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Sun Signs: Anatomy of a Retrograde

Locations: Opinion Published

By now, most people have heard of Mercury retrograde.

It is one facet of astrology that has made its way into the mainstream. Mercury retrograde is known for complicating travel plans, confusing communication, messing up technology, and eliciting all sorts of frustrating shenanigans when you are just trying to get out the door and you are already late. When Mercury goes retrograde, it foils all of the things that Mercury represents: ideas, communication, transportation, plans, and technology.

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However, Mercury retrograde is not simply an on or off thing, it has a progression and several stages to its course through the sky. In honor of the upcoming Mercury retrograde that begins on Feb. 17, let us examine the course of the retrograde cycle and clear some things up.

First, the retrograde motion of the planets is “apparent” retrograde — they do not actually move backward. From the perspective of the sun, no planets ever have retrograde motion. From our perspective on earth, planets appear to slow down, stop at a spot in the sky (called the station degree), and then move backward (during the retrograde period) before slowing again, stopping again (called the direct station), and then proceeding and picking up speed in forward motion once more. The planets closer to the sun than Earth (Mercury and Venus) will conjoin the sun during the middle part of their retrogrades, while planets beyond Earth (Mars and all the others) will oppose (180° apart) the sun during their retrogrades.

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Mercury goes retrograde approximately three times per year, usually in the signs of one element. In 2020, Mercury will spend time retrograding through all three water signs (Pisces, Cancer, and Scorpio). The water element is the least verbal and most intuitive element of the four, meaning that the retrograde period of the year may be characterized by highly emotional tenors, confusion, and introversion. It also makes the retrograde periods powerful times for meditation, reflection, and emotional housekeeping.

During any given retrograde, the planet will cross a certain set of degrees of the zodiac three times. I will use Mercury’s upcoming retrograde to explain. Mercury will move forward until Feb. 17, when it will stop at 12°50’ of Pisces. Between Feb. 17 and March 9 Mercury will retrograde from 12° Pisces back to 28°13’ Aquarius before stopping again. Finally, resuming forward motion, it will cross those degrees again. Twice forward, once backward, 28˚ Aquarius to 12˚ Pisces will have been traversed three times. These 14 degrees of the zodiac are receiving special consideration during this time, though how this will affect you depends on your individual birth chart. The first pass over these degrees is called the pre-shadow of the retrograde, the second is the retrograde itself, and the third is called the post shadow. Further, at the midpoint of the retrograde, Mercury will conjoin the Sun, splitting the retrograde in half and bringing some helpful insight. All of these phases indicate different stages in qualitative time.

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The pre-shadow, which began on Feb. 2, offers the prelude of things to come. If you pay attention during this time to the people, topics, issues, and communications around you, you will probably notice how these same things come up again during the retrograde for a second look. Things done in haste during the pre-shadow must be labored over in the retrograde. During the retrograde itself, which lasts from Feb. 17 ‘til March 9, all terms beginning with the prefix “re” apply: you may have to revisit, rethink, reflect, redo.  It can be easy to get frustrated but remember: this is an opportunity to slow down, learn something new, and become fully present in your usually busy life. This is not to say that your life will slow down in correspondence, but the more flexibility you build into it, the easier it will be when interruption inevitably happens.

At the midpoint of the retrograde, the Sun conjoins Mercury. This is called the “cazimi.” At this point, Mercury is between the Earth and the Sun, and a clear piece of insight may come through as Mercury the thinker connects with the solar, life-sustaining force. It is the turning point of the retrograde, and often the remaining time of the retrograde is made easier by the realization of the cazimi. Importantly though, often the information presented is not actionable until Mercury goes direct, so try not to push the river.

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The post-shadow period is a time of integration. Mercury hasn’t picked up speed yet, but is looking toward the future rather than backward and inward. It is a time when the lessons of the retrograde are still present, but you can use what you have learned to take new action. This period will last March 10 through 29.   

Over the next few months, there will inevitably be some interruption to plans and a few miscommunications, try to take these frustrations as an invitation to slow down.

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Whitney Will is a Valley native and consulting astrologer for Starhearth Astrology.

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