Retrograde Planets: Illusion And Fact
by Leigh Westin

This is revised from an article originally printed in Considerations Vol 8 #2 and AFA's Today's Astrologer, Vol. 60 #4; and reprinted in the NCGR Memberletter, June/July, 1998.

 From Earth’s viewpoint, all other planets appear to stop and reverse their orbits, resulting in both a visual phenomenon in that planets do not actually reverse their orbital direction, and a zodiacal change reflecting a shift in the relationship between the planet’s orbit and the ecliptic.

 Physical Basis

In terms of celestial longitude, one of the measurements that defines planetary positions relative to Earth, retrograde activity occurs thusly: a planet appears to slow down its travel across the degrees, stops on a particular degree, reverses its motion over several measurement points it has already visited, stops at an earlier degree, then crosses these degrees again, making three passes over the same ecliptic territory. The results is an emphasis on a specific area in celestial longitude over a longer period of time than normally occurs. In terms of longitude then, a difference is shown in the directional flow of energy between a retrograde planet and Earth.

 All planets are similar in the way their retrograde period appears from Earth. To fully grasp how the retrograde phenomenon manifests, it must be understood that the ecliptic represents Earth’s orbital path. It is not just the motion of other planets by which the retrograde business occurs. Equally involved is Earth in its own orbit. Further, retrograde activity experienced on Earth can be described relative to the Sun. Planets beyond Earth’s orbit, Mars through Pluto, retrograde to Earth only around the time of their opposition to the Sun. Whereas Mercury and Venus, residing between the Sun and Earth, only when nearest Earth, in other words, physically between Earth and the Sun---and only when close to their interior conjunction with the Sun. Interestingly enough, Earth as viewed from Mars or any of the planets exhibits a retrograde cycle as well. The fact of the matter is each planet is experienced from all other planets in retrograde cycles but not necessarily at the same time. In all cases, retrograde action of any planet is a result of the interplay of the obits of the planet in question and the planet from which the retrograde action is seen.

 Stationary Points and Intensity

When a planet appears to slow speed, then stop in its orbit, the trusty ephemeris shows the planet in the same degree and sign of celestial longitude for several days. In the case of Venus and Mercury, the perception of a cease of motion results when the planets appear to be traveling head on toward or exactly away from Earth. For all planets the cessation of motion is termed a "station" of which there is always two, a retrograde station marking the beginning of the reverse path and a direct station signaling the change to forward motion.

 Both station points are highly energized transiting points, yielding the potential to activate matching degrees in any given chart--- and with quite a wallop. Such an impact results because the same degree will be hit three times in short succession. Not only will the degree be hit three times, but the planet will travel slowly to the degree, and after the station, slowly move forward from it—all adding to an intense focus.

 An analogy of retrograde intensity can be likened to heat from a blazing fire. Passing your hand over flames, will cause the sensation of extreme warmth for the moment, but when you move your hand away, the heated effects disappear. In contrast, passing your hand over a roaring fire three times fairly close together, as in the case of degrees being hit three times, will cause a greater awareness of the fiery effects. If you hold your hand over the flame for an extended time, such as the build up and focus of stationary points, you have a good chance of being wonderfully warmed or heaven forbid---severely burned.

 Slower moving planets offer the greatest potential in the latter scenario for two reasons. First, only a few degrees exist between the point at which the planet stations to retrograde and later stations direct. Second, the outer planets remain closer to the stationing point for a longer period of time, thereby enhancing the energy effect—much like being close to a fire and not being able to get move away from the overabundant heat.

 Using Mercury in December, 1997, as an example, any degree from its retrograde station of 3^19 to 17f04 (direct station) will be sensitized because it will be hit three times. Those degrees falling at the midpoint of the two stations will be affected, but with the least amount of energy. The closer chart data matches stationing degrees, the greater the impact.

 In this particular case of Mercury retrograde, a total of 17· are involved from the retrograde to the direct stations. In Mercury’s August, ‘97, retrograde cycle, 15· were affected and in May only 11· . Of course many factors contribute to retrograde duration---whether the planet is inside or outside the Earth’s orbit, how rapidly the planet moves, etc. Nevertheless, it always can be said in the case of outer planets that fewer degrees will be involved. Table 1 illustrates this point. The greater the planetary orbit, the fewer the number of degrees affected—and greater the impact. Notice how Uranus hovered around 4· ---not even a decent 5· orb for 6 months! Neptune activated only a little more than 2.5· ; and although Pluto covered as much territory as Neptune, we are still talking about it sticking to less than 3· for five months!

 Table 1—1997 Outer Planet Stations
1997 Retrograde Station
1997 Direct Station
#Active Degrees
21h56 (June)
12h29 (October)
20^22 (August)
13^32 (December)
8h40 (May)
4h44 (October)
29g57 (May)
27g11 (October
5f36 (March)
2f50 (August)

Even though retrograde activity falls into the transit category, any chart with natal positions energized by all the outer planets certainly can expect a lively 6 months. If personal points, Ascendant, MC, Vertex, Sun, Moon or Moon’s Nodes are lighted by the fire as well, a strong possibility exists that retrograde flames will burn into life major changing events. Couple in appropriate progressions and/or directions, and one could without question conclude so.

 Shadow Points

Now that we have established the physical basis and potential strength of retrograde activity, there is more to the story. Although an "old concept," I first heard the term "shadow point" from Martha Ramsey-- which she defined as the degree of the retrograde station passed in forward motion after the planet stationed direct. As an example, using Mercury’s retrograde station in December, ’97 at 3g19, it’s shadow point is also 3g19 and which Mercury will cross in forward motion on January 15, 1998. (See Table 2.)

 While working with this idea, it became evident that there is yet another shadow point. The shadow point Martha spoke about came to be: the shadow that is thrown ahead of us, the one visible when we walking beyond the energy casting the light. The other is the one of which we are the least aware, the one that falls behind us as we are approaching an illumination. This is the degree of the direct station touched by the planet in forward motion, prior to its retrograde station. In keeping with our fiery analogy, this shadow point occurring before the retrograde station, can be likened to the unseen smoldering fire before it bursts into flames. Further, research is showing that all planets throw shadow points, one of the direct station before the retrograde cycle and one of the retrograde station after the cycle. There is one last highly relevant point:--both shadow points occur when the planet in question appears in forward motion.

 Mercury lends itself best to the explanation of how shadow points manifest, since its retrograde cycle occurs frequently (at least three times a year), and since its effects seem to be more immediate compared to the long term and more subtle effects that seem to exist with the slower moving planets. This is not to say that life changing events never occur in conjunction with Mercury retrograde. If such is concurrent with Eclipses, progressions/directions, then Mercury can indeed trigger major situations. Retrograde energy from a transit, nevertheless is just that---transiting energy--- and should be interpreted within delineation theory of transiting activity..

 Table 2 shows three Mercury retrograde cycles in 1999 and illustrates how the cycle is contained by the shadow points.

 Table 2---1999 Mercury Retrograde
Beginning Shadow Point
Shadow Point
February-April 20i53 2/24 4^02 3/11 29i30 4/3 4^02 4/21
June-August 23a37 6/21 9b29 7/13 23a37 8/7 9b29 8/20
October-December 15e41 10/26 1f40 11/6 15e41 11/26 1f40 12/12

 From a mundane standpoint, since Mercury governs communication and transportation in general (including contracts, decisions, plans, projects, media transmittal and all ways and means of travel), these are the areas that are most affected during a Mercury retrograde period. On an individual basis, one would look at that which Mercury governed in the natal chart in addition to these general issues.

 Prior to Mercury’s retrograde station when it reaches the beginning shadow point, its speed is generally reduced by about 20%. It is at this point that a hint of faltering communication occurs, orderly processes hesitate, and second thoughts emerge---like a glimpse of a flickering flame being caught in the corner of one’s eye. This is the time to which a shift of perspective either within oneself or in surroundings can be traced. It is not until after Mercury reaches the final shadow point in forward motion that complete normalcy (sanity?) resumes---in other words, when the fire burns down at least to comfort level.

 What generally occurs within shadow point theory and chart activation is that a focus seems to exist from shadow point to shadow point. The issue seems to take on greater meaning at the beginning of the shadow point and some sort of conclusion is experienced at the end of final shadow point. One example is that of a lady who had made the final decision to purchase a house, occurring at the beginning of the shadow point. Almost on the retrograde date she broke her leg, delaying the move, but by the time the final shadow point had occurred, she was in the new place and somewhat settled.

Outer planets are more elusive to work with because of the long term cycle from shadow point to shadow point, sometimes more than a year. Nevertheless, by being aware that such a cycle exists, results in practice are highly beneficial, yielding clues as to when circumstances governed by the planet may rear its fiery head and when the scenario flames may die down, smoldering into ashes of completion.

 Retrograde Energy

Much has been written concerning retrograde energy. Much has been negative. It is my contention that this is because forward motion is perceived as positive and reverse motion is perceived as negative, similar to the connotation implied in the saying, "two steps forward and one step backward." Like much in the material world this is an illusion—in fact, the whole retrograde affair is an illusion. The planets do not stop and reverse their orbits. Retrograde activity is a visual anomaly. The only difference that actually manifests is shown in astronomical measurements, i.e. celestial longitude, of the planet in question relative to Earth.

 It is important to recognize that retrograde activity is a deviation from the norm, an exception, and not necessarily associated with abnormal, irregular--as well as other words which tend to take on a negative fixation. I am reminded of Kt Boehrer’s description of planets out-of-bound by declination. She describes these as anomalies and inconsistencies with the norm, yet, clearly with the possibility for positive expression, even though expression of the planet is frequently an exaggeration—in other words, not bound by normal limits.

 Relating this thought process to retrograde planets, their deviation from the norm is an illusionary back tracking--- retracing steps seemingly taken afore along the ecliptic path. The backup seen in celestial longitude does not rest solely on the other planet, but also on Earth itself. The phenomenon is a result of the interplay of the two planets to each other. This is more than a phenomenon done to Earth, so to speak. Earth itself, is a part of the action. In celestial longitude, this is measured as an intense focus over a short span of degrees. If we liken a human to Earth and the retrograde planet to energy, then many times it appears as if we are backtracking, operating in reverse, when in reality, the issues governed by the apparent retrograde planet are being intensely focused, emphasized and internalized to a greater than normal degree--- perhaps to exaggeration. Whether such is negative or positive depends on the entire nativity.

 One of the summations of retrograde activity that can be counted on, is introversion, or introspection. Still, cases exist with several natal retrograde planets and the personality not being particularly introverted. Rather the individual is capable of intense concentration and focus in areas associated with natal retrograde planets. Taking this logic one step further to the mundane level and Mercury’s retrograde cycle, it is not so much that communication and transportation goes berserk, as it is that Earth is saying---enough! It is time to stop the grind and take stock of what is going on. It is time to look deep within and come up with new ideas so that progress can continue at a greater level. It is time for a breather to look inside and make changes for the better. In this manner, man is given the opportunity to gather his wits about himself and act in a more intelligent manner when Mercury again appears to be moving forward. In essence, this is "time-out" to solve problems.

 It is somewhat fitting that this piece is being written on the eve of a Mercury retrograde station. Perhaps it is time for us all to take another look at retrograde planets. Perhaps it is time to internalize the illusion, gain a deeper understanding of the retrograde process and let the results lead to a shift in perspective with a more positive outlook.

 Ó 1999 Leigh Westin All Rights Reserved