Retrogrades - Out Through the In Door


Gregory Nalbandian

Written: March 1995

From the start of the year, we have been experiencing a profound celestial cycle.  That cycle is the Retrograde motion of the planet Mars in the sign of Leo from January 1st till March 25th.  During this time, we also have one of the yearly retrograde motions of Mercury  The cycle of a planet in retrograde happens at set periodic intervals, some only once in a year, while Mercury may form as many as three.  All of the planets used in Astrology have retrograde motions except the Sun and the Moon.  What does it mean to have a planet retrograde in your chart, and how does a planet go backwards in the Zodiac?  We will examine the mechanics of retrogrades and then look at it's meaning in natal charts.

The term Retrograde is applied to the motion of any celestial body that as appeared from the Earth, is going backwards through the Zodiac.  How does a planet whose total mass is beyond visual conception, go backwards?  Aren't these huge planets spinning around the Sun in one direction?  The answer is an obvious yes, the planets are only going one way, never stopping and going backwards.  So how does it look like it is going backwards?  The answer to this question is made possible with the question itself -- the planet only looks like it is going backwards, when in fact it is the Earth that is speeding by or away from the planet to give it the appearance that it is going backwards.  This is best understood with the analogy of passing a car on the highway.  Let's say that your driving side by side with another car, both going the same speed relative to the ground.  From within the framework of the two cars only, it would appear that they are not moving at all. If you look at the other car, it has not changed its position relative to your position. Now if you accelerate and pass the car, there appears to be motion -- the other car seems to be creeping backwards.  This backwards motion is similar to the concept of retrograde planets.  The Earth may at certain intervals speed up to, for a brief moment be "side by side," and then pass by  other planets as related to the Zodiac.  The "side by side" period is call being at station.  The phrase "side by side" is in quotations because the planetary system is a little more complicated -- the planets are traveling in concentric circular orbits around the Sun and not traveling in straight lines.  The Geophysics of traveling in an orbital-like path of different sizes would also dictate that the planets traveling in the smaller circles would be going much faster than the one's traveling in the larger orbits.  And to top it all off, the paths are not exactly circular either.  The orbits are shaped more like an egg, with the smaller curve closer to the Sun.  All of this makes the exact mechanics complicated, but as a metaphor the car analogy works to get a feeling as to how a planet appears to be going backwards in the Zodiac.

Now that we have looked at some of the mechanics of how a planet goes retrograde, what does that mean in actual working terms in using Astrology?  The planetary energies in a chart are archetypes that are expressed by the individual or groups of individuals.  For instance, Mercury has the energy of archetypical communication and of linear association.  Each chart has Mercury in it, so each chart will have a way in which the energy of communication and association is expressed.  These archetypal energies are modified by the particularities of each unique chart: a planet is in a sign; which is in a house; which also forms aspects and phases to other various points in a chart.  These energies start as pure archetypes that are then modified by the chart to become personal symbolic gestures based on the archetype it came from.  In other words, we do not express Jupiter as pure archetype -- our charts modify that energy into our own personal symbol for us to understand and use.  We do not ever really express the raw pure archetype of a planet, these universal energies have to be made personal for us to use them -- except when you have a planet retrograde. 

When a planet is retrograde in a chart, that energy has to go through an inward journey of symbol personalization through the raw archetype before it finds a way to be expressed outwards.  The general function of planetary energies is to imply motion in our lives, which brings about evolution in what ever form chosen.  These energies are expressed outwards into the world through the interplay and formation of the Ego with it's Umwelt (the sphere of awareness our psyche's dwell in).  The Umwelt is like a bubble of the known that our energies swirl around in.  Some planetary energies demand that the Umwelt is larger or is constantly expanding due to the nature of the individual's karmic evolution and it's need to either stay in the known or push out into uncharted territory.  The Umwelt also has a counterpart of an inner bubble of awareness that is quite defined within the unconsciousness.  When a planet is retrograde, the challenge to the Umwelt is directed more on the inner level than the outer one.  The personal symbol of a planetary energy tries to reconnect the inner archetype that it came from to be able to find a way to express itself outwards.  Out through the indoor.  The inner Umwelt can be more hidden and frightening as it also is dealing with the shadow -- the realm of wrong thought.  A Planet that is direct (opposite motion to a retrograde planet) is going to push for motion in the outer Umwelt and a planet that is retrograde is going to push for motion on the inner Umwelt before it can be expressed outwards into the world.

The process of going inward first is the main reason that the retrograde planet may seem withdrawn.  The planet that is retrograde will have to be discovered in the inner world first.  This process may make the energy slow to come out, but does not mean that someone with a retrograde planet is slow or somehow hindered by it.  The person with a retrograde planet will have to go through an inner journey, working with the planetary energy within the inner Umwelt first.  Through this inner journey, a deeper understand can form, and a more holistic outward expression is the result.  If the inner journey is completed or fully grasped then the individual may be able to find the same type of fulfillment in the outer world that they found on the inner world.  The pitfall of a retrograde planet is that the individual may never turn that inner focus outwards on to the real world.  The result is the tendency to be withdrawn when it come to any experience that draws on the energy of the retrograde planet for it use.  This can also be a double edged sword as the safety of the inner world is tentative because of the shadow that dwells in the unconscious.

In the natal chart, having one to three retrograde planets is not overly inward.  When you get four or more retrograde planets in one chart, the individual may be very inwardly active in the search for the meaning to the planetary energies that are retrograde.  The inner world of the symbols is easier and safer.  The task is to be able to turn the inner truths that are discovered into usable symbols for the outer world experience.  Having Venus retrograde doesn't make you withdrawn from relationships.  The individual will in fact have a higher inner idea of what they want in others, but not have the faith in reality for them to find it.  You may hear a person say, "I know exactly what I want and need to be fulfilled, but I don't think that I'll ever find it in the real world."  The need here is to constantly project outward that inner sense of relating and perfection.  Having faith is an important key to be able to bring the inner discovery that comes with a retrograde planet outward into physical reality. 

The lesson of the retrograde is not to give up hope in the real world, but to bring out the beauty that is prominent in the inner landscape.  Mercury retrograde people are not stupid - they just think and think and think, but may not ever tell you that they have figured out the fabric of the universe.  They may just be quiet until reality draws it out.  Mars retrograde people do not lack dynamic sexual energy.  Though this may be the hardest planet to have retrograde, this Mars is not a weak Mars point, as it can be like a powder keg waiting to explode.  The lesson is to find constructive safe outlets for the compressed gunpowder energy that it produces.  Jupiter retrograde people are constantly soul tripping inward, expanding the awareness of the philosophies of the universe -- the inner universe.  Saturn retrograde is the individual who has a hard time find formatting devices that are outside of him, that really understand him.  The generality is a person who has authority figure problems.  From this point out, the rest of the planets are highly unconscious to begin with, so the retrograde motion is not as forefront as the inner planets out to Saturn.  If you have retrograde planets in your chart, look to see what inner journey that your on, and how you can bring that inner world out to the rest of us.