What is a retrograde in astrology? What it means



In recent years, the buzzwords “Oh, Mercury is in retrograde — that’s why everything is crazy” have been growing in popularity. Many times, people use the phrase as a catch-all to explain any minor inconvenience.

Truth be told, yes, Mercury retrograde can create plenty of drama in our lives. But what does it actually mean when Mercury is retrograde?

Spoiler alert: Mercury isn’t the only planet that retrogrades. In fact, all of them do. But, no, it isn’t the “end of the world” as you know it. In fact, retrogrades can be used for good.

Here’s your ultimate guide on planetary retrogrades!

What is a ‘retrograde’?

Astrology is an art form that utilizes the placement of the planets to make insightful predictions about how life on Earth is going to develop. In fact, this ancient art form has been around for thousands of years — and that’s why we have been able to watch patterns throughout time to figure out that wherever the planets go, something here on Earth will also be affected.

A planetary retrograde is when a planet seems to be moving backwards in the sky from our perspective here on Earth. In reality: no, planets don’t actually move backwards. It’s an optical illusion due to the speed of the Earth’s rotation. But what ancient people realized is that when a planet changes direction or shifts in speed, what it rules will see challenges or confusion in our lives during that specific time. 

Artwork of the Earth as seen from the moon.
Artwork of the Earth as seen from the moon.
Getty Images/Science Photo Library

The sun, the moon and obviously our Earth (because we’re, uh, standing on it) don’t retrograde — and technically, in astrology, we refer to the sun and moon as our “luminaries” in the sky. However, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto all retrograde at different points in time — dependent on their distance from us in the solar system. Simple rule: the closer the planet is to us, the shorter the retrograde; the farther away the planet, the longer the retrograde.

Also, for more eager astrology fans, here’s a little inside 411: not only will what the planet rules be thrown out of balance during a retrograde but whatever the zodiac sign it is within when it happens will also see collective confusion. Each zodiac has different associations — Taurus rules money, for instance, and Libra rules relationships.

Last to note is that as the planet retreats in the sky, we tend to notice people, projects and events return to us once again. So when you’re suddenly slipping into the DMs of that “ex who got away” or wondering about restarting that old hobby you gave up because you just got too busy, a planetary retrograde may, in fact, be encouraging you to give that situation a second look.

What are the different phases of a planetary retrograde?

Um, there are different phases of these dramatic cycles? Wait! Don’t go! I promise it isn’t actually all bad. In fact, the more that you start seeing the patterns, the more you can prepare yourself for each and every one of them.

Every planetary retrograde takes place in three separate periods: the pre-shadow, the actual retrograde phase and then the post-shadow.

Future Publishing via Getty Images

Pre-shadow phase

In the pre-shadow phase, when the planet starts to slow down from our viewpoint on Earth, we start to see problems crop up and realize some current situations might be on rocky ground. This can last for weeks or months prior, depending on which planet it is. Let’s use the metaphor that you’ve been running through the sand on a beach and you feel the shells and stones beneath you. But you’re on a mission — so why look down?

Suddenly, you sense you forgot something back by your car. During this pre-shadow phase, you continue moving forward along the beach but you slow down and eventually look back, stop and realize you should probably go back to the car — even if you don’t remember what it is you forgot there. You just have … a hunch.

Regrograde phase

The actual retrograde phase is when you see the problems that started to announce themselves in the pre-shadow blow up in front of you. This is when the effects of the “drama” are most noticeable and we famously are, like: “Why is the universe punishing me right now? I don’t deserve this!” This is when the planet is taking control and moving backwards in the sky. In reality, new information regarding what the planet rules is emerging in our lives — something we probably had overlooked originally. The universe is bringing it out dramatically in your face now to show you that you must pay attention to this before you proceed.

To be honest, we as people tend to spend most of our lives racing forward, skimming over the details, to constantly move to the next level, project, plan, idea or relationship. But that isn’t actually the best thing because sometimes we overlook, ignore or forget about something that was actually important to see.

Let’s return to the metaphor of you on the beach. You’re walking back toward your car, navigating through the sand. Your eyes see plenty of shells and stones — but then suddenly, as you go all the way back to your car, you find a $100 bill in the grass beside it. You hadn’t noticed it the first time. Wow! Now that you’ve found it, it’s yours.

You can keep it going forward and you’re actually happy that you did go all the way back to the beginning.

Post-shadow phase

Lastly, the post-shadow phase is when the planet is finally moving forward in the sky again but is still gaining speed to catch up with where it originally fell behind. Once a planet moves past this point in the sky, life should move along much more easily. The post-shadow phase is especially important because it helps us to resolve whatever popped up during the previous two periods so that we are on a better track moving forward.

As we conclude our metaphor of your journey on the beach, you stuff the $100 bill in your pocket and decide to head back out along your chosen sandy path. You reach the end destination of your run but then see a vendor selling ice cream. And now you really want ice cream after that cardio! So you reach into your pocket, pull out the cash and treat yourself.

That’s the beauty of every planetary retrograde — even Mercury retrograde. Life moves in phases, so don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re just evolving as you were meant to.

The planet Mercury crosses in front of the sun in this photograph.
The planet Mercury crosses in front of the sun in this photograph.
Getty Images

Kyle Thomas is a globally recognized pop culture astrologer who has been featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine, the New York Post, Page Six, ABC television, Hulu, Bustle, Elite Daily, House Beautiful, Marie Claire, YahooNews, MSN and more. He is known for his cosmic guidance for celebrities, business executives, and prominent influencers. His work harnesses the power of the stars in regards to entertainment lifestyle and trends affecting people worldwide. His writing and horoscopes have been translated into multiple languages. Kyle has been astrologically gifted naturally from a very young age and teaches how to use the Universe to manifest the life you’ve always dreamt of. With over a decade of professional experience and clients all over the world, he currently resides in Los Angeles where he works as a professional astrologer, celebrity life coach, and author. Currently, he is the official astrologer for @Horoscopes + @Horo.ScopesDaily. Kyle received two Bachelor of Arts for Psychology and English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and integrates these degrees into his growing research of psychology, personality, and the human condition.


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