The Role of Mars in Mardi Gras: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Feb 5, 2018

There are three planets outside the orbit of the Earth that are visible to the naked eye: Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. All three of them are visible in the morning sky this week, and the one I want to zero in on is Mars.


So, why Mars? It’s not the brightest of the three right now, but later this year, Mars is going to come as close to the Earth as it can get, traveling toward us at a speed of 900,000 miles a day! Mars came to its closest approach to Earth for thousands of years back in 2003, spawning a wave of confusion about its size and appearance, and this year in July, it will come even closer than it was then! Still, despite how close it’s coming, Mars is never going to appear larger than it does now~it will simply appear more brilliant.


Mars plays a significant role in the three-day carnival festival that begins this week on Saturday, and which marks the period of wild mischief that precedes the Lenten season of abstinence and purification. The carnival culminates in what is commonly referred to as “Mardi Gras”, which literally means: Fat Tuesday. Tuesday is Mars Day. The word “Mardi” from the French, means Mars Day.


How does Mars find itself aligned to Tuesday? In ancient tradition, Mars was a young god of action and aggression, whose temper could be settled by the thoughtfulness of Jupiter, or the wisdom of Saturn. Mars was known for being combative and instigating confrontation. In the Holy Week that precedes the Easter festival, Mars Day, or Tuesday, is the day that the tribes confront the Christ Being and seek to trick him with riddles to instigate trouble. What former cultures understood in aligning their festivals to the days of the week was that, when we don't let mischief have its play, it festers and builds and can erupt in Mars-inspired wrath and fury. 


Looking into the sky this week, you’ll see the Moon approach the planet Jupiter on Thursday, looking south an hour before sunrise. On Friday, the Moon will greet Mars, just as the carnival celebrations are about to begin; and on Sunday, the Moon will be beautiful near the golden planet Saturn, who supports the wisdom of merrymaking in its season.