Overview of Mars Synodic Return Cycle

Overview of Mars Synodic Return Cycle

By SADangMar in Article »

The Theory

Many astrologers run charts for their own, and for their clients, Mars Return. Commonly used, this is a chart of the exact time that transiting Mars returns to its original natal position. This happens about every two years. However, as explained in Part 1 of the Mars Cycle, the far more important Mars Return event occurs when transiting Mars returns to the natal degree when closest to the date and season of one’s birth. In the previous article we discussed how synodic planetary returns are part of the great ancient Hermetic and magical project of discovering and discerning how seemingly irrational cycles can reduce to whole numbers. Let us now explore how this works for Mars.

The Data

Unlike the elegance and relative simplicity of the Venus cycle and its synodic return pattern that is created by the nearly circular orbit of Venus, Mars presents us with a very different situation due to its extremely elliptical, eccentric and variable orbit. Mars makes its closest approach to earth, at opposition. The closeness of Mars to Earth can vary from 34,603,000 miles at its closest to nearly doubles the miles of 62,930,000 at its most distant.

The last Mars cycle (that started in March of 2012) was about as far away from the Earth as possible. Looking at the years from 0  to 3000 AD, Mars is furthest away from Earth in 2832.  The closest approach of Mars to Earth was in 2003 and won’t happen again until 2287 (according to the tables of astronomer Jean Meeus).

Because of this variability, the pattern established by successive synodic cycles, of 779 days or a 26-month average, rarely if ever appears in the same season, let alone within a few days of a target birthdate. With Venus, remember the synodic return is within 2 days every 8 years!

Mars does have its own unique pattern.  It’s roughly 15-17-15-17 – with certain years way closer than with others. After 7 synodic cycles, at age 15, Mars will return pretty close to its original degree in the same season and near the birthdate. This averages, over a long period of time, about 20 days before any one target date or birthday.  Because the synodic cycle before and after the 7th synodic cycle are quite similar, it’s also possible to have the synodic return within 20 days of the birthdate at age 13 and age 17.  However, the center point of the Mars return process is at age 15 as described in the pattern of 15-17-15-17-15-17 when Mars returns within 20 days of the birthday. With this pattern in mind here are the dates for the synodic Mars returns.

13, 15, 17, 30, 32, 45, 47 49, 52, 64, 77, 79, 81

Of these returns, the closest happens at age 47, occurring within an average of 8 days of the birthday, and at age 79, occurring within an average of 3-4 days after the birthday.

After working with this over 20 years, the returns at age 15, 47, and 79, are absolutely prime and major. From ages 30-34 and 60-64 the Mars returns are also of great importance along the Timeline of our lives. Some individuals will experience the Mars return at age 30 to be closer than the one at 32 and vice versa. The same is true for the age 60 to 64 Mars returns. However, due to the synodic return of Venus at age 32 and 64 we have a special reason for considering the Mars returns at those ages as having more importance. Naturally more experiential research on this is needed.

Meaning and Practice

Since becoming aware of the synodic return, I have incorporated it into my practice in a variety of ways. Should a client be in the vicinity of one of the magic age zones for Mars, the Mars Return process takes center stage at the highest level of interpretation. Remember that the length of the Mars synodic return cycle lasts for the entire 26-month (average) time period. (See Mars Part 1)

A client in the prime ages listed above may be anywhere in the synodic cycle of Mars from the beginning to the end. This means the client’s exact birthdate exists somewhere within the larger context of the 26 month synodic cycle of the Mars quest. The intention for Mars on the natal chart exists within the greater “story” of the unfolding Mars cycle playing out on the world stage (see Mars Part 1).

Mars Overtone

As discussed in Part 1, the synodic cycle of Mars begins at opposition and the sign Mars is in defines the dominant archetypal theme of the entire cycle. The sign Mars is in at the beginning of the synod is referred to as the overtone, similar to the family or clan. In March of 2012 Mars reached opposition to the Sun and was in Virgo. This means the overtone or clan or family of this 26 month Mars cycle is Virgo.

Taking this a step further, everyone has a personal Mars placement, and they also have a synodic overtone (or clan), that describes their synodic story at birth. For example, I have Mars in Scorpio on my natal chart, however, at the day and year of my birth, Mars was in the Leo overtone synodic cycle.  Each synodic cycle will have a different overtone, progressing through the zodiac.

See Mars Table Below to find your Mars Overtone

These are the dates Mars rises in the East at Sunset defining the Overtone of the Mars Cycle

Mars w Sun Sign   Mars w Sun Sign   Mars w Sun Sign
Apr 21 1920 01 Sc Nov 16 1958 24 Ta Mar 17 1997 27 Vi
Jun 10 1922 19 Sa Dec 30 1960 09 Ca Apr 25 1999 04 Sc
Aug 24 1924 00 Aq Feb 04 1963 15 Le Jun 13 2001 23 Sa
Nov 04 1926 11 Ta Mar 09 1965 19 Vi Aug 29 2003 05 Pi
Dec 22 1928 29 Ge Apr 15 1967 25 Li Nov 07 2005 15 Ta
Jan 27 1931 07 Ca May 31 1969 10 Sa Dec 25 2007 03 Ca
Mar 02 1933 11 Vi Aug 10 1971 17 Aq Jan 30 2010 10 Le
Apr 06 1935 16 Li Oct 25 1973 02 Ta Mar 04 2012 13 Vi
May 20 1937 29 Sc Dec 15 1975 23 Ge Apr 08 2014 19 Li
Jul 22 1939 29 Ca Jan 22 1978 02 Le May 22 2016 02 Sc
Oct 11 1941 17 Ar Feb 25 1980 06 Vi Jul 27 2018 04 Aq
Dec 06 1943 13 Ge Apr 01 1982 11 Li Oct 14 2020 21 Ar
Jan 14 1946 24 Ca May 11 1984 21 Sc Dec 08 2022 16 Ge
Feb 17 1948 28 Le Jul 10 1986 18 Ca Jan 16 2025 26 Ca
Mar 23 1950 02 Li Sep 28 1988 06 Ar Feb 19 2027 01 Pi
May 01 1952 11 Sc Nov 28 1990 06 Ge Mar 25 2029 05 Li
Jun 25 1954 03 Ca Jan 08 1993 18 Ca May 04 2031 14 Sc
Sep 11 1956 19 Pi Feb 12 1995 23 Le Jun 28 2033 07 Pi

Only after 7 synodic cycles, is there the possibility of the same overtone clan reoccurring.  Due to the erratic nature of the Mars orbit, the overtone is not always the same at the 7thsynod.  There is a greater likelihood of the same overtone occurring at the Mars synodic returns of age 47 and 79 than the other ones.

So far in our research, the original (birth) overtone carries through the entire life.  But if there are differences in a later synodic return, there is a sense of the evolution of the overtone clan over the course of a lifetime.  For example, my natal Mars is 25 Scorpio with the overtone at 28 Leo.  Each person can explore their own pattern of Mars returns and note what their experiences have been.

In Shamanic Astrology the archetypal sign of the overtone is used to help understand the larger cultural/global context of a 26-month time period. Unless a person is in a synodic return, I don’t usually integrate the overtone meaning into a reading. For practical purposes, the sign and aspects of the natal Mars works! But it can be very fascinating indeed to see where you are in the overall story of your Mars clan, or overtone, throughout a lifetime.

Age Mars Overtone
birth 28 Leo
15 15 Leo
30 2 Leo
32 6 Virgo
47 23 Leo
62 10 Leo
64 13 Virgo
79 11 Virgo

Mars Return for Men

The meaning and purpose of the synodic Mars cycle is different for men and women.

For men, this is when the primary archetype of the Masculine (natal Mars) that is intended for the current life, reconstellates or “drops in” at a deeper and more comprehensive level. It is important to note that nature of the initiatory process will differ depending on the age.

For example from age 13 to 17 the Mars return occurs around puberty.

An entire article could be developed describing just this Mars return time. Shamanic Astrology envisions a wide variety of Rites of Passage at puberty, each based on the specific archetype of masculinity arising from 13-17. For example, a boy with Mars in Aries or Leo, might desire to excel at a competitive sport or get the lead role in a school play. If Mars is in Libra, this might be the time for an early soul-mate projection that could dominate their experience. The Rite of Passage for a boy with Mars in Cancer might be to take care of a garden, or the family pets.

The idealistic intention is to recognize and honor the specificity and diversity of the archetype of Mars.  A one-size-fits-all approach would not work in supporting the activation of the individual Mars expression. For example, in some patriarchal African tribes, the puberty Rite of Passage sent all boys to the jungle with the instruction to bring back a Lion. Return to the tribe was not permitted unless this was accomplished. In a culture that desires to have only warriors this was an extremely intelligent technique! However, this also weeded out many other authentic expressions of masculinity.

Age Where Mars Return is on Timeline Intent
13-17 Within the 1st Saturn opposition Puberty
30-34 Follows the 1st Saturn Return True adulthood
45-49 Follows the 2nd Saturn Opposition Full power and second puberty
61-65 Follows the 2nd Saturn Return Full Maturity
77-81 Follows the 3rd Saturn Opposition Wise Elder and Completion

I love how the pattern of the significant Mars synodic returns also tracks the Saturn return and Saturn opposition as demonstrated in the above table.

Therefore, for men, the synodic return cycle of Mars wonderfully articulates the developmental process of becoming an adept in their intended archetype of masculinity as it unfolds along the Saturnine structure of the generational timeline.

Mars returns for Women

For women, the Mars synodic return cycle primarily involves, at first, a relationship with the projected “other” without reference to gender.  Her natal Mars represents her relationship to the outer “masculine.”  Eventually, the cycle necessitates the internal incorporation of this masculine archetype. This is a process in Shamanic Astrology called the “Sacred Marriage” and parallels the Venus synodic return for a man. For women, the Mars synodic return process is a most potent time for creating inner wholeness or an inner marriage with the “inner other” with or without a partner.

The previous schemata for men also applies for women as far as the life phases, but with a few additional features as described in the table below:

Age Intent Results
13-17 The projected “other” appears as an archetype usually different, but not always, from “father”. Sexual and emotional attraction to the other appears
30-34 Encounters the full power of the projected other Beginning of Sacred Marriage
45-49 Post-Saturn opposition menopausal time re-orienting feminine identity in relationship to masculine principle Greater Awareness of need for Sacred Marriage
61-65 Accomplishment of the Sacred Marriage Full Maturity of Sacred Marriage
77-81 Completion of the masculine archetypal investigation Attaining Wise Elder

Everyone’s journey to wholeness is different, and the above is a very general map.  Some “get it” sooner than others. With the exception of age 13-17, the sacred marriage potential of the Mars synodic return process can occur anytime. Each synodic Mars Return offers very real conditions and experiences for powerful inner work.


When I first started working with the synodic return cycles, in my usual idealistic way, I thought this was invariably a great and enjoyable cycle. I have learned this is not always the case. After years of experience with this, what I have noticed is that if the natal Mars position is relatively free of challenges, then the cycle IS enjoyable. This is also true if there are no challenging dynamic aspects happening to Mars during the return cycle. Natal challenges to Mars appear to be amplified at the synodic return, and if there are dynamic transits to Mars at the same time, then the synodic return cycle is a maximum intensity initiation event.

I have also noticed a certain somewhat “spooky” reoccurrence of the same themes that keep coming up again and again at each Mars synodic return. (This is very much the case with synodic Venus Returns as well).  Each return offers up an opportunity to handle and perhaps even resolve the issue. Yes, the planet is very strong, and it is also encountering its primary challenges and possibilities.

Thoughts About Age 2

Even though the synodic cycle will not arrive back to the vicinity of its starting point, until the 6th and 7th cycle (age 13 and 15), something worth adding to this exploration is what happens with the first Mars Return after birth.

The cultural story identifies this time as the “terrible twos.”  The astrological correlate that happens around age two is the first Mars Return. Because the average synod of Mars is 26 months, it does not necessarily return all that close to the birthdate (certainly not within 20 days).  However, when and how the “around age two” Mars return occurs seems to relate to a process that psychologists call “rapprochement”.

This is the time when the toddler develops an initial urge to separate from mother and tries to get away from Mom. Some children will get very far away from, others not so far, before realizing that they can’t yet make it without Mom. The theory is that the distance of separation before needing to get back to Mom becomes the spatial and psychic distance that will exist throughout the life, with reference to personal and intimate relationships.

One can easily see how the sign of Mars and its aspects at birth can magnificently describe the nature of rapprochement in each individual chart. I suggest looking at your own age two Mars return, noting when and how the first return happened for you. You are looking for the time when natal Mars first returned to its sign degree, even if it’s some weeks before or after the actual 2nd birthdate. Be sure to check the transiting aspects and remember to include the natal Mars aspects as well, particularly with reference to the archetype and sign of the Moon. You may find this to be very illuminating.

This view of the first synodic Mars cycle, while not actually a true synodic return, demonstrates the added importance of the time period of 13-17 as being the actual initiatory window of separation and individuation from mother and father.

Final thoughts

The use of the synodic planetary cycles is relatively new in modern astrology (not in ancient astrology). Because of this much of our understanding is experimental. In the Shamanic Astrology Mystery School we are learning more about these cycles all the time. Please do share your feedback and any findings either from your own life or work with your clients.  Thanks!