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Retrograde planets and their meanings

What does a Retrograde planet mean?

This astrological symbol indicates a retrograde planet in a birth chart. A retrograde planet means that, to us here on Earth, that planet appears to be moving backward.

Of course, retrograde planets are not really moving backward. It is an optical illusion. Take Mercury retrograde for example. He travels around the Sun faster than we do, and every 4 months, Mercury passes us in his orbit. We here on earth witness Mercury appearing to go backward for three weeks.

retrograde planet diagram
Earth (center), Sun (black dot) and Mercury (red dot)

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, it looks to you like it’s going backward. Retrograde motion is a lot like that.

retrograde planet animation
Mars retrograde – from the Sun’s point of view, from the Earth’s point of view. Image: Wikimedia Commons

What does it mean when a planet is retrograde in your chart?

Each planet in your natal chart tells a story about you. Mercury represents your mind, your ideas, mental energy. Venus describes what you value and how you reach out to others in love.

Retrogrades turn the energy inward and to the past.

If there’s a retrograde planet in your birth chart, you experience that planet in a more subjective, internal way. You express that planet’s energies in a unique way, different from the rest of your family. There is often a link to the past, or concern with the past. Some karmic astrologers believe that retrograde planets show a link to a past life.

With Venus retrograde in your natal chart, your concept of beauty comes from a different place than those around you. If Mercury is your retrograde planet, your thinking is different. With Jupiter, the planet of philosophy, your ethics, morality, and religion may differ from your family’s.

Notes on retrograde planets

Usually, the planetary energies flow outward “in the pursuit of” the various energies represented by the planets. But with retrograde planets, the flow of that planet’s energy turns inward. No longer is the fulfillment of this planetary pursuit “out there” in the world. It comes from within– contrary to what we may observe in others having the same planets direct.

The retrograde effects 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.

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 when they grow up” in childhood. Then, they 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 & ideas through repetition and osmosis rather than careful, deliberate study. Own best teacher. Questions what others accept as gospel. More capable of dealing with abstractions and impressions than those with Mercury direct.
  • Retrograde Venus: has unique ideas regarding pleasure, beauty, and love. Less concern for social amenities. They may seek unconventional women.
  • Retrograde Mars: Less competitive than usual Mars energy, and often in competition with themselves. Tends to internalize rather than express anger. Mars retrograde women often choose men who are dependent, irresponsible, handicapped in some way, or social misfits.

Outer planet retrogrades

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 and failed. Their moral and ethical code, religion, and philosophy are their own. They seek answers from within rather than subscribing to the dogma of the outside world. They seek abundance in new, untried, and unproven areas.
  • Retrograde Saturn: These people may doubt their worthiness as human beings. May avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes and be fearful of taking chances. There is often a subconscious fear of rejection and loss. Their limitations and burdens are self-imposed. This may be 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 and 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 and 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. They are very concerned with their self-image. Late bloomers.

Thanks to my first teacher Lance Ferguson, his teacher Dona Shaw, and the many teachers before them who passed along much of the information in this lesson.