Retrogrades in Astrology: What It Means When Planets Go “Backward”

All about retrogrades in astrology

You know those times when everything goes haywire, and you can’t figure out why? Look up, stargazer: A planet could be retrograde—meaning that from the vantage point of Earth, it appears to be spinning backward.

What’s really happening? Well, the Earth is completing its orbit around the Sun faster or slower than other planets outside its orbit. Periodically, one will outpace the other—and that’s when retrograde mayhem breaks loose.

What are retrogrades in astrology?

When a planet passes the Earth in its orbit (or vice versa), it is said to be going retrograde. From our vantage point on Earth, it is almost as if the planet is moving in reverse. This is an illusion, but it’s a bit like two trains passing at different speeds—one appears to be going backwards.

Think of the prefix “re” when planning the best use of a retrograde. Review, reunite, reconnect, research. Retrogrades may not be the best times to begin something new, but they can be stellar phases for tying up loose ends or giving a stalled mission a second chance to succeed.

I’ve heard about Mercury Retrograde, but are there other planet retrogrades?

Unless you live under a hunk of fallen meteorite, you’ve probably heard about Mercury retrograde, the quarterly mayhem that occurs when the messenger planet passes the Earth, appearing from our vantage point to go backward. For three weeks, we can blame every Internet outage, petty fight and canceled brunch plan on a spinning rock 48 million miles away. Even die-hard astrology skeptics start to waver in their stances during Mercury retrogrades.

But did you know that every single planet goes retrograde at some point? With the exception of Venus and Mars, the planets all have retrograde cycles every year.

What’s the shadow period of a retrograde?

Each retrograde cycle has a “shadow period”—the awkward adjustment of the retrograde planet from apparent backward to forward motion…and vice-versa. For that reason, you may feel the stirrings of a retrograde cycle for several days, even weeks, before it officially begins.

While retrograde planets are just an illusion, astrology followers can attest to experiencing their effects. The areas that a retrograde planet rules can become weak, challenging or troublesome during this cycle.

All planets go retrograde periodically, so we need to embrace these inevitable cycles as a fact of life, and an opportunity to build character. As the Buddha said, “No mud, no lotus.” Sometimes, it takes a challenge for us to develop the inner strength and self-knowledge we need to evolve as humans.

How do I know if I was born during a retrograde?

If you have planets in retrograde in your natal chart, as many of us do, you may find that you have to work a little harder in the realm that the planet governs. (You can see them marked on the chart by an Rx.)

For example, if you were born with Mercury retrograde you may be shy or have trouble communicating when you are younger. But, since retrogrades send us back to do things over, practice makes perfect. Tali and Ophira were born with Mercury retrograde. While shy as kids, we learned to overcome that and make our living as writers. Again, practice makes perfect.

Which planets have retrogrades?

The most commonly-known retrograde is Mercury—planet of communication, transportation, travel and technology—which goes retrograde for three weeks, three or four times a year. During a Mercury retrograde cycle, arguments and misunderstandings rage, plans fall apart, cars break down, and computers crash suddenly. Astrologers advise precautions: back up your digital files before this period begins, postpone any deals, and plan to be repeat or explain yourself a few extra times.

Love planet Venus goes retrograde every 18 months, which can reveal any weak links in a relationship or bring back past paramours. Astrologers advise against proposals, weddings, and any major relationship moves during this 4-6 week period, although the tabloids are predictably peppered with celebrity breakups each time Venus goes rogue. Mars is retrograde every two years for about two months, which can stir up conflict and fighting.

The “outer planets“—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto—all go retrograde for four to five months every year. So forget about hiding under a rock, because most of the time at least one planet, if not more, is retrograde.

What is a retrograde good for?

The prefix re- means to go back—and retrogrades are a time to polish up projects already in the works, or to dig up ones you’ve set aside. Retrogrades turn our attention to the past, and can actually be cosmic “grace periods” when we can finish all the things we’ve started or strengthen our plans, ensuring that we don’t move forward on a shaky foundation.

Old friends, lovers and past issues can resurface, giving you a chance to reconnect or revise. This can be a useful time to resolve any arguments, revisit old ideas, research an idea or renew a commitment. Tighten up your routines and plans during these periods, and you’ll be ready to rock when the retrograde period ends.

Schedule of planet retrogrades and how to proactively use them

Mercury Retrograde

3-4 times a year for 3 weeks

Good Time For: Strengthening communication skills, reunions with friends

Be Careful With: Binding agreements (contracts), contacting exes, conflicts

All things communication- and schedule-related tend to go haywire during Mercury retrograde, which is why these signal-scrambling phases have gotten such a bad reputation. But these forced timeouts can be a hidden blessing if you utilize them as review periods. 

Why ARE you clashing with the people in your world? What’s the real reason your interactions have gone off the rails? Retrogrades direct our attention inward, allowing for a few deeply introspective weeks. Change begins from looking within and since Mercury governs our mindsets, mental processes and systems, those are great places to begin. If you are willing to be humble and shift your mindset, these retrogrades can be profound periods for transformation. 

Venus Retrograde

Every 18 months for 6 weeks

Good Time For: Deepening our connection to love 

Be Careful With: Marriages, lasting relationships, falling blindly in love 

Every 18 months, Venus—the planet that rules love, harmony and compassion—reverses into retrograde motion for approximately 40 days. Many of us shudder when we hear the word retrograde, especially when applied to Venus, the planet of love. Will our relationships melt down? While a Venus retrograde CAN be a dating disruptor, it also brings a refreshing pause to the dramatic scripts of our love stories; a chance to step back and regain perspective.

Mars Retrograde

Every 2 years for 4 months

Good Time For: Healthy approaches to conflict and competition

Be Careful With: Violence, starting fights, blaming, hostility, undercutting competitors 

Mars turns retrograde every two years and the effect can feel like a global temper tantrum. Think about babies and the so-called “terrible twos,” when toddlers test the world’s—and their parents’—boundaries! Anger is the touchstone emotion of Mars. No surprise, during its retrograde, pent-up frustration and resentment can be unleashed in negative ways. We’re not trying to drive up fear here!

But Mars retrogrades can be a fierce force for dissent. This is the warrior planet we’re talking about here. Tracking Mars retrogrades is a wise move, so you can get ahead of the curve and do whatever you can to tone down brewing conflicts and create harmony.

Jupiter Retrograde

Annually for 4 months

Good Time For:  Healthy approaches to risk, overindulgence, overconfidence, ego, faith 

Be Careful With: Gambling, traveling, being overly generous or optimistic without having a backup plan

Jupiter turns retrograde annually, napping in a low-power mode for four months. As exciting as Jupiter’s developments are, they can also be exhausting! These retrograde timeouts may come as a blessed relief, giving us a window to integrate all the rapid changes the red-spotted planet has us striving to achieve. And TBH, some of our gambling instincts do NEED to be tamed.

While in reverse, Jupiter slows our rapid expansion before the sprawl becomes too stressful. This is a great time to go back to the drawing board to review goals, reconfigure plans and make sure we are set up with all the right resources before we go back to the “build site.” 

Saturn Retrograde

Annually for 5 months

Good Time For: Structure, solidifying plans, rules and protocols, maturity, relationship with mentors and authority

Be Careful With: Authority and hierarchies, teeth and bones, not cutting corners or skipping necessary steps, revising long-term goals and plans 

Saturn retrogrades can stall progress and shuttle you back to the drawing board to ensure that you’re developing plans on a stable foundation—and with proper levels of integrity. While Saturn’s in reverse, relying on empirical data is more important than ever. Knowing where boundaries lie is equally essential, and you could learn some tough lessons by dropping your guard during a retrograde. Read the directions and don the safety gear— before you make a single move. Lessons around time-management and authority tend to arise during Saturn’s yearly backspin.

These forced timeouts can be a hidden blessing, provided you’re willing to “take the medicine.” For instance, you might sign up for a business training class, learn how to use project management software, whip your calendar into shape. No, this isn’t the sexiest stuff, but think of it this way. When obligations are in order, you free up time to play!

Uranus Retrograde

Annually for 5 months

Good Time For: Letting loose, expressing yourself, embracing change

Be Careful With: Being a rebel without a cause, breaking the law, impulsive moves  

When Uranus is retrograde, we want to feel liberated, youthful and free—but to what ends will we go to achieve that? These five-months spells happen annually and can turn everyone into an impulsive rebel without a cause. If your destructive behavior affected a group you belonged to, this is the time to clean up the mess and attempt to make genuine amends. As the ruler of electronics and technology, Uranus retrogrades can feel like Mercury retros at times, bringing power outages and equipment breakdowns. This is a good time for updating digital security and privacy settings.

Neptune Retrograde

Annually for 5 months

Good Time For: Imagination, creativity, spirituality, compassion, healing

Be Careful With: Being gullible, lack of boundaries, trusting the wrong people, unclear thinking, a victim mindset 

Like the other outer planets, Neptune goes retrograde annually, for about five months. These retrogrades can be deeply introspective times—but ones that require extra reality checks! You may feel like retreating or escaping from the world, which can be a healing process or one that lures you back to a destructive habit. During this introspective cycles,  you may have a profound connection to your creativity and intuition.

Due to your heightened sensitivity, however, you may “numb out” with food, media, even addictive substances. Or your fear may cause you to freeze and become passive until you find support with your healing. Through your soul-searching , you may produce incredible works of art, or turn your struggles into a charitable mission.

Pluto Retrograde

Annually for 5 months

Good Time For: Transformation, your “shadow side,” healing addictions 

Be Careful With: People’s “dark sides,” power plays/ struggles, dangerous people 
Like the other outer planets, Pluto will spend five months of each year retrograde. During these times, we will often feel a relief from the planet’s intensity.

Retrogrades are times for introspection, and deep-diving Pluto’s backspin can bring penetrating insights. Transformational work may be put on hold, however, as we process everything from pain to grief to revenge fantasies—without (thankfully) reactively responding to every emotion.

While it may seem like nothing is changing on the surface, when Pluto corrects course and flows forward for seven months, we can incorporate any necessary changes. Of course, this high-key planet doesn’t do anything by half-measure. What flips after a Pluto retrograde can play out like “Extreme Makeover: Self Edition.” But when we emerge for the big reveal, strong and rejuvenated, we’ll thank the god of the underworld for making us so damn irresistible and magnetic.

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The AstroTwins

Identical twin sisters Ophira and Tali Edut, known as The AstroTwins, are the founders of and the authors of multiple bestselling astrology books. Their horoscopes reach millions here and through their resident astrologer column at ELLE Magazine.