by Estelle Daniels
Except for the Sun and Moon, every other planet exhibits retrograde motion periodically. This retrograde motion means the planet appears to stop and move backward against the zodiac for a time, then it stops and begins to move forward again. It is symbolized by an Rx or R in an almanac by the planet.
Now this does not mean that the planet actually moves backwards, it just appears to do so. The reason is that while the cosmos appears to move around the Earth, it is the Earth itself which is actually moving. The planets all move around the Sun (and the Moon also moves around the Earth). But as we are on the Earth we perceive it as the planets and Sun and Moon move around the Earth.
Think of it this way, if you are in a car, and you are moving, you see the background move past you fast or slow depending on how fast the car is moving. If you are passed by another car moving in the same direction, that car seems to be moving faster than you are, relative to the background. If you pass another car going in the same direction, it seems to move backward relative to the background. Now that other car isn't really moving backwards, it is moving in the same direction you are so it is also moving forward, but because you are moving faster, there is an optical illusion which makes it seem the other car is moving backwards, relative to the background.
Because Earth's orbit is circular, when it 'rounds the curve' of its orbit and it moves between another planet which is farther out than the Earth and the Sun (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto [and also Chiron and the main Asteroids]; called the outer or superior planets), that farther-out planet seems to slow, then stop, then move backwards for a time, until Earth rounds the other curve. Then that outer planet seems to slow its backward motion, stop again and then start moving forward again. When an outer planet is opposite the Sun, it is always retrograde and it is in the portion of its orbit when it is nearest the Earth. When an outer planet is conjunct the Sun it is always direct and in the part of its orbit where it is farthest from the Earth, the Sun is between the Earth and the outer planet.
With Mercury and Venus, the planets with orbits nearer the Sun than Earth (called the inner or inferior planets), they just go around and around the Sun, but because we are seeing their motion against the zodiac, and we are in roughly the same plane of orbit, we do not see the circular orbit, we only see the planet move back and forth relative to the Sun's position, therefore they appear to move backward occasionally also. These planets never are farther from the Sun than 28 degrees for Mercury and 44 degrees for Venus, so they never make an opposition to the Sun. But there are two conjunctions to the Sun in their cycles. The conjunction with the Sun while the inner planet is retrograde is called the inferior conjunction, and then the planet is nearest the Earth. The conjunction when the inner planet is direct is called the superior conjunction, and the Sun is between the Earth and the planet and then the planet is farthest from the Earth.
These explanations are simplified, but they illustrate the basics of retrograde (Latin for backward) motion. When a planet is not retrograde, it is said to be direct in motion, or just direct.
Mercury retrogrades the most often for the shortest period of time. Mars retrogrades the least often, and Pluto retrogrades for the longest period of time. Uranus', Neptune's and Pluto's orbits are so far from the Earth and they move so slowly that each appears to be moving retrograde for about 5 months of the year.
When a planet is retrograde, its energies are turned inwards. People experience the matters of that planet subjectively, and from within, rather than objectively and from without. This applies to all the planets which do go retrograde, both as transits in the sky and as they are in a natal chart. But we are now concerned with the planets in the sky, as they move from day to day.
In the dance of the planets, retrogrades are times when those planetary energies are regrouping, going over old ground and reemphasizing things which may have not been fully assimilated in the first pass. They are also a cosmic breathing space. The cycles are 'on hold' and we can take time to go within and assimilate the lessons we have learned through transits or aspects which occurred while the planet was direct in motion. They also give us a second chance to try dealing with those energies, if we either ignored their effect or didn't deal with them successfully the first time. They also give the cosmos a chance to 'rub it in' if we are particularly stubborn about learning a cosmic lesson we need to learn. This applies equally to all planets as they retrograde.
In general any retrograde planet indicates matters ruled by that planet are secret, hidden, unrevealed, there is more to the matter than meets the eye. People indicated by that planet don't tell all, and further digging may be necessary to get the whole truth, if you are even able to get the whole truth at all. Also those people may be unavailable or inaccessible, so you can't get to them to ask in the first place. A retrograde planet shows areas where we are holding back, adverse to moving or progressing, and if there is movement it is often coerced or forced or against our better judgment. A retrograde planet can also show conditions which are rundown, neglected, requiring care or attention; places or people which are poor or deprived or possibly ill or at some disadvantage like handicapped or restricted or disenfranchised. Retrogrades can also positively indicate a change of mind or heart, lost things found, returning to a previous state. It can break an impasse by returning to old matters and forcing a reexamination and reevaluation. It can cause a return of people who left (like a breakup), reuniting of long lost people (the relationship shown by the planet in question), or "going back to the old neighborhood" type scenarios. How long-lasting or permanent these things will be depends upon the people involved, and the planet's aspects to their natal charts.
Because Mercury is the planet of communication and everyday occurrences, its retrogrades cause the most problem in the everyday world. Mercury retrogrades about three times a year for about three weeks at a time. Track the periods of Mercury's retrogrades and see how the world becomes a bit more disorganized and confused. You get bigger traffic jams, more political gaffes, more weird TV and radio transmission problems. This retrograde is the most noticeable and upsetting to the world at large. As with any planetary phenomenon, there are things that are better done when Mercury is direct, and there are also things which can be better accomplished when Mercury is retrograde. Paying attention to these times can help you tune your actions to the cosmos, and be more effective in whatever you do.
Mercury Retrograde is a period of communication upsets. Communication— in all forms— is more often delayed, garbled, misunderstood, mis-directed, lost in the ether, blown out of proportion, ignored, minimized, and generally screwed up. Travel is delayed, re-routed, overbooked, detoured, canceled and generally screwed up. Items bought (especially appliances) are either defective, don't perform as promised or are not right, for one reason or another. You should not sign contracts— they will have to be altered or will not be honored. You can stall and put-off and miss deadlines, because if you do deliver, the work will have to be revised or be rejected anyway. It is a bad time for starting new ventures, they will either never come to fruition, have to be re-started after much work, or never be effective. Judgment is faulty. If you want tangible results from a working, wait until Mercury turns direct. Watch world events, things just seem to be in a tangle, people mis-speak more, communication is generally less effective, tempers flare over misunderstandings and gaffes. You have more of a tendency to get lost, especially when driving. Detours abound and you just can't seem to get there from where you are, no matter how hard you try. If you get something repaired, you may have to take it back because chances are they won't fix it right. People are side-tracked more easily, and you can work on a project which ends up just being abandoned after Mercury turns direct— all that work for nothing. Or you work on an assignment and you find out that's not what they wanted in the first place, either because they didn't spell it out clearly or they didn't discover what they really wanted until after you did the work. Telephones, TV, Radio, Cable and especially computers all are more prone to not work periodically or have strange glitches which just pop up, but cannot be traced down. This is not the time to be loading new software or installing that new hard drive. You have more likelihood of having people not believe what you say, either because you didn't say it clearly or they didn't listen well. Items you make will have to be re-made, or won't be right or won't be necessary after all. Mail will be delayed, lost, misdirected. Wait to make those mail-order purchases until Mercury is direct. You can lose something on a retrograde Mercury, only to have it turn up the next time Mercury retrogrades.
Retrograde Mercury is good for cleaning up old stuff, from cleaning closets and desks to finishing matters which have been left hanging, to cleaning out your life. It is a time of reflection, introspection, looking back, working out old business, looking up old friends you haven't seen in ages, getting to those 'rainy day' projects you have been putting off, dwelling on the past, nursing old grudges, nostalgia, re-living the 'good old days', finishing old abandoned projects, getting a second chance. It is also good for dealing with 'other worldly' matters. Retrograde Mercury times can resurrect dead issues and put a new light on them. Everyday, routine occurrences can be seen in a new light. Best to keep things light, do not act anymore than you have to. Reaction is OK. Partying is good. If you are doing a 'follow-up' working, it's a good time. If you are doing a working to contact the inner planes or achieve some non-tangible result, this might also be a good time to try. Regression would be interesting, and results would probably be easier. Any psychic activity linked with looking into the past would be helped, psychometry, psychic archaeology. And general historical research would also be favorable. Doing stuff over again is good for retrograde Mercury, especially stuff that may not have turned out right the first time (like re-taking tests, or re-painting the bedroom, or re-banishing that troublesome spirit in your house who likes to hide your keys all of the time). Retrograde Mercury is a time to put on all those finishing touches and frills you don't usually get a chance to do. Fine-tuning, re-writing, revision are all good things to keep busy with. Look for those things which were lost, mis-directed or delayed.
If a lot of this sounds like Void-of-course Moon, it is because the two times have similar effects.
Retrograde Mercury is like cosmic clean-up time, and Void-of-course Moon is like cosmic relaxation time. Both are subjective and introspective, reactive, and deal with other-worldly matters. Both are a break from routine and a time to kick back and do different and interesting things. Both are not good times to start stuff, take actions which are intended to have a lasting effect, make purchases or decisions, or initiate action.
© 1995, 2002 Estelle Daniels, all rights reserved.