Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle.
This earth of majesty,
this seat of Mars.

 O shield-bearers of Hellas, embattled kings and warring nations, which of you has worshipped the god Mars better than the House of Thebes? Which of you has known the strife so pitilessly visited upon this lineage, so relentlessly persistent from the time of Jo's flight into Asia, right through the reign of her great grandson Kadmos and his issue? Brother to Europa, who suffered the harassments of Zeus, the young Kadmos wandered the ancient world until he came to a sanctuary where he sought to win his destiny through sacrifice to Athene. To fulfil this desire, he learnt that he must bring water from a spring jealously guarded by a dragon-child of Ares, the Greek name for the god Mars. He slew the dragon, and seizing its teeth out of the great gaping mouth, he scattered them broadcast like seeds, which sprang up after one season as a host of armed men called Spartoi ("the Scattered"). With these dauntless warriors at his command, Kadmos founded the fabled city of Thebes and established a great centre for the worship of Ares. Smiling benevolently upon these achievements, Zeus crowned his success by giving to him in marriage the divinely born Harmonia, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite. But little of the quality associated with her name would prevail in the line she and her husband were destined to further. Their children were mostly daughters, including the lamentable Agave, who married one of the Spartoi and mothered the arrogant Pentheus, whom she would one day tear to pieces whilst in the throes of a dionysiac ecstasy. Some of her sisters were driven mad or their spouses fearfully murdered, whilst her brother died prematurely, to be followed to the grave quickly by his son. Nor was this the end to the woes which plagued this lineage of Ares worshippers. Soon to follow was the tragedy of Oedipus and the tyranny of Kreon, which resulted in the ruthless and unjust deaths of Polyneikes, Etiokles and Antigone, who spent her last agonizing hours encased in stone.

 Strife and pestilence follow like a plague in the wake of Ares, and yet are accompanied by creation and sacrifice. To the ancient Assyrians he was Nergal, god of death and warfare, whom they nonetheless called the Great Hero. The Romans named him Mars and placed him on the highest pedestal of worship as the source of their martial energy, ensuring the continued expansion of their empire. By whatever names he has been known throughout the Indo-European world, he has been depicted as an armed hero bearing a sword, a whip, a spear or an arrow. His attributes typify that which is positive, masculine, active, passionate and courageous. He is both feared and praised as an ideal, the source of death and creation alike. As Mars he is the offspring of Jupiter; as Ares, the son of Zeus and Hera. The Greeks worshipped him as the god of war and strife but his name takes its origin from the root αρ, which is also to be found in 'αρετή, indicating the first notion of goodness – that of manhood and bravery in war.

 This paradoxical mixture of elements reached a pinnacle of expression amongst the Romans, who began their old calendar with the month dedicated to Mars (March) and the rebirth of life-energy. They celebrated new life even as they made offerings to Mars for success in killing and conquest on the eve of going off to war. A portion of the spoils was dedicated to him and his most famous temple was known as Mars Ultor, Mars the Avenger. The Campus Martius (Field of Mars) was the open space outside the gates of the ancient city of Rome where men assembled under arms and practised military skills. Sacred war dances were also performed there each spring by the priests of Mars. What had once been an agricultural deity associated with spring and regeneration became increasingly the champion of the battleground. The Romans had gradually turned from farming to war and they brought with them their God of the Borderlands lying between the farmsteads and the wilds. Now the "borderland" over which he reigned had come to be an ever-expanding perimeter of a vast empire.

 Though powerful, the Roman Empire was not the greatest the world has ever known. Daniel Webster wrote of "a power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drumbeat, following the sun, and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England". Whilst not overtly worshipping Mars, the builders of such dominions certainly mastered his arts and placed the warring soldier uppermost as an ideal of courage and manhood. Possessing "an eye like Mars, to threaten and command", the hero has been envisaged time and again, leading to an almost irresistible glorification of war. The deeply entrenched human instinct to glorify war is possibly rooted in an intuition that the spirit of moral greatness alone conquers all partisan claims. Perhaps it is even more fundamental and subliminal. It may be that the human race shares a dim awareness of an ancient belief identifying blood with the first bloodshed of primordial conception, an idea translated only secondarily to refer to the bloodshed of war.

 The translation links the polar opposites of creation and death and echoes the arcane conception that creation emerges only through an original sacrifice, and that its product can be preserved only through periodic sacrifice and recurrent war. Oddly enough, the twin-peaked mountain on the planet Mars which bears the name Janus is an apt symbol of inversion between the upper invisible world and the lower world of forms. The intercommunication between them involves a titanic conflict between life and death on the threshold of primordial order. It is the old notion that every life demands a death and thus lays the basis for the unspoken assumptions behind constant sacrifice and inescapable war. Of course, this involves an inversion in consciousness analogous to the translation alluded to earlier, but from the perspective of creation and death viewed as two sides of the same coin, Mars may be considered in terms of the grim necessity of bloodshed in Nature and the cosmos.

 Astrologically, Mars governs Aries and Scorpio, the burgeoning and disintegration of strength. These zodiacal signs mark the beginning and the end of each year. Aligned with birth, Mars, like Venus, is seen as beneficent. Aligned with death, he is the evil counterpart of Venus, the lord of the ecliptic, the borderland, the balancing line of adjustment between the opposites. Ancient Egyptians referred to the planet Mars as the Star of Death, and this is echoed in the broader Semitic reference to the Death Spreader. The Pleiades are the celestial weapons of Mars in the ruthless decimation of mankind, but they also aid him in its protection. This is vividly portrayed in the Puranic tales of the Krittikas, who nursed Karttikeya (the Hindu Mars) and clothed him in time and form.

  The begetting of Karttikeya was made possible through Lord Shiva and the creative power of Parvati, one aspect of Shiva's consort and counterpart. Karttikeya is the "spurt of sperm", the leap or descent of spirit, which is shed or split. He was received by Agni (the only one of the gods capable of enduring contact with the burning seed), who took the seed in his mouth and sought relief from its heat by cooling himself by a lake where the Krittikas (the wives of the Saptarishis) were bathing. Agni made of himself an accommodating blaze around which they could take warmth after their bath and was thus able to pass the fiery semen to them through their opened pores. Their husbands were not pleased with this and, abandoning them, left the Krittikas to run to the peak of snowy Himavat to rid themselves of the burning seed. It fell into Ganga, who rolled it up on a bank of arrow reeds, through which it emerged as a beautiful boy. Thus Karttikeya was born of fire (Agni) and water, fire around a pool of water into which the seed was symbolically dropped. The seed falling in the centre signifies the beginning of cycles, the commencement of objective existence suggested fundamentally in Karttikeya's name, which comes from the root karta, meaning "separation of existence" or "cutting off from the togetherness of the parent's domain".

  With the example of Karttikeya, the paradoxes of Mars increase, for Shiva's offspring is a celibate and yet the personification of generation and the springs of life. He is a Kumara who preferred the curse of incarnation rather than witness the misery of the shadows, but is said to have been precipitated into matter in order to halt the activities of the demon serpent Taraka. By killing him, Karttikeya became the prototype of the dragon-slayers, a mystery to do with the fact that, as chief of the Rudras (the mysterious beings holding the sacred fires, the most arcane potencies of Nature), he also signifies the central life force ruling over and controlling all lesser life forces operating in Nature and within the vestures of human souls. He is also closely connected to Kama-deva or Eros, the primeval desire which is the germ of mind, connecting non-entity with entity, and which is the energy behind downward desires. If Mercury, Venus and Mars constitute the sacred triangle of involution, then Mars is its sharp angle, pointing downward, dipping most deeply into the waters of manifestation, marshalling the mental troops of the most volatile and irrational elements in subtle Nature in the service of monadic evolution.

  Orbiting in the outermost region of the inner solar system, Mars flanks the earth on its left, so to speak, while Venus revolves on its right. The red planet keeps in its orbit about 2.17 astronomical units from the sun, limiting the inside extension of the asteroid belt which separates the inner from the outer solar system. The eccentricity of the orbit of Mars is almost five times that of the earth, and the planet completes its circuit in twice the time it takes our globe to make its rotation (pradakshina) around the solar orb. But because Mars is one and a half times further away from the sun than is the earth, its day is similar in length to our own. The tilt of its axis is also similar to the earth's, and observers of the planet thought for a long time that its seasons could be traced in shifting patterns of vegetation in its northern and southern hemispheres. It is recognized now that these are periodic changes of the bright and dark regions of the planet's soil, brought about by many small dust storms and an annual major wind storm obscuring and shifting about a large part of the surface. This great storm starts when Mars is close to its perihelion, beginning at about the same place in its southern hemisphere and spreading up around the globe. The surface temperature, which exceeds freezing only on the warmest days, now increases under the influence of an atmosphere which can heat up as much as fifty degrees Kelvin (one hundred and twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit), due to absorption of solar radiation by the dust. Normally, however, the atmosphere is cold, dry and very thin, with clouds and ice only at the poles. The surface of Mars in general is also cold and dry, its water frozen at the poles, leaving vast arid plains to the north and south of them carved with enormous dry riverbeds.

  Mars is circled by two satellites, Phobos and Deimos (Fear and Panic), whose existence was predicted by Johann Kepler in 1610 on the basis of his mathematical calculations concerning the progression of the solar system. They revolve around a planet which is half the size of the earth and has a reddish surface owing to oxidized iron minerals marked by lines tracing the history of vertical plate movements. A further vertical distinction can be found in a comparison of the northern hemisphere, composed mostly of smooth lava flood planes, and the mountainous southern hemisphere with its many craters. The source of this distinction is not known to modern scientists, who now tend to leave their hypotheses about the unknown a little more open-ended than earlier observers who developed elaborate theories about the canals on Mars which they believed were built in order to drain polar waters, but which turned out to be optical illusions. One feature, however, about which no one harbours any doubts is a remarkable mountain three times higher than Mount Everest and seven hundred kilometers wide at its base. It is the largest mountain known in the solar system and, together with others on Mars, comprises a mass so heavy that a crust much thicker than that of the earth is necessary to support it.

  The gigantic planet Jupiter, which orbits outside the asteroid belt, exerts an influence on its neighbours, producing gradual changes in the earth's orbit and in the inclination and orientation of its axis. Being closer than the earth to Jupiter, Mars experiences these effects even more, the periodic changes in its axis and in the shape of its orbit being far greater than those of our planet. From a mystical perspective, this relates to the idea that humanity cannot come under the direct influence of the regal and esoteric Jupiter until it has conquered greed, anger and craving. Meanwhile, Jupiter exerts a subtle influence through the mediation of Mars. It will act more directly to bring to light hidden aspects of science, philosophy and religion and the latent mental and psychic powers in man only in the future. It is intriguing to ponder how much Jupiter's physical effect upon Mars corresponds to this and has to do with its vertical plate movements and the differences noticeable between its northern and southern hemispheres. It is possible that its influence is partially responsible for the periods experienced every few million years by Mars when the climate is thirty degrees Kelvin (eighty-six degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it is now and some of the polar ice and permafrost melts. Evidence of these periodic melts lies in the present-day dry riverbeds on the planet's surface which are up to thirty kilometers wide and hundreds of kilometers long and make the Amazon seem a paltry stream by comparison. In the belief that it was indeed water that carved out these channels, modern scientists call Mars, along with the earth, a water planet, one which, in the past, is thought to have had a "friendly" climate. It is held that such a climate could have once supported vegetation capable of releasing oxygen into the atmosphere through photosynthesis, thereby encouraging the development of more complex life forms.

  Such are the generous speculations of modern science. But, one may pause to ask, on what basis do we think that water or other elements held to be the criteria for life on earth must also be the exact criteria for life elsewhere in the solar system? If one examines this question open-mindedly, one may come to discern the irony in such a geocentric perspective, especially after recalling how we have congratulated ourselves for centuries on having transcended the shrivelled geocentric theories of the Dark Ages. Instead of adopting a thoroughly heliocentric view of the solar system, however, we persist in applying geocentric criteria when addressing larger questions about the presence of life outside the earth. From a truly heliocentric perspective things may look entirely different, with radically different criteria arising. The very notions held regarding the nature of solids, liquids and gases may be altered. As an imaginative scientist of the last century suggested, "On Mercury, water would rank as one of the condensible gases; on Mars, as a fusible solid." One may take this further and examine it from a metaphysical heliocentric point of view, where the true Spiritual Sun is the invisible centre around which the cosmic hierarchies connected with Buddhi, Manas and the other principles revolve like planets. Then one might ask, "Is there life on Buddhi, life on Manas, etc.?" One might also wonder what place earth has in this design since man, the microcosm of the whole cosmos, finds his home there.

Behold Migmar, as in his crimson veils his "Eye" sweeps over slumbering Earth. Behold the fiery aura of the "Hand" of Lhagpa extended in protecting love over the heads of his ascetics. Both are now servants to Nyima, left in his absence silent watchers in the night.

                            The Voice of the Silence

  Like silent watchers, all three planets – Mercury, Venus and Mars – orbit around the inner solar system on either side of the earth. Mercury and Venus relate symbolically to the intuitive immortal soul, whilst Mars represents forces propelling it into an incarnated and limited condition, the karta or "cutting off from the oneness of the parent's domain". Proclus put it succinctly when he wrote that Mars "is the source of division and motion, separating the contrarieties of the universe which he also perpetually excites, and immutably preserves, in order that the world may be perfect and filled with forms of every kind". He is not the ultimate source of motion but the focus, as it were, through which the Divine Breath throbs in the manifest world. The seed of Karttikeya enters through the doorway of the Pleiades into the galactic system and a sevenfold parthenogenesis takes place, starting a process of division which multiplies and occurs incessantly throughout the vast cycle over which he broods. This requires the "disintegrating into the modification of two opposites for production", and it necessarily entails death as well as creation, sacrifice as well as growth and strength.

  Mars carries forth the Fohatic, creative energy that lies at the very root of manifestation, and in ruling Aries and Scorpio, it marshals this primordial force which on the human level is good or evil depending on the motivation, use and level of concern for the Agathon, Universal Good. Aries signifies the serpentine fire which compels the ego to evolve. This is conveyed by the planetary influence of Mars and relates to the centrifugal state wherein the soul becomes a more individuated centre of force. The culmination of the combative phase in human evolution is reached in Scorpio, the watery, negative house of the red planet. Up to this point, the creative force had been acting externally, but now it becomes indrawn to form a mighty reservoir of energy needed in the latter half of the soul's pilgrimage. This brings the enlightened individual to the threshold of the great final battle where avidya and trishna (ignorance and thirst for sensation) must be slain for the gaining of conscious immortality. This final battle involves the timely self-limitation of Saturnian justice and the bond-breaking, centripetal influence of Uranus.

  Aries marks the descent of spirit into matter, making of man a "living soul". This is an act of vidya (gnosis) converting to avidya (nescience), symbolized in the ram of sacrifice. Aries begins the year in the sense that it begins the first division of the twelve "hours" through which the soul must pass in the underworld. According to the Egyptian Book of Am Tuat, the journey through the dangerous realm of the watery dragon must be made before one rises up into that of Horus like an upsurge of water from a fountain. This journey is made time after time, through sleep and death, but also through incarnation in the world. Small cycles within vast cycles, the entire process encompasses a long struggle as the human soul strives to grow towards the light. The roots of the tree of this process of evolution are found in Aries and Scorpio. They are the two poles of the influence of Mars. But the sap rising from these roots nurtures ignorance and craving as well as the heroic strength needed to slay them. The weapons of the Lord of the Battlefield of Life will either result in self-destruction or conquest of death, depending upon how they are perceived and used.

  The colour of Mars is red, crimson as blood sacrifice or bloodshed on a battlefield. Water is the blood of the earth, the element connecting it with the generative gods such as Adam-Jehovah, Brahmā or Mars. Is there a corresponding relation between the planet Mars and the earth on the basis of water? The earth has water in liquid form in abundance, but that of Mars is frozen, locked up, to be released only every several million years. Is there an arcane significance to this which could provide a key to understanding larger cycles of generation taking place on our globe? Is the force of the seminal principle operating in the solar system focussed and released through Mars in impulsions expressed in the release of its frozen waters? Do these impulsions have any bearing upon the climatic changes on earth or the sudden disappearance of entire species, followed by the development of new lines of life forms? And what part does the powerful influence of Jupiter play in this scenario? The calculated periodic changes in the inclination of the axis of Mars, brought about by the effect of Jupiter, are ten times greater than the earth's. These inclinations alter the relationship between Mars and the earth, subjecting the latter to different exposures of the many faces of Mars.

  In the Puranic myths, Karttikeya is depicted as having six heads, one for each of his "mothers" (the seventh Krittika remaining hidden). Mars turns these faces towards the earth in succession. Some of them are smooth lava plains bearing the marks of ancient explosions now quiescent, whilst others support gigantic weapon-like promontories whose volcanic apertures seem to be aimed and ready to fire. Some faces are pock-marked with craters and scarred with the wounds of bombardment and erosion; some take on the intense rosy glow of blood seeping close to the surface, promising excitement, fecundity and death. As the axis of Mars tilts, it exposes different hemispheres, and with them the influences of creation and fusion alternate with those of sacrifice and strife. Even the vertical plate movements on the surface of Mars can be seen as representing shifts in the emphasis and character of alternating expressions of the central life force.

  Karttikeya was born of the sweat and semen of Shiva and the earthly progenitors (the "mothers" who clothed him). The sweat of Shiva, though potent beyond all comparison with embodied elements, can be likened in its lower manifesting aspect to water or blood. In this sense, Karttikeya's birth is echoed in the Mosaic utterance that "it takes earth and water to create a human soul". Latter-day interpretations of the symbolism associated with the gods of generative powers drag such ideas down to the level of a perceived necessity involving the shedding of blood to gain life, even to the point of mixing it with the soil of the earth in the belief that such a mixture would engender new life and energy in the land. The water or blood of which Karttikeya was engendered is to earthly water or blood what the desire that first arose in It is to the craving of the senses. They are related but not to be equated with one another. Born without the intervention of woman, Karttikeya came into the world as Lohita the Red, the "First man". Like Mars, he became a god of war and bloodshed only secondarily, the primary idea of bloodshed associated with him having to do with an archetypal conception on a plane of far subtler motion and division. The first notion of goodness, associated with manhood and bravery in war expressed by the old Greeks in the word 'αρετή, relates back to this primordial conception rather than to the slaughter and strife represented by its etymological namesake, Ares, god of the House of Thebes. The force of desire operating in matter need not result in the inversions and repressions responsible for the ignorance and bloodshed so rampant in the world. The weapons of Mars are good or evil depending on who wields them. In like manner, the influence of the planet Mars upon the earth can be good or evil. It is not possible simply to wish away this potent force any more than one can wish the red planet away.

  In coming into being, Karttikeya washed up on earth in the shara or kashi reeds used in ancient times as arrows and spears. Like his weapons, he was a reed, a narthex reed through which the flame of enlightenment descends. As such, he is the vesture of this flame which passes through the seven sections or chakras of the reed, awakening each centre as it touches it. In this way, the first man can be found in every human being, who, like a reed-vesture containing chakra nodules, is a miniature of the cosmos with its seven times seven dvipas. In man the manipura chakra lying between the lumbar and the navel is the centre wherein the fiery gastric juices of digestion and food processing lay the foundation for the life force. This is the seat of Karttikeya or Mars, whose energy promotes growth and differentiation within the human microcosm as in the greater cosmos. But it is also the field of Mars whereon Fohat gathers his forces and begins to march them through the higher chakras towards the Agni realm of creative contemplation. Thus those who have been cut off through fascination with the lower region of lunar forms are now indrawn into the primordial cosmic source of all light, life and energy.

  The cutting off marks the first sacrifice of the central life force wherein the virgin Kumara, Karttikeya or Mars, marries and governs the energies operating within the world of differentiated forms. This enormous potency lends a seemingly inexhaustible energy to the lesser vital forces bound up with the vestures used by the lower mind and the five senses. As long as the body is alive, these seem to flourish and drive the consciousness of the deluded individual in myriad directions, sparking and exciting and separating it into endlessly changing forms. One can imagine the plight of the slavish glutton who lets himself be dominated by desires clamouring in the hollow pit of his stomach, convincing him that there is some secret ingredient, some unique morsel, which will satisfy the craving armies of elementals which have gained control over the communication network between the inner ruler and the outer persona. Such a desperate condition necessitates all-out warfare in order to depose the pretenders and place the conserved creative power of Mars in a position of complete control by the immortal soul, the Manasa. Now the cutting off must take place in reverse. But instead of separating off from unity, the process involves cutting away from endlessly multiplying diversity and fragmentation in consciousness. Only by disentangling desire from the countless forms it can take can one purge it of selfishness and render it a worthy weapon for altruistic contemplation upon Universal Good and the supreme Godhead.

  If this is true in relation to the individual, so too this can pertain to circles of ascetics dedicated to self-study and self-conquest in the service of humanity. Each seeker has to disentangle the desires extraneous to the sacred goal of human solidarity and see them very clearly for what they are. To permit these tangled skeins and objects of desire to obtrude themselves into one's separative consciousness so that they become mixed up with self-transcending motives and concerns is to weave an opaque shroud around one's powers of perception. Such a laggard soul will be unprepared for the decisive moment of choice when one crosses the borderland marking off the wild deserts of endless discontent from the verdant Field of Mars wherein the inward ascent is to take place. At this point, one needs to be well equipped and firmly disciplined to do battle with the legions of darkness and egotistic stagnation.

  In sport, the finest athletes are those who are wholly concentrated upon the highest imaginable skill, stamina and morale they can bring to their endeavours. Each and every aspect of mind and body is focussed upon the task at hand. Every selfish desire they have ever indulged is now transmuted into a single-minded current of ideation focussed upon the motionless target of spiritual archery. Materialists refer to this as the "killer instinct", likening such a man to the tiger unwaveringly intent upon its prey or the owl who swoops unerringly to catch up its hopelessly fleeing meal. But this is not merely an irrational instinct. The positive power of Mars released by the morally courageous ascetic requires the persistent and patient training of the spiritual will. It involves the reinversion of the centrifugal process of division and proliferation downward and outward so that a kind of death of ego takes place to permit the birth of the regenerated and purified self, ready to enlist in the Army of the Voice.

  The procreative power of division and possession can thus be transmuted into the energy of altruism and the bliss of transcendence. But ceaseless sacrifice is needed to sustain the energy of selfless creativity and spiritual self-abnegation. The renunciation of lesser loves and longings, self-regarding hopes and goals, and the very sense of self is required for the spiritual ascent. Mars enters the world in sacrificial descent so that embodied forms of creation can unfold. Mars is thus born in man, igniting the creative aspects of mind and body. But he is merely a blind force, a weapon in the hands of an untutored child, unless his overlord's sweeping eye is fully in charge over the armies rightfully belonging to him. If men and women heroically struggle on the moral battlefield and take control over the lesser vital forces within, Mars is spiritually reborn, in harmonious relation with Venus and Mercury, with the wisdom of sacrificial love and the light of noetic insight.

  On the muddy, blood-soaked battlefields of this globe, souls have often shown heights of moral courage far greater in magnitude than the mundane cause for which they risked their lives. It is as if they have been ignited and raised up to a level of love so purely motivated and perfectly focussed that their personal delusions fell by the wayside and they were fearlessly catapulted into the sacred tribe of selfless heroes. Some have died such a glorious death, others have lived to descend once again into the hopes and fears of worldly existence. But the spiritual warrior does not wait for the external call to battle. He begins the work of honing mind and will, thus preparing for accurate aim the concentrated energy of spiritual resolve. The neophyte may die on an earthly battlefield or of pestilence or old age, but none can run away from the real war, and its implacable demands of intelligent sacrifice. The heroism of terrene battles may be intuitively seen as educative, transcending the limits of the separate serf and the role-playing actors on the stage. We sense the deeper battle awaiting and are aware that in the isolated act of heroism we have glimpsed what lies latent in all souls. We have glimpsed the radiant Mars within each person, rising up to the source and summit of wisdom, compassion and oneness of being.

O Migmar, thy sweeping Eye of Wisdom
Mirrors the circled door of the Mysteries
By which the Divine Breath of Life
Descended from Heaven to earth.