We’ve all heard about Mercury Retrograde -- how communication gets confused, traffic slows down and luggage gets lost when this little planet appears to start moving backward in the heavens. Mercury, however, is not the only planet that turns retrograde. In fact, all the planets except the Sun and the Moon go retrograde regularly.
So, what is this mysterious retrograde motion? It’s a simple optical illusion that occurs when a faster-moving planet passes a slower planet in its orbit. It’s like driving down the freeway at a very high rate of speed. If you pass a car inching along in the slow lane, it will appear that the slower car is moving backward. It’s not, of course, but it appears that way to you, in the faster car. In astrology, retrogradation is the apparent temporary 'backward' motion of a planet when measured against the background of the celestial zodiac.
The periodic backward motion of the planets was first observed many thousands of years ago, and in fact, the urge to understand retrograde motion was a driving impulse in the development of mathematics and sciences.
When a planet is retrograde, it’s as close as it can get to Earth, and if it’s visible, it’s very bright. These facts give us a clue as to the importance of retrograde planets: Their effects are strong!
A retrograde planet makes three crisscrosses over the same few degrees of the zodiac within a limited time span. That illuminates another clue for interpreting its effects: During a retrograde period, you’ll have to try extra hard to focus, and sometimes, you’ll have to do things more than once before you get the job done right.
Often planets in retrograde are considered to have a negative effect, but this is not true. A much better interpretation is that retrograde motion turns the energy of the planet inward. That energy is now in concentrated form, helping us to understand and integrate it more holistically and completely. You could look at retrograde motion as a planet inhaling, and direct motion as the planet exhaling. It’s the breath of the solar system.
The most important points in the retrograde cycle are the degree at which the planet turns retrograde, and the degree at which it once again returns to direct motion. At these points, the energy of the planet is particularly noticeable and strong.