Pounding Stone with Pestles


   Just after I became a teenager, I spent about a year in the boy scouts. I got kicked out of the troop before I earned Tenderfoot. I wasn’t sorry about getting kicked out. Forty years later, I realize that I learned a lot about the archetype of the God Mars from the experience.
   At a scout meeting we found out that we were going to Millerton Lake for a weekend of “trailblazing” so that we could all earn a merit badge. I soon forgot about it until one Saturday my Dad dragged my brother and me out of bed at sunrise to get ready for the trip. The neighborhood boys in the troop carpooled with us, and we tried to sleep during the ride to the lake, but we were all jolted back to reality after thirty minutes or so: After we arrived, we were ordered to set up camp immediately. Then we piled into a different car and headed out to the east side of the lake, where we discovered that every boy scout troop in Fresno was “trailblazing,” in other words, making a fire break--which sort of resembled a wide trail--around the edge of Millerton Lake.
   After digging and shoveling and raking for two hours in the hot sun, the gang of scouts from my neighborhood plopped down on the ground and entertained the idea of deserting the trailblazing efforts and heading back to camp on foot, a hike of at least five miles through unknown terrain.
   A scout master sauntered over and yelled, "Get back to work, right now!" After he ambled away, Alan threw down his shovel and delared, “Man, this is nothing but slave labor!” Alan, wild and fearless, had emerged as our ring leader after his father had died of leukemia a year before. The neighborhood gang followed Alan wherever he went.
   So we all threw down our shovels and took off down the hill without food or water--and without telling the scout master. We hiked along the edge of the lake, discovering that the way back was more challenging than we had anticipated. We struggled through dense riparian forest and maneuvered around large rocks on steep inclines and kept plodding along the edge of the lake, with no end in sight. Nevertheless, we managed to blaze a trail all the way back to camp--dead tired, starving and dying of thirst by the time we got there.

San Joaquin River Gorge above Millerton Lake

   None of the adults ever confronted us about going AWOL, I suspect because of worse things we did that weekend. I was two years younger than all of them, so I was never too worried.    We rested until the other troops returned to camp. Then Alan quickly came up with another plan. He and another scout were going to arm wrestle in the parking lot near the boat launch while we stood around them yelling, “Fight! Fight!”
   After the two of them got on their stomachs, facing each other, I started shouting. Soon a raucus crowd of scouts gathered around the pair. I quietly inched away as a scout master rushed to break it up. A minute later, the scout master stormed back to camp, all flustered and disappointed. Alan and the other boy were laughing uncontrollably as the crowd dispersed.
   That night, just as I was about to dive into my sleeping bag, Alan excitedly told us that he had a big surprise for us. Holding the only flashlight, Alan took off at a brisk pace in front of us, and the gang did its best to keep up. I remember wondering why we were wandering around in the dark when suddenly we reached the camp of another scout troop.
   “This is a raid, boys!” He smiled.
   “Okay, what does that mean?” I asked, already exhausted from a long day.
   “I mean jump on the tents and beat the crap out of them!” Alan commanded, pointing at a nearby tent.
   So I jumped on the tent, which immediately collapsed, and then started wailing with my fists on whatever and whoever was inside. I hit something over and over, but there was no response, either because the boys inside were petrified or because I was only pounding on backpacks. I opened the flap of the tent but couldn’t see anything. I didn’t want to see anything.
   Suddenly Alan shouted, “Let’s go!”
   Once again, we followed Alan in the dark, ending up in tall grass under an oak tree.
   “Here, hold this,” he demanded, handing me the flashlight. He was grasping something else in his hands. He yelled across what seemed a vast abyss, “Hey, we’re over here. Troop 88 just kicked your ass! Troop 88! Over here! Come get us! Come and fight, you pussies!” Suddenly, Alan turned to us and quietly commanded, “Get down.”
   We crouched in the grass as Alan started swinging something above his head. I aimed the light at the branches in the tree and saw something flashing intermittently above us. Before I could figure out what it was, I heard footsteps rapidly approaching.
   “It’s a chain,” I muttered to myself, as ghostly forms entered the circle of light. Then I found myself shouting, “It’s a chain. It’ a chain!”’
   The other troop stopped abruptly, hovering at the edge of the light.
   “Turn the light off,” Alan demanded. “Let’s get out of here!”
   As I fumbled with the flashlight, Alan and the others vanished into the darkness. I dashed after them, following as well as I could their track in the grass. Soon I lost them, but I didn’t dare turn on the flashlight.
   I had been ditched before at night, once even in a pitch black cave after Alan had switched off the flashlight, but this time they had left me alone to fight off an entire scout troop. I turned around, surprised that the other troop was not yet descending upon me.

Bottom of Reservoir in Drought Year

   In the moonless darkness, I had no idea where I was, but I glimpsed some lights in the distance and headed towards them, hoping they weren’t the lights of the rival troop. Somehow I managed, to my great surprise, to blaze a trail back to the right camp.
   I found Alan and my brother in their sleeping bags, gazing at girlie magazines in candlelight. The candle stood erect on a flat disk. I was so exhausted by then that I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even ask for a magazine. I just crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep.
   I awoke to someone yelling, “Fire!” One side of the pup tent, I discovered, had caught on fire, and I threw myself out of the tent. Suddenly my head hurt, the pain excruciating. I stood by dumbfounded as Alan and my brother beat the fire out with some clothing from my backpack.
   “My head hurts!” I yelled.
   “Just shut up and go back to sleep,” my brother demanded.
   “What happened?” I asked, knowing how much Alan loved to play with matches.
   “The candle was set on a flare.”
   “That flat disk was a flare?”
   “Yeah, and the candle burned all the way down. Now go to sleep. And don’t tell anyone!”    We crawled back into the tent, which now had a large, smoking hole in the side, and I tried to sleep despite the smoke and the excruciating pain and an unfamiliar, sickening smell.
   The next day the older boys looked at my hair after I told them that my head hurt and they all said no, nothing's wrong. One of them got out a brush and told me that I had rats in my hair, the boy with the brush pulling out a few clumps and quickly hiding them, saying no, no, nothing's wrong.
   My parents noticed immediately upon our return that the hair on the back of my head had been burned away, the skin black and red and shriveled up.
   Within a week, my brother and I and Alan were kicked out of the boy scout troop. I’m not sure if it was for dereliction of duty, for staging a "pretend" fight, for the raid, for the fire, or for just plain orneriness.

The Tower

   In retrospect, I realize that these experiences did more than “build character.” They gave me a better perspective on a rather disconcerting Tarot card called, “The Tower,” which is associated with Mars and the element of Fire.
   Especially in the past hundred years or so, many individuals and societies have experienced the influence of the Mars archetype. The virtues of Mars include great energy, courage, strength, potency, and the appropriate use of power. The vices of Mars include cruelty and destructiveness. Arguably in the past hundred years we have seen far too much of the latter as we collectively and individually learn how to handle the forces of the God.
   In everything he did, it seemed, my friend Alan embodied the archetype of Mars, for good or ill. He demanded loyalty in all of his battles against the world, no matter how crazy, cruel or destructive, and eventually I simply tired of what seemed like the senselessness of it all--but all along we, thanks to him, were learning the positive and negative aspects of the archetype (usually the negative).
   On the Tree of Life, Mars is primarily associated with the fifth sphere, or sephira, known as Geburah, or “Severity.” The sphere is referenced at the end of the Lord’s Prayer as “the Power” and corresponds to the right shoulder in the individual. The God Mars personifies the forces of the fifth sphere on the Tree as well as the connecting path between the seventh and eighth spheres, a path symbolically represented by the trump card “The Tower.” Mars is also associated with number cards that reveal different facets of the archetype.

Seven of Wands

Lord of Valor
Decan: Mars in 21 - 30 degrees of Leo
Tree of Life Association: Venus in Netzach (Seventh Sphere)

   When people like Alan experience the energies of the sphere of Geburah, they open the potential to become strong, charismatic leaders if they do not become unbalanced by the forces. If unbalanced, they can become leaders who cruelly exploit and harm people.
   Only now, it seems, after a century of war on a scale that humanity has never known before, are we beginning to see the positive aspects of the forces of Mars. Mars burns away false, limiting, destructive patterns and beliefs so that the truth can be known, justice can be served, order and harmony can be maintained, and the light of higher awareness can be revealed. Mars cuts away whatever is diseased and purifies the self, eliminating what is no longer useful. Mars establishes and maintains order with an authoritarian hand and harnesses powerful forces so the forces can be used productively, the way an engine or a body uses fuel. Mars, potent with the life-force on all levels of being, is married to Venus, Goddess of love and beauty--which says a great deal about the ability to know and appreciate both love and beauty. Mars, the ultimate warrior, is awe-inspiring, even terrifying--not a God to trifle with.
   Unfortunately many see Mars the ultimate warrior and want to use the power of the archetype to assert dominance over others for selfish, ego-driven reasons. Even though this is a common use of the power of Mars, so common that it might even be considered by many the appropriate use, it should not be treated as an ideal use of power but as an unbalanced aspect of the force of Mars, the “vice” that leads to cruelty and destruction. Mars works for the highest good, not for the ego, and is on the side of the underdog striving for justice.

Take the next path.
Take a dream path.