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Retrogrades in Astrology

Retrogrades in Astrology

Part 1

Recently I was interviewed about my take on retrogrades, whether they’re easy or hard, why they may or may not be challenging, how natal retrograde planets work, how to use retrogrades to best effect, and more. Today I’ll give you my notes I prepared for that interview.

The interviewer is going to use some of this as well as material from other interviews in her upcoming book on retrogrades. She sent me questions so I’d know what general things she wanted me to comment on. Here are the questions and my answer notes, though of course I fleshed out some answers in the interview which I include here. While some things repeat, it was how the interview unfolded, so some of this is a perfect example of a retrograde piece!

As I had many pages of notes, I’ve split this into two parts for an easier read. In this part we’ll cover the questions:

  1. What is the most challenging retrograde period? Why is it so challenging?
  2. What is the "easiest" retrograde period, and why?
  3. Why do people Have a hard time managing the continual number of Mercury retrograde? Why do Mercury retrograde periods happen over and over and over?
  4. What's your favorite retrograde, and why?
  5. What's your least favorite, and why?

I began by stating that retrogrades are a phenomenon which happens to all the planets and it’s a function of the relative speeds of those planets from the perspective of the Earth. This is because nothing really goes backwards, but slows down in its orbit and speeds up in its orbit and sometimes Earth is in a position where it looks like the planet is going backwards. That means we have to take a different look from a different angle at the span we’ve just traversed.

We’ve already seen this span once and the retrograde gives us an alternative view so that when the planet goes direct, we get a third experience of that energy so we can master it.

What is the most challenging retrograde period? Why is it so challenging?

This is where we have to break it down to examine which planet we’re talking about. Each planet has its duality of function, which I explain in Saturn: Spiritual Master, Spiritual Friend. There is a positive, or healthy expression of each planet, as well as an unhealthy function, and our job is to raise the expression of that planet from the unhealthy to the healthy. Retrogrades give us opportunities to take a new look at all the parts of us that are shown by the different planets to change how we want to express those energies.

I have found the most challenging period for Mercury and Venus is the period before the retrograde station, when they’re slowing down before the inferior conjunction, which is when Mercury or Venus conjuncts the Sun while retrograde. The slowed pace affects our response to those energies. After the inferior conjunction the planet begins to speed up through the next superior conjunction, which is when Mercury or Venus conjuncts the Sun in forward motion.

With Mars, I believe the most challenging period is the time when it’s in its shadow zone up to the oppositions, since it is slowing down that entire time. Again, that means the pace of all things ruled by Mars slows down, so we have to adjust to a different pace.

I don’t consider the retrogrades for planets beyond Mars to have any negatives, because they’re “nothing personal.” While the Sun and Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars are all personal planets, Jupiter and Saturn represent the social, cultural, and spiritual factors in our house of personality. While the Sun and Moon do not go retrograde, they do slow down and speed up in the course of their orbit, which impacts our experience.

Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are the spiritual field for the entire world, so we get new material when they move forward out of their previous shadow zone, and then review that spiritual material when they are retrograde. However, because they occupy a relatively narrow span of degrees in any given year, they could occupy a given shadow zone off and on for as much as a year or two or three.

All retrogrades give us reflections and reviews. The inner planet retrograde periods give insights into personality. The outer planet retrograde oppositions to the Sun bring awareness of those social, spiritual, and transpersonal energies within the larger whole cycle. All oppositions to Mars and the planets beyond Mars happen when those planets are retrograde, while all conjunctions of the Sun with an outer planet happen when that planet is direct.

What is the "easiest" retrograde period, and why?

I have found the forward period after the planet goes stationary direct, because we’ve already traversed that span of experience twice. In studying retrogrades, we learn about the shadow zone. That is the span of degrees between the retrograde station and the direct station. The recent Mercury retrograde began at 25 Capricorn and went back to 9 Capricorn. That made 9 through 25 Capricorn the shadow zone.

We got our first experience of the retrograde shadow zone during the first transit with Mercury slowing down before it went stationary retrograde. We got a second experience of the retrograde zone while the planet was retrograde. It then went stationary direct and began its third time in that degree span. By the third pass, we should already have some expertise in understanding what that was about, specific to the house or houses where it happened in our charts.

Whatever the sign, we got three different views of that span of experience and what it’s about in our lives. That multiple angle understanding allows us to move forward with that three-fold experience after Mercury leaves its shadow zone.

Why do people Have a hard time managing the continual number of Mercury retrograde? Why do Mercury retrograde periods happen over and over and over?

It’s because Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, moves a whole lot faster than we do. It happens frequently because it’s part of a natural process of Mercury speeding around the Sun during the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun. That’s why it seems to race forward and then go back from the perspective of the Earth.

Mercury represents “Divine Mind” which is continually racing forward and then slowing down so that Life, represented by the Sun, can catch up to it from the perspective of the Earth. Mercury is how we coordinate things in life, There are times when our mind gets out ahead of our life and at some point we have to slow down and figure out how all this information fits into our life on a day to day basis. Once the inward-turned mind or the “backward turned” review and reflection, “compare and contrast” process of the retrograde is done, then the mind realizes it’s looked at something long enough and it’s time to move forward with a new understanding.

Even though Mercury retrograde period do happen more frequently than other planetary retrogrades, different Mercury retrograde periods fall in different elements. For example, all of the 2022 Mercury retrograde periods began in the early degrees of the Air signs and retrograded back into the latter degrees of the Earth signs. In 2023 they all begin in late Earth and retrograde back to the early degrees of the Earth signs. In 2024 they will all begin in Earth and then retrograde back into Fire.

Each year brings its own special Mercury retrograde qualities. And because each one falls in a different sign and a different house we’re continually reviewing and getting new information and getting a new look at those affairs, just from a different angle. Like in 2022, in January we had a retrograde in Aquarius which ended in Capricorn started in a visionary idealistic sign and wound up in a sign of practicality. In May we had a retrograde which began in Gemini, the sign of information and sending and receiving ideas and wound up in Taurus, a sign where we learn what is of value and how to simplify things to make the idea substantial.

Each of us had to deal with these in our own way. Different people have different experiences with the same retrograde, since it falls in different houses, and rules different houses in the natal chart. Some of us get insights into things, while others are forced to deal with things from the past which they didn’t deal with before. Some get dramatic returns, while others get new ways of seeing how things have come to be as they are.

Mercury retrogrades are often periods when if we didn’t deal with something in the past which needed to be dealt with then, they come back during a subsequent retrograde. These are times when things which were concealed before are no longer hidden. We may not have understood something in the past, but a retrograde helps us take a new look at that past in a new light given subsequent events.

That’s why there’s often a “back to the future” quality in Mercury retrograde periods and events because they often bring the past back up to the present. Sometimes things from the past which we didn’t think were important then are suddenly seen in a new light and understanding and we realize something back then is crucial to our functioning now.

That’s what a retrograde does. It brings echoes, returns, reflections and reviews, even rehearsals, because sometimes we go through things which don’t turn out as we expected and we wonder why we went through it and then we find ourselves doing the exact same things after a period of time when we are doing it the ways we’re supposed to be doing it. That’s when a retrograde becomes a rehearsal for a future we didn’t know was coming!

What's your favorite retrograde, and why?

I appreciate all of them, since they each give a review of crucial departments of life. Each planet is responsible for its own department of life just like each house is an area of our life. Retrogrades give us an ability to reflect on how we’re responding to our inner planetary energy and the strengths and weaknesses of each planet. The planets are our inner Lights, each with a specific “department of labor.” We learn by those parts of us experiencing all 12 sectors of reality we call the signs.

For example, Jupiter moves forward in a sign, and then retrogrades in that sign and some years even goes back to a previous sign. It then moves forward to the next sign, and goes retrograde in that sign. With Saturn, we might get two or may three retrogrades in each sign it occupies. Uranus gives us seven retrogrades in each sign.

So we get different layers of retrogrades, different opportunities to learn about planetary functions as they go through all 12 signs bringing us unique experiences within the whole of life. Along the way we learn about those planetary functions in the personal world, the interpersonal world, and the transpersonal world within us, in our dealings with others, and in how we deal with the universe.

If we get an opportunity to take a second, third, or fourth look at something we’re experiencing then we’re not racing forward trying to process new experiences; we’re reviewing and reflecting and remembering and re-evaluating, rethinking and re-feeling whatever the retrograde brings up in our inner world or in the outer world. Retrogrades are a natural part of every planetary cycle, like an inbreathing and outbreathing of our experience of that inner planetary quality, moving forward, then reflecting, then moving forward, then reflecting.

We are a consciousness moving forward in our experience. As part of the growth process, we need time to reflect, review, and digest our experiences to allow our planetary qualities to evolve as we move through the personal signs, the interpersonal signs, and the transpersonal signs. We pick up qualities along the way and drop other qualities which no longer appeal to us.

I speak about this in my books on Saturn and Venus. Life is about making choices to replace unhealthy responses with healthy responses. Eventually we are able to create positive and constructive karmic patterns so that whether a planet is retrograde or direct, or in any of the signs, we are using those planetary energies in a favorable way. When we are able to do that, then we are never paralyzed by any planet in any sign making any aspect, and are never led to express our planets in an unhealthy way.

What's your least favorite, and why?

Those retrogrades which involve things from the past which should have been resolved in the past. Even if something from the past reappears in a retrograde, it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily supposed to say “yes” to it. It may be that it returns so we can be really clear why we had to say “no” to it in the first place. Maybe some old offer will come back and we’ll see that what we really wanted in the past no longer appeals to us because we have grown and we don’t want that any more as it would distract us from our purpose, what we’re trying to actualize in the moment.

Sometimes people will come back and we’ll see a quality in them which we didn’t see in the past which helps us understand why something happened the way it happened. With a Venus retrograde, we may get a review of a person or a feeling, maybe some way of relating or a memory of how we were seduced in the past, or maybe how we gave away our power to another and got off center or lost our balance. If something or someone returns, it’s not necessarily because we didn’t deal with it initially; perhaps we get a new look to see what was in our mental “rear view mirror” so we can see how we’ve grown in our likes since then.

How does the shadow period differ in terms of intensity and effects?

The first pass through the shadow zone is our first exposure to that altered pace. The retrograde gives a new look at the same area from a different angle. The third time in forward motion should be easy, since we’ve already gotten a look before the retrograde.

It’s like we study the Book of Life each day as we live it. But there are times when we don’t get to go to the next chapter, and have to review what we just read or saw or thought or heard. We have to find a different angle of understanding as we review and reflect on the material, and incorporate it into our larger understanding of our way of expressing that planetary energy.

See you soon with part 2 which includes some remarkable Mercury retrograde events across a few centuries, how birthchart retrogrades work, progressed planets going retrograde or direct, and ways to use retrogrades to best advantage!


Part 2

In part 1 I related that I was recently interviewed about my take on retrogrades, why they may or may not be challenging, why they recur so often, what’s good about them, how natal retrograde planets work, how to use retrogrades to best effect, and more. These two articles are from the notes I prepared for that interview.

In part 1, we covered these questions, so if you didn’t read that article, please do so as it precedes what we’re discussing today.

What is the most challenging retrograde period? Why is it so challenging?
What is the "easiest" retrograde period, and why?
Why do people Have a hard time managing the continual number of Mercury retrograde? Why do Mercury retrograde periods happen over and over and over?
What's your favorite retrograde, and why?
What's your least favorite, and why?

Today we’ll cover these questions:

  1. Do you know of any impactful world events throughout history that have coincided with a retrograde?
  2. What does it mean if you have a retrograde in your birth chart, and how would that affect you during that specific retrograde period?
  3. What is the best way to use retrograde periods to your advantage?
  4. How can you be sure that you're not under the influence of a retrograde when you're acting a certain way?
  5. Anything else you'd like to say about retrogrades that wasn't covered? (This allowed me to speak about what I think are the most common misconceptions about retrogrades.)

As I mentioned, the interviewer is going to use some of this as well as material from other interviews in her upcoming book on retrogrades. She sent me questions, and here are my answers from my notes as well as additional material from the interview which I include here. While some things repeat, it was how the interview unfolded, so some of this is a perfect example of a retrograde piece!

Do you know of any impactful world events throughout history that have coincided with a retrograde?

When I was doing research for my pioneering book A New Look at Mercury Retrograde, I found Mercury retrograde periods are great times for uncovering past corporate criminal activity, exposing wrongdoing and wrongdoers, and times when that which was hidden comes to light.

They are great times for things from the past coming back up. They are times when things happen initially which will take time to develop, or turning points in how things are developing from the past and they haven’t yet been resolved, but they’re being revisited and will probably resolve in a future Mercury retrograde period. I have an entire chapter in the book where I list Mercury retrograde events. Here are a few from my research notes which aren’t in the book:

Columbus set sail from Spain on the voyage that would take him to the Americas for the first time, 1492; Leo (SD) It is famously said his name wasn’t Columbus, when Columbus started out he didn't know where he was going, when he got there he didn't know where he was, and when he got back he didn't know where he had been. That’s a retrograde!

  • Spanish Armada set sail to invade England; after unexpected storms, it was destroyed by England in August, 1588; Taurus
  • John Wilkes Booth and Jefferson Davis caught, 1865; Taurus
  • Seward reached agreement with Russia to buy Alaska, 1867; Aries
  • President Andrew Johnson suspended Secretary of War Stanton; sparked first impeachment proceeding against a US President in history, 1867; Leo (SD)
  • Women in the Utah Territory gained the right to vote, 1870; Aquarius
  • Custer massacred at Little Big Horn, 1876; Gemini
  • Supreme Court ordered Standard Oil breakup, 1911; Taurus
  • Roald Amundsen discovered South Pole, 1911; Capricorn (SR)
  • The "Titanic" sank off the coast of Newfoundland, 1912; Aries
  • Republicans propose first ever federal sales tax, 1922; Aquarius (and they just did it again during the past Mercury retrograde!)
  • Lenin dies of cerebral hemorrhage, 1924; Capricorn
  • J. Edgar Hoover given post as FBI Director, 1924; Taurus
  • Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly non-stop across US, 1932; Leo (SD)
  • Dirigible Hindenburg explodes at Lakehurst N.A.S., 1937; Taurus
  • Russians invade Finland, 1939; Sagittarius
  • All-India Congress demands total independence from Great Britain, 1940; Leo (SR)
  • Nazis confiscate French art treasures, 1940; Leo (Later on, during another Mercury retrograde period, Allied soldiers found art treasures buried in a salt mine.)
  • Hitler orders preparation for British invasion; Battle of Britain begins, 1940; Leo
  • FDR re-elected to become the first third term president in history, 1940; Scorpio
  • Hitler begins war on Russia, 1941; Cancer (SR)
  • Mexico declares war against Germany, Italy, and Japan May 30, and then agrees that war had already existed since May 22, 1942; Gemini (SR)
  • Battle of Midway, the turning point of the Pacific War, 1942; Gemini
  • Eleanor Roosevelt advocates voting rights for ages 18 and up, 1943; Aquarius (eventually the 26th amendment was passed in 1971 due in part to the song “Eve of Destruction”)
  • Mexico issues a decree ending the siesta, 1944; Taurus
  • Battle of the Bulge begins at Bastogne, Belgium, 1944; Capricorn (SR)
  • US Senate ratifies water pact with Mexico "guaranteeing" them 1.5 million acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River, 1945; Aries
  • Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Russia declares war on Japan, Japan surrenders, 1945; Virgo (SR)
  • First underwater atomic test at Bikini Atoll, 1946; Leo
  • India invades Kashmir, 1947; Scorpio
  • Xerox and Fax machines were demonstrated for the first time, 1948; Libra
  • Senate issues report stating that 20 big oil companies dominate the industry, and oil shortages of 1948 were induced to increase profits, 1949; Aquarius (AND, we just found out during the past retrograde Big Oil made all time record profits last year due to price gouging.)

What does it mean if you have a retrograde in your birth chart, and how would that affect you during that specific retrograde period?

Often people with a natal planet retrograde may have an easier time during the times when that transiting planet it retrograde. Mercury retrograde people often do well during Mercury retrograde periods because they are familiar with that pace. Someone with Venus retrograde at birth understands how to deal with Venus retrograde periods because they’ve been attuned to that energy since birth. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily do the right thing, since each retrograde forces us to adapt our understanding to the new information we’re receiving, whether from outer or inner sources.

Here it’s important to note whether Mercury and Venus are in front of or behind the Sun, since that shows us whether we were born with a long progressed retrograde or a short progressed retrograde. Those with Mercury or Venus retrograde in their charts probably will see those planets go stationary direct by progression. Those point in life mark major changes in how the person views and expresses their internal Mercury and Venus energies.

To me, a retrograde is just a different way of experiencing that planetary principle. There are times when we’re moving forward in life, and then as we progress, we hit points where we have a different pace of learning and relating.

In my life, I was born with Mercury direct, but it went retrograde when I was 13. Because Mercury was retrograde for 23 days it meant that my progressed Mercury was retrograde for 23 years. Then it went direct when I was 36 and began to move forward again.

Not all retrogrades are equal, because some Mercury retrograde periods are as short as 17 days, while others can last 24 days. You can see how that would make a big difference in someone’s life, since a progressed retrograde of 17 days represents a 7 year difference from someone with a 24 day retrograde. A long retrograde isn’t necessarily bad, because Mercury retrograde people often do see things others don’t see because they’re focused on what’s missing, not what’s there. They want to sift through all kinds of information from a lot of different angles before they make up their minds.

That quality doesn’t go away just because their progressed Mercury goes direct. It just means that they have that quality, though as they get older their ability to coordinate things, to process things, and to communicate things speeds up. A Mercury retrograde person still needs time to reflect, but when their progressed Mercury goes direct their ability to coordinate and process things speeds up. This also applies to Venus retrograde going direct in the progressed chart.

What is the best way to use retrograde periods to your advantage?

Reflection, review, receptivity, awareness of different angles of approach, and don’t push the river! In the case of the recent Mars retrograde in Gemini (it entered its shadow zone in early September 2022 and will remain there until mid-March 2023), because Mars is how we “attack the problems of life,” as well as our “fight or flight” principle, it was a good time to slow down, find alternative ways to get things done, adapt to a slowed pace, diffuse tensions and work on other things which will support the original initiative after the retrograde is done.

How can you be sure that you're not under the influence of a retrograde when you're acting a certain way?

We’re all under countless retrograde influences whether we’re acting, reacting, or being acted upon. I explain that in A New Look at Mercury Retrograde. The planets don’t make anything happen. We’re the ones who are acting, or reacting, or being acted upon. Each planet shows us a part of our personality. It’s our job to elevate their expression to the highest level materially, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, across the personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal dimensions of human existence.

We move forward in life, expressing our skills when planets are direct. We slow down, then review and reflect and find a different angle on things during their retrograde. Each is necessary for us to learn what we have to learn in life about each planet’s function within us.

During a Mercury retrograde, we learn about how we’re responding to the “Guide of Souls,” and whether our ideas are bringing our mind to life or leading us to dead ends. That’s because Mercury’s duality is Life/Death, in that our ideas are either leading us to life or leading us to stagnant approaches and understanding. Either our ideas are leading us to dead ends, or leading us to a better life.

Venus retrograde helps us understand how our subconscious mind is attracting what we want or what we do not want; I explain this in The Magic of Venus: Friendships, Soul Mates, and Twin Flames where I have an entire chapter on Venus retrograde. The book explains why we have positive and negative attractions, conscious attractions and unconscious attractions. We have the power to reprogram our inner Venus to attract more perfect relationships. Venus retrograde periods help us reflect and review some things from the past to assist finding better relationships in the future.

Mars retrograde teaches us about patience, that we cannot push the river, and we cannot move forward in certain ways until certain other things are done first. Jupiter retrograde teaches us about factors in our expansion process and how we were protected in the past, or how an opportunity we were offered in the past had to be delayed until we learned certain things. Saturn retrograde teaches us through repeat lessons so we may round out our understanding and wisdom. Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto all bring returns of spiritual lessons we’ve already seen but must continue to master.

Anything else you'd like to say about retrogrades that wasn't covered?

Retrogrades are great for getting signals from within we may not have noticed before, and they’re also great for getting signals from the collective field which help us understand how sometimes what we’re thinking or feeling is coming from an external source we’re tuned into, and not necessarily our own feelings or thoughts. That helps us get clear about ourselves.

I think what most people get wrong about retrogrades are they think there is something bad about those periods, or that they think their lives can’t move forward in some way. Using Mars retrograde as an example, life is still moving forward in many ways during those periods, but we may have to do other things in the short term which will support our efforts in the future. I often remind people that “to defer is not to abandon.” It’s just sometimes in life you can only go just as far as you can go, and reach a metaphoric “road closed” sign and you have to go somewhere else to get around the “closed road” before you can resume forward motion.

A huge misconception is that because Mercury, Venus, and Mars go retrograde, somehow those parts of our lives crash. A surgeon’s skills don’t desert them just because Mars is retrograde! It is equally possible that when Mars is retrograde what was thought to be the problem is discovered not to be the actual problem, but there’s another one which must be taken care of first.

Venus retrograde has a reputation for being too introverted, too complex, too distant, too interior, or too standoffish, among other traits. It is true that Venus retrograde focuses on the past, because it is a retrograde. But reviewing the past doesn’t doom us to repeat it in the future! It’s often useful to look at the past so we can get insight into what happened and why, but also to get insights about how to correct the problem, if there is one, so we can move forward in that part of our life.

This brings us back to the heart of our evolutionary need. The only problem we have is in the malfunction of a planet, not what sign it’s in or whether it’s retrograde. As Eternals having a human experience, it’s our task to integrate our personality so it productively expresses our Higher Self. Ultimately we’re here to perfect every one of our planetary expressions so we can fulfill our purpose for being here, living happy Soul-ful lives and relationships with self, with others, with the Earth, and with Spirit/Source.

Retrogrades are a natural part of the process. Mercury and Venus retrograde periods help us with those personality functions, and the oppositions between the Sun and outer planet retrogrades illuminate that planetary lesson, message, or possibility. All retrograde give us a chance to take a new look at how we understand and express that planet in our lives.

So a natal retrograde is not a bad thing since they show you are reviewing those lessons and getting a new understanding of that planetary function. And if a retrograde planet goes direct by progression, it shows that we can now move forward having learned a lot along the way from multiple angles of view and can turn old negatives to current positives, regardless of the sign it’s in.

The dance of retrogrades is a marvelous thing to behold, and are a natural part of life and evolution. Have fun taking a new look at your natal, progressed, and return retrogrades, as well as the constant swirl of retrogrades going on most of the year for most of the planets!


Reprinted on crystalwind.ca with written permission from Robert Wilkinson. Copying this article to other blogs is strictly prohibited. It is copyright protected. 

© Copyright 2023 Robert Wilkinson

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© Copyright 2023 Robert Wilkinson - https://www.aquariuspapers.com

About the author:

Robert wilkinson An internationally-known astrologer, author, public speaker, metaphysician, and futurist, with over 25 years experience as a counselor and educator. He has presented hundreds of public talks on all aspects of Astrology, the Eastern Wisdom tradition, the Western Wisdom tradition and promoted many mass gatherings and cultural events. Some of his specific areas of interest and expertise include personality profiles, degree patterns, integrative astrology, various aspect harmonics, among others.
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Reprinted on crystalwind.cawith written persmission from Robert Wilkinson.

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