About the Retrograde Planets

What is the Retrograde Motion of Planets?

If you look at the starry sky at night, you might notice that everything — stars, planets, the Moon — participate in a perpetual movement. They rise in the East, culminate above our heads and then set in the West. This movement is the result of the Earth's rotation around its axis, and it is relatively fast: one full rotation of the sky takes only 24 hours.

But there is also another kind of movement in the sky. If you make a photo of the sky at the same time, say 2:00 am, night after night, you will notice that the sky doesn't stay the same. The stars form a kind of fixed background, but the lights (well, you have a chance to see only the Moon at night) and planets move against the background of stars. This movement is much slower: the fastest of the travellers, the Moon, completes her path around the sky in about one month, while the slowest of those visible by the naked eye, Saturn, does the same in about 30 years.

Planets are travelling along the ecliptic — the path of the Sun against the background of stars, so the ecliptic is used as a kind of ruler or tape-measure that helps us to define where exactly a planet is located in the sky at the moment. If we say that Mercury is in the 2nd degree of Leo at the moment, this simply means that, relative to the ecliptic, Mercury is somewhere between its imaginary points which could be labeled as "1° Leo" and "2° Leo".

Relative to the ecliptic, the planets are normally moving from West to East (opposite to that fast movement that results from the Eath's rotation around its axis). But at some stage in their movement a planet gradually slows down and then begins to move backwards, i.e. from East to West. This is exactly what is called the retrograde motion. Its duration is different for different planets — for example, Mercury moves backwards for about 3 weeks, and then it resumes its normal forward movement, while Venus remains retrograde for about a month and a half.

There is nothing mystical in this change of direction. It is described in many textbooks on astronomy. This is a visual phenomenon, of course. No planet changes its direction in reality, they just continue to rotate around the Sun. There are schemes explaining how this phenomenon works but I don't want to make you bored by showing these schemes to you. If you are interested, you should be able to easily find them in astrological and astronomical textbooks.

Let me just propose you a simple analogy which can give you an idea of how it works. Say you are travelling on a train and there is another train moving next to yours in the same direction. If that another train is slightly slower than yours, it will seem to you that it goes backwards, while in fact it goes forwards. The phenomenon of retrograde motion works in a similar way: depending on relative speeds of the Earth and another planet, in their movement around the Sun, it may seem that that planet goes backwards.

All these explanations were so far pure astronomy — a bit boring, but necessary for understanding how things work. Now we are coming to astrology.

A Detailed Example

While astronomers simply explain the mechanics of retrograde motion, we astrologers try to understand what meaning this phenomenon could convey to us.

Let us note that as a result of retrograde motion, a planet passes thrice along one and the same segment of the ecliptic. Say, during the retrograde motion of Mercury in July 2006 Mercury stopped in its apparent motion against the starry sky on the 4th of July while being in the 2nd degree of Leo. Mercury then went backwards and was moving this way until it reached the 22nd degree of Cancer. On the 29th of July it stopped and from there resumed its normal forward motion.

Hence in the process of retrograde motion Mercury was moving backwards along a segment of the ecliptic from the 2nd degree of Leo to the 22nd degree of Cancer. However, to reach the 2nd degree of Leo, Mercury had to already pass along the same segment of the ecliptic. It originally crossed the 22nd degree of Cancer around the 17th of June. And after returning to the same 22nd degree of Cancer in retrograde motion, Mercury travelled along the same segment the third time, until it reached the 2nd degree of Leo again — this happened around the 12th of August.

The whole story looks like this:

The path of retrograde Mercury, summer 2006

As you can see, Mercury moves along the same segment of the ecliptic (22 Cancer – 2 Leo) thrice: from point 1 to point 2 (direct), from point 2 to point 3 (retrograde) and from point 3 to point 4 (direct).

Being astrologers, we should think in the terms of "as above, so below". So what could it mean for us, the terrestrial beings, if celestial Mercury stops, goes backwards and then forward again, passing thrice the same segment of the ecliptic along the way?

The Symbolism of the Retrograde Motion

My teacher of astrology, Russian mathematician and aeronautical engineer Augustina Semenko, used to say that the whole story of retrograde motion is about the change of a stereotype.

A Stereotype? What's That?

Whether we realise this or not, in our lives we have some reference points for our experiences, some templates or patterns which define exactly how we perform this or that activity. We tend to communicate in a certain manner peculiar to us, our preferences in learning a new information may be quite different from those of the other people. We prefer to read certain kind of articles in certain newspapers, to express our thoughts in a manner of our own. All these details of our personal approach towards communication can be perseived as the Stereotype of Mercury.

The Stereotype of Venus is about our likes and dislikes, values, attractions and fashions. We prefer certain styles, colours, we might feel affinity with some people but not with the others. We have specific preferences in food and drinks.

The Stereotype of Mars is about how we are using our energy to achieve what we want to achieve. It defines our approach to work, sports, exercising, our ability to pursue our goals and defend ourselves, both physically and psychologically. Mars is closely related to the sexual energy and to the way we express our sexuality.

The important idea is that our stereotypes do not stay the same over the whole life. They tend to change, to evolve and develop. However, the changes in our attitudes can be more noticeable for those people who are not very close to us. And the last person to notice any change is ourselves.

Anyway, the idea is that the most important changes in our stereotypes take place during the retrograde motion of planets associated with them.

Before point 1 in the graph shown above we are happy to use the old stereotype. However, during the period of time from point 1 to point 2 the old stereotype becomes weaker and weaker until it completely vanishes at point 2.

We are left in this world without a stereotype to use and we feel like we've lost something. We go backwards in an attempt to find what we have lost, and the period from point 2 to point 3 is when we have no stereotype at all and are looking for one. This is a strange and interesting time when many things can happen, and some of them would seem to us impossible a bit earlier. Some usual, basic actions might be not very successful at such times however, as we have no firm ground to deal with the world.

We pick up some new stereotype at around point 3, and then the period of time from point 3 to point 4 is when we learn to use it, this takes some time.

Personal Planets

Of the ten planets that are used in the mainstream astrology, the Sun and the Moon (they are also called "planets", just for convenience) are never retrograde, so we won't speak about them here. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are so called higher planets. They move very slowly and their aspects and zodiacal signs entries are usually associated with some global events or transformations — processes that are far beyond our control and understanding. So we won't be dealing with the higher planets in this article either. They remain retrograde for approximately half a year and then direct for another half a year.

Jupiter and Saturn are social planets and they play a major role in the astrological study of economics and politics, but again not so much in our personal lives, at least not directly. Jupiter goes retrograde for about four months each year while Saturn — for about five months.

In this article, we are going to concentrate on the personal planets: Mercury, Venus and Mars. I find that their periods of retrograde motion are the most important in our daily lives. In fact, they are so important that I would say that everyone should know about them. This knowledge could help us to avoid many frustrations and to make our efforts much more efficient.

Mercury's retrograde periods are the most important from the practical point of view, and they happen quite often, three to four times a year. So the examples of events that I will be giving here will be mostly about retrograde Mercury.

Retrograde Venus is a rarer phenomenon, it happens once every two years. Mars goes retrograde even more seldom. You can see the closest retrograde periods of personal planets on the corresponding pages: Retrograde Mercury Periods, Retrograde Venus Periods and Retrograde Mars Periods.

From Point One to Point Two: the Period of the Disappearing Old Stereotype

During this period, the planet is still direct but it slows down gradually, until it stops completely in Point 2.

From the astrological point of view, this is the period when the old stereotype is quickly becoming outmoded and irrelevant. In Point 2, it is going to be completely discarded.

In real life, this is usually the period of hectic activity in the areas of life related to the planet, which is about to become retrograde. For example, when Mercury is in this period, there is a feeling that although Mercury is slowing down, its affairs are rushing forward. The number of meetings, sent messages, letters, signed contracts goes significantly up, as if people were desperate to use the old stereotype as much as possible, while it still exists.

The main peculiarity of this period is that whatever is done under the old stereotype, quite often comes back for re-evaluation, correction, rescheduling, or it might simply becomes irrelevant. As Mercury begins to move backwards after Point 2, the human affairs associated with it also tend to go backwards.

So the advice for this period is: don't try to do too much when the planet is in the first part of its retrograde motion period, from Point 1 to Point 2. Chances are, whatever you do will return to you and will either require some significant corrections, or might even become completely irrelevant as it was done under the guidance of an old stereotype (that fades away by Point 2).

The Search for a New Stereotype (from Point 2 to Point 3)

This is a period when the old stereotype doesn't exist anymore, but there is no new stereotype either. In the sky, the planet stopped at Point 2 and started to move backwards — at first very slowly but then faster. We feel like we lost something so we stop and turn back in an attempt to find it.

But what we are actually looking for is a new stereotype for the areas of life that are governed by the retrograde planet. We are going to find it by the time the planet reaches Point 3, but right now there is no stereotype to use, and because of this, the period of retrograde motion can bring us some rather strange experiences.

One usual advice that is often given by astrologers is: don't buy anything important if it is related to the planet that is currently retrograde. This means that when Mercury is retrograde, it would be a good idea not to buy computers, calculators, phones, office equipment and similar things. Venus is related to fashion clothes, jewelry, gourmet food, cosmetics or anything that has a high value in general. When Mars is retrograde, it is advisable not to buy tools, machinery, sports equipment and the like. Having said that, I would caution you against any important purchases when Mercury is retrograde, as we are too much prone to miscalculations at such times.

Why is that? A possible explanation is that retrograde motion is the period when we don't have a stereotype that would normally influence our decisions. As a result, our decision to buy something can often not be based on anything sound, and later, after we pick a new stereotype in Point 3, the newly purchased item might simply fail to fit that new stereotype. We might then decide that it is not as useful or valuable as we thought, and the item purchased under a retrograde planet can easily become abandoned. Somehow, it also often happens that something purchased at such times has some hidden defects in it, and those defects are typically only uncovered when the planet goes direct.

On a similar note, another popular advice says that if you met someone for the first time when the planet associated with the type of that meeting was retrograde, chances are you will never meet that person or those people again. Say, someone came to you with a wonderful idea, you were both excited and decided to do something together in the future. The problem is: neither of you had a clear understanding of what you really wanted and what was good for you — neither of you had a proper stereotype to build your decisions upon. As a result, after the retrograde planet reaches Point 3, you might think about the recent agreement as of something totally irrelevant.

With retrograde Mercury, this is about business agreements or some other ideas in general, while with retrograde Venus, more or less the same can be said about love affairs. As a general rule, it is a bad idea to get married when Venus is retrograde. Just because your understanding of why you got married can change significantly quite soon, and that change might be not very good for the marriage. The whole retrograde period of Venus might be difficult for an existing couple, especially if their relationships became a little bit boring over time. They might decide they love someone else. When Mars is retrograde, a first meeting with a sports coach might prove to be futile. Actually, Mercury is so important for mutual understanding in any kind of relationship that retrograde Mercury is unfavourable for meeting any new people, I'd say.

Although it is convenient to think about retrograde periods in psychological terms — like, this is something that is happening in our minds only — our world seems to be a bit more complex. As a matter of fact, many things go weirdly wrong when a personal planet, especially Mercury, goes retrograde. Failed communications are a usual occasion, once I spent two weeks without any Internet connection (which is very unusual for me) because Sky broadband just didn't work. On another occasion, but that's during retrograde Mars, heating system suddenly failed in the middle of winter. Read newspapers when a personal planet is retrograde, and you will find a large number of examples of various failures and disorders that are related to the symbolism of that planet.

One of the most striking is an example of an almost unimaginable mistake that was reported in newspapers in the end of March 2019. "A British Airways plane scheduled to travel from London for Dusseldorf mistakenly flew its passengers to Edinburgh instead". The mistake was only spotted while landing, when passengers were welcomed to Edinburgh. How could that happen? But it did happen. And in that year Mercury was retrograde, between points 2 and 3, from the 6th till the 29th of March.

By now, you definitely have an impression that a retrograde period is something evil. But it is not always so, and not necessarily so. My opinion is that if you know what's going on, such a period can be extremely productive.

First of all, the period from Point 2 to Point 3 is when a lot of new ideas comes to us. Some of them are wonderful, others are weird, but the important fact is that we are able to notice and appreciate them because our mind is not bound by any stereotypes, it is more open than usual. One important consequence is that some of the new ideas can help you to solve a really old problem, to find a way out of a dead end. Another important thing is that you can suddenly see a totally new direction in your life — something you couldn't even imagine before. But wait! Don't make your final choice in an important matter right now, while the planet is still retrograde, wait until it will reach Point 3, and then a little bit more...

From Point 3 to Point 4: The Ripening of the New Stereotype

Theoretically speaking, in Point 3 we obtain a new stereotype. However, the way of thinking like "oh, tomorrow Mercury will turn direct, so I will go and buy that thing" isn't very productive. The planet still moves along the same piece of the ecliptic, the new stereotype is not well established yet and a decisions that came to your mind in the recent past can still have a significant influence on what's going on during this period.

The bottom line is that if you are planning something very important and it can wait, let the planet pass Point 4 and only then go ahead.

A Conclusion

Point 1 – Point 2, the Period of the Disappearing Old Stereotype

Don't try to do too much, or if you can't avoid that, then prepare to return in the near future to the decisions you made during this period.

The best tactic is to let old things go and prepare for the coming steep turn.

Point 2 – Point 3, the Search for a New Stereotype

Don't:

Do:

Point 3 - Point 4, the Ripening of the New Stereotype

To be on the safe side, wait until the planet reaches Point 4.

© 2021 Alexander Kolesnikov