Astrology Secrets Revealed by ERIC FRANCIS

Retrograde Planets in the Natal Chart

July 23, 2004


Dear Eric:

We usually only hear about planetary retrogrades when Mercury starts skating backwards and we're warned that our communications will be fouled-up for the duration. Can you explain what effect a retrograde planet has on its interpretation in the natal chart? Does anybody put a special interpretation on retrograde planets in the birth chart or is it one of those things that depends upon the interpreter, sort of like a reversed Tarot card? I'm curious because I have both Jupiter and Saturn retrograde in my natal chart and, interestingly enough, so does my daughter. We also share a Cancer ascendant.


Thank you




Dear Susan,

There is no easy answer to the natal retrograde question and it is very much a question of interpretation, and that, in turn, needs to be based on experience. Part of that experience comes through getting to know people and what we go through as kids, and how this is reflected in the chart. Part of it involves knowing planets and how their expressions differ depending on their condition, including retrograde -- which is a pretty important status to keep track of.


Retrogrades seem to point to the past. A planet, which is a kind of time keeper, appears to move in reverse. This is an illusion based on relative movement, just like when one train passes another and you feel like you're moving in reverse. While the reverse movement is not happening (since both trains are going forward), the feeling is real.


I have worked with a few good theories about retrogrades. When I hear a plausible astrological theory I give it a trial run for a few years and if it seems to help people, I keep using it.


The first comes from an astrologer whose work I admire deeply, Martha Lang Wescott. She suggests that retrograde planets point to certain conditions of childhood wherein we had to turn off a particular energy so as not to threaten our caregivers. For example, if a parent is really threatened by a child's vitality or aggression, we might see that appear as Mars retrograde. Doing astrology, one must work like a detective. The retrograde planet will be in a certain house, and it will rule a house or two -- that is, where we find Aries or Scorpio on the house cusps, the planet will have some information for us about the affairs of that house. Then you need to put it all together. It is usually not that difficult, if you are able to gain some objectivity on your life.


Another theory that is less common but can be very helpful (explained best by a guy named Martin Schulman) is that retrogrades point to past life situations. Now, astrology itself seems to point to past life situations and the existence of past lives; you can see this if you look at charts long enough. How, after all, are human traits distributed so unevenly, yet with such precision? (Okay, the gods are demented, but we already knew that.)


While past lives are not proven, a lot of us have examples and experiences of familiarity with people, talents and events that suggest strongly that something is up. Retrograde planets can point to places where this effect is especially strong. So, look for both talents and hang-ups (unresolved situations) where these planets appear in the chart. These can be fairly extreme -- brilliant gifts and mastery; or extreme difficulties with certain situations that seem to recur.


In the instance of you and your daughter, there is a double parallel: both of you have Saturn retrograde (to give one example) and both of you have Capricorn on your house of partnerships, relationships and marriage. Do you see any parallels between your relationship life and her's? Do you notice an particular attachment to the past, or tradition, or to conservative partners?


If you work with these ideas, you can deduce the message of the retrograde.


One last note. When attempting to get the feel of retrogrades, I suggest you take a look at the secondary progressions. These track the planets at the rate of one day of real time, starting at birth, for each year of life. Hence if you're 30, your secondary progressions are the chart for your 30th day of life. Here is the question to check out: is a planet that's retrograde in the natal chart still retrograde in the progressed chart?


If not, how many days after birth did it go direct? That translates to a year when there was some action, experience or insight around this particular retrograde. Now the same holds true for direct planets, which can turn retrograde by progression.


Interpreting charts is an art and not a science, so you have to look, see, feel and reflect -- and ask people their actual experiences.