Mars, Mustard and Cancer

Beginning with Spring

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

  • TS Eliot, opening lines of Waste Land


The poem The Waste Land was a response to the devastation of the 1st world war on Europe and the bittersweet return of spring after the winter’s sleep following Armistead in early November. Here are the two primary attributes of Mars: war and agriculture or destruction and creation or death and rebirth – the endless cycle of change!


If there is a season that reflects the essence of Mars, it is the spring. When the month of March, the month named after planet Mars, approaches humans, living in the northern areas of this divine planet, cross our fingers and hope it enters like a lion and its exit like a lamb. March can be the most furious month as the north and south winds battle for control and the gentlest month, as days lengthen and sunlight tentatively greets skin most recently shrouded from winters coldness.


Mars brings a return of the fire element, melts cold ice, waters

flow and earth’s fecundity.  


People who live close to the earth say spring’s first thunder and

lightning shakes the trees awakes. Lightening’s fire ignites the

rise of sap stored deep in the earth and calls it to rise to nourish

the buds which will unfurl into Venusian green in months to come.


Thunder is ruled by expansive energy of Jupiter as it rolls across the sky. Lightening with it focused fiery flash is ruled by Mars.


Spring is the season of Mars. Change, creativity, growth, and endings, delicate inspired timing and releasing into the flow of the season's endless cyclic flow.



In the Tarot, the Tower card depicts a man and woman wearing a crown, falling headfirst from a tower struck by the bolt of lightning. Paul Foster Case (1884-1954) one of the leading American occultists of the twentieth century ascribes the energy of Mars to lightening. The thunderbolt in the Tower card is a sudden flash of insight that illuminates the dark stormy sky and sends posturing views and beliefs tumbling to the ground. Like a bolt of lightning, Mars destroys whatever stands in the way of creativity.


Lightening takes nitrogen from the air where it makes up 78.9% of the

atmosphere and delivers it to the soil. Nitrogen is a necessary part of the

chlorophyll molecule that makes plants green and changes carbon

dioxide into oxygen. Without nitrogen, plants could not grow. Any

gardener knows, after a good crashing, banging, cracking thunderstorm

the plants in the garden experience a growth spurt.


Every day on planet Earth there are approximately 100 lightning bolts

per second. Each of those bolts of lightning has the power to start

devastating forest fires, knock out city power grids and randomly kill.

At the same time, each of those lightning bolts is nourishing and

fertilize ring the earth ensuring the beautiful greenness of plants and

indirectly giving life breath to both plants and animals.


The Romans took their worship of Mars very seriously as they marched

across Europe and northern Africa conquering tribal nations one after

another. Romans believed that the god of war was also the god of peace.

Sculptures of Ares, the Roman god who carried Mars energy, carries a

sword adorned with a garland of laurel. This sword and laurel are

symbolic of the Romans believed that there is only peace through war. A Roman general would probably point to the roads they built as they conquered land after land. The writing and reading they brought to the pagans and they certainly would have felt that salvation through Christianity was worth the slaughter and pillage. Humans are still deeply influenced by this belief. At the beginning of the last century, the war to end all wars was fraught, the lives of approximately 37 million people both military and civilians were sacrificed to the ideal of peace.


A cursory glance over the changes the 1st world war brought to our world includes air traffic control, mobile x-ray machines, sanitary napkins (so women could work long hours building bombs – as if that was liberating for women!). It seems we are still caught up in the vibration of Mars as our world continues to be fraught with misery and sparkling with ingenuity.

Mars, Healing, The Immune System, Cancer and Mustard


“What does not kill us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche


The idea of preventative medicine is faintly un-American. It means, first, recognizing the enemy is us. – In an article about preventive medicine and cancer Chicago Tribune, 1975



Cancer can simmer over many years and suddenly explode like a quiet man’s rage. Or like war caner can be red, hot and raw, devouring tissues, until there is more death than life. Cancer has many of the attributes we attribute to Mars. For those who survive, it is certainly life-changing. Or has the energy of Mar been projected onto cancer by medicine?


We all know there is a war on cancer. We use the language of war when

speaking about cancer. We speak about fighting and beating cancer. There

are victims and survivors. We describe the medicine used to fight cancer as

cut, poison, burn. It is commonly understood that cancer is the enemy, the

oncologist the general and the patient the battlefield.



This belief has spilt into all areas of medicine including the more Venusian wholistic medicine. The other day I was sitting in a circle with a group of my apprentices and we were talking about how to support a woman who was struggling with anxiety that affects her digestive system. One of the apprentices, a sensitive, intuitive woman, used the word “attack” to describe how we should approach this health challenge.


Today I was speaking with another intelligent, sensitive, intuitive woman about cancer. She was telling me about the courageous fight a woman had with the deadly disease and how she lost the battle. Here was another person whole heartily commits to mind/body medicine using war imagery for healing.


Then there was a naturopath who described her practice as wrestling with her patients.  


In many ways, one can forgive these wholistic health practitioners for using very mars like terminology to describe the work of a healer. The immune system, the parts of our bodies that are responsible for keeping us well and free of cancer and pathogens certainly carries Mars energy.


Immune System

The immune system’s every action is about destroying or killing anything that harms the body. White blood cells shoot missiles at bacteria blows them up. The immune system has a big dog eats little dog attitude. Huge white blood cells called macrophages eat smaller bacteria and virus.


Inflammation, one of the immune system's dominate activities in its

fight against pathogens and cancer carries Mars energy. One of the

first signs of inflammation is redness. Red is the colour associated

with Mars. Heat is another sign of inflammation. Heat is one of the

keywords used to describe Mars energy. Mars vibration is hot, and

one who is hot-headed would more than likely be under the influence

of Mars. Sometimes inflammation is described as angry.


Fever is another weapon of the immune system. Fever kills pathogens with heat. More of Mars active energy.


The curious thing is, modern medicine attacks the Mars energy of the body but suppressing fevers and inflammation, lowering white blood cell count, killing off friendly bacteria that keep not so friendly bacteria in check,  all the while conducting a Mars-like acts in the name of curing illness often to the detriment of individual and perhaps even causing death. (Certainly, with no regard to the bigger picture of a healthy planet)  


Mars energy attacks disease. Mars energy fights disease. Mars faces the headwinds of illness straight on, takes charge and conquers illness. Modern medicine instead of having the caduceus:  two snakes winding around an often-winged staff, a symbol of the Greek god of healing Asclepius, may be better represented by the sword of Ares wrapped in garlands of laurel, suggesting the only way to health is through war.


Mar is the energy of moving forward at all costs. Under the influence of Mars, there is little regard for consequent. The goal, survival, carries the greatest weight. Mars does not concern itself with underlying causes, only winners and losers. With Mars, losing is not an option.


Mars is a belief that one is right. Being wrong is not possible. Being right, allows one to act without consideration for collateral damage. Or collateral damage is worth the prize. Nothing describes the activity of Mars in medicine more so than the war on cancer.


And it all began with Mustard.


A very brief history of the mustard plant, a plant ruled by Mars, over the past 200 years or so.

The history of Mustard is entwined with cotton and slavery in the United States, the migration of rural folk to cities and the first textile factories of the industrial revolution in Great Britain and landlocked Germany where the desire to cash in on England’s wealth to birth practical chemistry creating synthetic dyes based on plants for all those fine cotton fabrics being turned out. Naturally, the Germans experimented with the mustard plant, as anyone who has accidentally squirted their t-shirt with French’s mustard knows it impossible to get the stain or the colour of mustard out.


Then along comes world war 1. For years armies fight over inches

of the earth that are eventually be soaked in the blood of 10 million

soldiers (Here is Mars at it’s worse. It’s not about the number of

dead but inches of land.) Traditional forms of warfare are not

winning the war. New weapons are needed to kill more soldiers

to take that land.


The warmongers probe the warehouses of chemicals created by the

practical chemists seeking steadfast dyes and out they come with

the synthetic chemical based mustard no longer a liquid to dye

cotton, but now a gas to die by the first chemical weapon.


What happens next is the discovery that mustard gas in low amounts kills the cells infected of tuberculosis leaving undamaged healthy cells. (There was a terrible accident with a shipment of mustard gas from the United States and hundreds close by died, but those who lived a distance from the port with tuberculosis, survived.)


People die of cancer with no pain. Cancer itself is not painful. It only becomes painful when the tumours impose upon the nervous system. This is why cancer is often diagnosed in the later stages of the disease. The pain signal that announced something is not right and needs attention is not felt until its almost too late. Pain is another complex physical mechanism that is very important in protecting the health, although it often seen as the problem in of itself, and not a symptom.)

A doctor seeking a cure for cancer speculated that perhaps mustard at lower doses could kill cancer cells and chemotherapy was born.


The initial experiments, called clinical trials now, were a disaster. Every patient died a terrible death of burns and pain. This fight, using chemotherapy as a weapon again cancer cells, continues today. Let’s look at the statistics:


While chemotherapy has led to incredible survival rates in childhood cancers, ironically those under 5 years old now have a higher than ever before the chance of getting cancer, which was once an “old persons” disease. [1]


But it is not an argument about whether chemotherapy is good medicine or not, it is important to understand that the energy of Mars is at play in this form of medicine and has been since its inception.


The challenge with the War on Cancer, like a bolt of lightning, is the single-minded focus on beating the enemy. There is no focus on prevention. What is the point of saving lives, if the disease is still on the rise and affecting younger and younger people? It’s like cutting off your fingers to save your hand. It’s the belief again, that war brings peace, or as it is in medicine, war brings health.


I do not completely dismiss Mars energy in medicine, but there needs to be some Venusian energy as well. The understanding of the complex relationships supporting life. [2]


Mustard: A Plant Ruled by Mars


Mustard is emetic, stimulant and actively revulsive with marked anodyne properties. Its application to the skin produces intense burning, violent inflammation, and if persisted in too long, sloughing or ulceration. – American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy (1915) Finely Ellingwood, John Uri Lloyd.


With this description of mustards actions, one needs to

wonder if selecting a synthetic form of mustard for deadly

chemical warfare was a well-educated choice as opposed

to an educated guess.


The ancient Greeks, who classed medicinal herbs according

to the intensity of their heat or coolness, one being very cool

and four being very hot, classed mustard at hot in the

4th degree. The 4th-degree medicinal plants being the

hottest. Just to offer a sense of the heat a herb of the

4th degree carries, Cayenne, also ruled by Mars, is also

hot in the 4th degree.


When herbalists speak of hot plants or heat in the body, traditionally they are referring to the fire element. Mars rules fire. Mustard has fire.


Let’s consider what happens when you take a plant with a significant source of heat or fire, for example, wasabi, a form of horseradish which is also ruled by Mars. First, there is intense burning in the mucous membranes of the nose and sinuses. Often the nose begins to run and if it is really hot, people have been seen to jump out of their seats and say, “OMG!” There is two takeaways here. One heat from plants like mustard, horseradish and cayenne force the movement of mucus. One of the ways herbalists have used mustard for centuries is to move stagnant mucus when there is deep congestion in the chest, as in pneumonia. 


My mom who grew up pre-universal health care cringes at the thought

of mustard poultices on the chest. When she was a kid as soon as one

of the members in the family had the hint of a cold settling in their

chest, out came the mustard poultice for everyone. With seven

children, my grandmother took no chances. The mustard poultice

broke up the cold settling in the chest, and stagnant mucous was

expelled from the body via a cough or runny nose.


The second healing principal attribute to the Mars energy of mustard

is movement. Mars is the planet of action. When stagnation settles i

n plants carrying Mars energy will get everything.


This idea of creating movement is quite foreign to modern medicine.

Medicine modern tends to decrease movement and reduce heat, like

aspirin for fever and cortisone to stop the heat and any movement

associated with inflammation (one of the roles of inflammation is to increase circulation to the area of injury to increase the flow of white blood cells to the site and clean up any debris). Traditionally herbs that move in the same direction as the body are used to promote these immune system’s powerful innate healing actions. Remember I consider the immune system ruled by Mars. Traditional herbalists use mustard to trigger an immune response.


Mustard is used when the body and mind are worn out. Words herbalists of old used to describe states of health that need the activity of mustard are: despondency, debility, atonic (meaning a lack of tone or vigour), depression and gloomy. Mustard is recommended for deep achy cold pain. Accompanying all these conditions is a lack of movement in the physical process of the body like digestion, good deep breathing and physical exercise. When a client tells me they are no longer moving in the way they used to I know the illness has moved deep inside and plants carrying the energy of Mars will get them moving again.


Yet is a delicate thing using a plant-like Mustard. Too much internally will cause vomiting. Too much topically will cause blistering (recall the burnt-out lungs of soldiers in WW1. Mars energy must be used with extreme care and for a short time. Once the response one seeks from the body, such as coughing up green slimy mucous or bringing inflammation to ahead, it is important to immediately withdraw the medicine carrying Mars heat. Otherwise, things can get violent. And this brings us to the healing crisis.


The Healing Crisis and Mars


Many people believe that you must get sicker before you get better. That the healing needs to come to some kind of crisis before one is better. It is thought that pushing the body to heal will somehow bring healing. This very much practising medicine with a Mars attitude.


The practice of provoking a healing crisis comes to herbal medicine another tradition which is a close cousin called Homeopathy. A 19th century a brilliant European Homeopath by the name of Constantine Hering taught the essence of a healing crisis as “All cures come from within out, from the head down, and in reverse order as the symptoms originally appeared in the body.”


This means that the path a health condition took to

settle in the body is the same path it will take to

leave the body. For example, an individual comes

down with a cold. She does not take a couple of

days to rest and drink warm herbal teas, but

carrying the Mars energy, pushes through taking

over the counter medicine anti-inflammatories that

limit the symptoms of the cold and in doing limits

the immune system response to the viral infection.

This causes damaged tissue in the sinus as the

inflammatory processes that would have delivered

white blood cells to the area affected by the virus

and repaired any tissue damage are turned off.

Bacteria settles into the damaged tissues results

resulting in sinusitis, a sinus infection. The woman now goes to the doctor and is prescribed anti-biotics and more anti-inflammatories. The anti-biotics disturb the fine balance of the flora that supports a healthy bacterial balance in the respiratory pathways and weakens their defence against inhaled pollutants and other respiratory irritants. (This is Mars medicine fighting the work done by the natural Mars processes of the body). Now she begins to develop seasonal allergies and increased challenges with unhealthy air. She is now given an inhaler which dries up mucous pathways and lowers her histamine responses. (Histamines are one of the important messengers of the body that participates in calling the immune system to areas of the body struggling with pathogens or irritants.) Decrease histamine results in lower immune system response and dried up mucous membranes are no longer able to move pathogens out of the respiratory tract. Pathogens now have an easier route to pass into the body, as they no longer become stuck in the sticky mucosa. She has her first bout of bronchitis. The next winter another bout of bronchitis and cold that does not go away for weeks. The following winter she is sick all winter long.


In order to truly heal, she must go through each illness she had on the path to chronic illness. As she heals, first she will experience bronchitis,  hayfever, followed by a sinus like infection, and lastly a cold.


How does she know is having a healing crisis and not bronchitis? A healing crisis should last for no more than 5 days, the average healing crisis being 3 days. When it resolves, she will truly feel better and not need anti-histamines, inhalers or another round of anti-biotics.


Mars medicine, like the medicine carried in mustard, horseradish and cayenne can provoke the very early initial stages of her healing crisis by irritating the mucous membrane and thinning thick stuck dried up mucous so it can begin to move out of the body. The key here is once these plants have the heat and the movement returned to the body they are no longer needed. It is time for gentler plants, in particular a class of plants called alteratives that alter the environment of the body and support the clearance of toxins as well as nourish tissue now struggling to heal.


It’s like when the war that will end all wars only ends up in embittered deep-seated hatreds that lead to more war. If Mars is quickly brought to the surface and conflicts seen and meant with dynamic energy, initiative and courage conflicts can be quickly resolved. But when Mars is allowed free range with its fiery aggressive and impatience, war results. The same is true in healing.





[2] For more about our modern world’s approach to cancer I highly recommend The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherje

The surface of Mars.

Soldiers celebrating the end of wars to end all wars

The Immune System at Work

The Mustard Flower

So many ways to treat a cold.

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