“Mars is the god that makes the iron grow. ” Old saying
Gone is the gleaming golden age, gone are the days of silver and copper ruled by the gentle muse of poetry and art. Now we live in the Age of Iron, and the ruler here is Mars, the fiery god of war and the lusty lover of Venus.
From the earliest crude wood-fuelled cast iron forges to the vast steel mills of South Chicago we have industrialized the planet, creating a technological labyrinth of iron and steel. Without iron there would be no factories (no plastic, no computers), no transport, no communications, war or industry as we know them. Without iron our civilization would totally disintegrate, so dependent we have become upon this humble metal.
Undoubtedly tremendous technological benefits have been brought to the human race, but the cost of man’s use and abuse of iron is becoming rapidly apparent; with iron man has constructed weapons to destroy not only whole races of people and animals but also Nature, the mother of all of us. The energies of Mars have come to dominate our society and our daily lives.
Ever since humans first learned to forge iron it was put to the purpose of war. Early Egyptian mythology describes the god Horus subduing the enemies of Ra with spears and chains of iron, and in later Roman times the spears of Mars were kept in the king’ s house and the god himself was believed to reside in them and was invoked for battle. By the Middle Ages swords of Damascus and Toledo had become famous weapons ~ but it was the invention of guns, and other more deadly weapons that changed the nature of war forever.
Although a humble metal, iron wields an unsuspected power that man in trying to harness has instead been enslaved by it. Although we can’t easily escape these iron chains which have been forged around us, we can at least learn to understand something of this metal’s deeper nature.
THAT UBIQUITOUS METAL
“Iron occupies the center of the stage. It cannot be overlooked or undervalued.” – Wilhelm Pelikan
Iron is present everywhere, all around us and inside our bodies, in the earth, in the atmosphere as meteoric dust, and being largely soluble in its salts it is dissolved in springs and streams to be carried out to the ocean. Of all the metals, iron is the most abundant, forming with its oxides and a great variety of other ores, up to 5% of the earth’s crust, but pure iron is rarely found. Instead it combines with other elements to forms ores such as magnetite, hematite, chalcybite and siderite which contain over 50% iron, with the greatest deposits forming an iron ‘belt’ or ‘girdle’ around the temperate northern half of the northern hemisphere. So it is in North America, England, France, Germany and Northern China where most iron ore is mined, with the largest mines located in the USSR. Some iron is also mined in southern latitudes, such as the north of New Zealand where Japanese miners suck tons of black iron sand from the western beaches, hot as a tin roof underfoot in summer.
Other combinations with iron include sulphur as pyrite, found at a great depth in the oldest rocks on the planet, testifying to iron’s involvement in extremely ancient earth processes. And with oxygen iron forms the ore magnetite which, as its name suggests, is magnetic, and forms whole mountains in the far north, in Norway, Sweden and the Urals. This affinity with oxygen is a vital part of iron’s nature and function, for iron freely takes oxygen into itself and just as freely gives it back out. As ferric oxide, iron is trivalent and rich in oxygen; as ferrous oxide it is bivalent and low in oxygen and forms the characteristic red rust.
This red rust reminds us of the Red Planet, Mars the ancient planet which has been linked in strange ways to our own, and where civilizations older than we can imagine are said to have once flourished but now are red dust; where exists “…the presence of enormous quantities of ferrous iron oxide, hematite, on the Martian surface, giving it its red color. Ferrous iron, rather than black ferric iron, is found only where large quantities of free oxygen are present…or were present.”1
Iron also has a very close relationship with carbon, readily combining with and transforming this ‘earth substance’ to form a harder, stronger metal. Curiously, the iron girdle or ‘breastplate’ through the northern continents is flanked by another ring of coal deposits, the carbon so necessary for man’s forging of iron. While pure iron is soft and malleable, it hungrily absorbs carbon to form the hard, but brittle cast iron, as the earliest forgers discovered with their clay furnaces into which they dropped the ore with pieces of charcoal. In England, by the 15th century, this method was improved with a greatly increased air supply leading to the construction of powerful blast furnaces belching the first industrial smoke into the skies of Europe. In 1856, an Englishman discovered by adding just the right proportion of carbon, how to make steel, the intermediary stage between the soft, malleable iron and the brittle cast iron.
THE ‘BROTHERS OF IRON’
Other metals with a special affinity with iron, and which Rudolf Hauschka describes as ‘the brothers of iron,’ are cobalt, nickel, chromium, manganese, tungsten, vanadium and platinum. They are all found with iron ore, form carbides, and share practically the same qualities of resonance and lustre, while displaying a similar low level of conductivity of heat and electricity. Yet each displays certain qualities unique to itself and other forms of elemental energy which folklore describes in terms of nature spirits.
For example, the name cobalt is derived from the ‘kobolds’ or gnomes who work deep down in the metallic earth veins tormenting miners or helping at their whim. Although sharing iron’s reaction to magnetism and forming carbides like iron, cobalt is described as an ‘earthier form of iron than iron itself,’ its salts and ores ‘tinged with a dark and melancholy shade of blue-violet’ Nickel is the ‘watery brother’ of iron, its name derived from the ‘nixies,’ the undines or water spirits, and this metal does shine with a watery lustre more in keeping with copper with its salts showing the deep green of the sea. Yet its carbides are tough and resilient and are used for example, in the manufacture of gun barrels. Manganese is said to have the fiery quality of iron with red to flaming violet coloured salts. It makes a very hard steel, and tungsten and vanadium when alloyed with iron produce a steel almost as hard as diamond ~ an essential component in steel working tools.
- COPPER – The Substance of Venus
- TIN – Jupiter’s Thunderbolt