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Chapter 18

Retrograde Hell? The Truth Revealed

In This Chapter

bulletExplaining retrograde motion

bulletManaging retrograde Mercury

bulletDealing with retrograde Mars and Venus

bulletConsidering other retrograde planets

It’s amazing how many people there are who can’t cast a horoscope, don’t know their rising signs, and yet practically have panic attacks over the retrograde movement of Mercury. These supposedly sinister periods, during which that little planet appears to travel backward, arrive regularly three or four times a year. And yes, they do usher in a volley of setbacks, misunderstandings, irritations, and minor disruptions. Worse yet, they stir up a storm of fear and anxiety in the hearts of astrology fans everywhere. But is this reaction called for? In a word, no. Retrograde motion isn’t a tragedy. It isn’t a disaster. It isn’t even a cause for alarm. It’s a respite and a gift from the cosmos — but only if you understand its purpose and use it appropriately. In this chapter, I tell you what you need to know to grapple calmly and ration-ally with retrograde movements.

Retrograde Revealed

When a planet is retrograde, it looks like it’s reeling backward through the zodiac. In truth, the planets move forward constantly, but that’s not the way it looks. Although the Sun and the Moon clearly revolve in the same direction all year every year, the planets seem to follow a less consistent pattern. On a regular schedule, each of the planets appears to slow down, reverse direction, and retrace its path, arcing backward across the zodiac. For weeks or months at a time (depending on the planet), it wheels against the planetary tide. Then once again, it seems to slow down, turn around, and resume normal movement (which is referred to as going direct).

When ancient astronomers saw the heavenly bodies whirling backward, they invented all kinds of schemes to account for the phenomenon. In the second century BCE, for example, astronomers in Greece were convinced that the planets looped around their usual orbits on little spheres carved from the purest crystal. Needless to say, they were wrong. The planets never actually switched direction.


Retrograde motion is solely a perception — an illusion caused by the fact that the planets, including Earth, are always in motion, tracing arcs across the sky as they loop around the Sun at varying speeds. You can experience the same disconcerting effect in a train. If two trains pull out of the station together but your train is moving faster, the train on the adjacent track appears to slide backward. That backward motion, like the retrograde motion of the planets, is an optical illusion.

Successfully Handling Retrograde Mercury

Here’s a typical scenario from my life: The phone rings. I pick it up hesitantly (because, like most people, I have a teeny bit of telephone ESP). And indeed, it’s one of the usual suspects calling in a frenzy after having experienced one frustration too many. The final straw may be a lost ATM card, an endless wait in the doctor’s office, a missed appointment, a computer crash, the inability to rent an apartment at 1977 prices, a voice mail disaster, or another harrowing descent into an HMO inferno. Listening to the litany, I know what’s coming. My faithful follower is about to ask this question: Is Mercury retrograde?

Often, the answer is yes. Tiny Mercury, the planet nearest the Sun, appears to change direction more frequently than any other planet. It goes into “reverse” three or four times a year for around three weeks at a stretch. During those irksome interludes — and particularly at the beginning and end — you can expect small mishaps, petty annoyances, and all sorts of miscommunication. When Mercury is retrograde, messages disappear in cyberspace, straightforward statements are misinterpreted, people forget appointments and lose papers, and answering machines, faxes, copiers, computers, and cellphones threaten to strike.

Making the best of it

Why crazy things happen when Mercury is retrograde, I can’t claim to know. Astrology, to my way of thinking, is a system of metaphor, a symbolic cosmic language that reflects our lives the way the sea reflects the sky. So even though none of the planets ever actually spin backward, their apparent turn-around subtly affects our reactions, our perceptions, and our experiences.


When Mercury is retrograde, vexation abounds. Yet despite what you may have heard — and despite the inventory of possible woes I listed earlier in the chapter — retrograde Mercury isn’t to be feared. It’s a lesser force, not a tsunami. It forces you to slow down (because you’re stuck in a traffic jam), to be flexible (because your flight just got canceled), to check on things you might normally ignore (because your package should have arrived by now). It encourages you to try another approach. Thus it offers something most people desperately need: a timeout, a chance to pick up the pieces.

When Mercury is retrograde, do not

bulletLaunch an important project.

bulletPurchase a computer, a cellphone, a Blackberry, or any other communication device, including expensive fountain pens.

bulletBuy a car, a boat, or a home.

bulletMove into a new dwelling.

bulletStart a job.

bulletBegin a relationship.

bulletSign a contract.

bulletExpect things to go smoothly.

bulletTry to fight the fates. Forcing things to happen on your schedule only creates further mayhem.


To get the most out of Mercury retrograde, breathe a sigh of relief and get off that treadmill. You’ve been given a reprieve. All you have to do is


bulletRevise. (Mercury retrograde is invaluable for writers.)

bulletReconsider. (If a former lover or an old problem reappears, Mercury retrograde can help you resolve the situation.)

bulletRevisit the past.

bulletChange your mind.

bulletConfirm your reservations.

bulletCheck the facts.

bulletMake repairs.

bulletDo tasks you’ve been postponing.

bulletCorrect mistakes.

bulletGet organized.

bulletCatch up on all forms of correspondence.

bulletClear the decks.

bulletSend cards and packages early. (When Mercury is retrograde, mail may not arrive on time.)

bulletCarry a book or magazine at all times. (When Mercury is retrograde, your chances of having to wait in a line or being caught in a traffic jam increase exponentially. And don’t count on your cellphone to keep you entertained: It’s likely to transmit only static.)

Knowing when the hullabaloo is coming

Table 18-1 shows you when (and where) Mercury is retrograde from the first day of 2007 to the last day of 2012. The dates for each retrograde period correspond to the degrees of the zodiac listed in the “Location” column.

For example, the first line for the year 2007 shows that Mercury is retrograde from February 14 until March 7, during which time it wheels backward from 10° Pisces — its location on February 14 — to 25° Aquarius, where it ends up on March 7. At that point on March 7 it ceases to be retrograde. For a brief moment, Mercury seemingly stands still. Then it goes direct, moving forward once more in the usual way. Months pass. From its starting point at 25° Aquarius, Mercury spins happily through one-third of the zodiac. And then, on June 15, it changes direction once again, this time at 11° Cancer. And so the cycle begins anew.

Table 18-1 Retrograde Mercury





Feb. 14–Mar. 7

10° Pisces–25° Aquarius


June 15–July 9

11° Cancer–2° Cancer


Oct. 12–Nov. 1

9° Scorpio–23° Libra


Jan. 28–Feb. 18

23° Aquarius–8° Aquarius


May 26–June 14

21° Gemini–12° Gemini


Sept. 24–Oct. 15

22° Libra–7° Libra


Jan. 11–Feb. 1

7° Aquarius–21° Capricorn


May 7–30

1° Gemini–22° Taurus


Sept. 6–29

6° Libra–21° Virgo


Dec. 26–31

21° Capricorn–19° Capricorn


Jan. 1–15

18° Capricorn–5° Capricorn


Apr. 17–May 11

12° Taurus–2° Taurus


Aug. 20–Sept. 12

19° Virgo–5° Virgo


Dec. 10–30

5° Capricorn–19° Sagittarius


Mar. 30–Apr. 23

24° Aries–12° Aries


Aug. 3–26

1° Virgo–18° Leo


Nov. 24–Dec. 13

20° Sagittarius–3° Sagittarius


Mar. 12–Apr. 4

6° Aries–23° Pisces


July 14–Aug. 8

12° Leo–1° Leo


Nov. 6–26

4° Sagittarius–18° Scorpio


Sometimes the weeks when Mercury is retrograde slip by so quietly that you barely notice. Other times, retrograde Mercury generates such a blizzard of delays and obstructions that you just can’t miss its baleful influence. What makes the difference? The answer is easy: location, location, location. Look to see where Mercury is when it goes retrograde. If it’s in your Sun sign, Moon sign, Mercury sign, or rising sign, you’ll feel its impact. Similarly, when Mercury begins or ends its retrograde cycle within one or two degrees of a planet in your horoscope, you’re likely to be affected. In both cases, get ready to revel in the rhythm of retrograde. And don’t forget to bring a book.

Looking Out for Retrograde Venus

In Meso-American astrology, Venus ruled. The Aztecs and Mayans kept careful note of its rising and setting, its arrival as the morning star and as the evening star, its regular disappearances, and its intervals of retrograde motion, which occur every year and a half for about six weeks. According to Aztec astrologers, those retrograde weeks were dangerous times, especially in the political arena. Astrologers today generally see retrograde Venus as a time of uncertainty, distraction, misinterpretation, passivity, and unfulfilled desires in two areas: romance and finance.

It sounds bad, yet in reality, the effects are subtle. It seems to me that life is too short to worry excessively about this particular transit. In a strange way, I even find it comforting. For example, if your love life is less than spectacular — if it’s nonexistent — then retrograde Venus gives you license to forget about it for a while and turn your mind to other matters. What a relief.


I do, however, have two iron-clad pieces of advice:

bulletDon’t get married when Venus is retrograde (unless both you and your intended have retrograde Venus in your birth chart).

bulletDon’t make any major financial commitments when Venus is retrograde — especially for a loan, a mortgage, a fur coat, an original piece of artwork, an emerald ring (emerald is the gem of Taurus, which Venus rules), or anything beloved by Venus (except for flowers, chocolates, and valentines).

Table 18-2 tells you when (and where) Venus is retrograde from 2007 to 2012. (2008 and 2011 aren’t listed because Venus doesn’t go retrograde during these years.)

Table 18-2 Retrograde Venus





July 27–Sept. 8

2° Virgo–16° Leo


Mar. 6–Apr. 17

15° Aries–29° Pisces


Oct. 8–Nov. 18

13° Scorpio–27° Libra


May 15–June 27

23° Gemini–7° Gemini

Watching Out for Retrograde Mars

I love Mars, the red planet. Easily recognizable in the sky by its pale pink tint, it stimulates activity, prods us to take the initiative, and fills us with courage. Mars is enterprising, dynamic, determined, and dominating. True, it’s also the planet of hostility and war. But without it, nothing would ever get done.

I like to think that in my chart, and in yours, the energy that motivates Mars can be funneled in positive directions. If nothing else, it thrives at the gym — and I’m not talking about yoga or the stationary bicycle. Mars prefers kickboxing. Let’s be honest: Mars wants to fight. The harder you work out, the better.

But when Mars is retrograde, that energy is diverted. Roadblocks pop up out of nowhere, and the anger and belligerence associated with the warrior planet are driven underground. So progress slows down, even at the gym. Instigating new pursuits leads nowhere, and taking the offensive — or trying to — can create unanticipated consequences.


Aggressive Mars goes retrograde every 22 months for about 11 weeks. During those times, the cardinal rule is simple: Don’t launch a crusade or go to war, metaphorically or otherwise.

Table 18-3 tells you when (and where) Mars is retrograde from 2007 to 2012. (It doesn’t go retrograde at all during 2011.)

Table 18-3 Retrograde Mars





Nov. 15–Dec. 31

12° Cancer–0° Cancer


Jan. 1–Jan. 30

29° Gemini–24° Gemini


Dec. 20–Dec. 31

19° Leo–18° Leo


Jan. 1–Mar. 10

18° Leo–0° Leo


Jan. 24–Apr. 14

23° Virgo–3° Virgo

The Other Planets

Past Mars, the planets are retrograde for months on end, and the whole matter becomes unimportant. Most of the time, there’s no reason to get bent out of shape about retrograde planets beyond Mars.


I recommend paying attention to the retrograde motion of the outer planets under only two circumstances:

bulletWhen five or six planets are retrograde at once. Those are times when new endeavors inch forward at glacial speed. How do you know when planets are retrograde? I regret to say that this book can’t help you. But any good astrological calendar can. The best ones are Llewellyn’s Astrological Calendars (I’m partial to the Daily Planetary Guide) and the Celestial Guide and Celestial Influences calendars published by Jim Maynard.

bulletWhen a planet turns retrograde or direct right on top of (or opposite to) your birth planet. For instance, if Saturn (or any other planet) goes retrograde at 10° Leo and you happen to have a planet right there, you can expect to suffer the consequences. A problem from the past, something you thought was totally over, could arise. You’ll have to contend with the same issues all over again. Your best and only move, taking your cue from Saturn, is to face reality.

Retrograde Mercury, Venus, and Mars in the birth chart

Years ago, I was under the impression that when a planet was retrograde, its energy was weakened. I changed my opinion when I noticed that some of the smartest, most articulate people I know have Mercury retrograde in their birth charts, as do some of my favorite writers — icons like M. F. K. Fisher, Robert Frost, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Henry Miller, Philip Roth, Dylan Thomas, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Clearly, Mercury retrograde in a birth chart doesn’t negate the ability to communicate. Rather, it bends your intellect inward, deepens it, increases your need for reflection, causes greater concern about exactly how you’re communicating, and makes you a more independent and contemplative thinker. My guess is that writers with Mercury retrograde spend more time mulling things over and revising than other writers.

If you have retrograde Venus in your birth chart, you may be shy, uncertain, and hesitant to express affection, especially around potential partners. Romance isn’t a lighthearted romp for you — much as you wish it were. It’s complex and problematic, a matter for serious reflection, and as a result, you may hold yourself back in romantic situations. But don’t despair. Venus retrograde doesn’t deny romance. It merely slows it down. For instance, I know a good-hearted man with Venus retrograde who married a woman from another country — but never lived with or slept with her — simply to help her get a visa. He later found his true love — and his first “wife” was a guest at his second wedding.

Retrograde Mars makes an issue of aggression by forcing you to acknowledge your anger and focus it constructively. Some people with a retro-grade Mars — Lizzie Borden comes to mind — never find a way to do this. Others succeed triumphantly. This list of world-class warriors speaks for itself: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Billie Jean King, Jesse Jackson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. They all have Mars retrograde.

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