The Journey of Mars: the Drive of Desire

by Adam Gainsburg

We humans serve the… Self – not the other way around, and in this service we may discover our essential humanness, our history and our value beyond the personal limits of our own experience.”   ~ Gregory Max Vogt


The following article is a significantly shortened version of the complete essay, “Transcendence: The Archetype of Masculine Transformation in the Mars Cycle” 


The most direct symbol for the Masculine principle in action is without doubt Mars. Examining the planet’s physical progression through the space of our solar system symbolizes the archetypal development of Masculinity through the vessel of human consciousness, both individually and collectively. As an archetype, Mars represents the pre-conscious will to live, how we enact our Desire, and how we individualize ourselves. It points to a fundamental understanding into the nature of our instinctual selves. Mars is also our sexual drives, our drive towards experiencing power, and our proclivity for impatience, anger or violence. Inconsistency, aggressiveness, vitality, enthusiasm, intense focus on the goal, and outward-movingness characterize this archetypal energy.

The celestial path of Mars in relation to the Sun, the other main astrological symbol for the yang element in consciousness, precisely mirrors the universal qualities of Masculinity1. Mars tracks an inconsistent and at times extremely variable path through the solar system (see Figure 1, following page). “Mars’ succession of phenomena and rhythms of movement are most difficult to comprehend. Its motions, whether considered spatially or temporally, show irregularities and variations to a degree not found for any other planet.”2 To wit:

»  From the beginning of the Mars Journey (Sun-Mars conjunction) to its midpoint (Sun-Mars
opposition), Mars may cover as little as 113° of arc or as much as 211°.3
»  The synodic periodicity between two successive Mars-Sun conjunctions can vacillate by as much
as 1½ months (between 25 and 26.5 months synodic cycle).4
»  Mars may begin its Journey (Mars-Sun conjunction) either exterior of the ecliptic or interior.
»  Mars’ visibility is best at successively later times each two years (during each minor return).6
»  Mars’ major returns repeat in a staggered pattern.

Observe the strong contrast between the Mars and Venus Journeys

An individual’s expression of Mars or the Masculine can certainly be refined through the course of a life or an age, but the essence responsible for that expression remains consistent. Natal Mars remains natal Mars. The ‘terrible twos’ period of childhood shows this. The twenty-sixth month of life is in fact the child’s first astrological (minor) Mars return wherein for the first time the child exhibits behavior and speech which emanate from its growing Masculine urges – separating from parents, exploring life more independently and exhibiting its accomplishments. Though only a minor return, the 2-year-old return is the most significant of all the minors because it is the first outward exploration of the child’s uniqueness and thus is the most obvious departure from familiar behavior and temperament. Up until the second birthday, the child is in an emphatically undifferentiated state requiring everything from the parents. When Mars returns to the child’s birth placement at approximately 26 months of age, the spark of Mars’ fire is highly noticeable.


Understanding what is meant by ‘masculinity’ herein will help to clarify upcoming observations and interpretations. In no way are notions of ‘maleness’, ‘manhood’ or other gender-based labels implied in my use of ‘Masculinity.’ Each and every component of physical creation is imbued with a masculine impulse and/or nature, as well as a feminine impulse and/or nature. Each is an organic and primal principle within all creation.

The following description of Masculinity does not define Masculinity per se, but attempts to trigger our inner experience of its qualities. Masculinity and Femininity fundamentally exist beyond our ability to conceive of them – they are inherent in all things implicit and explicit; what follows thus remains a working draft, ever open to new additions and revisions.

The Masculine principle is the urge to move away from one’s own source, to penetrate into indefinable spaces, and forever seek. It is chaotic in its absence of pattern. It will disrupt and shatter structure, organization and stagnancy. Through the human, the Masculine evolves out of an additive, subjective consciousness into an increasingly reductive, objective consciousness. Masculinity houses the archetype of the individuation impulse, the urge to develop a singular, defining identity in order to reach a state of pure experience of What Is. Its experience exists within a context of singularness, and has a natural antipathy toward being consumed, overwhelmed, or homogenized. It is the Masculine that seeds creation to occur through its instigating, fertilizing, dynamic nature. The Masculine aspect of humanity can be individualistic, inconsistent, eruptive, violent, solipsistic, competitive, hierarchical, and alienating, but also progressively idealistic, non-violent, entrepreneurial, visionary, emotionally powerful, detached, and deeply committed through a service-oriented vision.

The Mars Journey

Conceptually, the Mars Journey can be seen as a context engine, shaping our understanding of Mars transits to planets and signs from within the largest perspective – that of our collective Masculine consciousness development. Familiarizing oneself with the Mars Journey information allows an immediate broadening of one’s perspective relative to any interpretation of Mars, natally or by transit. At any point in time, the sign Mars occupies signifies the current expression of Masculine development relative to that Journey’s overall intent. This will be further explained later. That an accurate method exists to track something as nebulous and cognitively slippery as collective Masculine consciousness may be difficult to accept by many. However, this is precisely the threshold which the practice of astrological interpretation faces in our times. The veracity of astrology itself is a debate that continues to rage on in some circles and squares. In the end, the choice to cross the threshold into new, intuition-led territory or to remain in the familiar is of course a personal one; it is made in each moment based on what one is ready for and ready to release.

The moniker “Mars Journey” is used in Sacred Marriage Astrology to describe the development of collective Masculine consciousness through a specific and unique Masculine identity or expression. The Journey as a whole addresses the level of collective Masculine consciousness. The label “Mars Journey” can also be replaced with “Collective Masculine Evolution.” The duration of the Mars Journey hovers around 25½ months and begins with the Sun-Mars conjunction, which is invisible to us. The first visual appearance of Mars rising before the Sun in the morning occurs when Mars is approximately 13-14° in front of the Sun. It is this first appearance of Mars in our eastern morning sky that tells us the next Journey has begun.

Mars and the Sun are the main astrological symbols for the Masculine impulse within consciousness. Where Mars is the Masculine drive itself, the Sun – the other main astrological yang symbol – is the generalized field of Masculine nature. The Mars Journey is spatially identified by the Sun-Mars elongation. Find the elongation at any point in time and you can know where Mars is on its Journey (see Table 1). For a basic idea of the ‘structure’ of the Journey, the Sun-Mars conjunction (0° elongation, and Mars invisible) begins the Journey, their first square (90° with Mars in the morning sky) marks the Journey’s quarter-point, their opposition (180°, night sky) its midpoint, their second square (270°, night sky) its three-quarter point, and their invisible re-meeting (0° elongation) its completion and the next Journey’s beginning. There are twelve Phases or individual stages of development in each Mars Journey.

Why is it the Sun-Mars elongation chosen to be the definer of the Mars Journey? The physical Sun signifies the reality of the explicit center in our system, which we rightfully term our ‘solar system.’ The Sun structures and by implication ‘explains’ the orbits of the planets, asteroids and other bodies with which we share this system. On an individual level, our astrological Sun speaks to the center of our life: our life force or essential and unique quality of aliveness which courses through us each moment of our life. Though the vast majority of astrological study teaches the Sun as the main indicator for individuality and personality, we may discover if we peer deeper into the structure of the human energy system that the astrological Sun is closer to the ancient notions of prana, chi or mana; that is, the animating and non-specific life-force infusing all manifestation. I refer to the Sun as the “universal additive” of the psyche in that it vivifies directly any planet in an aspectual relationship with it, and all planets generally sharing the same birth chart.8 When applied to the level of collective consciousness of humanity – which the Mars and Venus Journeys exist on – the Sun becomes a different symbol for us… that of a source point or origin. No longer signifying individual characteristics or phenomena, the Sun becomes the light from which our collective consciousness originates and in the end returns to. And as collective consciousness does not really end or begin but constantly changes to reflect the mass of individuals contributing to it, we can understand the ‘collective Sun’ to reflect the origination of a particular period of time in which one aspect of total Masculinity (Mars Journey) or Femininity (Venus Journey) will be explored, worked on, developed and evolved.

Often asked how do these lofty notions get applied to real-world sessions with individuals and couples, I will state the importance of first fully exploring the birth chart Mars (or Venus): sign, house and aspects. Once these are grasped by the client, the Mars or Venus Journeys then can provide a broader ‘directionality’ of development or personal contribution. I sometimes describe the relationship something like this: “the natal Mars definition of personal masculinity (natal chart) ultimately serves a particular strand of collective masculine evolution (Mars-Sun elongation or Mars  Journey). These statements are made with confidence and as an invitation to other astrologers to explore for themselves. Close to 200 sessions which addressed specifically the clients’ natal Mars-Sun and/or Venus-Sun phases have produced a dependable, accurate system of interpreting this broader level of an individual’s consciousness. In general, tapping this broader level of Self is most impactful for those who have achieved a certain level of consciousness and self-responsibility which authentic compassion, self-love and spiritual rootedness produce.

Morning-Sky & Night-Sky Mars

We can look to the two halves of the Journey for a general understanding of how Masculine consciousness develops. Each is a bit more than a year in duration, has its own astronomical indicators, and is quite different in archetypal quality.

Morning-sky Mars appears to ascend out from the glare of the rising Sun in the East and brings a focus on the development of self-identity. This year-long period represents the development of subjective consciousness through initially stabilizing the sense of self (Self-Conception, Gestation, Birth, and Explorations Phases), then breaking down and releasing what is no longer relevant about the self (Crisis in Identity Phase) and finally refining self-image as a result of the new information gained (Subjective Maturity Phase) (see Figure 3). Through this first half of the Journey, Mars discovers his uniqueness not only through experiences of success and connection, but also through those that block his self-illusions and over-dependence on old beliefs and behaviors. Mars is also required to release his myopic, impulsive, confrontational and resistant past patterns. This long period of time is needed to root him in this strong self-image and prepare him for the evolutionary goals of the Transcendence Phase. Mars’ morning-sky development is homologous with the astrological progression from Aries to Virgo.

The night-sky Mars period comprises the latter half of the Journey and focuses on developing objective consciousness through the trial-and-error application of the subjective identity for a social purpose. During this period, Mars is seen to descend gradually towards the western horizon, which symbolizes his increasing refinement, broader vision and devoted service. His diminishing brightness through this period symbolizes the decrease of individuated, noticeable identity. In its place arises an increasing commitment and ability to blend personal desires with social needs. The night-sky progression correlates to the Libra to Pisces progression.

Full Masculine maturation requires the successful development of both the morning-sky archetype of identifying-then-breaking a wild stallion (first half of the Journey), and the night-sky archetype of the unwilling or ego-motivated leader maturing into a visionary, ego-less steward for the common good (second half of the Journey). This is the simplest and most basic way to frame an understanding of the developmental structure of the Journey. To appreciate the Journey on its many levels of meaning and thus to incorporate it into chart interpretation, each phase needs to be studied – both archetypally and through case examples.


  1. See the “Masculinity & Femininity” essay here
  2. Movement & Rhythm of the Stars, Joachim Schultz, 1987, p 169.
  3. For the 129 Mars Journeys between the years 1910 to 2172. Elongation is calculated from Birth Phase (15 elongation from Sun in morning sky) to Transcendence Phase (180 from Sun).
  4. From Self-Conception Phase to Transcendence Phase for 102 Mars Journeys 1900 through 2172.
  5. ecliptic 38% of times, and exterior 62%. There is apparently no regular pattern for determining an interior- or exterior-initiating Journey, though data does suggest certain domains of the sky, identified by their associated astrological signs, much more frequently indicate an interior or exterior beginning.129 Mars Journeys between the years 1910 to 2172 reveal that Mars begins a Journey interior to
  6. We see two distinct types of Mars returns – “minor” and “major”. Minor returns re-occur each 23½ to 26 months when Mars simply reaches the zodiacal degree of birth. Generally, the most significant minor return for everyone is the first one, at age 2. As the child grows, the minor returns become less significant because there is less unformed identity to individuate into. In the sky, the minor returns show no pattern whatsoever. There will be more significant minor returns throughout a person’s life, but these are dependent on the specific planets involved (by conjunction, square, opposition, etc.) with the natal degree.  Major returns occur only at specific ages and follow an alternating integer. Ages 15, 32, 47, 64, 79, 96, and 111 are the major returns and follow a pattern of alternating 15 then 17-year integers. The major Mars returns are the personally-significant Mars timings from the perspective of an individual’s direct connection to the collective Masculine. The major returns see the return of the same Mars Journey; in other words, they repeat the Natal Mars Journey. For example, anyone born in 2005 is born into the Libra Journey of Mars. Thus, any future occurrence of the Libra Journey of Mars (when Mars conjuncts the Sun in Libra) indicates that this individual is in their major Mars return, which occurs in 2020 when these individuals are age 15. The celestial factor that determines a major from a minor Mars return is the synodic proximity of transiting Mars to natal Mars. The most exact major returns of Mars are at age 79, then age 47. For more on calculating and interpreting an individual’s natal Mars Journey archetype and phase, see Appendix D.
  7. I was introduced to the Mars-Sun elongation as an archetypal ‘structure’ of masculinity through the work of astrologer Daniel Giamario. My formulation however differs from that of Mr. Giamario. Where I see the starting point for the Journey to be the Sun-Mars conjunction, Mr. Giamario’s formulation has the Sun-Mars opposition beginning the cycle. The strongest evidence convincing me of the veracity of the conjunction as the Journey’s starting point is the notion of our Sun as center or origin. It would seem the main difference in opinion is whether elongation – the spatial relationship between Mars or Venus and the Sun – or planetary motion – retrograde or direct – determines the beginning of a new Journey. Where Mr. Giamario’s preference is to link the retrogradation status of both Mars and Venus to begin each Journey in his work also indicating physical proximity, I prefer the spatial relationship between each planet and its center (Sun) to indicate the start of a Journey.
  8. The spatial relationship between any planet and the Sun can likewise indicate that planet’s Journey or transformational quality and framework within consciousness. Beyond the scope of this paper, tracking a planets’ spatial relationship with the Sun would reveal new vistas for understanding the nature of the current transformations occurring within consciousness at the level of the relevant archetypes. For example, Jupiter’s relationship with the Sun speaks to the transformations within the archetypes of expansion, spirit-centered awareness, and intuitive functioning, while Saturn’s would address those of our social structures, our relationship with authority, and the application of our wisdom in all areas of physical life. Pioneering interpretation in this regard was done by philosopher, musician, writer and astrologer Dane Rudhyar in the late 20th century whose Mercury work has been influential. More recently, astrologer Daniel Giamario’s re-introduction of ancient understandings into the Venus cycle catalyzed my re-working of the Mars Journey of Transformation for the coming Age. I have been most influenced by Evolutionary Astrology founder Jeffrey Wolf Green’s phasal relationships model which addresses developmental commonalities in the zodiacal relationship between any two bodies. See Mr. Green’s two books on Pluto for more.


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