Phobos and Deimos

Phobos and Deimos (Moons of Mars)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The planet Mars is circled by two small, irregularly shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos. Phobos, with dimensions of 17 x 14 x 13 miles, orbits Mars every 7.7 hours in a circular path that never carries it more than 3,720 miles away from its primary (the celestial body around which a satellite orbits). Deimos, which is 10 x 7 x 6 miles, orbits Mars every 30.3 hours, traveling approximately 12,470 miles above the surface. These distances represent the inner and outer extremes for bodies orbiting a planet the size of Mars (i.e., if Phobos were a little closer, it would crash into its primary; if Deimos were a little more distant, it would escape the Martian field of gravity altogether). As in most planetary moon systems, the orbital paths of the Martian moons align with their parent body’s equator.

Astronomers speculate that Phobos and Deimos may once have been asteroids (perhaps one asteroid that later split apart into two) that wandered close to Mars and were captured by the planet’s gravitational field. Whether or not these satellites are former asteroids, the asteroid connection provides the link between current astrological research and planetary moon studies: Given the growing astrological acceptance of asteroids, many of which are smaller and farther away than the Martian moons, it is only natural that astrologers begin considering the influence of Phobos and Deimos (not to mention the influence of the moons of the other planets).

The moons of Mars constitute a useful starting place for planetary moon studies for three reasons:

  1. Mars is the closest planet with moons.
  2. The principle indicated by phobos (fear; the source of the term “phobia”) and deimos (panic or terror) is comparatively straightforward and clearly represents the polar opposite principle of Martian assertiveness or courage (other planet-moon relationships are more complex).
  3. The moons of Mars have attracted the imagination of human beings more than the moons of the other planets (with the exception, of course, of Earth’s moon), indicating that their astrological significance should be more easily retrieved from the collective unconscious.

With respect to the last reason, it is interesting to note that, a century and a half prior to Asaph Hall’s discovery of Phobos and Deimos in 1877, Jonathan Swift’s fictional hero Lemuel Gulliver found that the Laputans had discovered two Martian moons. Also, later in the eighteenth century, Voltaire wrote about a visitor from Sirius who mentioned the two as-yet-undiscovered moons of Mars. Both Swift and Voltaire based their speculations on the work of Johannes Kepler, who as early as 1610 hypothesized that Mars was circled by two moons. Mars itself has also figured prominently in imaginative literature, having often served as the backdrop for stories of “martial” bravery (e.g., Edgar Rice Burroughs’s series of Martian novels featuring the brave and noble John Carter), as well as the home world of fearful and terrifying monsters who invaded Earth (the most well known of which are the Martians in H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds). Although both these subgenres draw on the Mars archetype (war), the latter also draws on what might be referred to as the Phobos-Deimos archetype (fear-panic).

Hall named the Martian moons after the sons of Ares (Aries), who was the Greek equivalent of Mars, the Roman god of war. Phobos and Deimos have no mythological tales of their own. Rather, they are simply mentioned in the context of other myths, where they serve as their father’s chariot drivers. Developed myths are not necessary, however, to decipher the meaning of these “brother” moons; unlike the names of many other celestial bodies, Fear and Panic are self-explanatory. Similarly, it takes little reflection to see why they should be associated with Mars: As a psychological principle, Mars represents outgoing energy, assertiveness, courage, and aggression. This planet’s placement in a natal chart indicates how, and in what area of life, this principle is expressed most readily. What is not usually mentioned, however, is that where one most tends to express one’s self in acts of courage and aggression is also where fear occurs the most. Courage, especially, makes no sense by itself; courage is always courage that overcomes fears, and acts in spite of them.

The significance of Phobos and Deimos for astrology is that astrologers have traditionally associated fears with Saturn (sometimes with Neptune) and cast that planet in a role that belongs to Mars’s sons. Psychologically, Saturn represents the principle of security-seeking, and its polar opposite principle, which manifests in the sign and house occupied by Saturn, is insecurity—not fear. Although these two emotions (insecurity and fear) are clearly related, it should also be evident that they are not identical. With this distinction in mind, psychologically inclined astrologers (and astrologically inclined psychologists) can more precisely analyze their clients’ anxieties.

This utilization of the Martian moons—delineating fears in terms of the sign and house position of Mars (the position where Phobos and Deimos will also be found)—is fairly straightforward. However, Phobos and Deimos are in constant motion around their parent body, and the constantly changing dynamic of their orbits introduces variations that merit further research. For example, with respect to the geocentric (Earth-centered) perspective, it appears that Phobos and Deimos move forward with Mars half the time and in the opposite (retrograde) direction as the other half. Recent astronomical ephemerides include information from which this alternation can be calculated. It should thus be possible to research the variation that retrograde motion introduces into the astrological influence of the Martian moons.

Also, following the lead of practitioners of heliocentric astrology (the branch of astrology that casts Sun-centered charts, even for individuals born on Earth), investigators should be able to cast areocentric (Mars-centered) charts for the positions of Phobos and Deimos and obtain a more complex delineation of our fears. Perhaps these areocentric positions can even be placed in a geocentric natal chart, as the geo-helio approach does with heliocentric planets. These are just a few lines of potential research.


Lewis, James R. Martian Astrology. Goleta, CA: Jupiter’s Ink, 1992.
McEvers, Joan, ed. Planets: The Astrological Tools. Saint Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1989.
Room, Adrian. Dictionary of Astronomical Names. London: Routledge, 1988.
Wilford, John Nobel. Mars Beckons: The Mysteries, the Challenges, the Expectations of Our Next Great Adventure in Space. New York: Vintage, 1991.
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