Planetary retrogrades can be confusing and disruptive periods in the astrological cycle.
To better understand and prepare for the planets in retrograde now and in the future, here’s a handy guide to retrogrades — including the effects of each retrograding planet, their approximate frequency and duration, and how to put it all together.
What is a Retrograde?
Retrograde is a period when a planet appears to move backward in the sky. Astrologically, planets move backward through the degrees of the astrological chart.
Why Do We Have Retrogrades?
Astronomically, retrogrades occur because all the planets are moving at different speeds.
This occasionally causes an optical illusion where it seems like one planet is speeding by the other. Think of this like driving down the highway: if you pass another car, for a moment it looks as though the other car is moving backward. Once there’s enough distance between the cars, it appears to be moving forward again.
In the case of the outer planets, Earth speeds by them since we move much faster in orbit. But with Mercury and Venus, they bypass us, and the periods are much shorter. The Sun and the Moon never retrograde.
What Do Retrogrades Mean?
During the course of a retrograde period, the planet in retrograde gives us a very different energy than when it’s moving direct (in forward motion).
This depends on the planet, but typically, it shifts our attention to things that we may not have previously been aware of or able to tend to. Things may resurface that we tried to shove under the rug and ignore — but in retrograde, that’s no longer an option. We often move from outward actions and progress to internal reflection and evaluation.
As difficult as they may seem, retrograde periods are necessary to help us review our decisions, make changes, and prepare to move forward once again when the planet goes direct.
Because retrograde periods are weeks to months long, we tend to feel them most at their stations — or the time when a planet slows down and stalls before changing direction.
This occurs at both the beginning and the end of the retrograde, so those “bookend dates” are the ones to note. They create the most chaos because they’re actively shifting — and we feel it.
Give yourself and those around you grace at these times. We collectively feel the shift, and it affects everyone in slightly different ways.
Fortunately, stations typically only last a few days (or weeks, in slow-moving Pluto's case). Once a planet settles into the retrograde, things calm down and we feel the planet differently than when it moves direct. This is the time to utilize the unique energies if you can.
How Will a Retrograde Affect Me Personally?
While we can’t predict the future, we can look to 3 key players that will help you prepare for anything a retrograde might throw your way:
- The retrograding planet
- The sign (or signs) in which it occurs
- The house (or houses) it takes place in your birth chart
We begin by looking at the energies that the retrograding planet brings to the table. Is it communicative Mercury? Or expansive Jupiter? This is the energy we will all feel, coupled with the sign it occurs in.
When we add the sign to the mix, we start to see how the effects could take shape. Is it in charge-ahead Aries? Or detail-oriented Virgo? Some planets and signs mix better than others, and can cause even more friction than usual.
As an example, on October 4, 2021, Facebook and its sister properties were down for an entire day — highly unusual. But just a week prior, Mercury (the planet of communication and technology) retrograded in Libra (the sign of socializing and community). A social media blunder was on tap, causing plenty of difficulties and frustration.
Finally, you may see the retrograde energies play out in the house the retrograde takes place in your birth chart. Since each house corresponds to a different piece of the life puzzle, this can show up in a myriad of ways, and as a result, affects you differently than your neighbor.
Mercury retrograde in Libra in your second house, for example, could see an argument (communication) with your friend (socializing and community) about money or values (second house).
You could lose your wallet while out on the town with your crew. Or you could end up having to shell out a bunch of cash for technology that keeps you connected to friends and family, like a cell phone.
We’ll never know exactly what will come up during a retrograde period, but awareness of the affected energies will help prepare you and allow you to stay calm in the face of confusion or chaos.
What Are Shadow Periods, or Retroshades?
Shadow periods, or Retroshades, occur as a result of the zig-zag pattern retrogrades create. As a planet moves backward, it astrologically runs back through the same degrees from which it came. Once it moves forward, it passes these degrees a third time until it clears through them and moves beyond where the retrograde began.
Even though the planet only moves backward once, the degrees in which it ends and begins creates a shadow phase on each side of the retrograde, and we can feel those as well. If you have natal (birth chart) planets in those degrees or are ruled by a particular planet, you will feel the shadow periods more strongly.
This is illustrated well in this diagram from cafeastrology.com. You can see where Mercury enters its first shadow period in early September, before officially turning retrograde three weeks later. Once it turns direct, it takes another three weeks to clear its final shadow, before finally leaving the retrograde zone.
As a result, the duration of a retrograde can feel as though it lasts much longer than the specific dates of the retrograde itself, effectively tripling the amount of time we feel the retrograde.
What Does It Mean if I Have a Retrograde Planet in My Birth Chart?
Since one planet or another is in retrograde most of the calendar year, there’s a pretty good chance of having at least one retrograde planet in your birth chart.
The energies this inherently creates depends on the planet at hand. The personal planets (Mercury, Venus, or Mars) will heighten an “inward feel” of the energies. Jupiter and Saturn reflect our culture and you may feel disconnected from it when one is retrograde in your chart. The outer planets (Neptune, Uranus & Pluto) in retrograde may make you feel entirely different from the rest of your generation — the odd man out.
The more retrograde planets in your chart, the more unique your experience will be from the masses. You may discover that you’re more comfortable with these planets’ retrograde periods than most.
It may actually be a more productive environment for you than when the planet is direct. Or, you feel the retrograde effects when the planet is direct, and the typical direct effects when the planet is retrograde.
Start noting how these planets affect you when in retrograde.
Retrogrades by Planet
*The Sun and Moon do not retrograde
- Frequency: 3 - 4 times a year
- Duration: 21 days
- Vibes: Communication, technology and travel snafus. “Re” words like review, redo, restart, repeat, etc. are applicable now. General brain fog and unexpected blunders. A good time to label the belongings you take out into the world (phone, wallet, keys) and take it slow. Don’t purchase new technology if you can help it, and allow for all kinds of delays.
- Frequency: every 19 months
- Duration: 41 days
- Vibes: Emotional problems, ex-lovers reappear, and we think about our relationships and the finer points of life, like love and beauty. Do not schedule big life events or make changes to your appearance at this time.
- Frequency: every 26 months
- Duration: 72 days
- Vibes: The planet of action becomes the planet of inaction or frustration with actions taken at this time. Difficulties moving projects forward. Can lead to angry outbursts or general low energy. Lay low if you can, and “check yourself before you wreck yourself” if you can’t.
- Frequency: every 13 months
- Duration: 121 days
- Vibes: When our planet of luck and expansion isn’t giving us 100%, it’s time to move inward. Reflect and evaluate your philosophies, values, and beliefs.
- Frequency: yearly
- Duration: 138 days
- Vibes: What have you been trying to achieve? Saturn wants us to have it all, but not without tough love and hard work. This can be doubly true during its retrograde period, as Saturn wants us to tie up any loose ends in our professional life and with our reputations before we can move on to the next life lesson.
- Frequency: yearly
- Duration: 151 days
- Vibes: Uranus usually plays on the global stage, but retrogrades force us to look inside ourselves and find the revolution within. You may see yourself in an unexpected way or tap into your individuality in a way that helps you shine within your community when Uranus moves direct once more.
- Frequency: yearly
- Duration: 158 days
- Vibes: This period can bring the unconscious into your consciousness. Be it through dreams or spiritual revelations, this part of your psyche will be incredibly heightened now. Pay close attention to what the universe is telling you, and dare to use your imagination to its fullest.
- Frequency: yearly
- Duration: 183 days
- Vibes: Inner transformation is on tap now, and you could find yourself grappling with some of the tougher topics of life, including finances, sex, death and the afterlife. It may be time to transform yourself in one of these areas. You can find inner strength and resilience now.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dayna Schmidt-Johnson (Leo Sun, Scorpio Moon, Virgo Rising) is the resident astrologer for Writual Society. A writer by trade and a life-long learner, she has been studying astrology for nearly two decades and combines her passion for the stars with an easy understanding of what all that astro-speak really means. Dayna lives in Chicago with her husband and teenage daughter. Her Gemini Midheaven ensures she's never out of projects to work on and is currently the Content Manager for multicultural agency TEN35, reads astrology charts, and speaks publicly on the topics of salary negotiation and vocational astrology.