Retrogrades happen from our perspective standing on the surface of the earth as we look up at the planetary movements overhead. As the planets move along their elliptical orbits around the Sun, they sometimes appear to slow down and change direction. This is an illusion, of course, much like when you are traveling in a train or car, and another train or car traveling at a slower speed seems to be moving backwards.
Planets in retrograde motion are deviating from their usual, forward moving flow on their orbital path. The symbolic interpretation of this phenomenon in astrology is that the archetypal energy of the planet is functioning differently, contrary to its usual manner. This can be experienced as a shift in our perception or inner processing of events, a disruption of our normal activities, or challenging obstacles placed in our way.
Prior to their retrograde periods, Mercury, Venus and Mars are farthest from the Earth in their orbit. As they move in retrograde motion they move back closer to the Earth. Our interpretation of this is the energetic expression of the planet had been too far out, off track, or heading in an unconventional direction. It needed to be reined in, adjusted, re-worked and realigned with our physical existence.
Mercury, Venus and Mars are referred to as personal planets in astrology, due to their proximity to the Sun and Earth. The retrograde movements of these planets may be felt more strongly and individually than the retrograde effects of the outer planets. Jupiter and Saturn are social planets. When retrograde, they affect how we interact with others and the outer world. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are slower moving, and imprint members of a generation who are born with the planet in the same sign. Transpersonal planets, when retrograde, affect us collectively as well as individually, and pertain to human evolution and spiritual development.
A planet moving retrograde moves through the same part of the zodiac three times. It is as if the planet is walking back and forth over this area looking at its issues and processes from different perspectives. This “sensitized” part of the zodiac is referred to as the Retrograde Shadow. The location of the Retrograde Shadow by House in the astrological chart indicates the area of life where the effects of the retrograde will be most strongly felt.
The three phases of planetary movement through the Shadow area during a retrograde are:
- The first forward, or “direct” movement through the Shadow area. Issues emerge to be revisited, re-examined and re-worked during the rest of the retrograde cycle.
- The planet changes direction or “stations retrograde” and begins its apparent backward motion. We may feel a reversal in the flow of energy. The retrograde phase of a planet is a time to be more interested in our inner experience of the planetary archetype than our outer experience of it in the world. This phase is a time to slow down, direct our attention internally, and review, reflect, reassess and begin to resolve any issues that have emerged.
- The planet changes direction again, and moves forward, or direct. The third passage of the planet through the Shadow area, this is a time to absorb and integrate new awareness and perspectives on matters, to gain knowledge and better understanding.
Once the planet leaves the Shadow area of the zodiac that was covered by the retrograde, we can move forward in life, applying our new found knowledge and approaches to issues that arose. This marks a culmination of the retrograde cycle, and ideally an experience of personal awareness and advancement.
We sometimes need to take one step backward in life before we can move two steps ahead. If we fight against the flow of the retrograde energy by trying to forge onward too fast, we may miss important elements that are necessary for lasting success. New information or resources may be forthcoming. Some of our plans or thinking may need to change. We might encounter further difficulties when we push forward without pausing to re-evaluate our situation. It may feel as if we are trying to move a boulder uphill, or swim against the current. We need to rein in our urge to forcefully move ahead.
By taking advantage of planetary retrograde periods to slow down, retrieve missing pieces of information, review, reflect and reconsider our plans, we can actually make better progress in the long run. When we set aside time to be more internal, more reflective, we can listen to our wise, inner voice and gain new insight into matters. By bringing ourselves back into alignment with the planetary movements and conditions we can achieve our long-term goals more gracefully and successfully, while experiencing personal growth and development.
“When we know and are aware of the planetary movements and conditions, and integrate them into our lifestyles, we can then be in alignment with the energies that they bring to support us.”
– Karen Bishop in Staying in Alignment