What Does It Mean When A Planet Is Retrograde? It's More Complicated Than You May Think

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You hear it on a pretty regular basis — people blaming a planet in retrograde for a whole host of problems, from a missed bus to a really awkward conversation at a party. But what does it mean when a planet is retrograde? Like, really? It turns out that it's all a whole lot more complicated than you might think.

Let me start by saying that, although retrograde means, by definition, "moving backward," the planets in our solar system do not actually start moving backward when one turns retrograd. The use of the term harkens back to the start of astrology, thousands of years ago. From the Earth's surface, each planet periodically appears to move backward because of two things: The way in which each planet orbits the Sun, and their relative position to Earth. Again, though, it's not actually moving in reverse.

If you need a more concrete laying out of the situation, imagine this demonstration from NASA Starchild project: "Start out standing side by side with a friend. Have a friend walk forward slowly. Now you walk forward at a faster speed. Watch your friend and think about how they are moving relative to you. At first, they move away, then as you pass them, they appear to be moving backward relative to you — even though they are still walking forward."

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Mercury, for example, is positioned closest to the Sun, so three to four times a year, it turns retrograde; then, three to four weeks later, it turns direct. Jupiter, on the other hand, the largest planet in our solar system, remains direct for thirteen months at a time. When it does turn retrograde, like it did earlier this week, it remains so for an average of four months. This time, Jupiter retrograde will last until June 9.

The real power of a retrograde planet, though, comes from the astrology side of celestial interpretations. One of the overarching principles of astrology is the belief that, "As above, so below"; thus, when a planet appears to spin backwards in its rotation, the fact that it isn't actually doing so doesn't really mean much.

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But what does matter is this: Each planet embodies a specific energy, and is said to rule over various corners of our lives. When it turns retrograde,  that energy is suppressed, the planet is considered in a resting state, and the focus is turned inward. This isn't inherently a negative thing, but it does upset the natural balance somewhat. Mercury, for example, rules over communication, contracts and agreements. When it's retrograde, and those elements are not given the benefit of having a "wide awake," well-functioning planet, hijinks can ensue. Low-key pandemonium can erupt. You can find yourself in one of those conversations where everything you say gets misinterpreted.

But what often arises from a planet during its retrograde period is also a greater sense of self. When the energy of a planet turns inward, it forces you to address and reconcile areas in your life that you may have been neglecting. With Jupiter, planet of good fortune, currently in retrograde, it's an opportunity to slow down and make sure you're ready emotionally for whatever goals lie ahead. It also forces you to examine, honestly, whether your motives are pure or if they're dictated by greed and gluttony. This level of scrutiny is uncomfortable, unsettling, and uh, really not fun. That doesn't make it any less valuable.

So, my newly enlightened friends, the next time that a pal freaks out because of a retrograde planet, take a deep breath, put your shoulders back, and prepare for things to get all shook up. It keeps life interesting, doesn't it?