Retrograde planets in the birth chart

What is the meaning of a retrograde planet in the birth chart?

Planets in the birth chart represent different facets of your character and psyche. Mercury represents your mind, your ideas, mental energy. Venus describes what you value and how you reach out to others in love. Retrograde planets add a little bit of a twist to the story.

A planet in retrograde appears to move backward.  retrograde planetIt is at its closest approach to Earth. 

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. It comes from within, not from without.

With Venus retrograde in your natal chart, your aesthetic tastes and values come from a different place than your family and culture. 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.

There is often a link to the past or concern with the past. Some karmic astrologers believe that retrograde planets show links to a past life.

  • Retrograde Mercury: These people absorb thoughts and ideas through repetition and osmosis rather than careful, deliberate study. Constantly editing, reviewing, rethinking, replaying it in their mind. 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 styles, friends, and partners.
  • Retrograde Mars: Less competitive than usual Mars energy, and often in competition with themselves. Tends to internalize anger and leak it out rather than express it directly. Mars retrograde women often choose men who are dependent, troubled, irresponsible, or social misfits.

Outer planets retrograde

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 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 may be 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, they 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.

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 of the sign that planet is found in (earth air fire water sign). 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. When you have a lot of them in your chart, you “go the long way” to find your path. If you have zero retrogrades, your path is closer to a straight line. You know what you are going to be when you grow up in childhood. Then you actually do it.

The Sun & Moon never turn retrograde. The North Node and South Node are always retrograde. The True Node is usually retrograde, but occasionally direct.

Thanks to my first teacher Lance Ferguson, his teacher Dona Shaw, and the many teachers before them who gave us many of these notes on retrograde planets.

Mars retrograde composite photos
composite photo showing the path of Mars retrograde

What is actually happening when a planet goes retrograde?

Retrograde means that, to us here on Earth, that planet appears to be moving backward. It also appears to be glowing!

Of course, the planets are not really moving backward. It is an optical illusion. Take Mercury for example. Mercury travels around the Sun faster than we do, and every 4 months, Mercury passes us in its 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


Leave a Comment


  • Molly Gauthier
    2023-07-31 11:43:21
    Hi Tonya - this means your annual Venus return will happen in 3 parts, direct, retrograde, and direct again. It will be a process of beginning a new cycle of love, harmony, beauty, creating value, recognizing your worth, etc. A 3-part process rather than a singular event.
  • Tonya
    2023-07-25 19:18:44
    I have Venus rx natally -- actually in Leo 28 and Venus is retrograding on that degree so a conjunction of two rx Venus 28's but also a really weird Venus return..... What do you think will happen when Venus goes back over that point when it turns direct?
  • Molly Gauthier
    2023-07-05 12:59:55
    North node is always retrograde! So that's not unusual. I do have a post here about the Nodes in the signs -
  • Margo
    2023-07-02 10:37:07
    Hi ~ Delighted to have found this website. You have answered a question I have forever wondered about in my natal chart. I have Sagittarius/Capricorn cusp Rising, with both Jupiter and Saturn retrograde in Capricorn. I could never find out what that meant (especially in laymen terms) until your above explanation! Thank you! Now - the question I have is my North Node is retrograde in Leo, placed in the 8th house. Could you please briefly explain to me what this means? Thank you again!! Sincerely, M.Dillon :)
  • Julia
    2023-05-06 15:34:26
    So many different interpretations of retrograde planets out there online! I really appreciate your insightful perspective and explanations, Molly — of this and other topics as well. Thanks for making these resources available to all. I was researching retrograde planets after realizing that 6 out of 8 in my natal chart were Rx... Somehow I didn't become a serial killer or a bohemian vagabond! lol
  • Molly Gauthier
    2023-03-04 13:10:30
    Hi Andrea - Thank you so much! The Ascendant IS the first house cusp. It is the doorway so it isn't really in the 1st house and it's definitely not in the 12th. Pluto would be positioned in one house or another-- or conjunct the Ascendant based on what you're telling me? I don't know. It's hard to give you much more of an answer when I can't see what you're looking at. But thank you for visiting and leaving your comment, and good luck working with your chart. I do have classes if you're interested:
  • Andrea
    2023-03-04 12:06:57
    Hello! Beautiful synopsis. I am a Scorpio rising (and Pluto generation) but Pluto was retrograde so my charts say my ascendant is in the 12H. Am I interpreting that correctly? Or am I Scorpio rising 1H and Pluto Scorpio 12H? In my charts they fall on the same degree (19). Confusing!
  • Molly Gauthier
    2023-01-09 09:34:03
    Hi Elena - No, it's not too bad. Nothing in astrology is all bad. Every Pluto placement has its challenges as well as its gifts. It does suggest taking time to work through emotional baggage left over from childhood-- process any traumatic experiences so that they don't own you forever.
  • Elena
    2022-12-14 12:07:20
    Hi, my Pluto is in Scorpio in fourth house for Leo ascendent. Is it.... too bad?
  • Molly Gauthier
    2022-09-08 15:03:49
    Inward experience - you experience Pluto in your interior awareness as opposed to expressing it outwardly.
  • Elsana
    2022-09-08 14:45:18
    Please can you explain what do you mean by " it will play inward"? Pluto retrograde in the 1st house conjunction ascendant in scorpio? I'm curious.... does it give the same 1st impression like Pluto direct does? Or what would be the 1st impressions people would notice with this placement? Thank you
  • Molly Gauthier
    2022-09-07 10:43:22
    Is Pluto in Scorpio in the 1st house weak? Oh hell no!!! That's a very strong Pluto, but since it's retrograde it will play out in your inner world more than the outer.
  • Elsana
    2022-09-04 13:35:13
    I'm a pisces sun, scorpio rising and pluto retrograde conjunction in the 1st house. My natal sun is in the 4th house conjunction north node and venus. My question is: is my chart ruler weak here, a malefic? My dob is 1st of March 1989. Thanks
  • Molly Gauthier
    2021-06-07 17:08:39
    Hi Kate - Planets don't have elements in the same way that signs do. You're looking for the element of the sign that planet is in, in the chart you are reading.
  • Kate Simpson
    2021-06-07 05:39:46
    Hi Molly, How do you know what planet's element is? My guess is you figure it out this way: Neptune rules Pisces, Pisces is a water sign, so ...Neptune is water? Kate
  • Molly Gauthier
    2020-06-22 09:13:10
    Chiron is kind of like a more emotional Saturn. It can mean that you struggle at times to understand what others are saying and to communicate your own thoughts and feelings. You may feel like others cannot relate to your experience.
  • Katie Rose
    2020-06-21 20:26:19
    What does it mean when Chiron is retrograde in your birth chart? 3rd House.
  • Val
    2019-10-15 13:46:39
    I have Saturn Retrograde in my natal chart conjunct my moon and Uranus in the 1st house. This aspects my 7th house of course. I also have Mercury, Jupiter and Mars retrograde in my chart. I have Venus located in Virgo. I am definitely a late bloomer whose life has been extremely difficult especially, my childhood and relationships. I feel as though everything I have to do in life is with extreme difficulty. I am a cancer sun in the 8th house with Sagittarius ascendant/moon