Culture

What exactly is a retrograde? An astrologer explains this oft-maligned transit

Bryanna Collier helps demystify this 'necessary cosmic cleaning service' and shares which to watch for in 2023.

Bryanna Collier helps demystify this 'necessary cosmic cleaning service' and shares which to watch for in 2023

a collage of illustrated elements on a dark blue starry night sky. 4 planets shown in orbit in the middle. pink thorny thistles, gemstones and a disco ball sit in the bottom left and right corners of the image.

Retrogrades have a bad reputation in popular culture. Though most people with even a hint of interest in astrology have heard of them, far fewer understand what they actually are — and what they mean for our lives. 

The word "retrograde" is used to describe backward motion. Science shows us that all the planets in our solar system move in one direction on elliptical paths around the sun, meaning retrograding planets only appear to be moving in reverse as we view them from our perspective on Earth. Still, in astrology, the apparent retrograde motion of the planets is believed to provide a necessary cosmic cleaning service. 

Each planet moves at a different rate and is thought to vibrate at a unique frequency, influencing how we think, act and feel in specific ways. When a planet goes retrograde, its power diminishes, and we're encouraged to slow down, reflect and redefine our paths forward. Inconsistencies and bad habits are often brought to light during retrograde cycles, highlighting areas of improvement. 

Since Jan. 22, 2023, all the planets have been moving direct, helping us push forward and manifest our goals, dreams and desires. But challenging retrogrades are on the horizon, with the first arriving on April 21 to shake things up. Read on to learn more about the retrograde cycles of each planet and find out which transits are set to occur over the rest of 2023.

Mercury

Depending on its placement in the sky, Mercury — the planet of communication — stations retrograde three or four times each year for roughly three weeks at a time. The messenger planet encourages us to think critically about how we're perceived and how our words can affect others when it moves in reverse. 

During these periods, it's important that we're ultra careful when communicating, travelling short distances and signing any important documents. We may also need a little extra time to check our work and ensure everything is in order. Technology has a tendency to go haywire, too — so having a backup plan and a lot of patience is sure to pay off. 

After entering 2023 in reverse, Mercury will undergo his second retrograde cycle of the year from April 21 to May 14 or 15 (depending on your time zone) in stable Taurus. The fixed earth sign governs our material possessions, work ethic and what we deem valuable. That's why it's critical that we take care of our belongings and space, pay extra attention to any purchases that we make and follow through with all of our responsibilities during this transit. 

From Aug. 23 to Sept. 15, Mercury will station retrograde in fussy Virgo, which rules over our daily routines, habits and reasoning skills. During this transit, we could become aware of how our dedication to perfectionism can cause us to fall short. Try to be gentle with yourself if you make a few miscalculations. Shoot for the moon and allow yourself to fail beautifully. 

The final Mercury retrograde of 2023 starts on Dec. 12 or 13 in competitive Capricorn and ends on Jan. 1, 2024, in philosophical Sagittarius. Entering this retrograde, we could find ourselves in the mood to make lofty plans for the future. And while we may not have accomplished everything we set out to by the time Mercury turns direct, we will be able to emerge with an enlightened perspective. This transit is all about reprioritization: what mattered so much before may seem far less important afterward. 

Venus

Venus — the planet of beauty, love and money — stations retrograde for six weeks about once every year and a half. When Venus moves backward through the sky, she asks us to reconsider what we find beautiful and reflect on how we open our hearts to love. She also encourages us to face challenges in our relationships head-on, and be honest with ourselves and our partners about what we need. 

Since our ideas about what's attractive can often become skewed during this time, it's best to avoid purchasing expensive items, making big changes to your home or altering your appearance in a major way. We'll be able to refine our image and surroundings with clearer eyes once Venus moves direct again.

This year, Venus will retrograde from July 22 to Sept. 3 in demanding Leo. The fixed fire sign tends to highlight how we show passion in our relationships. While it may feel like your romantic fire has burned down to embers during this period, focus on using this moment to find healing from within. Old flames and friends could also re-enter your life at this time, forcing you to consider whether some old chapters are worth closing for good.

Mars

Mars — the planet of energy, drive and desire — stations retrograde roughly once every 26 months, making it the rarest of our planetary retrogrades. When the red planet begins his eight to 10-week backward journey through the sky, our drive tends to plummet, making it easy to lose momentum. 

Finding the motivation to embark on new tasks can also prove challenging under this influence, so sticking to the bare minimum is entirely acceptable. Use this transit to rest and recharge your emotional batteries so you can re-enter the world feeling refreshed. 

Mars began 2023 moving backward in excitable Gemini, before turning direct on Jan. 12 and finally exiting his sluggish post-retrograde shadow period on Mar. 16. The warrior planet won't move in reverse again until Dec. 6, 2024, so we have some time to work with Gemini's wonderful energy until that next shift occurs. Seize this opportunity to explore your options and try your hand at new hobbies, activities and skills that capture your attention.  

Jupiter

Jupiter — the planet of luck, knowledge and abundance — stations retrograde approximately once per year for a period of about four months. When the so-called greater benefic moves in his normal direction, he helps us become more aware of our blessings and opportunities. But Jupiter's backward motion holds no major drawbacks to our daily lives either. Rather, when the largest planet in our solar system traverses the skies in reverse, we're encouraged to find creative ways of giving back to our communities. It's a beautiful moment to manifest our ideals and evaluate how we can better uplift those around us. 

In 2023, Jupiter will station retrograde from Sept. 4 to Dec. 30 in warmhearted Taurus. As Jupiter moves through this fixed earth sign, he will help us reject ideas that no longer align with our vision for harmony and peace. It will be an ideal time to shed individualistic ways of thinking and be more considerate of how our actions can affect others. 

Saturn

Saturn — the planet of wisdom, structure and discipline — stations retrograde about once a year for roughly four and a half months. When the ringed planet moves backward, he motivates us to make our own rules.

As the training wheels come off and we're left to fend for ourselves, we may also face some difficult karmic lessons that will help mould us into more responsible people. Saturn's retrograde isn't all doom and gloom, however. If you put in your best effort, with diligence and heart, you'll be repaid handsomely when he moves direct.

This year, Saturn will station retrograde from June 17 to Nov. 4 in sensitive Pisces. When the jewel of our solar system glides through this mutable water sign in reverse, he inspires us to look within, face our shadow selves and come to terms with how we must grow. This transit can help us to get in touch with our deepest feelings and find powerful ways to channel our energy into something bright. 

Uranus

Uranus — the planet of innovation, technology and rebellion — stations retrograde for five to seven months out of the year. When Uranus inverts his path, we often find ourselves bored of the status quo and yearning to create change. 

This transit motivates us to stand apart from the crowd and experiment with new ways of thinking. We may even become contemplative about our place in the world and more eager to make our mark. Once Uranus turns direct, we can use what we've learned to evolve into our next iteration and make our dreams a reality. 

From Aug. 28 or 29 until Jan. 26 or 27, 2024, Uranus will station retrograde in security-loving Taurus, calling us to be more thoughtful with our belongings and the spaces we inhabit — including the planet we live on. When he completes his backward journey in this fixed earth sign, we'll be able to reshape our relationship to our resources so that we can build a smarter, stronger model to rely on. 

Neptune

Neptune — the planet of dreams, fantasy and illusions — stations retrograde for five to six months annually. When the blue planet moves backward, a veil is lifted, allowing us to see things for what they truly are.

While this wake-up call can feel unsettling at first, it ultimately helps us face reality and protect ourselves from outside forces. Once Neptune stations direct, we're then able to enjoy a heightened sense of creativity and reconnect with our inner artists. 

This year, Neptune will retrograde from June 30 to Dec. 6 in sensitive Pisces, the sign it rules over. As Neptune moves through this mutable water sign, we're encouraged to take time to grapple with our feelings so that we can untangle our emotional states and clear up any confusion in our relationships. It might be tempting to lean on your vices to avoid grim truths during this period. Instead, try finding positive ways to ground yourself so you can truly process everything that's going on. 

Pluto

Like Neptune, Pluto — which oversees death, rebirth and the subconscious — stations retrograde for between five and six months each year. Secrets are often brought to light when the dwarf planet travels in reverse, making us aware of power imbalances and forcing us to face some difficult truths. 

During this transit, we're also encouraged to contemplate our role in society and whether or not we like the people we've become. Once you see what lies behind the curtain, there's no going back; when Pluto resumes his forward motion, we're asked to shed anything that may be hindering us so we can start creating a bright new future. 

In 2023, Pluto will station retrograde from May 1 to Oct. 10, starting in idealistic Aquarius before moving back into ambitious Capricorn. During this period, he has the potential to upend our ideas of what community can look like and reshape our relationship to technology. 

The last time we saw Pluto in Aquarius was 1778 to 1798 — a 20-year period that also saw the French and American revolutions being waged. Similarly, this Pluto Rx transit will surely bring a change that society can no longer ignore. Be sure to pay attention to shifting attitudes around crumbling power structures and consider the impact each individual can have on the collective human experience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryanna Collier is an astrology and fashion writer. Her work focuses on astrology, personal style, and how the two intersect. Follow her work at The Star Crossed.

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