Before Mars can arrive at his home in Aries, where he can reclaim his natural authority, he must pass through the obfuscating, unconscious waters of Pisces, led by sheer determination and blind faith. And before he can leave Pisces, he must pass by mighty Neptune, god of the oceanic realm. It’s a brief, strange, and potentially stormy confrontation, that is taking place over the next few days. Astrologically speaking, Mars separates and Neptune merges; Mars is conscious ego development and Neptune is self-sacrificing ego loss; Mars is our mortality and Neptune is our eternity. It’s a meeting of the spear and the trident, a baptism by both water and fire. And the quarter moon overhead watches the gladiators, with her thumb poised to pass sentence. In Pisces, she may be inclined toward mercy, but you never can tell with the moon.
The Celts worshipped a deity called Nodens, “The Catcher,” Lord of the Waters. He was a parallel figure to both the Roman Mars and Neptune, and his association with dogs, healing and the hunt implies something distinctly lunar as well. In his warrior aspect, he was seen as a protector-god, and invoked for the health and wealth of the people. In Irish mythology, he became Nuada, the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, founder and lawmaker, who fights nobly for his race against their enemies, but loses his hand in battle. A wounded king, it was said, would bring barrenness and poverty to his land. And so the smiths make him a silver hand, but it only postpones the inevitable: his long-lived glory has come to an end and the younger, abler hero Lugh will replace him as warrior-king and savior. This is a theme that we will see again and again this year and in the upcoming years: the long, arduous process of the old giving way to the new.
Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is, I think, a good illustration of this transit. It is essentially a story about grappling, both literally and figuratively. Santiago is an aged fisherman who hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days and needs to feel virile, to prove himself, one more time. He meets his match in an 18-foot marlin. For two days they struggle against each other, the fish pulling Santiago further and further out, and the old man determined to hold the line even as it destroys his hands, but never his will. Eventually he summons the strength to harpoon it and kill it, but in the time it takes him to return to shore, the trail of blood has attracted sharks, and he arrives back trailing a ragged carcass. This is, in a lot of ways, a very Mars-Neptune story, with themes of pain, pride, sacrifice, glory and the worthy adversary. The language is lofty, even pious: the fisherman perceives the battle as a quasi-religious experience and the killing as an act of love and respect. He and the fish are both merged and separate, both determined to live and both sacrificing to the other. It sounds beautiful and spiritual—until you remember that his pride, his wounded masculinity, ends up needlessly destroying them both. At the end, he is still an old man who dreams of lions playing on the beach (i.e. his youth), only he’s weaker and nearer to death than he was before. And the marlin is nothing but a skeleton. What was the point of it all?
And therein lies the duality and subjectivity of this transit through the Piscean mist: Will Mars act as ennobler or as destroyer? One man’s hero is another man’s killer, after all. Does Neptune infuse us with compassion or delusion? Is the moon life-giving or life-taking? And all of these forming a square to the Gemini Sun: how do these archetypes inform, support or challenge our individual identities? We’ve all been floating on the waters, or swimming in the depths, of a very confusing reality for the past 85 days, since the pandemic took hold. Each week that has passed has brought more questioning, more assessing, of the status quo; wave after wave crashing on the shore. Neptune is our dream of the world and our desire for redemption, and Mars is waking us up to it: what illusions have we been living under? What tensions are we grappling with? As statues of conquerors and slave-traders are pulled off their pedestals or toppled into the sea, they go to meet their symbolic death amongst the wreckage, and the lost treasure, of history. What is buried in the detritus of your subconscious that is being pricked awake by the stab of the harpoon? Wherever Pisces is in your chart is where these stories are contained, and where we must be careful not to float away, but still allow ourselves to dream. Mars traveling through may bring any number of things: righteous anger, unsettling dreams, overwhelming confusion, irrational frustration, a wellspring of tears, a passionate but fleeting sexual encounter, spiritual affirmation, bitter disillusionment, or a flash of creative inspiration. The important thing is to allow yourself to rest and recharge afterward—this one has the potential to be especially draining.