How to Understand and Work With Retrograde Planets

2018 is a big retrograde year, with Venus and Mars doing the backward dance as well as all the usual suspects like Mercury, Saturn, and the outer planets. We’ve had an intense Jupiter retro, with many of my clients (never mind the world) dealing with death, sexual/sexuality issues, deep money wounding coming up and so on—all the domain of Scorpio where Jupiter is transiting until November, and is retrograde until July 10.

What is a retrograde? And is it always a bad thing? What about the outer planet cycles, which last up to six months? What about retrogrades in the birth chart? Read on, fellow traveler, for a greater understanding of how to work with retrograde planets and cycles.

What Is a Retrograde?

Our perspective on the location of the planets in their orbits changes as we progress on our own heavenly turn on Earth. At certain points, from our perspective, the various planets appear to begin moving backward. They don’t actually do this, it’s a perspective thing. But as far as the action of the planet as an archetype in our lives, they take on a different energy during their retrograde cycles.

photo of night sky

Mercury retros often and for short periods. Venus and Mars retro about every two years(ish) and last for a couple of months. Jupiter retrogrades about every 13 months, for around 4-5 months, and Saturn will retro every year for about 5 months. The outer planets are pretty consistent with their annual retro periods of Neptune for 6-7 months, Uranus for about 5, and Pluto for about 51/2 months.

Retrograde time periods vary in meaning from planet to planet, but generally they are a time to review the area of the chart and zodiac that they have just traverse, layered with their archetypal energy. For example, Saturn will always be asking us about our structure and intent for life, Jupiter about self-knowledge, Mercury about communication and ideas, and so on.

Retrograde cycles encourage us to turn inward and ruminate on what is arising, and act in an internal way. Retros are rarely conducive to outward action, although this is more true, I find, with inner planet movement than outer. I mean, there is always somebody in retrograde, and we have to live our lives!

diary girl hand journal

Retro cycles invite us to shed old habits, beliefs, practices, and other encumbrances. The planet in sign and house position will tell you how the planet is trying to work with you. The cycles will be especially potent if they are in aspect to planets or angles in your chart, or when they cross backwards and forwards over house cusps.

Planets in (Re)Action

I’ll give a quick run down of what to think about for each planetary retro and how you might work with it. But again, your own chart is much more descriptive of what any cycle will mean rather than generalities.


This little guy’s retros are super mainstream and dumbed down. Yes, glitches will occur in communication, but Uranus actually rules technology, so why does Mercury get blamed for your printer not working? Communication will always be a focus, as well as research, teaching, and learning. Mercury rules the “lower” mind, the mundane rather than the inspired. His retros will ask you to review these areas as impacted by the sign he’s in. Generally it’s best to not sign contracts, get married, or execute complicated business deals during his cycles (all forms of communication). However, they are great times for planning, reviewing, and any practice that encourages inner clarity.


The 2018 retro of Venus is from Oct. 5 to Nov. 16, from 10 Scorpio to 25 Libra. Generally we can expect relationship and intimacy issues to be up. We may be asked to question our values around these areas, and ways that we don’t honor the feminine. We may be forced by circumstances to reflect upon harmony, fairness, and justice. Just how do we want to live with others? Work? Co-create?


Retro June 26 to August 27, from 9 Aquarius to 28 Capricorn. His cycles are related to our creativity, action and desire—and how we go after those things. The retro is an opportunity to reassess the above, and to tweak our plans and ways we act in the world. It’s not typically a great time for business launches or the implementation of any new scheme. I find that this retrograde is particularly colored by the houses it takes place in.


I have a longer article on Jupiter’s transit of Scorpio here, so you can get au fait with the themes. Jupiter has been retro since February, and you may have noticed re-occurring patterns. Generally Jupiter expands whatever it touches, and the retro cycle is a chance to mull over and integrate what he has been bringing up. This year it’s the Scorpio stuff: death, sex, money. We see this in the mainstream with #metoo and the dudes falling like dominoes.


I find these retros particularly trying, despite my Capricorniness, because they tend to be tedious and relentless. The already slowed-down nature of Saturn gets even slower, but this does give ample opportunity to reflect, reject, renew, and revamp our existing structures and to replace our long-held limiting beliefs. It’s like every day Saturn asks, “what do you want? Why are you doing that? Is that bringing results? Is this really a new action?” Helpful, but … enough already!

Uranus, Neptune, Pluto

These cycles are much more internal, subtle, and may go completely unnoticed. They are retrograde for much of the year … I find that to utilize these cycles you really need to know where they are in your own chart and look to those areas. It’s rich territory, but if you aren’t paying attention the opportunity to transform via these planets could just pass by.

Retrograde Planets in the Birth Chart


It’s rare to see a natal chart with no retrograde planets, and some charts will have 5 or 6. When a planet is retro at birth, it creates a dynamic in that lifetime that will require an effort to throw off old (past life or lineage) conditioning. There will be particular patterns that unfold again and again involving that planet and its energies by sign and house.

We have to engage and work with our retrograde planets to create new patterns and trajectories with those planets. In some cases, this is really, really hard. I won’t lie. In others, a retrograde planet at birth merely signifies a continued area of growth. To decode the significance of a retro planet in your chart, consider getting at least one good professional reading in your life. These planets can often be hard to access, because they are internalized, even though they present us with recurring themes.

Having a lot of retrograde planets does not mean you are (or were) a bad person or somehow are flunking life school. Everyone will experience lifetimes where they are working toward liberation and awareness, and lifetimes when they aren’t.

Working with retro planets is a deep part of astrology and understanding transits, progressions, and the fundamentals of your birth chart. If you want help with that, book a session.

Until next time …


IMG_1103 2Elia

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