You’ve probably heard people talking about Mercury retrograde and the chaos this planetary effect can sometimes wreak. But Mercury is not alone: did you know that all of the planets in the solar system go through periods of retrograde motion? What is a retrograde anyway, and why should we care? Let’s find out.
What is a Retrograde Planet in Astrology?
Seen from our vantage point here on earth, all of the planets in the solar system periodically appear to stop their normal forward motion or orbit through the night sky, pause, change direction and then start moving backwards. It’s this apparent backward motion which astrologers call retrograde motion. Even though Mercury is the best-known planet to do this, each of the retrograde planets has its energy shift, contributing different flavors to our daily lives during their retrograde motion.
It’s important to note that retrograde motion is an optical illusion, caused by the difference in orbital speeds between earth and the other celestial bodies in the solar system. No planet ever actually pauses or moves backwards – but in astrology, symbolism is everything.
What is the Astrological Retrograde Cycle?
When you hear astrologers talk about retrograde planets, they’ll often talk about a planet being stationary direct, stationary retrograde or just stationing.
A planet in normal motion, i.e. following its normal orbit from our standpoint on earth, is termed stationary direct. The moment of its apparent pause is what we call stationing. Once it has changed direction and seems to be moving in reverse, we call that stationary retrograde. At the end of the retrograde motion, the planet will briefly station again, and then return to stationing direct forward motion.
So, when a planet goes through a retrograde cycle, it passes through the same portion of the zodiac three times – forwards, backwards and then forwards again. This portion of the zodiac, which is different for each planet during each retrograde, is called the shadow.
Are Retrograde Planets Bad?
Well, no. As explained, all planets have periods of retrograde motion in their orbit cycles. Historically, it was thought to be an ill omen to be born with certain planets retrograde – Saturn in particular was thought to be a baddie - and in modern times a lot of people make a lot of fuss about Mercury retrograde in particular – but in general, retrograde planets bring us opportunities to look inwards and to reflect on mistakes we may have made or things we can do differently. In that sense, certainly astrologically, retrogrades are essential for personal and spiritual growth.
How Do Retrograde Planets Affect Us?
During each planet’s retrograde period, that planet’s energy is expressed in a more inward, insular fashion than normal.
When a planet first starts its retrograde shadow, still moving forward in direct motion at that point, events, situations and circumstances will point towards the issues you’ll need to internalize during the forthcoming retrograde motion period.
During the second phase, the actual retrograde motion, you’ll reconsider, re-think, re-work, re-balance and re-do things, actions and thoughts which have been brought to your attention during the first period.
Finally, as the planet turns direct again and works its way forwards to its original starting point, you will hopefully be able to apply what you have learned from this retrograde period. This is how growth happens, although obviously much of the above process is behind the scenes in your psychology.
What Does Natal Retrograde Mean?
If you were born during a period when one or more planets were retrograde, then those planets are marked as retrograde in your birth chart or natal chart. Natal retrograde planets express their energy in your birth chart in a subtly different way to the planet’s normal energy.
However, the outer planets are retrograde (as seen from earth, remember) quite often, so a large proportion of people have Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus or Pluto retrograde in their birth charts. This is because the orbits of these planets are much, much slower than earth’s, so as seen from earth, they appear to be going backwards for longer. We therefore can’t read too much into the zodiac sign the planet is retrograde in; often the house of the birth chart where the planet resides is more illuminating.
The inner planets (Mercury, Venus and Mars) are retrograde less often, so having one of these planets retrograde in your natal chart is more personally significant.
Where a natal retrograde planet’s influence is felt strongly in the birth chart, there is typically something covert about it; you may express this energy secretively, or with guilt, or behind the scenes in some way – or you may have trouble expressing it at all.
Mercury Retrograde in the Birth Chart
Around 18% of people are born with a natal Mercury retrograde.
For these people, insecurity about intellect and learning can cast a shadow over education, but they are usually able to go back to education at a later date, making up for lost time and often emerging very successful indeed. When Mercury is retrograde at birth, it’s about growing in confidence over your own abilities.
Venus Retrograde in the Birth Chart
Around 7% of people are born with a natal Venus retrograde, making this the rarest of the natal retrogrades.
For natal Venus retrograde people, early social shyness and awkwardness can lead to a slow start in love, or to over-dependency on a relationship. Some may unconsciously sabotage their relationships through doubting their own self-worth; others may struggle to express their emotions positively.
Mars Retrograde in the Birth Chart
Around 9% of people are born with a natal Mars retrograde.
Mars retrograde in the natal chart can suggest someone who struggles to maintain their own identity or is too easily pushed around by others. This individual probably does not cope well with pressure and stress but has tremendous inner resources and drive when they are free to pursue them in their own way.
Jupiter Retrograde in the Birth Chart
Nearly 40% of people are born with a natal Jupiter retrograde, so it’s important not to over-interpret this.
When it’s a strong part of the astrological chart, however, natal Jupiter retrograde can lead to a lot of worry and anxiety, and an inability to maximize life chances. Sometimes, Jupiter retrograde people don’t believe that they’re entitled to luck or good fortune and may unconsciously therefore harm their chances.
Saturn Retrograde in the Birth Chart
35% of people are born with a natal Saturn retrograde.
Responsibility is a potential problem issue for people with Saturn retrograde in the natal chart. There is a fear of not living up to expectations or of letting others down, and this often leads to the individual becoming put upon and then resentful. When Saturn is retrograde at birth, cultivating boundaries and learning to say no are important.
Uranus Retrograde in the Birth Chart
40% of people are born with a natal Uranus retrograde, so it’s a common factor in a natal chart.
When unusually strong in the astrology chart, however, natal Uranus retrograde can lead to a lot of wilfulness and sudden bursts of unpredictable behavior – behavior which is not always in the best interests of the individual concerned. Rebellion and an inability to follow rules are likely to be lifelong factors.
Pluto Retrograde in the Birth Chart
Almost 45% of people are born with a natal Pluto retrograde, so you are almost as likely to have it as to not have it.
If Pluto is an important planet in your birth chart, Pluto retrograde may lead to excessive privacy on your part, and perhaps even paranoia. There is an emphasis on secrecy and often a lot of mistrust.