Rob Tillett has been an astrologer for more than three decades. In previous incarnations a poet, musician, magician, healer, dramatist & composer, he is the editor and publisher of Astrology on the Web and has written many articles on this website.
Rob lives in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, on the east coast of Australia.
This article explains retrograde motion and outlines the retrograde periods for the planets as they dance through our cosmos in 2011. There are links to our main retrograde motion articles, which cover the actual meanings of the retrograde phases of the personal planets, as well as the effects of the annual movement of the two Great Chronocrators, Jupiter and Saturn.
A planet is described as retrograde when it appears to be moving backwards through the zodiac. This traditional concept arises in the illusory planetary motion created by the orbital rotation of the earth, with relation to other planets in our solar system. It's a bit like travelling on the road watching another car beside you: when the other car slows down, or you speed up, it looks as though the other car is moving backwards. So planets are never actually retrograde or stationary, they just seem that way, due to this optical illusion. Click here for more on the science of retrograde planetary motion.
Retrograde periods, although often problematic for us earthlings, are not particularly uncommon. Each planet retrogrades, except the Sun and Moon.
As a rule, retrograde planets presage a period of seemingly inevitable or fated events, which relate to their sphere of influence. In particular, issues from the past that have not been resolved tend to reappear in order to demand resolution, so we can move on. Retro phases also present us with a series of events over which we seem to have little or no control, relating especially to the sign in which the retrogradation occurs. For example, transiting Jupiter retrograde in Aries presents quite different sets of circumstances from those generated when it retrogrades into Pisces.
A retrograde period is best seen as a cycle, which begins when the planet begins to slow to a halt before travelling backwards through the zodiac and ends when the planet returns to the point where it first paused. However, during the cycle, the planet's energy is most powerful (and more likely to generate critical events of universal importance) when the planet makes a station, appearing motionless in the sky. These stationary periods occur at the beginning of the cycle (when the planet first halts as it prepares to move backwards) and midway through the cycle when the retrograde planet slows to a stop before moving forward again.
The planetary direct station (when the retrograde planet seems to halt before moving forward through the zodiac again) is a time of significant power when matters to do with the energies of the planet, house and sign can be favourably activated. The few days either side of this time are ideal for making or implementing decisions in the nature of the planet, sign and house concerned. In particular, the stations of Jupiter and Saturn are important with regard to longer term intentions.
Remember that the outer planets turn retrograde every year for quite some months, so it is not at all unusual to have one or more of them retrograde in one's own personal chart. This is not necessarily unfortunate and the key issues of destiny in such a case depend largely upon the aspects to the retrograde outer planets from the inner personal planets and points.
The Moon's North and South Nodes (the Dragon's Head and Tail) are normally retrograde in their movement through the zodiac. The Nodes are not actual planets, but rather sensitive points, or "shadow planets" that have a powerful influence comparable with planetary strength. The True Node from time to time turns direct in motion for a few days, due to the phenomenon known as the Moon Wobble; such direct periods are generally considered unfortunate. The Mean Node is always retrograde, as the "Wobble" is averaged out for convenience. Read more about the Moon's Nodes.
Retrograde Planetary Cycles
24 days Stationary approx. 5 days
42 days Stationary approx. 12 days
80 days Stationary approx. 20 days
104 days Stationary approx. 21 days
120 days Stationary approx. 10 days
140 days Stationary approx. 10 days
156 days Stationary approx. 14 days
150 days Stationary approx. 16 days
160 days Stationary approx. 16 days
160 days Stationary approx. 16 days