In the parlance of pop astrology, no words rings the same chilling note as retrograde, that prophesied period of chaos always on the horizon. When a planet goes retrograde, its metaphorical values lurch backwards: into review, redefinition, or reintegration. But what awaits those born under retrograding planets? Worry not! The stars haven’t consigned you to fall behind, but rather to find your own way. Below, we break down everything you need to know about the retrograde planets in your chart.
First, the essentials. You know when you’re on a moving train, and you catch another one riding on the parallel track? For a few surreal moments, it may seem like your train is blasting forward, while the other is falling behind. This is the case with retrogrades. Planets don’t actually move backwards, but from our view on earth, they may periodically appear to do so. The effect of these periods is more metaphorical. The planet in question is undergoing some sort of review, demanding a pause so that when it goes direct, everyone is on board with the new course of action.
Those born to planets in retrograde are not cursed or delayed in any way. Rather, they have been assigned a more indirect path, a singular perspective. What may come easily to the masses arrives to you through an entirely different point of view. Those born with Mercury retrograde may develop their own means of expressing themselves. Earlier in life, this may have made them feel like outsiders, but into adulthood it affords them distinction and confidence. The small percent of the population born with Venus retrograde natives may not fit in with the rest of the bridal party; rather, they embrace their own signature archetypal beauty and modes of expression. Someone born with Mars retrograde may not have been able to get their aggression out playing sports with their dull adolescent peers; perhaps they find a way to channel on the stage, or through dark magic.
The point is: retrogrades act as indicators of a unique path, a slowed-down discovery process, and an earned reclamation of a planet’s gifts for you. Pay attention to its placement in your chart — namely its house and sign — to understand where and how your discovery comes to fruition.
HOW TO READ YOUR RETROGRADES
First of all, the sun and moon never retrograde, so you’re off the hook there. Keep in mind that the outer planets — we’re talking Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto — retrograde annually, for up to half of the year. So, if you’re born with Uranus and Neptune retrograde, you’re not exactly the Chosen One. That’s not to say that the effects of these planets are insignificant: if you can grapple with their placement in your chart, you’ll be able to understand a lot about the challenges and opportunities they present to you. But, considering that they’re more generational planets, they aren’t hitting only you.
You should also note if the ruling planet in your chart (the planet which rules your rising sign) is retrograde. That will be the biggest focus of your attention. The most personally significant retrogrades are Mercury, Venus, and Mars. Here’s where it gets more interesting…
MERCURY RETROGRADE IN YOUR BIRTH CHART
Mercury retrogrades three or four times a year, for about three weeks at a time, usually in the same element (2023’s edition goes down in Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo, and then back to Capricorn). Because Mercury rules over individual health, interactions, finances, and daily life — and because Hermes is known for his sly sense of humor — this one is particularly infamous. According to Cafe Astrology, roughly 18% of people are born with Mercury retrograde, notable among them: Angelina Jolie, Robert Downey Jr., and Mae West.
No one would accuse West or Downey Jr. of being shy of speech, but it’s worth noting that they came into their world-famous wiliness of tongue a bit later in life; only in their forties did they emerge as the world’s highest-paid stars. Jolie — also a regular for world’s highest-paid actress —had won an Oscar before she was 24, but cultivated her true passion for activism only as she moved out of her ingénue era. They weren’t strangers to the spotlight, but did give themselves time to bloom under it.
Essentially, a natal Mercury retrograde invites you to discover the particular power of your individual voice. Look to the position of Mercury in your natal chart to understand where and how it chooses to deviate from the norm, and how you can nourish its individual development.
Mercury can never stray far from the sun, acting as the herald of one’s inner, divine, solar self. By letting your inner messenger discover their own perspective, point of view, and means of expression, you’re investing in what is uniquely yours. Take your time.
VENUS RETROGRADE IN YOUR BIRTH CHART
Venus goes retrograde every 18 months, staying in backwards motion for about two months; Cafe Astrology marks it in the natal charts of about 7–8% of the population. Venus is the planet of form, beauty, femininity, artistry, and social graces. She is the inner princess waiting to be discovered. Her retrograde in your chart does not mean that you are blocked from love, or banished to a hag’s life of loneliness in the woods (though if that’s your thing, we celebrate it). Rather, you likely have an outsider’s view of beauty, which allows you to construct your chosen form with intelligence and perspective. Mariah Carey, Amy Winehouse, and Courtney Love — three of culture’s most fully incarnated women — were born with Venus retrograde. Carey’s experiences of racism and exile inform her music and sensibility; Love channels the full force of her feelings into rockstardom; and Winehouse excised personal pain through a cinematic lens. None of these women can be mistaken for anyone else, not even if they wanted to be.
It’s the same with love and friendship. You’ll have to figure out what works for you, how you like to emerge and engage, and what you find interesting. This may threaten the other girls in the sorority. Wherever Venus retrogrades in your chart, she’s inviting you to treat personal presentation as a game of dress-up, and to allow for experimentation, satire, commentary, and play.
MARS RETROGRADE IN YOUR BIRTH CHART
Mars lurches back every two years, and usually spends about two months in retrograde. Mars commands the burning fires of desire, drive, ambition and individuality within us. A retrograde could indicate challenges to the direct release of those forces, but that doesn’t mean you’re destined to be an inert wimp. Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Neve Campbell, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kirsten Dunst, and Diane Keaton were born with Mars retrograde; these women have embraced full-bodied, often-explosive roles, which have allowed them to express fury, grandiosity, humiliation, terror, grief, and nearly every other human emotion (watch Neve Campbell in any Scream movie) in their own indelible ways.
That’s not to say that you must become a major movie star to access your own emotions and eroticism. But your modes of realizing ambition and desire, and then reaching catharsis, may not be the norm. You have to find your own stage, dojo, and craft — and partners who are game to play your way.