Martius, the month of March, is named after him. So is the fourth planet from the sun and a bar of chocolate, but we know him mainly as the god of war.
If you lived in ancient Rome, his name would be as familiar to you as your own, especially at this time of year with all of the holidays and festivals dedicated to the City's favourite son. You would be choosing your prettiest ribbons, studying the form of the newest racehorse or bargaining for the best seats at a track and field meet. Or perhaps preparing for war overseas, for Spring was the beginning of the Roman campaign season.
There is a common belief that depictions of Mars show him as a warrior, but look a little closer and you see that he is no savage attacker but a disicplined soldier in regulation battle dress bearing regulation arms. As Mars Gradivus, he was the patron of the legions and a fitting role model for the highly trained Roman infantryman. It is his Greek equivalent, Ares, who has the character traits of the wild warrior.
For Mars was also the father of Rome. It was believed he had dallied with a Vestal Virgin who subsequently gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of the Eternal City, and so he was known as Mars Pater, the father and protector of all the people who lived within the gates.
He is definitely a male god, we use the astrological sigil of the planet Mars to represent men and masculine energy. Prominently displaying the arrow of action, it symbolises the male essence, the energy of yang - active and expanding. As an earlier fertility god he was Mars Sylvanus, responsible for the shoots of grain which thrust from the soil after planting.
In astrology, Mars is the ruler of Aries and signals the season when everything awakens, grows, rises and sprouts after winter. This is the planetary time of energy and action, with the element of fire bringing the very spark of life
The reddish tinge of Mars in the night sky made our ancestors think of blood, and consequently war, but don't for one moment believe that in modern times we are any more sophisticated. Even though we know the bloody appearance is caused by soil rich in iron oxide, (old-fashioned rust), the threat of invasion from the Red Planet plagued our imaginations only a couple of generations back.
Like all deities, certain animals are associated with him, in this case the wolf and the woodpecker, and his companions are Fuga and Timor, flight and fear. The moons of Mars are named in Greek for these companions, and before everyone becomes too confused about Phobos and Deimos, remember that Tuesday is also named for the god of war. The French have Mardi, the Spanish Martes, and it is Martedi in Italian. In English we call this day after Tyr, the boldest of the cold- climate gods, who inspires courage and heroism in battle, and is the Northern equivalent of Mars. Tyr has soldier-like qualities as well, he is noble and self-sacrificing. On the day of Ragnarok, he will kill Garm, the guardian of hell, but will himself die from his wounds.
So March is a month for action. Decorate your house with some red blooms and bring a little male energy into your everyday affairs.
Susanna Duffy is a Civil Celebrant and mythologist. She creates ceremonies and Rites of Passage for individual and civic functions using ancient myths in modern settings and produces an ezine of Legends and Lore for the general reader