A Quick Definition of a Retrograde

This article is an introduction to the astrological event called the retrograde. This is an overview of the phases and the mechanics of the retrograde, explaining what it is, the stages, and the effects it brings. Although it helps to have a working knowledge of astrology, those of you who are new to astrology will be able understand quite a bit.

The most common retrograde is the “Mercury retrograde”, but the other planets go retrograde as well.

A quick definition of a retrograde

A retrograde (Rx) is the apparent backward movement in the sky of a planet. This is how it actually appears when you look up in the night sky over a few weeks or months. The planet looks like it’s going backward.

The only planets that don’t have a retrograde, or backward, motion are the Sun and the Moon, but they have special phases of their own called eclipses. The planets that go retrograde are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. As we learn more about our galaxy, we have become aware that many other bodies go retrograde, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

How it affects your personally

Just as a planet is going over the area in the sky that it has already traversed when it goes retrograde, it is going over the same area in a natal chart and we must go over the events in our lives prior to the retrograde that relate to the planet.

In general, a retrograde means doing things over, re-focus, and connecting to an inner level, or our intuitive side. We are often warned not to do anything new. It is a time to re-do, re-vise, and re-integrate the qualities of the planet that is retrograde. If Mercury is Rx, we go over thoughts and communication; if it is Saturn, we look at the structures in our life; if it is Venus, we review relationships, and so on.

The meaning of the word retrograde

Conversations about retrogrades are getting to be as common as talk about Sun-signs, even if only in the context of the dreaded “Mercury Retrograde”. Most people don’t have a clue as to what this really means — other than “don’t sign papers or buy anything” in a Mercury retrograde!

The word retrograde comes from the Latin “to drive back”. The ancients thought the planets were gods who drove their chariots across the sky at night, and sometimes it looked as though they went back in the opposite direction. In mythology, they were always cruising around, fighting, creating havoc, but generally having a great time. Sorry to have to burst your bubble if you like the idea of gods racing around the night sky in their chariots of fire – there is no one up there in a chariot! Who knows — maybe the ancients were right, science is coming up with some pretty far out theories, and someday they won’t seem so far out.

Motion of a Retrograde

Backward Motion

When a planet goes retrograde, it may look like it’s going backwards, but this isn’t true, — this is an optical illusion.

Think of a racetrack. The Earth is on the inside track, Mars and the other planets are on the outside track, and there is a big Sun sitting in the center. Since the Earth is on the inside track, it has a shorter distance to go around, and eventually it catches up to Mars, and passes it — Mars looks as if it isn’t going forward anymore. Mercury and Venus, closer to the Sun, and on an inside track compared to the Earth, have the retrograde motion, but from a different perspective. They are going faster than the Earth and catching up with us.

The retro motion is the “train syndrome”. Do you ever remember sitting on a train when it suddenly started to move and the train next to you looked as if it was going backward? You probably got a little dizzy; this isn’t a normal perception in our world. Now you know why retrogrades make you a little queasy and anxious. They aren’t normal.