Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Have you been watching retrograde Mars?

If you've been observing the brilliant Red Planet each night, you will have noticed that its location has moved distinguishably higher relative to the stars of the rising constellation Leo in the evening sky prior to midnight (all descriptions and illustrations northern-hemisphere-centric).

As discussed in a blog post near the end of January, Mars began its period of retrograde motion about three weeks ago, and will continue in a retrograde direction until April 15, when it will stop and resume its usual direction through the zodiac constellations.

In the diagram illustrating the position of Mars near the beginning of the retrograde motion (shown at left above), Mars was clearly below the bright tail-star of Leo, Denebola. The situation is quite different now, and noticeable if you have been taking a look at Leo periodically between then and now. Now, Mars is clearly above Denebola and heading higher in Leo (right diagram above).

This motion will continue as Mars moves "headward" through the constellation of Leo the Lion, prior to turning around and proceeding down the constellation towards Virgo (the constellation which follows the Lion, as discussed in this previous post about ancient goddesses who rode in chariots pulled by a lion).

Astrologers from very ancient times up to the present have believed that the planet Mars is associated with aggressive and assertive energy, most notably with martial prowess and with athletic prowess. Hence, periods in which Mars is retrograde are often described as being an inversion of this type of energy, and inauspicious for the start of any sort of combative or aggressive activity (including war but also lawsuits, arguments, or even new love affairs -- see for instance the discussions on these contemporary astrological websites here and here).

Before completely dismissing such assertions as "ancient superstition," consider the fact that the post previous to this one referenced an article from the fairly staid and respectable Wall Street Journal which analyzed the way in which certain musical patterns (which could be analyzed, isolated, and predicted by researchers) could create reactions in listeners which cause reactions in which "our sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert; our hearts race and we start to sweat."

One of the patterns mentioned by researchers as common in songs that cause these reactions are jumps of a full octave: musicians and mathematicians can confirm that a jump of a full octave is equivalent to a halving of the wavelength or a doubling of the frequency of a vibration. It is also possible to confirm that changes in wavelengths that produce a fifth of an octave are usually perceived as being quite pleasant and positive, while other fractional changes are generally perceived as quite disharmonious and jarring. Thus, music contains proportional relationships that actually relate to distances, and these have real and measurable effects on our emotions and even our physical nervous system (including reactions such as starting to sweat and increasing the heart rate).

The proportions in a building or a garden can have similar effects on us -- it can be demonstrated, for instance, that some of the most revered and historic Zen gardens incorporate very harmonious distances and proportions. In a sense, we might say that the measurements of a building or a garden can act on us in much the same way that music can act on us: architecture is "physical music."

Is it not possible, then, that our "surroundings" in the space far beyond the garden or building where we are standing -- our surroundings out to the proportional arrangements in the solar system, which change as the planets move about in relation to the earth and the sun -- could act as a much larger piece of architecture, or a much larger Zen garden?

Such a suggestion may seem to be a stretch, perhaps a stretch too far, but as John Anthony West (also mentioned in the previous blog post, along with a link to his excellent study Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt) points out, "There is some direct, and much more indirect, evidence accumulating showing the existence of these correspondences, often corroborating old 'superstitions'" (114).

Among the studies that he mentions as evidence suggesting possible correspondence between planetary positions and measurable effects on our personality is the (admittedly controversial) work of Michel Gauquelin, who conducted statistical analyses which seemed to indicate some connection between athletic achievement and the position of Mars at time of birth -- the so-called "Mars effect."

Mr. West cautions that even if such "correspondences" can be demonstrated, "extrapolating from what is soundly established is fraught with dangers" (115). Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how widespread the belief appears to have been among the ancient civilizations, that the positions of the planets have a real effect on human affairs.

As Mars continues to retrograde towards the level of the stars of the Lion's hips (now approaching the level of Theta Leonis, also known as Coxa, Latin for "hip"), you may want to familiarize yourself with the stars of Leo using this chart from an 1889 study. It records ancient beliefs about influences caused by heavenly bodies (mainly the moon) when arranged relative to earth such that they are passing near these particular stars in Leo (sometimes good for voyages or redeeming captives, but other times only good for planting or marrying, but not for navigating!)

These subjects are interesting to consider. Whatever your opinion of them, it is a great opportunity to set a time each night (or every few nights) to go out and observe Mars and Leo during this period of retrograde motion by the Red Planet.