Make Retrogrades Work

Stay Functional in Non-Functional Times

Retrogrades are the universe’s way of giving you a “do-over,” and, even more important, letting you know that one is needed. Whether it’s the (three-times-a-year) chaotic mess generated by Mercury Retrograde, or the slow, deep transmutation of Pluto’s (typically 6-month) backward motion, retrogrades can work to your advantage.

How is that possible, you ask? Because they are a time to go back over everything relating to the planet and its effect on your birth chart – whether you want to or not! When astrologers refer to retrogrades, they’re actually talking about a change in a planet’s apparent motion, so that while the planet’s orbits don’t actually change, how they appear to move relative to the Earth’s orbit does.

Retrogrades have a general effect on daily life for everyone, on the stock market, international relations, personal relationships, the economy and so on, especially when the retrogrades form an aspect to other planets, or a new or full moon, or an eclipse.

When they really pack a punch, though, is when they move back and forth across planets, angles and points, and through houses, in your personal astrological chart. There are several stages for a retrograde’s influence on your chart, and each has its own opportunity for growth and learning.

Retrograde Phases

1. The first phase is when the planet moves forward across one or more of your chart points, called direct motion. Especially if it’s one of the outer or transpersonal planets – Saturn, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto – its arrival can cause a bit of an uproar, presenting you with challenges specific to the nature of the planet transiting and the points and houses it affects (called aspects).

2. Next, just before starting backward, the planet will appear to stand still. This is called stationary retrograde and, if it happens close to one of your chart points, its effect can be very intense, highlighting the issues involved even more.

3. Then there’s the retrograde period itself… this is your opportunity to go back over choices you made and actions you took when the transiting planet first hit your chart points. The urge to look deeply into causes and effects, and to rethink and rework actions and choices is particularly strong when the retrograde has direct contact with your planets. During the retrograde, as much as possible, stick to reexamining issues from the past rather than starting on new ones. If you take on new ones you’ll just have to rethink them again later.

4. Next is stationary direct, which is much like stationary retrograde in intensity. It’s a pause point – time for you to gather up your retrograde research and journals and plans and get ready to move forward with them.

5. Finally, during the new direct motion, you get to test your new theories and resolutions to see if they work better than your first reactions to the planet’s presence.

When you realize that the outer planets will contact your personal chart points very few times in your life, and that each of them spends between 30-45% of the time in retrograde, it’s easy to understand why a direct-retrograde-direct experience of one of them can be momentous. Those passages usually mark profound change and soul growth.

Retrograde Planets

Use this thumbnail guide to know what to expect when a retrograde planet hits your chart:

Mercury – Back up your hard drive! Mercury goes retrograde three times a year, each time for three weeks. The reason people say don’t sign contracts during Mercury retro is because you’ll have to renegotiate later. Better to just wait. Day to day communications do pretty well, the more important it is, the more carefully you should proceed.

Venus – This planet is about far more than love and romance – and retrogrades tend to highlight this. Venus retrogrades about every 18 months for a little more than a month, and during that time she asks you to look at what you value: in yourself, in relationships, in your career, in your surroundings, in the things you buy and the places you live and work.

Mars – Mars is about ego, self-actualization and how you apply your energy. It spends a little less than 3 months of every 2 years and 2 months in retrograde motion. If you don’t pay attention to the retrograde’s requirement for pause and reflection before action, you can find yourself involved in accidents and arguments.

Jupiter – Retrograding about 30% of the time, Jupiter turns inward and becomes more spiritual and deeply philosophical. It’s a time to re-evaluate your big plans – any kind of expansion in the affected area – root out phoniness and focus yourself on heartfelt inner reasons for your actions and decisions, rather than the drive for external success. Any kind of big spending can go awry if done thoughtlessly.

Saturn – In backward motion for about 140 days, retrograde Saturn wants you to think before saying “yes” to anything. Look at your current commitments, projects and promises and be sure they are still relevant and, if not, say “no” and move on. Keep extra responsibilities at a minimum and, remember, focus on what’s in place and avoid taking on new responsibilities.

Chiron – Because of its elliptical orbit, Chiron’s retrogrades are less orderly than other planets. While Chiron reaches out to heal others when direct, it looks within to apply its powers of acceptance and healing when in retrograde. Finding compassion for yourself is the task, and it offers an opportunity to find healing, or at least understanding and acceptance, for recurring personal issues.

Uranus – Watch out! During Uranus backward motion, about 42% of the time, you will probably astound friends and family with your unpredictability, and your stronger-than-usual quest to understand “why.” Its urge toward freedom is more powerful when it’s in retrograde, and Uranus will root out and blow up the excuses, self-deceptions and fears which keep you from being wholly authentic in the areas it affects.

Neptune – Neptune, which moves backward about 43% of the time, is one of the very best of the do-overs, because since Neptune rules denial and deception, its retrograde makes it far easier for you to spot and understand subtle signals. Your inner voice is clearer and your perspective is enhanced. The kicker is that if you don’t use the time well, you can be haunted afterward by uneasiness that’s hard to pinpoint.

Pluto – Since Pluto spends about half the year moving backward, it’s not felt as vividly unless it hits your chart, and then it acts like a roto-rooter, thoroughly (and sometimes uncomfortably) flushing out and cleansing your inner landscape. As they say, resistance is not only futile, it will make the experience far more uncomfortable. Far better to cooperate with Pluto’s agenda and spend your time reaching deep into your psyche to eliminate old patterns and beliefs that are holding you back.

So no matter what planet is in retrograde, it is up to you to use this powerful transition time to learn your lessons and strengthen your soul. Pretty soon, you’ll have so many things sorted out in your life, you’ll have no problem sailing gracefully through all the planetary shifts we encounter every day.

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