrograde happens to take place in an angular house (first, fourth, seventh, or tenth), it may also be more meaningful. Venus retrograde can often correlate with a period of serendipitous encounters with individuals that end up having a major impact on our lives. We often look back on these people as having profoundly inspired us in some way or were involved in a major shifting of our values and priorities.

Sometimes, these relationships last a long time and develop in complexity. This is, of course, because Venus is the most potent astrological symbol for relationships. Mars retrograde, however, carries a different archetypal function, due to its ability to challenge and break free of the Sun, which carries an association with relationships. In its Scorpionic face, Mars connects us to experiences of deep intimacy. Thus, we associate Mars with life force, libido, and sexual energy. Mars’ sexual expression is related solely to the act of intercourse, typically related to the release of primal, sexual energy. Put simply, Mars is our desire for coitus—but not particularly lovemaking in the romanticized sense.

Consider that when Mars turns retrograde, we are revising the way that we assert ourselves, and how we go about getting what we want—attaining our desires. Mars turning retrograde in a sensitive zone of your personal horoscope can indicate a time where you must defend yourself against someone or a situation, break free of situations that limit your boundaries, or finally recover the courage to take action and make some much-needed change in your life. This can often involve serendipitous encounters with others, or circumstances that involve you shifting in such a way to catalyze the initiation of action. These can be significant moments in our lives where we can forge new pathways and set ourselves on a new course of action.

Retrogrades also take us back to situations or experiences from the past. We often encounter individuals that we’ve met before in this lifetime. From the evolutionary viewpoint and hypothesis, most, if not everything in life, is the result of our karma. Thus, many encounters may, in fact be the residue of some past experience from a previous lifetime. With Mars retrograde, we may be brought back to a situation where we must defend ourselves or muster the courage to overcome it or to finally take some action we didn’t take before. And this may be particularly significant if Mars retrograde is hitting you in a personal way.


From April 17 to May 27, Mars will retrograde through Sagittarius. Signs flavor or add a certain texture to anything placed inside of them. During this portion of Mars retrograde, there will be an accentuation of the things in your life that have become too predictable and habitual. Mars may ask that you take a risk and stretch yourself beyond what is too familiar. Sagittarius seeks adventure and exotic, foreign experiences. It deals with adventures in the real world as well as adventures in the mind. There is also a philosophical, spiritual or ideological nature to Sagittarius. The momentum that you build during this cycle will likely correlate with these themes.

Perhaps you will find yourself thinking in much larger or abstract ways. Maybe you decide to travel somewhere that seems extremely familiar—a foreign place you may have been before (in another lifetime?). During this portion of the cycle, you are rediscovering the courage and strength needed to make your life more interesting and inclusive of perspectives that challenge your current worldview. It’s time to face your fear of the unfamiliar. However, try to remain practical and mindful of reality. Don’t confuse your need for new adventure with the need to throw all safety and caution to the wind. Don’t leap without looking first. Healthy reality testing is needed!

From May 27 to June 29, Mars retrograde will enter Scorpio. As I said before, it takes courage to face our inner darkness. During this phase of the cycle, you are gathering the momentum needed to make meaningful connections. You are finding the strength to step up to new challenges surrounding intimacy and honesty. Scorpio is an archetype that deals with everything we culturally subjugate or attempt to deny—often by making fun of it. Death is one of those things, and so is sex. Imagine that throughout this portion of the cycle, you need to rediscover your ability to step into that dark morass of repressed subject matter. Whatever new challenges you take on, will likely feel uncomfortable and may ask you to reach beyond certain boundaries.

But if you take on the challenge, you will be set on a new course of deeper self-knowledge. You’ll find that from here on out, you’ll have strengthened your capacity to be honest with yourself and with others. There may be intense experiences and encounters you avoided in the past but need to face now. There may be particularly “karmic” situations with individuals coming into your life. There may be a need to release pent-up or repressed desires. But try not to lose perspective. Don’t get too caught up in your own issues or inner darkness that it makes you moody and depressed. Come up for some air when you need to. But if you keep up the momentum, this will be a highly transformative cycle. 

In conclusion, don't confuse a retrograde for a time of inaction. It's simply not true! And when it comes to Mars, inaction is the last thing you should consider. A retrograde cycle is a time of transition and often an opportunity to make some kind of breakthrough. It may not be the most significant moment of your life (it happens every two years), but if it triggers a potent portion of your horoscope, it just might be. This is time to build new strength and momentum. It's like positioning yourself before a great wave of immense force. But you have to be willing do this by responding to your desires for change. As always within the paradigm of astrology that I practice, trust and follow those impulses and desires for positive change. If you do, you'll find yourself stronger and readier for the what lies before you.