Dear Friend and Reader:
MOST OF what astrologers do is help people get over their hang-ups and inhibitions. Astrologers work to peer into the psyche and better understand the inner workings of a person. We can allegedly glimpse the future or at least see how it’s developing. Some astrologers help their clients solve problems, but for our average going rate of $100 to $300 per session, we are essentially motivational coaches.
We are high-tech cheerleaders with a fetish for astronomy, mythology and symbols. If we represent the gods, it’s for the purpose of helping humanity do its thing.
Various shades of “you can do it” and “don’t let your parents (or their dumb ideas about life) stop you” are stock-in-trade concepts for stargazers. Our working toolboxes are full-up with them, our desks and studios stacked with them: bits of wisdom earned, learned and collected over the years from experience, self-help books, EST trainings, summer camp counselors, our judo teachers and our therapists. These are then integrated with our understanding of charts and planetary movement, and with any luck the right message is delivered to the right client the right way at the right time. Fundamentally, astrologers are here to say “yes” to life and help their clients be themselves.
Simone de Beauvoir in her feminist masterpiece The Second Sex proposed that women in particular are so competently taught to be phonies (primarily by their mothers) that most have not the vaguest concept how to be themselves; nor what that real self might look or feel like. This creates a life based on one enormous insecurity — that of being found out. Walking around with the constant sense that men, in particular, will see them as hollow can be extremely debilitating to live with.
Guys are given more freedom to be themselves, but little training or instruction in the introspective vision that would help them see themselves so they could be free of themselves. This creates a life based on one particular insecurity: that women have a better interior view of everyone than they do; that women have greater psychological mastery (which is generally true) and are therefore possess greater sexual advantage (not generally true). Most men are so mysterious to themselves that they are not even aware of the experience. At least most women know there are things about themselves that they cannot fathom.
It is impossible to say yes to yourself if you don’t have an idea what you want, or if you know but are in constant conflict about it.
That which stops most people from saying yes to themselves can be summarized as hang-ups. We don’t use this word much any more, but we need to. We need to because we are deeply enmeshed in the concept and experience of hang-ups, but we don’t normally state this out loud. Snags and difficulties are supposedly good for the economy because they perpetuate struggle and keep us buying things we don’t need. But they are bad for our personal contentment.
Most of them are emotional; they are lurking insecurities. Think of these as wordless inner barbs, gaps, self-misunderstandings, misgivings, judgments, lurking fears or inclinations toward conflict.
Many are mental — such as dysfunctional ideas and beliefs, ungrounded expectations that keep messing us up, misinformation and self-defeating psychological tendencies. Some are rooted on both levels of the psyche and require both mental and emotional awareness, and process, to be liberated of. When you work as an astrologer, or a therapist, or a guitar teacher for that matter, you discover that most people are pretty insecure, and you also discover that they really don’t need to be that way but often cannot seem to get over themselves.
Overnight Wednesday, Nov. 14 to Thursday, Nov. 15, Mars turned to retrograde motion in the sign Cancer, offering us the essence of an astrological event that speaks about working through our emotional snags, then going deeper and deeper underneath them, into Gemini until we arrive on the mental level. Beneath the deep and at times aggressive emotional world of Cancer, there is a plane of reality characterized by psychological dualism, dual motives, divided interests between people, and a divided perception of self where one part of the self can supposedly be against the “self interest” of another part of the self. These are aspects of the sign Gemini.
Cancer, where this Mars retrograde began, is a sensitive zone of our charts where we strive for belonging, safety and nourishment (or to provide these things for others). As part of that process, Cancer strives for something rarely mentioned in astrology texts — individuality. It must do so within the context of striving to be secure in our family context. This is a razor’s edge because so often it is the influences of our family that specifically make it feel dangerous to be authentically ourselves. In other words, Cancer may want us to strive for individuality, but if we fear that we will be rejected and cut off from sustenance, that presents a serious paradox. Unexamined paradoxes are excellent sources of hang-ups.
Cancer is closely associated with our early family environment, our parents and grandparents but principally mother (as the Moon’s home sign). It’s generally viewed by astrologers as a place where we can look for one aspect of the story of the past. Consequently, it’s a great place to look for those emotional hang-ups rooted in the past that stop us from being authentically ourselves.
Mars is about desire, including and especially sexual desire. It is about getting what we want and what we need in any form that may come, as a conscious act of volition. Mars is that openly expressed “gotta have it” or “gotta do her” impulse that, whether we like it or not, and whether we claim to like it or not, helps make our world go round. Even passive people who gripe about how assertive others are, or complain about how often they are hit on, depend on the assertiveness of others so that things actually happen to them and around them.
When a planet turns to retrograde motion, and they all do, the experience of that planet changes several ways. In general, awareness of that planet’s action is enhanced. To give an easy example, Mercury retrograde, by highlighting how much things can go wrong in the sphere of communication and technology, raises awareness of these very things, and hopefully we put that awareness to work in the future.
The action of a retrograde planet is either focused on one area of our lives, because the planet stays in one concentrated area for a while. Next, it is turned inward, and can be used as an introspective window. We typically have any shred of introspection bred out of our DNA by obsessive conditioning to worship the outer world. Too often, introspection comes as a result of pain and not often enough a conscious choice to see and feel oneself.
A retrograde planet can become a direct reference to the past. Retrograde planets can put us in contact with people, feelings, ideas, places and physical objects from the past, and help us recall what we have forgotten about in the past that would help us. I have noticed that a great many people want to run from the past without dealing with it, even a little. Excellent sources of hang-ups are unexamined feelings with origins in the past, events we are too scared or repulsed to remember, or influences we feel make us safe but really serve to make the world seem dangerous.
When you put Mars and Cancer together, you get the perfect image of looking within and seeing what is hanging up our progress in life. We get the chance to do deep work around our insecurities, and to consciously and by an act of free will work to resolve them.
A Few Comments About Sexual Hang-ups
Many of our hang-ups are either sexual in nature or have sexual origins. We don’t like to admit this — most people want to feel normal at all costs. But we are in general extremely insecure about admitting what we want sexually, and this relates to being seen as different (one of the lesser or a form of queer), and getting kicked out of the brood. many women are particularly vicious toward other women who are positive about sex and choose to exercise their freedom. Men, at least, support one another in getting their sexual needs met.
The more I learn about sexuality, the more I discover that there is no such thing as normal. Everyone has desires or needs they consider unusual or inappropriate, and these often become the subject of lies, secrets and silence; and as a result, develop into hang-ups.
Many sexual hang-ups are projected onto the body and take other forms. We may blame discomfort with our appearance for the refusal to seek the sex we need.
Many sexual hang-ups are directly associated with the theme of Cancer. In particular, we feel that it’s noble to use sex as a bargaining chip to get our emotional and nourishment needs met — i.e., it becomes the main glue of a relationship and of a household, and sex is only “appropriate” when it’s applied as such an adherent. That is good as far as it goes. Unfortunately, most people are so disconnected from their true sexual needs, they have no dependable way to transact them with others.
Mars retrograde in Cancer can take us right to the core of that one colossal hang-up where we attempt to use sexual desire, of ourselves or of others, as a kind of currency that can be traded for food, shelter or emotional security.
Here are a few of the most common hang-ups, listed in general categories. If you recognize any of them in yourself, you are not alone. You don’t need your hang-ups, but if you insist that you do, then you’d better keep them. If you decide you don’t want them, they don’t have to be yours. But I do recommend finding a good therapist to help you through the process. Friends are not therapists any more than they are podiatrists; they are friends. If you think you’re hung up, I suggest a book called Games People Play by Dr. Eric Berne. I offer the following in the spirit of presenting options for what you have the option to get over.
Hang-ups over the past, parents, family, childhood. Many if not all of them come back to our family of origin. Here we have a distinctly Cancerian theme. Our parents may possess some wisdom, but for the most part, they are full of unresolved anxieties just like the rest of humanity. They pass these onto us; we tend to fear what our parents fear, but with some new twists. Shifting family structures, adoption, household instability and other factors lead to the fear of abandonment. Parental hang-ups take on other forms. An advanced writer in her late 40s said to me recently that she could not write the truth about her life due to fear of her parents seeing it. Forget that her parents would never see it unless she showed it to them; this is a thought that takes a vast multitude of forms. There are women who cannot orgasm because they are afraid what their mother would think. Freud called the restrictive device superego: that nagging, controlling voice of guilt, originally instilled by childhood authorities, that prevents one from living authentically.
Hang-ups over security. This is basically the fear that we cannot survive on the planet. Our parents were typically not so good at the whole money game, and scarcity consciousness is about the only thing that’s abundant in most people’s ideas about wealth. Our childhood environments tend to pass those negative expectations onto us. Parents, uncles, teachers and their cohorts are also famous for telling young people they will starve if they become an [artist / writer / dancer / photographer / name it]. Then there is the other kind of security: “You’re lucky if you find a man that doesn’t hit you.” They all amount to programming that you’re not safe on the planet, in your skin, in your life. This can stop you from doing just about anything you can think of, including getting yourself to a place, a relationship or a phase of life where you are actually more or less safe and secure.
Hang-ups over death. The fear of letting go in any form is really the fear of death, wearing a little puppet on its hand and taking many alternate forms, some of them highly creative. Jealousy is a common one, rarely recognized as such. The fear of change or loss of control in any form is really the fear of death. We cannot typically have the conversation to decode these things because the real topic, death, is taboo. If we don’t consider death consciously, the idea of change is often experienced frighteningly as if it were actually physical death we were confronting. Change implies something happening that’s out of our control; yet people also treat the kind of changes they might make voluntarily the same way; that change is the end of the world, instead of the end of the familiar life you’re living. Thus many people avoid change at all costs. What many people forget is that without change, progress is impossible. But the unacknowledged fear of death at the core of this issue can make the prospect of any change terrifying. Many death fears are related to freedom. You may fear that you will die the moment you are content, or the moment you set yourself free.
Hang-ups over sex. These are closely related to the fear of letting go. There is a saying that “sex changes everything.” Few areas of life are so specially demarcated as appropriate for anxiety as sex and its first cousin, love. Many of these hang-ups involve guilt associated with pleasure. If we did not feel guilty every time we feel good, we might want to feel good more often. Unfortunately, the guilt and the pleasure become associated such that we start to take pleasure from guilt — and that is definitely a hang-up. Then there is anxiety we project onto our genitals, particularly about them being dirty or diseased. Fear of sexually transmitted diseases is a tangible form of genital anxiety. Then there is the fear of one’s erotic feelings or sexual affairs being found out. As well, many experience sexual embarrassment with regards to their parents — “what if my father/husband/priest/knew I was doing this?” Many people will cling to any excuse to cling to their sexual hang-ups. While you can indeed face judgment or punishment for expressing your sexual identity honestly, that is usually based on your choice of friends and community. Start by being honest.
Hang-ups about children. My favorite in this category is hiding breasts from children to protect them from what, I do not know. But ask nearly anyone why breasts should be covered up and they will say “to make sure kids don’t see them,” which is ridiculous because tits are for kids. Adults say and do thousands of things that are designed to protect the supposed innocence of children. This is then projected onto society in the form of restrictive laws that do nothing to actually help young people, which often mess them up, and which make life difficult for everyone else in the process. It also happens privately. One good example would be the hundreds of times I’ve heard people say, “I will end this unhappy marriage when my daughter goes to high school (or graduates from high school or college or whatever).” Supposedly designed to “help” the child, this places the burden of the miserable relationship onto the child, having a grossly negative effect and in all likelihood weighing him or her down for life.
Hang-ups associated with the fear of being loved. This is a big one; so big, it may be the atmosphere we breathe most days. Many people are perfectly aware they have it, but it serves a purpose — to protect them from love. So many people run away the minute they discover someone loves them that it’s almost a predictable response: when a relationship is going well, we expect it to end within 10 seconds. Thus, many will either leave the person first, sabotage the relationship, or not fully participate in the relationship. Mixed in with the fear of participating can be the fear of having to live up to someone’s expectations, fear of losing one’s freedom, and on the deepest level, the fear of surrender. There is a connection to abandonment here; if you’re actually loved, you will also fear that love being taken away, or being made conditional. Often a difficult relationship will be used as a hedge against a friendly one, i.e., I like you but I have a boyfriend (who I am not really happy with, but I plan to stay there anyway, sorry).
Hang-ups associated with getting caught. The fear of being transparent, that is, being seen through, is one of the most poignant anxieties that exists. This is the same as the fear of people knowing how we feel; thus, we must hide how we feel from ourselves, so that nobody else finds out. Most people walk through life with an endless list of things they don’t want others to know, even though they have very little to hide. The most common fear along these lines is the fear of being discovered being somebody else. Inside this endless loop, there is no escape. In order to be free, therefore, we need to get caught, reveal ourselves, and be authentic even when we think we’re not actually doing it or doing it well. We need to live without a script, and that means facing our insecurities directly in the moment they arise, without attempting to cover them up with an act. You know you’re in the right place when you get a positive reaction from people when you say something like, “I don’t have a clue.”
A Decade of Mars Retrograde
MARS IS RETROGRADE approximately every two years, for about 70 to 80 days. A retrograde occurs when the Earth, which moves faster than Mars, passes between Mars and the Sun. This creates the effect of Mars seemingly moving backwards, much like if you’re on a faster train passing a slower train. Both trains are going ahead, but the slower one seems to be going backwards from the perspective of the faster one. The effect is supposed to be an illusion, but it’s one that can wiggle your stomach and get you to question reality for a second — just like a Mars retrograde.
Here is an animation that shows the visual effect, as seen from Earth. Note, Mars will be visible in the sky through the autumn and most of the winter as a result of the retrograde.
This time around it’s retrograde for 76 days, from Nov. 15, 2007 through Jan. 30, 2008. The difference in the length of the retrograde depends on where Mars is in its orbit at the time the retrograde occurs — whether close to the Sun (perihelion, when it’s moving quickly) or far away from the Sun (aphelion, when it’s moving slowly). Here is a question: will the retrograde last longer or shorter when Mars is closer to the Sun?
The distribution of signs where Mars retrograde occurs is grossly uneven. The retrogrades tend to concentrate in the range of the zodiac between Cancer and Sagittarius. They occur very rarely in Aquarius or Capricorn, and only occasionally in Aries, Taurus and Pisces. Lately, retrogrades occur in Cancer about every 14 years. The current cycle mimics one that ran from Cancer to late Gemini from Nov. 17, 1881 through Feb. 2, 1882. And it comes very close to one that ran from Cancer to late Gemini from Nov. 20, 1960 to Feb. 5, 1961, covering the time when John F. Kennedy took office and when Chiron last made its way into Aquarius.
The experience of any inner planet retrograde is shaped in part by the planets that are aspected in the process. In the current sequence, Mars is opposite Pluto, as contrasted to 2001 when it made a near-conjunction to Pluto at the end of the retrograde. The current cycle is also distinguished by the fact that the final opposition between Mars and Pluto for this cycle, from Cancer to Capricorn in March 2008, is precisely square the Aries Point, indicating events which affect a great many people on a personal level. This is a time to do your very best not to allow your personal insecurities to feed your sense of conflict or revenge. You could easily start an unnecessary conflict and burn down a big part of your life as a result. The key thing with oppositions is to be aware of their energy so that it does not blindside you.
Here is an overview of Mars retrograde from 2001 through 2012, with additional research contributions from Dave Roell and Kirsti Melto. These dates were calculated using Io Sprite from Time Cycles Research. Kirsti’s research was done in Riyal by Juan Revilla. All dates are in Eastern Time.
May 11, 2001 – Mars stations retrograde in Sagittarius
July 19, 2001 – Mars stations direct in Sagittarius
July 29, 2003 – Mars stations retrograde in Pisces
Sept. 27, 2003 – Mars stations direct in Pisces
Oct. 1, 2005 – Mars stations retrograde in Taurus
Dec. 10, 2005 – Mars stations direct in Taurus
Nov. 15, 2007 – Mars stations retrograde in Cancer
Jan. 30, 2008 – Mars stations direct in Gemini
When Mars makes its first opposition to Pluto across Cancer/Capricorn on March 7, 2008, we will know that something interesting is afoot: the new placement of Pluto will be personalized and expressed within our personal desire nature. That chart marks a kind of grand culmination of the Mars retrograde process, featuring a Pisces New Moon, and a grand conjunction in Aquarius between Chiron, Mercury, Venus and the North Node (Rahu). The Mars-Pluto opposition is exactly on the Aries Point, from a political standpoint unfortunately not the happiest portent in an election year but a real call to action and involvement.
Dec. 20, 2009 – Mars stations retrograde in Leo
March 10, 2010 – Mars stations direct in Leo
Jan. 23, 2012 – Mars stations retrograde in Virgo
April 13, 2012 – Mars stations direct in Virgo
With Mars retrograde in the most sensitive angle of your solar chart, you may not be feeling like conquering the world. But I would caution against trying to conquer yourself, either. What you need to reach for, down in the space where you do the growth work that nobody ever hears about, is integrating your inner female nature with your inner male nature. Clearly, this is not a concept everyone can relate to, but based on your astrology I am pretty sure I can count you among the self-aware. If you’re feeling insecure, consider that the masculine and feminine aspects of your nature are now in a tense relationship, like a couple that never leaves the house. Your inner guy may want to stay at home; your inner chick wants to go out on the town. So take her out, show her the world, and be sure she gets exactly what she needs: that is, exactly, precisely what she needs, with no games about it.
Taurus (April 19-May 20)
On one level, it may seem that a close partner is willing to delve deeper into themselves than you are into yourself. I suggest a different angle of view. They are willing to violate their outer nature, and relate to themselves in a way that goes against what people expect. Anyone who has thought about the topic for three or four minutes knows that the fear of not meeting the expectations of others is one of the monsters that keeps many people hiding in the closet. When you defy what is expected of ‘your nature’, that is, how you were taught to feel as a child, you break the spell of the fear and take a vast step toward setting yourself free. And that is what is happening in your very environment, particularly with one or more of the important men in your life. When one person faces their fears, their sense of injustice and the feeling of standing on quicksand so common to life on Earth, everyone benefits.
Gemini (May 20-June 21)
You are in a perfect position to hesitate about what is important to you, or to commit to it fully. Remember, commitment is not an idea. It is a feeling. Commitments make us more than we make them. For the foreseeable future, you are going through a phase of allowing what you value, what you need and most of all what you hold true, to have its effects on you. You may experience some wrenching fears during the next 12 weeks or so, but if you are paying attention you will notice that every time a fear arises, you can meet it with a new level of self-understanding. Much of what you will be sorting out, however, is what was important to you in the past versus what is important to you today. Most people drag around a wagonload full of what supposedly mattered decades ago, and wonder why they cannot find fulfillment today. This is your quest, if you choose to accept it.
Cancer (June 21-July 22)
Mars stationing retrograde in your birth sign is a personal message, which is that the time has come to rise above your insecurities. But to do that, you need to know what they are, and that requires some unusual honesty. You need to know what you’re afraid of, and to some extent, why. Remembering the past is part of the process, but it needs to be the aspects of the past that you have, so far, overlooked, and that perspective is available. My friend Paloma Todd summed it up beautifully in an email this morning when she said that we have to go beyond our survival needs. Most of what hangs us up in life is some form of a struggle over survival, and most of it is old and getting older. It is time to discover something new. Here is the question: if your most basic survival needs were met, what would you do?
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
You are the beneficiary of a committed partnership. On one level, relationship is the art of putting up with people’s ‘imperfections’. On another level, it’s about being comfortable enough with yourself that you can allow another person close to you and still feel good about existing, even in the face of your doubts. This is the part that does not get the press that it should: relationship is about being solid with yourself. The interesting thing about your solar chart right now is how pronounced is the theme of confronting your fears. The picture is one of going from the general to the specific — you take those monolithic issues like ‘fear of life’ and ‘fear of intimacy’ and feel your way through them until they are more specific. We might add to this list ‘fear of change’, which often silently haunts any experience of love. Give it a voice, so that the haunting ends.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
You’ve been full-throttle into social mode, commitment mode, community-minded mode. Now you are getting a chance to back off, but you may still feel like you’re supposedly the flavor of the month even though you would prefer to be a bucket of sauerkraut and have everyone leave you alone. Anyway, it could be worse, but I’m here to tell you that the changes you’re experiencing are so monumental that no outer distraction, not a meteorite, winning the lottery or getting married, could interfere. You are discovering the confidence you need to feel like you belong on the planet — this planet, our planet, not some other one. Part of having confidence on Earth is living with the fact that despite themselves, most people are full of shit; they are full of shit precisely because they lack the confidence to be anything else. But as you are discovering, it is simply easier to be honest.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
When you possess something special, that which everyone wants, you then have a dilemma. Do you just give it away, or do you sell it? Who do you exchange it with? What do you do with your precious gift? If you are called upon to be generous or to make a sacrifice, how then do you take care of your own needs? I propose that you need an organizing principle for your life besides what you have, and its extraordinary value. To start with that would lead to a commodity-based view of yourself. But you are not a thing for sale or for hire. Hence, your organizing principle needs to be based, at its essence, on who or what you want to serve or create. Then, your resources would naturally be dedicated to that mission or goal. Is the difference clear?
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
We have a serious problem with marriage and monogamy in our society, and that problem begins and ends with most people refusing to tell the truth about their needs and desires. I suggest you break the cycle of deception and let your true self be known to those who matter. Between the beginning and the end, there is a whole world of a person’s relationship to herself that gets next to no press. And there is this little paradox — why is it that many of the people who have the best relationships with themselves have such a difficult time finding partners? I can think of a few reasons. One, they would logically be seeking people who have solid inner lives; who love and trust themselves, and moreover, who know themselves. Those are few and far between. Second, any relationship with another involves risking our perfect little world. Last for today, most of us are still terrified of sex.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
An event is brewing in Sagittarius, and in truth it’s the aspect of the year. Most everyone who has heard of astrology by now knows that Pluto is crossing the Galactic Core. What you may not have heard is that Jupiter is about to make a conjunction to Pluto and the Galactic Core, and it does so in your birth sign. This is the basis of my many statements to the effect of “It’s not what you do, it’s who you are that counts the most.” Your existence is driving your experience, not the other way around. You may, as these weeks develop, find yourself feeling and thinking things you thought of as impossible so recently. You may find yourself defying even your extravagant belief in what is possible. Let it roll for all it’s worth.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
Someone seems to want something from you, and expects you to make a sacrifice. They are taking advantage of an inherent quality you have, which is your value of the life of the community and your dedication to something larger than yourself. What you must do is parse out the extent to which someone is serving their own interests under the guise of serving those of others, and then decide what to do with the information. I don’t advise you to make anyone prove anything; work from the available information. You have the right and indeed the privilege to make the decisions you want and need to make, based on what you perceive as meaningful. You have a right to give what is yours, that is, as long as you really perceive it as such.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
This is one of those phases where I am compelled by my role as an astrologer to remind you to get out of the house as much as possible. Get out into public. As an Aquarian that’s supposedly in your nature, but you guys can be as prone to agoraphobia as anyone else. Anyway, find the door and use the knob. Get yourself into any group situation, particularly where you have some name and face recognition, or where your reputation might precede you at least a little bit. There is action brewing in the public angles of your chart, and if you are in the right place at the right time, it will pay off for you on many levels. That particular place and time start with anywhere you can invoke the principle of the chance encounter; where you’re likely to meet people with whom you share any professional values at all; and where you’re likely to meet someone of greater achievement than yourself.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
Whatever you must do to forget your old sense of limitation, or to trick yourself out of thinking that it matters, do it now. Plan outrageous things, and dare to start doing them; imagine your greatest success and dare to think that it’s possible at this moment rather than far off in the future. As these weeks of your life develop, there are many surprises in store, and one of them is the peculiar way that the ceiling of your life ceases to be something that you can see through but not actually penetrate. In psychological terms, this would be about admitting and respecting your own need for success and achievement. Go beyond why you would deserve this (and by default, your fear that others do not). Go past the fact that you’ve never quite had these opportunities in the past. Go past thinking, and invoke cosmic passion — and let it seize your life, your heart, your soul.