TAKING THE FEAR OUT OF RETROGRADES
© 2003 Roxana Muise
It's time to remove the fear associated with retrograde motion. Astrology is a symbolic language composed of tools for self understanding; and there is no need to be afraid of tools if they are correctly used. Retrograde motion, used properly as a tool can provide much constructive information about the process of living. Contemporary astrologers use this information to help their clients to improve their lives, but retrogrades were not always regarded so favorably.
ASTROLOGY IN THE PAST
Astrologers of the past believed that a retrograde planet in a natal chart was ineffective, evil or cursed, and transiting retrograde planets were associated with difficulties, obstacles, and even death. William Lilly said of retrogrades: "When any planet is decreasing in longitude ... It is a very great debility". And Guido Bonatus considered a retrograde planet to be at the top of his list of ways that planets could be debilitated, weakened and afflicted.
Modern astrologers do not share this belief. Considerable study and observation have been done since the seventeenth century to show the positive potential of retrogrades, but the fear connected with retrograde planets lingers on.
Hundreds of years ago, only kings and great leaders could afford to have their horoscopes drawn. Astrologers were few, and had little time to observe more than the small number of charts that they could calculate by hand. Only the planets that could be seen with the naked eye could be used; and since that gave them only a small number of variables to use in a chart, each item took on greater importance. Whatever happened to the ruler of a kingdom influenced everyone that he ruled; and so his horoscope became the horoscope of the people. Royal astrologers were consulted about life and death issues. The forecasts of life for the ruler were good; and those that foretold his death were bad. Life was less sophisticated and offered fewer choices; but those choices could bring about dramatic changes.
Now, there are many astrologers. The use of telescopes and improved understanding of the workings of the solar system give contemporary astrologers more data to use in their delineations; and computers make it possible for them to do a great number of accurate charts. Horoscopes are inexpensively cast for individuals; and worldwide travel and communication offer the people of today more complex and varied lives. Self direction and the potential for economic freedom release people from the absolutes of good and bad, and offer them numerous possibilities. Today's astrologers deal more with process than crisis. They use the information provided by symbolic tools such as retrogrades to offer constructive options to life problems. Modern observations show that people do survive, and even thrive with retrograde planets in their natal charts. And, transiting retrogrades offer unique perspectives that can help to avert a crisis.
RETROGRADE MOTION EXPLAINED
Modern science and technology enables us to record and understand the astronomical data upon which astrology relies. If we viewed the solar system from its center, the Sun, we would see all the planets moving in their orbits in one direction without interruption. Seen from the earth, planets often seem to slow down in their normal orbits, stop, and move in the opposite (retrograde) direction. We know that this retrograde motion is an illusion, a result of our perspective from the Earth.
Here's how the illusion works: Say that you (the Earth) and eight others (the other planets) are running in a counter-clockwise direction around a small circular track. Each of you has your own lane. You are about to catch up to and pass the other runners. Mercury and Venus are in their lanes on your left, and Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are in their lanes on your right. From your perspective, as you move forward and pass the runners on your right and your left, it seems as if they are moving backward, although from someone (the Sun) standing in the center of the track, it looks like all the runners are still moving in the same direction.
Periodically, all of the planets except the Sun and the Moon are seen to travel in retrograde motion. Pluto, Neptune and Uranus are retrograde about five months out of the year. Saturn and Jupiter are retrograde for more than four months each year; and Mars averages eleven weeks of retrograde motion every two years. Inside of Earth's orbit, Venus averages six weeks of retrograde motion each nineteen months; and Mercury retrogrades about three times a year for two to three weeks at a time. There are very few days during a year when there is not at least one planet in its retrograde path, and so you can see that retrograde motion is an important phenomenon that must be considered when interpreting a chart.
ASTROLOGY'S SYMBOLIC MEANING
Astrologers work ceaselessly to integrate science and the humanities with ancient wisdom to help us to understand the depth of astrology's symbolic meaning. Astrology shares an axiom with ancient wisdom: As above, so below. This idea enables us to say that a concept is just as true on the level of physical science as it is on the human level. When we examine the planets of our solar system (which each have certain characteristics and symbolic meanings) we can see a correlation to the expressions of our personalities. And when we watch the planets in their cycles over the years, we can see corresponding cyclic elements in our lives.
THE RETROGRADE PROCESS
From an astrological viewpoint, when a planet goes through the retrograde portion of its cycle, it travels through a portion of the zodiac three times - first forward - then backward - then forward again. The time planets spend moving through this area three times is called the Retrograde Period. You might think of that section of the zodiac as temporarily sensitized - as if it were symbolically marked with a retrograde flag, which casts a shadow over the entire area. In 1980, I first referred to this area of the zodiac as the Retrograde Shadow. As the planet moves through the Shadow for the first time, ideas and situations will emerge that will need to be re-examined during the rest of the retrograde cycle. While the planet is actually retrograde, a different perspective will be available. There may be a reversal of energies at this time. This is a time to gather information and review what has been happening. When the planet turns "direct" and moves through the Shadow for the last time, a new perspective may be viewed; all the knowledge that was gleaned during the first two passes may be absorbed and integrated and remedial action may seem necessary. When the planet leaves the Shadow, this knowledge may be put into practice. This shadowed area of the zodiac is in every chart, and will have special meaning for each person.
An advantage of the retrograde cycle is that it allows you to look at a situation three times from different perspectives. Symbolically, we might say that an area of your life is highlighted, pointed out to you so that you may examine it more closely.
In addition, when a planet is retrograde, it is closer to the Earth than when it is moving forward in the zodiac. So, a retrograde planet can signal you to pay attention to a condition that is right under your nose. For example, imagine that you are close enough to see someone about to spill a cup of coffee on your new white couch. This is a signal for you to pay attention. You may be able to take action to avoid the incident, or move quickly to clean up a mess.
Another example shows that closeness may also have disadvantages. Stand with your nose touching a door. Now, try to observe any details about the texture of the door, the size of the door, or the frame around the door. Closeness makes perspective difficult.
What can we learn from retrograde planets and what can we do during retrograde periods?
1. Know that there is an area of your life that needs more of your attention than usual.
2. Be aware of concepts and principles and avoid getting lost in details.
3. Avoid rushing into making decisions - there may be information that you are not yet aware of, or have missed.
4. Expect to feel more intensity than usual - and know that the intensity will pass.
5. Reexamine situations for new perspectives and to correct possible errors.
6. Plan some time to be by yourself to work on internal processes.
7. Know that everyone will be experiencing some of the same things, so donít take it personally.
The day upon which a planet turns retrograde or direct (forward motion) is very powerful and intense - even more so if there is a contact to one of your natal planets. You may want to write the stationary degrees of the transiting planets into your natal wheel to see if they contact any sensitive places in your chart.
You may find those stationary degrees in an ephemeris, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you the list of stationary points for the current year.
Knowing about the retrograde periods ahead of time enables you to enter them with conscious awareness.
THE RETROGRADE SHADOW
In the retrograde cycle, a planet journeys through a portion of the Zodiac three times first in direct motion, then in retrograde motion, and finally in direct motion. I call those degrees of the zodiac the Retrograde Shadow. From the time the planet enters this degree, it seems to cast a shadow of its character on the area. When astrologers observe the retrograde cycle in its entirety, it seems as if the planet is walking back and forth through a symbolic process, looking at that process from different perspectives. Of course, at a different level, we understand that the planet is not really changing its direction, but it is just a perceptive illusion on our part from our perspective on the Earth.
As a planet enters the Shadow, it passes the zodiacal degree where it will eventually turn direct. I call that degree the BSB Beginning Shadow Boundary (aka BSP, the Beginning Shadow Point). That degree seems to be sensitized from that point in the cycle, and an observant person may pick up clues to the nature of the planet's process throughout the cycle. There is a foretaste of the impact of the planet's activity while it is retrograde. That which manifests (symbolic of the planet in the sign and its aspects) as the planet moves toward its retrograde station can be seen from a different viewpoint after it turns retrograde. Perhaps the retrograde cycle is giving us clues to the very nature of time.
After the planet turns direct, there seems to be a remedial period in which the two different perspectives may be understood and integrated.
As the planet leaves the Shadow, it passes by the degree at which it previously turned retrograde. This releases the tension created during the Shadow, and I call that degree the ESB, Ending Shadow Boundary (aka ESP, Ending Shadow Point). As those degrees are also the station points, the Shadow boundaries remain sensitized for some time afterwards, much the same as do eclipse degrees.
"The Retrograde Shadow", a forthcoming publication on CD will offer examples, plus an ephemeris of station and shadow points for over a century for each planet, and the book, "Taking the Fear out of Retrogrades".