Mars, Camels and Bush Warriors
Reprinted with kind permission from NOVA magazine.
Written by Daniel Sowelu.
The Australian bush is both an exquisitely beautiful treasure and a potentially life-threatening demon. It can evoke great love and a deep sense of primal connectedness in one moment and be absolutely unforgiving the next. To move through it without the cocooning protection of modern vehicles demands alertness, flexibility, a deep respect and preferably someone who knows the individual country well. In places like the Kimberley, where this great beauty and danger co-exists, one needs to call on their Mars energy. The old god of war represents the energy of courage and confidence needed to face life’s challenges, whether external threats or inner emotional and psychological hurdles.
Anyone observing the eastern sky during the middle months of this year will have noticed an usually bright “star” in the east. Mars is usually an average sized celestial light but because of its proximity to the earth, its closest in 60,000 years, its luminosity rivals that of Venus or Jupiter. Astrologically speaking, this further highlights the energies of this ambassador of the masculine, which has traditional associations with anger, assertiveness, warrior energy and the expression of individuality, passion, sexuality and physical potency. He is the action arm of the psyche and connected to all things red-blooded and enlivening. “ Coincidently” the planet Uranus hovered way beyond Mars but directly in alignment with it, in the sign of Pisces. Another high energy of the psyche, Uranus is the great awakener, intent on releasing blockages to the fuller expression of our essential self. On another level it is also associated with dramatic shifts and movements on both psychic and spiritual levels. However, this combination of the electric Uranus and the fiery Mars is potentially very combustible, with a reputation for igniting old, suppressed anger or fire energy, manifesting as conflict, catharsis, even accidents, in an attempt to release the build-up of pressure.
Each year we take a small group of people on a 12 day trek across the Western Kimberley, guided by Harry Watson, a senior elder of the region and supported by 8 camels of varying eccentricity, carrying our gear, food and water. Against this rather dubious and, exciting astrological backdrop, it was always going to be an interesting trip. Mars was our constant nightly companion, as we slept, or attempted to sleep, under the stars in swags and mosquito domes. He was very much ruling our nightly journeys through dreams, visions, emotional stirrings and spontaneous eruptions from the unconscious.
Even before we had arrived, Mars had reared his angrier head by having one of the camels chomp down with full force, unexpectedly, on Harry’s hand, necessitating a rush trip to Derby for medical attention. Given Harry’s experience with these particular camels, this was an unusual event in itself. At 62, he still carries significant injuries from his old stockman days and yet still retained his brilliant smile and ready humour despite the heavy bandaging of his hand!
This year his brother in law Jim comes too, helping out with the camels. Another ex-stockman, Jim is a quiet and rather shy man who prefers to stay on the periphery of us white folks but emanates an earthy warmth that everybody appreciates. The privilege of travelling with such men, the traditional owners, through their ancestral homelands, is the greatest gift of these treks. And although we get daily “lessons” about tracking, gathering bush food, locating water and staying safe around wild bulls, feral pigs, crocs and snakes, most of the real lessons are non-verbal, through a kind of psychic osmosis. Much just “happens” to each of us, just being around them, that engenders a progressive sense of safety in such unfamiliar country.
One of the best examples of this occurred on the third day. The smallest member of our party, at five foot nothing, had been quite concerned about her ability to keep up physically with the group. Even though we were only covering between six and ten kilometres a morning, and two of the camels were free for riding, it was an unusually hot day for this time of year. However, she got into a kind of slipstream walking right behind Jim, who led that morning. To her immense surprise, she not only completed what turned out to be the toughest section of the trek without resorting to a ride, but actually powered through it. She wanted to give Jim all the credit for this experience, but it was an even greater eye-opener to realise that although he had been the catalyst, that this capacity was already inherent in her own system, represented by having Mars in Taurus in her own astrological chart. Having been awakened within, she could now learn how to tap into the awesome strength and staying power of this part of herself.
In this context of Mars energy, men like Harry and Jim are great examples of the sacred warrior, the best expression of the archetype. On one hand, they are able to deal intelligently and decisively with any threat from the environment. Their ancestors were fierce warriors who actively resisted the first waves of cattlemen before they were shot, imprisoned or absorbed into both the cattle and the abortive sheep industry. Last year, Harry calmly faced down, on foot, an angry bull that started at him three times, placing himself between it and us until it gave up the attack. An amazing thing to witness. Fortunately this year, while we saw lots of bulls, our only close encounter was a young one bolting through a small gap between walkers and camels, trying to stay with the rest of its mob. Still, it gets the heart pumping to see something so big at full flight at such close quarters. Mars rules the adrenal glands and the “flight or fight” response and everyone on foot headed towards the nearest tree, on cue!
On the other hand, they are deeply concerned with the welfare of their extended families as they are to our own small party’s. Equally sensitised to the emotional and spiritual environment, at the end of each day their chanting of the old songs would envelope us in the still, crystal-clear nights, Harry the older, with voice strong and leading, Jim’s low, soft and resonant. In the western world we have so few examples of such balanced warrior energy, combining the best of the masculine with an extended mystical sensitivity.
The healthy realism that comes with this has aspects that are somewhat shocking to suburban green sensitivities. Taking a machete to live trees to make way for the camels and their tall loads, squashing live frogs because they’re natural bait for barramundi, bludgeoning a big barni or bungarra lizard for tucker, are all a part of the natural scheme of things. At one point, we came across a big, highly poisonous King Brown snake with exquisitely colouring. Us walkers make a respectful but curious detour around it but as soon as Harry sees it, he whips out the rifle, shoots it, takes off its head and throws it, still writhing, into a bag for dinner!
The group process, the other thread to these treks, with an emphasis on the healing journey, was also strongly influenced by the Mars dimension. In another curious synchronicity, every member of the group, two men and six women, had major issues or blockages to their Mars’ energies showing up in their astrology charts. The perfect bunch for the Martian trip and because of the prominence of the Mars/Uranus equation, clearly this was a part of the dharma, or spiritual contract of why we had come together, at this time and place.
The trek began on the full moon, an already luminous time but on the third night, the moon was to line up directly with the Mars/Uranus conjunction, a critical time in the processes it represents. Given the conjunction’s potential for violent eruptions and accidents, it became an imperative to honour and work with the energy directly, to alleviate the possibility for any dangerous outcomes, while still encouraging the forward movement and openings. Using experiential astrology wheel work, everybody was given some direct connection to the Mars energy, its current status, needs and expressions. Doing so allows that part of self to breathe more fully within the psyche, releasing some of the pressure build-up that happens at peak times like this.
In our eclectic way, we finished off with an old Sanskrit chant invoking the Indian god Ram as an expression of this spiritual warrior within each of us. As we did, a Nankeen Kestrel, one of the local birds of prey, alighted onto the tallest tree above us and sang three times, perfectly, exquisitely on que! In many aboriginal traditions, birds and animals are said to carry ancestral spirits who are the guardians of place, and their synchronistic appearance, like times like this, have always felt to be an acknowledgement, irrespective of the type of spiritual practice used. Everyone’s hearts are lifted by a sense of wonderment at these visitations.
In the course of the next seven days, our group worked with some classic Mars territories; blockages to anger and assertiveness, opening up some rather masculinised defence mechanisms, clarifying individual needs and relationship boundaries, exorcising inhibitions to creativity and the inner child. The confrontations with fear, whether of the unknown, of crocs and bulls, of personal exposure and intimacy, of aloneness are all a necessary part of both finding our own unique expression of Mars and in doing so, finding our freedom.
This was reflected by the group’s nightly placements of their domes. Initially all huddled close together, by the end of the trip they were scattered literally over acres, as their sense of safety increased in the course of the 12 days. Similarly during the last day of walking at the base of Mt Anderson, I was describing similar country further south that doesn’t have the threats of bulls and crocs, and one of the women bursts out with “oh how boring!” On a similar note, one individual’s desire to know her own masculine was reflected by her unknowingly walking onto a male initiation site on the last evening, while looking for a place to lay her swag. This is obviously taboo for a woman and she was quickly invited out of there but the symbolic message from her unconscious was very clear.
The final night is always one of celebration, feasting and song, with some sadness as well. We are joined by Harry’s extended family, including brother John and, his father in law Darby, another ex-stockman who, in his eighties hobbles slowly but independently around on crutches. Softly spoken, the old man enthrals a few of us in hearing range with stories of the old days. But, at a later point when all the aboriginal people sing for us, the most powerfully resonant voice emanates from this frail old man, with a quality that I have only felt with the old Indian masters of mantra. The songs are performed by invisible dancers in our circle, making translations unnecessary. Some of us have tears in our eyes from the beauty and spiritual power of the experience.
As leaders we are very happy and, very grateful. Given the unpredictable and yet promising astrological terrain, we’ve had no accidents, nobody got hurt despite the potential threats, everybody feels looser on an inner level, we’ve had a great time and, much quality exposure to living expressions of positive, spiritually connected, warrior energy. Indeed we have been amply looked after on every level.