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Retrograde motion is the orbital motion of a body in a direction opposite that which is normal to spatial bodies within a given system. ‘Retrograde’ derives from the Latin words retro, backwards, and gradus, step.
In the Solar system, mostly everything rotates in the same sense: all major planets orbit the Sun counterclockwise as seen from the pole star (Polaris). Most planets spin in the same sense, including Earth. The same happens with the orbital motions of the Moon, Mars’ moons, and the biggest moons of Jupiter and Saturn around their planets. All these motions are called “direct” or “prograde.”
Rotation in the opposite sense is called retrograde. Venus and Uranus spin clockwise, so they have a retrograde rotation. Some small moons orbit clockwise around their planet, and are called retrograde satellites. Some comets and small asteroids orbit the Sun in retrograde orbits. All these are the exception rather than the rule.
When we observe the sky, we expect most objects to appear to move in a particular direction with the passing of time. The apparent motion of most bodies in the sky is from east to west. However it is possible to observe a body moving west to east, such as an artificial satellite or Space Shuttle that is orbiting eastward.
This orbit might be considered retrograde motion in this sense. However, as the Space Shuttle and such satellites you see going eastward would be seen orbiting the Earth counterclockwise if seen from the Pole Star, they are considered direct satellites. There are also artificial satellites which go clockwise as seen from the pole star; they are called retrograde satellites and you can see them in the sky going westward.
Retrograde motion should not be confused with retrogradation. The latter term is used in reference to the motion of the outer planets (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and so forth). Though these planets appear to move from east to west on a nightly basis in response to the spin of Earth, they are most of the time drifting slowly eastward with respect to the background of stars, which can be observed by noting the position of these planets for several nights in a row.
This motion is normal for these planets, so it is called direct motion (not retrograde). However, since Earth completes its orbit in a shorter period of time than these outer planets, we occasionally overtake an outer planet, like a faster car on a multiple-lane highway.
When this occurs, the planet we are passing will first appear to stop its eastward drift, and it will then appear to drift back toward the west. This is retrogradation, since the planet seems to be moving in a direction opposite to that which is typical for planets. Finally as Earth swings past the the planet in its orbit, it appears to resume its normal west-to-east drift on successive nights.
Mars goes through retrogradation about every 22.5 months. The more distant outer planets retrograde more frequently. The period between such retrogradations is the synodic period of the planet.
This retrogradation puzzled ancient astronomers, and was one reason why they named these bodies ‘planets’ which in Greek means ‘wanderers’. In the geocentric model of the solar system, this motion was accounted for by having the planets travel in deferents and epicycles.
In modern astronomy, the term retrograde motion refers to objects which are actually moving in a direction opposite that which is normal to spatial bodies within a given system, as opposed to merely observed phenomena (retrogradation) such as that described above.
Some significant examples of retrograde motion in the solar system:
- Venus rotates slowly in the retrograde direction.
- The moons Ananke, Carme, Pasiphae and Sinope all orbit Jupiter in a retrograde direction, and are thought to be fragments of a single body that Jupiter captured long ago. Many other minor moons of Jupiter orbit retrograde.
- The moon Phoebe orbits Saturn in a retrograde direction, and is thought to be a captured asteroid.
- The moon Triton orbits Neptune in a retrograde direction, and is thought to be a captured Kuiper belt object.
- The planet Uranus has an axial tilt which is very near to 90ï¿½, and can be considered to be rotating in a retrograde direction depending on one’s interpretation.
Try to Avoid:
- Communication miscues, gossip and misunderstandings. Think before you speak, consider before you take action.
- Lethargy - Feel like your stuck? Its easy in this energy of retrogrades... burst out !
- Depression - This is an absolute energy draining activity. Count your blessings, find joy.
- Self-Pity - An energy bleed, and destructive activity.
Using this Energy Wisely:
- Meditate daily & Focus on Joy
- Exercise - Take walks, get out of the house, enjoy nature and visit friends
- Count Your Blessings
- Make a List of Positive Goals You Wish to Manifest & Focus on them. This energy is full of life force, especially in the phases of the ascending Moon and in periods of the Solar Flares.
- Give Others Your Love
This symbol is often used to indicate retrograde motion. A planet being in retrograde means that, to us here on Earth, it appears to be moving backwards. The opposite of retrograde motion (or Rx for short) is direct motion.
Of course, the planets are not really going backwards. It is an optical illusion. Take Mercury retrograde for example. He travels around the Sun faster than we do, and every 4 months, he passes us in his orbit. We here on earth witness Mercury appearing to go backwards for three weeks.
When you were a kid, did you ever go on long car trips, lie in the back seat and stick your feet out the window? If you pass a big car or truck passed you, it looks to you like it’s going backwards. Retrograde motion is a lot like that.
What does it mean?
Each planet in your natal chart represents the way in which you use a certain energy. For example, Mercury is the mind, your ideas, mental energy. Venus in your chart describes what you value and how you reach out to others in love.
When a planet in your chart is retrograde, you experience the energy of the planet in a more subjective, internal way. Thus your experience and expression of the planet’s energy is very unique to you. There is also a link to the past, or a concern with the past. Some karmic astrologers believe that retrograde planets indicate a link to a past life.
With Venus retrograde in your natal chart, your concept of beauty is different, comes from a different place, than those around you. With Mercury retrograde, your thinking is different. With Jupiter, planet of philosophy, your ethics, morality and religion may differ from your family’s.
Retrogrades and karma
Do these differences come from a past life? Maybe. Some astrologers think so.
If so, is it a punishment? No. It can be a great gift. But, an astrologer who does not understand karma might choose to interpret difficult things in your chart as some form of punishment. We make God in our image, rather than the other way around. Karma does not judge or punish. Those actions stem from human emotions!
Your chart shows your life’s lessons: those you have already learned and integrated, and those you’re still working on. It could be that you brought over the past life energy shown by the retrograde, to assist you in your soul growth in this lifetime.
The most important thing in karmic astrology is to use your chart as a map showing the way to inner peace and happiness, rather than to validate a negative view of yourself.
Notes on retrogrades
Usually the planetary energies flow outward “in the pursuit of” the various energies represented by the planets. But with retrograde planets the energies are turned back inward on the person & no longer is the fulfillment of this planetary pursuit to be found “out there” but within ourselves, contrary to what we may observe in others having the same planets direct.
With retrograde planets you have a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of the areas signified by the retrogrades & at the level indicated by their signs.
The retrograde effects usually register on the plane of activity that is represented by the element that contains the retrograde planet. If it’s an earth sign, the physical plane. Air, intelligence, mental activity. Water, emotions. Fire, passion, ideals & motivation.
Most important: When the retrograde planet is angular, or in the same sign as the sun, or if the retrograde planet is already in high focus or the ruler of the chart: It can dominate the personality.
The retrograde will affect most noticeably the house containing the retrograde planet. It will also have an effect on the house it rules, & on the houses containing planets that aspect the retrograde planet.
While retrograde planets do not deny, they do delay events in our lives. People with many retrograde planets in their chart have to “go the long way” to find their path. People with zero retrograde planets tend to be the ones who decide what they are going to “be” in childhood, and actually do it.
The Sun & Moon never turn retrograde. The Moon’s Nodes (mean) are always retrograde. The true Node is usually retrograde, but occasionally direct.
Retrogrades by planet
Retrograde Mercury: These people absorb thoughts & ideals through osmosis rather than careful, deliberate study. Own best teacher. Tendency to question what others accept as gospel. More capable of dealing with abstractions & impressions than those with Mercury direct.
Retrograde Venus: has unique ideas regarding pleasure, beauty & love, & less concern for the social amenities. They tend to put those they love to the acid test: “If I do x & y, will you still love me?” Can lead to some form of antisocial behavior. They may seek unconventional women.
Retrograde Mars: Work in its more conventional, mundane sense can be very painful for these people. Work best when it has some sort of “cause” associated with it. Less competitive than usual Mars energy— often in competition with themselves. Mars retrograde women are often attracted to men who are dependent, irresponsible, handicapped in some way, or social misfits.
Outer planets are retrograde roughly five months of the year. Thus they’re often found retrograde in a birth chart.
Retrograde Jupiter: These people are capable of taking advantage of opportunities that others ignore or pass by. They prefer to “take another crack” at things others have tried & failed. Their moral & ethical code, religion & philosophy are their own. They seek answers from within rather than subscribing to the standard dogma. They seek abundance in new, untried & unproved areas.
Retrograde Saturn: These people nearly always grave doubts about their worthiness as human beings. Can be very childlike in their behavior & fearful of taking chances. This is an ego-reducing kind of situation. There is usually a subconscious fear of rejection & of loss. Their limitations & responsibilities are self-imposed. This is probably the most difficult retrograde.
Retrograde Uranus: Here is a natural born rebel. Strong reformer instincts — for everybody else. These folks have a strong inner need & desire to persistently test their personal abilities against those of others. They must constantly prove themselves to themselves. In seeking greater freedom for themselves, they may limit the freedom of others.
Retrograde Neptune: These people are frequently confused inwardly as to whether they are “virtuous” or not. Persistently seek to help others, whether their help is wanted or not. They are more susceptible & more easily taken in by others.
Retrograde Pluto: Nearly half the world’s population has this retrograde. Its effect is hard to determine except to say that these people generally have a harder time integrating themselves into the mainstream of society. When Pluto is very strong, these people find themselves doing things without understanding why.
Retrograde ruler of the rising sign: These people doubt their personal worth as individuals & are very concerned with their self-image. Late bloomers.