From Chapter 9, “Wandering with the Archetypes”
Within the microcosm of the human body, seven stars illuminate the inner pathway to our truest self. They are the seven inner planets of traditional astrology, the planets visible to the naked eye that have influenced human thought and imagination from time immemorial. The planets are called stars, or the Wanderers because of their movement against the backdrop of the fixed stars, which are the “Non-wandering Ones” (CH 16.17).1 The following discourses will provide a comprehensive exploration of these seven stars, to include the symbolism that can be derived from simple observation, as it was in the beginning, and from mythological significance rooted in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, and as seen through various cultural lenses. We will encounter on this journey the qualities of the planets that are invoked or called upon in ritual or ceremonial magic and prayer, as well as the alchemical significance of the planets, both internally and externally, and finally their placement and roles in the esoteric anatomy of the human being.
Through a deep investigation of all of the various angles of a planet’s qualities, we can glimpse the overall archetype that it embodies. Because Hermetic Cosmogony and Alchemy archetypes, like people, are complex networks of associated ideas, behaviors, characteristics, values, and processes, they must be approached like a person that you wish to know on an intimate level. They cannot be summed up in a word or understood on a surface level. To truly encounter them requires a devotional longing to merge with them in the imagination, and thus to know their experience from within, to empathize with it, to take it on as a role in order to grasp the subtle causes and reasoning behind the archetypal expression.
We must allow the archetypes to penetrate to the soul and truly change us from the inside out, engendering within us a deep connection with the eternal. Through this experiential embracing of each archetype, we come to understand the Self as a whole, and how the players relate to one another in the play of an individual life, which is a holographic version, a unique angle, of the collective drama. Looking deeply enough into the Self, one attains gnosis of the All. Yet the point is not to remain identified with the archetypes, but to integrate them within the psyche and to make the unconscious conscious.
From Chapter 12, “Mars: The Flames of Transformation”
Every alchemist has a need for fire in the execution of their art. The element of transformation, activation, and change, fire lives inside of us to heat the athanor of our being, facilitating growth, catalyzing movement, and purifying the body, mind, and soul. It illuminates the darkness and provides warmth, it brings us together and gives us life. Fire is the element of Mars, and alchemically it facilitates separations that help us to purify and refine our substance into a sublime form, providing the necessary heat for the digestion of the philosopher’s stone. Yet fire must be well respected and contained, lest it be the source of conflagration and great destruction. When applied with intention and care, fire is an indispensable ally. Likewise, the sword of Mars cuts through illusions and Gordian knots, but it may also be used in rage and violence, severing bonds, shedding blood, and causing great suffering.
Mars receives its name from the Roman god of war and battle, and also of fertility, vegetation, agriculture, and protector of cattle. He is usually depicted with helmet, shield, and sword, spear or dagger, and frequently accompanied by his lover, Venus. The virtue of Mars is courage, transmitted to us through the ætherial spirit (Stob. 24).1 On the other hand, the vice of Mars is anger, or wrath. In “The Virgin of the World” (1.17), when the gods of Heaven spoke of what they would each provide to humanity, “Ares declared he had become already sire of Struggle, Wrath, and Strife.”2
We see the energy of Mars in the fury, freedom, and power of a wild stallion rearing on its hind legs stamping cactus in the desert; a raging boar in a field of thistle; the devouring wolf; and the prowling jaguar. His ferocious intensity can be both transformational and destructive, depending on how it is applied. Of the winged ones Mars is the vulture, a scavenger picking at the bones of the slain; the cock that harkens the rising Sun; the fiery dragon, like the one that guards his sacred spring; the magpie; woodpecker (Picus); and finally the owl by association with Athena and as a harbinger of death. In the plant world he is the stinging of nettles, the fire of tobacco, the prick of the cactus, thistle, and hawthorn, the yellow of the buttercup, and the might of the oak. He is also associated with the harvest of the crops, a reflection of his separating function.
Self-assured and driven, Mars is the part of us that fights--for good intent or for the desire for power, to protect ourselves and others or to overcome by fiery strength the enemies and obstacles in our path. His irascible nature seeks to pull things apart, causing estrangement and alienation, exile, and wars. He is the patron god of military forces, police, and athletes, thieves, warriors, violent villains, and heroes alike. The month of March, named after him, is the “season when kings go out to war,”3 and Macrobius writes that the soul develops a bold spirit (thymikon) in the sphere of Mars.4 Impetuous and reactive, Mars is quick, acting with thoughtless courage, bravado, propulsion, and force. He is the essence of maleness, testosterone, strength, and muscles.
Mars rules over Tuesdays, from the Old English tiwesdæg, from Tiwes, related to Tiu, the ancient English/Germanic war god, also corresponding to the Norse Tyr. In Latin Tuesday is called dies Martis, “day of Mars,” or in Greek, hemera Areos, “day of Ares.”5 Traditionally considered a masculine energy, Mars relates to qualities like physical strength, domination, aggression, bravado, courage--essentially, the warrior spirit. In a positive sense the warrior is a protector and defender against injustice. The fight for personal freedom and sovereignty, the fight for the rights of the disadvantaged, and the fight against corruption and injustice are all led by the energy of Mars. The metal corresponding to Mars is iron, and as a warrior Mars is present with himself, a fiery authority with an iron will that is ready to dismantle the old paradigm and set to work transforming the world.
Mars rules the sign of Aries, the traditional time of year for beginning the alchemical opus. Pressing forth from the damp earth in an explosion of new life and awakening libido, Aries is the spark of regenerative energy of the springtime, the enthusiasm of rebirth and the striving toward the light after the long dark winter. His energy is cardinal fire, pure impulse ready for action, creativity, and renewal by purification. This is the fire of calcination that breaks us down so that we can come to terms with the things we need to let go of, and see ourselves at our most basic level, freed from our identifications. The spring crocus (Crocus sativas) rises up from the earth, from which we get the spice saffron, associated with Mars on account of its deep red color and season. Crocus also refers to the oxide of a metal, and in this case the oxide of iron (colcothar), as the salts of iron are calcined to a red or deep yellow color. It was a crocus that Zeus, in the form of a bull, breathed from his mouth to attract Europa when he abducted her to Crete.6 Her brother Cadmus, in his quest to save Europa, killed Ares’s (Mars’s) sacred dragon--a transgression that earned him an eternal year (eight earthly years) of service to Ares.7 In Ovid’s Metamorphoses (4:563-603) Cadmus is given Harmonia, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, as a wife, but after a life of misfortune both of them are transformed into snakes.8
Just as the metals exist in the caverns of the earth, to be extracted by the alchemist and improved upon by the Great Work, dragons also dwell in the depths, guarding the gold of consciousness, or as Michael Maier writes in Atalanta Fugiens, “the Mansion of Dragons is in Caverns of the Earth.”9 The chaos of the prima materia, sea of disorganized potentiality, is sometimes represented by the basilisk, a vitriolic and mythical beast with the body of a lion or dragon and the head of a cock--all animals associated with Mars. Basilisk derives from the Greek basiliskos, meaning “little king.”10 Crowley writes that the basilisk is symbolic of Geburah, the sephirah of Mars, “on account of its power of slaying with the flame of its glance.”11
Mars also rules the fixed water sign Scorpio, evoking his dark side. In this autumnal expression, the water element takes on a destructive, corrosive quality, heating up through the process of decomposition and putrefaction. Hence the association between Scorpio and the thirteenth arcanum, Death, and the destructive powers of Typhon. Yet the primeval waters of regression hold within them the fish of renewal and rebirth, symbolized by the Hebrew letter Nun (“fish”) assigned to the Death card. In the face of the terrifying powers of Typhon, who arose from the union of Gaia and Tartarus to take the place of Zeus, the Olympian gods fled to Egypt, where Ares took the form of a fish.12 As ruler of Scorpio and Aries, Mars is a planet of death and putrefaction, marking the onset of winter, and the rebirth and renewal of life of the spring with Aries.
An aspect of the nigredo, the black phase or opening of the alchemical work, putrefactio is the necessary death from which new life may be regenerated. The philosophers of alchemy repeatedly tell us that nothing grows and increases unless there be putrefaction.13 An example is given in the Rosarium of an egg, “which first putrefies and then a chicken is engendered, which after it is wholly corrupted, it becomes a living creature.”14 Thus we are advised to study putrefaction, which is the means of generation. Like we encountered in our journey through the sphere of Saturn, there are times when it is necessary to sit with our own darkness. Though it may be rotten and challenging to endure, transformation is taking place through internal heat. Letting the putrefaction run its course, we will eventually see a film of iridescent colors spreading over the surface of our awareness as the dark matter gives way to new life.