What does it mean when a planet is Retrograde?

When an astrologer announces that a planet is turning retrograde, the next sound is usually a loud groan from the audience. In astrology, retrogrades are considered troublesome, similar to an upside-down card in a tarot reading.

A planet turning retrograde is an optical illusion that the planet is moving backwards. Because all the planets orbit at different rates, when they pass each other, it looks as though the planet is moving backwards across the sky. If you've ever been on a train when a faster train passes you going in the same direction, and you momentarily feel like you are moving backwards, you've experienced retrograde. This dizzying effect can happen for anywhere from a few weeks to a few decades!

About four times a year, Mercury, the planet associated with communication, electronics, and travel, goes into retrograde for about three weeks!

The effect of retrograde planets either natally or transiting through your chart can be explained using words that begin with the letters "RE." REassess, REview, REvise, REvamp! A retrograde planet is actually an opportunity to enhance an aspect of your life based upon the nature of the planet and zodiac sign involved.

When a planet is retrograde in your natal chart, you need to put extra attention on that planet. When it is retrograde by transit (the current annual movements of the planets), everyone is looking at that area in their life.

One of the easiest ways to prove that astrology works is to follow Mercury retrograde cycles during the current calendar year. This three-week period of time occurs about three times each year (check an astrology calendar for dates). Mercury represents ideas, logic, transportation, and communications. Mental clarity and improved communications is often required during Mercury retrograde. Tend to car repairs, back up your computer, or do behind-the-scenes planning during Mercury retrograde. People who take life too seriously tend to go into high-anxiety during this cycle. Mercury retrograde periods are a great time to go inside, since nothing outside will be working.

The main thing to remember about retrograde planets is that they are helping you to express their energy in a better way. When you try to exert heavy-handed control of their energy, they often challenge you what can lovingly be called a "growth opportunity." Relax and practice allowing the energy of natal or transiting retrograde planets to flow in a natural way. Retrograde planets help you to go within to introspectively get in tune with the natural flow of the Universe.