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Dynamics of the Unconscious
By LIZ GREENE, Howard Sasportas
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1988 Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas
All rights reserved.
The Astrology and Psychology of Aggression
At origin, aggressiveness is almost synonymous with activity.
The Two Faces of Aggression
One of my fit astrology teachers, Isabel Hickey in Boston, compared the energy of Mars to a burning fie. If employed in the right way and in the right places, it is wonderful and helpful, giving light, heat, warmth and power; but if used in the wrong places or in the wrong way, it means disaster. It's the difference between fire burning the floor boards in the middle of your sitting room floor, as opposed to where it is better contained—in the fireplace. The fire itself isn't good or evil. Likewise, Mars in itself is not good or evil, but it may become evil if it is misused.
Isabel was bringing out an important point: that all natural energies are neutral. Piero Femcci, in his book What We May Be, makes a similar point. The natural energies of the wind, the sun, of an atom or a river—these can either bring about disasters or prevent them. A river provides water, power and irrigation and yet it can flood and drown. Natural energies can either kill or they can sustain. If you take an atom and split it, the power unleashed could be used to blow us all up or could be directed productively and creatively.
Similarly, aggressive energy is a natural energy. Mars is the most obvious astrological significator for aggression and everyone is born with Mars in his or her chart. We are all born with Mars somewhere—we are all born with innate aggressive urges. In today's seminar, I want to explore both the positive and negative faces of aggression as they relate to the astrological chart.
Aggression is an inborn component of our biological make-up, just as the sexual drive is an essential part of our human instinctive equipment. Sex serves a very obvious positive purpose to humanity: we wouldn't be here without it. So why shouldn't aggression, which is also a natural part of our biological inheritance, likewise serve an important evolutionary purpose? It's interesting that Mars has traditionally been associated with both sex and aggression. Astrologers have always known this, but it was only more recently that science showed the close connection between sex and aggression. Do you remember the famous Kinsey Report that was published in the 1950's? Kinsey found a close physiological correlation between a person in an angry state and a person in a state of sexual arousal. In fact, his study found fourteen physiological changes which were common to both sexual arousal and aggression, and only four which were different. It's fairly common that a fight with your lover can end up in an orgasm; or you can be in the middle of sex and it turns into a fight. American psychologist Clara Thomp son sums up aggression nicely:
Aggression is not necessarily destructive at all. It springs from an innate tendency to grow and master life which seems to be characteristic of all living matter. Only when this life force is obstructed in its development do ingredients of anger, rage or hate become connected with it.
While we should try to reduce negative expressions of aggressive energy, it seems ridiculous and even unwise to try to rid ourselves entirely of a part of our nature which is innate and wants to master life. It's true, we see the uglier forms of aggression all around us in everyday life—people are murdered, tortured and subjected to various forms of psychological cruelty. Mars can really get out of hand. Or aggression is turned inward, attacking the self and the body, and becomes a contributing factor in heart disease, skin problems, stomach ailments, or sexual dysfunctions. While we detest these negative forms of aggression, we must bear in mind and honour the other face of aggression—our healthy, natural root aggression—which is laudable, and which we must not disown if we are to survive.
So what does Mars give us? It endows us with the will to unfold more of what we are or can become. When this desire to grow, progress, and move forward is blocked (either by other parts of our own nature or by other people) it turns angry. We want to move forward and we are frustrated if this is prevented. Anger can be understood as blocked movement.
Healthy aggression is also the positive impulse to comprehend and master the external world; it is a force deep down inside which provides the impetus to learn new skills. Because of aggression in you, you can choose to attend a class, read a book, or say "no" or "yes." If you didn't have Mars in your chart you wouldn't be able to learn a new language, master a complicated recipe or solve a tricky mathematical problem. Even our language indicates this: we attack a problem, we master a difficulty, we grapple with an issue, and we are awarded a master's degree. You could have a very inspired artistic imagination, but if you didn't have Mars in your chart you wouldn't be able to do anything about ordering the canvases or get around to picking up the paintbrushes. Mars gets you going—or as Dane Rudhyar once expressed it, "Mars is the force which propels the seed to germinate." Wherever Mars is operating in your chart is where this form of healthy aggression can exert itself.
Early in my study of astrology, I remember watching the transits of Mars in my chart. Sometimes Mars would bring up wild behaviour, frustration, anger, bad "spots," or headaches. But at other times, Mars transits would correspond with those days when I felt the most alive and vital, a kind of "juicy" ready-for-anything feeling. I remember sitting on the subway or MTA in Boston the day Mars was passing over my MC, and having a kind of peak experience—everything was amplified, vivid, toned up and vibrant. I felt like Mars incarnate. My body was rippling with pleasurable rushes of sensation—what in bioenergetics is called "streaming." I was pulsing; I was excited about being and doing, ready for what could happen next.
So you see, the whole principle of Mars is highly paradoxical. Mars impels us to act in ways which affirm our identity and purpose and yet may give rise to ugly forms of behaviour. This contrasting expression of aggressive energy is shown quite clearly in mythology when you analyse how differently the god Mars was portrayed in Greek and Roman myth.
The Greek Ares
In Greek mythology, the god of war is called Ares. The Greeks thought very little of the mighty Ares. In fact, they hated him. Looked upon with a mixture of pity, terror and scorn, his role was very limited—he was simply the god of war and not much else. Equated with blind courage, bloody rage and carnage, he was considered a bully and very brutish. And yet for all his blood thirsty violence, he was generally depicted as losing most of the battles he fought, and shown limping away defeated and humiliated from the battlefield. Poor Ares, he is constantly tripping over his own feet and getting in his own way. Had the Greeks spoken Yiddish, they would have called Ares a klutz. I'm not exactly sure how to define klutz: it means a kind of clumsy twit who knocks things over a lot, or spills soup down his shirt ... a little like John Cleese's portrayal of Basil Fawlty in the popular BBC television series Fawlty Towers.
Zeus, who is the most honoured of the gods in Greece, hated Ares. In the Iliad, Homer quotes Zeus berating the god of war:
Of all the gods who live on Olympus, thou art the most odious to me; for thou enjoyest nothing but strife, war and battles. Thou has the obstinate and unmanageable disposition of thy Mother Hera, whom I can scarcely control with my words.
Zeus is the equivalent to the Roman Jupiter, and this quote can be understood as the Jupiterian principle speaking to the Mars princi ple. Normally we think of Jupiter and Mars as being quite compatible: Jupiter rules Sagittarius and Mars rules Aries, and both belong to the fire trinity. And yet, on one level Jupiter scorns and looks down upon the rash, impulsive nature of Ares/Mars. Jupiter stands for the principle of logos or mind—he is a bringer-of-light. Jupiter sees a bigger picture and then ads according to this expanded vision. Self-centred Mars, however, rushes in and acts on impulse, rather than from a place of broadened awareness. Jupiter has a vision or ideal about how one should be or act and then tries to behave according to that vision. Ares acts spontaneously and without much forethought.
In Greek mythology, Ares had two squires who accompanied him in battle or wherever he went. One was Deimos (Fear) and the other Phobos (Fright). The moons of Mars have been given these names. Ares was also accompanied by Eris (Strife) and Enyo (the destroyer of cities), and a group called the Keres, who enjoyed drinking the black blood of the dying—a very jolly band of cohorts indeed! These are the Greek associations with the Mars principle.
It is worth comparing Ares with his sister Athene. They are caught up in a kind of archetypal sibling rivalry. Athene is more a Libran principle and represents cool intelligence. She is probably Zeus' favourite child. According to legend, she is born fully grown from the head of Zeus. Hera (Zeus' wife) is so enraged by the fact that Zeus had borne a child without her, that she contrives to give birth to Ares without recourse to Zeus. So Ares is born of revenge and retaliation. He is the product of the rage stored up in Hera's body. Ares or Mars can be equated to the rage we store up in our bodies and which bursts forth uncontrollably from time to time. I've noticed this dynamic in the charts of people born with Mars in hard aspect to the Moon. The body instinctively reacts to a threat and mobilizes itself into an angry and defencive response. An angry reaction just blurts itself out, and springs out of them before they can even catch it. In another story, Ares is captured by two mortals and trapped in a bottle for thirteen months. In a similar fashion, we sometimes bottle up our Martian energy. You can imagine how Ares felt when he was finally released.
Ares and Athene fought a lot. In one tale the passionate and violent Ares blazes forth into battle with her. Meanwhile, Athene is reclining leisurely reading a book or doing her nails. While Ares hurtles towards her, she simply glances at him, coolly picks up a large stone and hits him with it. Then she finishes her manicure. The dumbfounded Ares crashes to the ground, filling an expanse of seven acres and screaming like ten thousand men-flat on his back, arms and legs flailing in the air, and bawling like a big baby. All in all, the kind of anger the Greeks associated with Ares is very "uncool" and you hardly ever score your point with such unruly rage. It is the kind of anger you feel when you are just so mad you could almost vibrate totally out of existence—you shout and scream and explode, making a fool of yourself and invariably you lose.
Besides these misadventures, Ares didn't fare very well in love. You're probably familiar with the story of Ares and Aphrodite. Aphrodite, the most beautiful of all the goddesses, was mar ried to Hephaestos, the most ugly of the gods. Whenever he had the chance, Ares would proposition and try to seduce Aphrodite. The sun god, Helios, who sees all, warned Hephaestos that Ares and Aphrodite were thinking of getting up to something. So Hephaestos devised a plan to trap them. First he made this net of fine, nearly invisible metal thread which he hung over Aphrodite's couch. Then he pretended he was leaving town on a business trip. No sooner was Hephaestos supposedly out of the door, when Ares came over to take advantage of the opportunity. Ares joins Aphrodite on her couch and they are just beginning to get down to the "Big It" when Hephaestos lowers the net and the two of them are literally caught in the act. Meanwhile, Hephaestos has invited all the other gods to come and watch. They all have a good laugh at Ares' expense. Once again, the mighty god of war ends up looking very silly. The Greek Ares is really easily outwitted. He just isn't very subtle. It is so easy to see what he is up to, that anyone with a bit of subtlety can figure out a way to get around him.
The Greek root of the name Ares stems from a word which means "to be carried away" or "to destroy." And this is what Ares is about—he gets camed away and is very destructive. Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis, once defined aggression in a similar way to this side of Ares' nature:
Aggression is a blind impulse to self-affirmation, to the expression of all elements of one's being, without any discrimination of choice, without any concern for consequences, without any consideration for others.
Because Mars can express itself in Ares fashion, let's look more closely at this definition. Assagioli says aggression is a "blind impulse to self-affirmation." So even though it is blind, there is an element of affirming yourself through aggression. He says that it is "the expression of all elements of one's being": in other words, it is non-differentiated and uncontrolled, involving the body, feelings and mind simultaneously. It is "without discrimination or choice"—there is no sense of the right time or place or degree. It can happen at a restaurant or while seeing a play, whether or not the time or setting is appropriate. It happens "without any concern for consequences": there is no sense of proportion and no concern for the damage it might do to others when this anger comes up. It is "without any consideration for others": it can be unleashed on friends or loved ones or people who at other times have been very kind, loyal and helpful.
The Roman Mars
Now let's compare the nature of the Greek Ares with the Roman equivalent, Mars. Interestingly, the cult of Mars in Roman mythology was more important than that of Jupiter. In other words, Mars commanded a higher position in the Roman pantheon than that of Jupiter, quite the reverse of the Ares/Zeus relationship in Greek mythology. Mars was also believed to be the father of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. In this sense, he represents one of the principles upon which the whole Republic was founded.
The Romans thought there was something more positive about Mars than just the expression of blind, explosive, indiscriminate rage. In their myth, Mars' role as the god of war was secondary to other functions. Not just the god of war, he was also worshipped as a god of agriculture and often pictured quite contented with his cows in the field. He was also the god of spring and the god of vegetation. To the Romans, Mars was associated with fertility, with growth and growing, and with becoming.
The origin of the name Mars is disputed, but it may come from the root mas, which means "the generative force," or from the root mar, which means "to shine." He was also called Mars Gradivus from the word grandiri, which means "to become big" and "to grow." Compare these connotations with the Greek root for Ares, which simply meant "to be carried away" or "to destroy."
Fear and Fright were the Greek squires to Ares, but the Roman Mars had two very different escorts: Honos (honour) and Virtus (virtue). The Roman Mars was accompanied by honour and virtue. It is honourable to stand your ground, to value who you are, to grow into that which you are meant to become. It is virtuous to realise your destiny. The Romans believed it was their destiny and true purpose to rule the world and bring their law to bear on it. For them, asserting themselves was honourable and virtuous: it meant being true to what they believed was their destiny. Negatively, of course, the Roman Mars could be used to validate chopping an enemy's head off if he stood in the way of their purpose. But more positively, for the Romans, the Mars principle meant standing up for who you are and having the courage to unfold and honour your true nature.
So you see the different understanding of the nature of Mars, the paradoxical quality of this planet. It can mean destructive, blind aggression (the Greek Ares) or it can be a way of affirming your individual existence and following the truth of your own innate being (the Roman Mars). Sometimes the two factors can be mixed. For example, the adolescent boy who is rebelling against his parents may do it in a very obnoxious and distasteful way. He is manifesting a positive drive towards independence and autonomy and yet he may do it in a ruthless or destructive fashion.
Mars in the Houses: Greek or Roman?
Let's apply this concept more directly to the astrological chart. Look at the house position of your Mars. Is it operating like the Greek Ares or the Roman Mars in that domain of life—or alternating between the two, or some sort of combination of them both? Take the 2nd house: if Mars is placed in the 2nd and he were acting like the Greek Ares, what would he be like there?
Audience: Armed robbery with violence ... trampling others to get what he wants.
Excerpted from Dynamics of the Unconscious by LIZ GREENE, Howard Sasportas. Copyright © 1988 Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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