Many of us have asked that question at some point in our lives, and many are still asking that question. And, when you try to research information about retrogrades in astrology, you get so much flowery and technical information and diagrams, you come away feeling even more confused. An example would be (from the Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology):
“In fact, the backward motion is an illusion created by the revolution of the planets and the Earth in their concentric orbits around the Sun.”
What the hell does that mean? It’s simpler than you think. First off, no planet actually reverses the direction of its orbit. But, all of the planets, except the Sun and the Moon, will appear to be moving backward across the sky from time to time. Why do they do this? It’s called parallax error. The easiest example is when you are passing a car, or a car is passing you on the freeway. There is a point where the car appears to be moving backward, then it finally reaches a point where it appears to be moving forward again. The same thing happens on our solar freeway.
Whenever a planet is passing the Earth, or the Earth is passing a planet on our stellar racetrack, the planet will appear to be moving backward from the Earth’s perspective. The most interesting part of this is that it is always in respect to the Sun. When any of the superior planets (planets outside of the Earth’s orbit, Mars through Pluto) come to an opposition to the Sun (the Earth is exactly between the planet and the Sun), it means that the planet is halfway through its retrograde. Venus and Mercury are inside the Earth’s orbit (inferior planets), so they will (conjunct) cross in front of the Sun (between the Earth and the Sun) when they are halfway through their retrogrades.
What does retrograde mean from an Astrology viewpoint? Each planet in the Zodiac rules different functions of our lives. Some examples would be Venus, the ruler of love and money, or Saturn, ruler of discipline and hard work. When a planet is in retrograde, the parts of our lives that it rules need to slow down and regroup.
Mercury’s retrograde is probably the most-watched of all the planets’ retrogrades, because he is so fast, and retrogrades three or four times a year. Mercury is the ruler of communication, short trips, siblings and neighbors, and transportation. This includes technical communication devices like telephones, computers, the internet in general, and even other forms of technology, like televisions and automobiles. When Mercury is in retrograde, it’s a time for regeneration, reviewing, reuniting, and even repairing. Almost any activity that starts with “re” will be “re-warded” under Mercury’s retrograde. But, it is never a good time to start anything new, and that includes new relationships.
When a planet is in retrograde, it is a time for resting and moving the issues related to that planet into the subconscious for further contemplation. The slower, outer planets like Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are in retrograde almost as much as they are moving direct. So, these planets are usually more functional at the subconscious levels. In general, retrograde is a time for awareness rather than attention. It’s a time for letting the “back of your mind” focus on the area of your life that the planet rules.