Charting New Territory, by Chris Maunder


The evening sun settling down on the dusty blue horizon, Geri excitedly thrust open the wooden chest. Thrills of expectation, yes, but also irritation: why had no-one told her about the collection of Grandparent Laurie’s belongings until now? Laurie had passed away over five years ago, one of the last survivors of the original mission; as a young person not long out of university, she had judiciously omitted to mention during the interview that her motivation for volunteering was a desire to connect with ‘cosmic energies’! Her naivety served to render her one of the most homesick people on Mars. Nevertheless, she found a partner among the geologists there and so two generations of Mars-born colonists emerged, of whom Geri was the youngest, now passing into adulthood at ten Martian years old.

Geri rummaged through the items that Laurie had preserved as her most cherished keepsakes: some jewellery; cards and notes bearing personal messages; several electronic storage devices containing photographs, video material, books, and articles. Geri’s eagle eyes sought out just one kind of prey: memories of humanity’s home, azure Earth. A small pile of books bound with a frayed ribbon held promise. The advent of e-resources over a hundred years ago had never rendered hard copy literature extinct; people still preferred to retain a modest collection of favourite volumes. Her eyes lighted upon a dog-eared, faded treasure: Astrology for the Cosmic Traveller.

This enticing tome did not disappoint, especially as Laurie had stored within it a single page horoscope for each of her descendants. Geri knew vaguely what these graphs looked like because of her voracious appetite for historical oddities. Yet there was near unanimity of opinion amongst the colonists that astrology represented an ancient superstition finally meeting its demise with space travel. Grandparent Laurie, it seemed, had maintained silent dissent in opposition to this viewpoint.

The horoscopes constituted a circle divided into twelve segments with various symbolic glyphs inscribed at intervals within. They had been calculated using old tables based on the assumption that the birth occurred back on Earth. Underneath Geri’s, Laurie had scrawled: ‘Geri has a very close Venus – Mars opposition from the first to seventh houses (however, as she was born on Mars, her actual birth chart would include a conjunction of Earth-Moon and Venus)’.

Geri closed her eyes, breathed out an exaggerated sigh, and concentrated in her attempt to understand. On Earth at the day and hour of her birth, Venus and Mars were in opposite directions, so looking up into the solar system from Mars, where she had actually taken her first breath, the lights of Earth-Moon and Venus hung together.

Now the sky turned from twilight butterscotch to the velvet black of night. Geri remained absorbed in the antique book. She failed to register the ghostly appearance of Earth and Moon in the dusk as they chased the sun into the rocky western horizon, which normally she observed to the last drop of their glimmering.

High-speed reading confirmed that, in the old geocentric system of symbols, Venus represented female and Mars, male. From Earth, Venus shines brightest of all the planets, whereas Mars, although quite distinct with its russet light, exudes a softer glow. Viewed through the lens of archaic patriarchal ideologies, Venus radiated the mythic beauty of female sexuality; the rusty redness of Mars connoted epic stories of the warrior male, drawing life from his victims. This seemed strange to Geri, for whom blood evoked a connection with female bodies (she was just now taking part in yet another study of the effect of Martian life on the menstrual cycle). But these planetary associations belonged to a former (although not very far distant) time when people were not only physically but also socially defined by their reproductive systems, human beings in barred cages.

Geri resolved to use her astronomical expertise to construct a new chart based on her Martian birth. She knew that Mars, along with its opposition to Venus, would disappear from this horoscope, drawn down into the rock and dust beneath her feet. Alpha male, non-female, all-independent power broker, bearer of lance, mace, pistol, and shield, definer of genders and the canons within which they should live, denier of transgender, interred. What he represented had likewise ceased to exist in the life of the colony. Did Geri, mystic, romantic, archaeologist of the ancient Earth traditions in which he had reigned, malignly, hold any nostalgic desire to restore him?

She smiled, contentment sending warmth to her eyes. No, she did not. There was no turning back. Her heart beat the life rhythm of an evolved habitat, a new territory.

Not one page of Astrology for the Cosmic Traveller spoke of a conjunction between Earth-Moon and Venus. The task of including it had been bequeathed to Geri. She would need to draw upon her creative imagination and bring into being a revised edition for Martian colonists.



Chris Maunder is a part-retired lecturer in Theology & Religious Studies, who has worked at York St John for over 30 years. Before taking a Theology degree, he practiced astrology. His research area is Mary, the mother of Jesus, and so he is especially interested in transformations of gender and sexuality.

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