Understanding the heavens has proven confusing for countless generations of humans in part because of the illusions caused by our perspective from earth. For millennia, the majority opinion was a geocentric universe, where the sun, moon, planets, and stars revolved around the earth, since they all seemed to do so from the earth’s perspective. All of these bodies rose and set in the sky but earth didn’t feel like it was moving! Thankfully, the geocentric solar system model was replaced by the heliocentric one because some things just didn’t add up. One of those things was retrograde motion: how planets sometimes seemed to move backwards in the sky, only to move forwards again.
This phenomenon made no sense in the geocentric model, except that the planets sometimes decided to move backwards every once and a while or that they moved weird little circles as they orbited, as outlined in the Ptolemaic model. The messiness of the geocentric model drove the Copernican Revolution, through which the heliocentric model was adopted and retrograde motion was finally understood. As seen in the image above, when Mars is in apparent retrograde motion, it seems to make a circle in the sky. The planet doesn’t actually do anything except continue in its orbit around the sun; it’s our perspective from earth that changes as we “pass” Mars in our orbit. That’s why astronomers call it apparent retrograde motion, since it never actually moves backward. That backward motion was just an illusion.
What does all this mean for astrology? Even people with little background in astrology have heard of the supposed bad luck brought about by retrogrades, particularly Mercury’s which happens relatively frequently because it orbits the sun much more often than we do. While this perception of Mercury retrograde is definitely overblown, retrograde planets are seen as distinctly influential in the birth-chart. A planet in retrograde tends to cause the native to feel its effects more internally and less externally. Astrologers suggest that this is what causes these motions to seem problematic, because the native doesn’t perceive the influence of the planet in their external lives while at the same time they are more sensitive to its perceived absence, since it’s internalized. Still, this doesn’t mean that the influence isn’t actually there. Remember that issue of illusion? The key is to take a second look and revisit and reevaluate the issue, whether it concerns our communication with others (Mercury), our leadership abilities (Mars), or our the application of our creativity (Uranus). If these external issues can be resolved, than a retrograde planet can actually be a great benefit! It can strengthen the individual and form internal awareness that could be used for more empathy towards others. Retrogrades should never be feared.
As seen with the example of Mercury retrograde, the most common mistake people make with astrology is thinking that it is deterministic. Inherently, it isn’t. Just like a psychologist might tell a patient what they will be prone to do, astrology indicates tendencies that an individual might have. Maybe these predictions will be right, but they aren’t designed to tell anyone what will definitely happen. The same goes for retrograde planets, the birth-chart, or honestly any other part of our human existence: life is what you make it. While traditions like astrology or sciences like psychology might offer you more or less valuable information about yourself, in the end it’s up to you to make your choices and your destiny.