The STORY in your chart
Modifiers of Meaning
© 2021 Molly C. Gauthier

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 women.
  • 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


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