Even if you're not super familiar with the ins and outs of astrology, you may have heard someone say, "Mercury must be in retrograde again," which has become a common phrase when things seem to be a bit out of whack. But what does it really mean in astrological terms when Mercury (and other planets) are in retrograde? We enlisted the help of a few astrologists to break it down, so keep scrolling to learn more.
What exactly does it mean when a planet is in retrograde?
To put it simply, Adama Sesay, Founder and Professional Astrologer at LilithAstrology.com, says that planetary retrogrades are essentially an optical illusion where the planet appears to be moving backwards from our vantage point on Earth. "I'd compare this to when you are driving in a car and another car speeds past you on the right and then slows down — it looks as if it's moving backwards," she explains.
Tatiana Borsch, renowned Russian astrologer and author of an annual complete horoscope book series, adds that from an astronomical point of view, this is a visual effect — we now all know that planets do not change the speed and direction of their movement. "In astrology, however, we consider this effect to temporarily change the energy of the planets," she points out, adding that all planets can go retrograde (except for the sun and the moon which are known as luminaries and do not retrograde).
How often does this happen & what should I know about each planet?
Okay, so now that we know what it means when a planet goes retrograde, let’s investigate the timing and some deets to know about each planet, starting with the most commonly recognized planet associated with it: Mercury. "The most popularly known — Mercury retrograde — which is also the fast moving planet of this line up, goes retrograde 3-4 times per year for around 3-4 weeks," notes Sesay.
Borsch adds that a Mercury retrograde can mean there is a greater likelihood of "inconsistencies, mistakes and unexplained omissions, which can be the result of a lack of attention, or simply an accident of circumstances." Interesting tidbit: She shares that astrologists do not recommend signing any contracts or making major purchases during this time, as they may turn out to be unreliable (especially vehicles, electronics and communications which are items ruled by Mercury). There is a silver lining to this period, however, and Borsch tells Lively this is a great opportunity to “come back to things you may have put off, cross your t's and dot your i's, see old friends or even spend some time in a place you haven't been before." It's a chance to really take stock of where you are, fix what is broken and get on the right track.
- Venus is the plant that rules love, values and money. It will retrograde in our skies about every year and a half and this period is commonly associated with our love lives, the things we value and our social lives.
- Mars, the warrior planet that rules our action, retrogrades about every two years. When Mars retrogrades, we need to watch out for anger issues, tiredness or exhaustion, accidents, and stress. Mars also rules men, so relationships can be affected. This planet can be a more difficult retrograde because of the lack of energy or feelings of increased irritability which may arise.
- Jupiter is the planet of abundance and expansion and turns retrograde every year for about four months. During this time, our growth and expansion may seem more limited if not stalled completely. This period gives us an opportunity to look at any obstacles blocking our success and how we can deal with them. More inner growth is common during Jupiter’s retrograde, and when it moves forward once again, so do we.
- Saturn, known as the taskmaster, is the planet that teaches us our limitations and restrictions. In terms of society (or for any person to function well in life), we must understand both our structure and what our limitations really are — this is Saturn’s domain. Saturn retrogrades for about four and a half months every year. During this point, its effects turn more inward, as opposed to outward actions and encourages reflection. Retrograde Saturn is also a good time to take stock of business expectations and obligations (i.e. whether or not to grow your business, or perhaps think about applying to a new position). By the time Saturn turns direct (aka no longer in retrograde) you should have reached all of these conclusions and be ready to move forward once again.
Hale goes on to mention that while the outer planets retrograde as well (Neptune, Uranus and Pluto), they’re further away from us and the effects may be much more subtle (but certainly can still make an impact and are worth knowing about). Here’s a bit more on those three:
- Our subconscious mind can be affected when Neptune has gone retrograde (once a year for about five to six months), which is often associated with removing our illusions and putting us in a position where we are more focused on reality. This can happen in a natural way, or may come through a series of surprises or revelations, such as finding out the person you’re dating, or are interested in, is involved with someone else, or may not be as serious about the relationship as you are.
- Uranus's retrograde (once a year for about five months) can be a wildcard as it is the planet of unexpected — and often shocking change — especially if it is connecting with something in your personal chart. There may be fewer surprises when Uranus is in retrograde mode, giving us a chance to clear up whatever sector of our chart Uranus rules, but when Uranus turns direct, this is when surprising or unexpected and major world events may occur.
- Pluto is the planet of ultimate change and in many respects the most powerful planet astrologers work with. However, this retrograde, which happens once a year for about five or six months, may go primarily unnoticed if Pluto isn’t making any connections to your personal chart.
Any other tips for making the most of a retrograde period?
We love this extra bit of advice from Sofia Adler, astrologist and expansion coach, about navigating retrogrades: "Remember that no planet is out to get you — astrology simply provides information about the energy in the air, and if you learn how to work with this energy rather than against it, this knowledge can allow you to make better, more informed decisions. You'll also be able to treat yourself with grace and compassion if and when something doesn't go according to plan,” she shares.
Kirah Tabourn, astrology educator and author, agrees with this sentiment and says to try and view retrograde periods as a gift, rather than something that’s messing things up for us. "Slowing down, stopping, taking a second to pause and rest isn't something that's exactly encouraged in our modern society, however the planets don't abide by those rules," she notes. "It's important to understand that the planets 'rule' or govern certain areas of our lives, so when they stop and retrograde, that means particular areas of our lives are also pausing for review, reorganization and renewal." Bottom line: looking at a planet being in retrograde as an opportunity rather than something to fear is a worthy approach.