How often have I heard someone cry out, “My computer crashed and I lost all of my files! It must be Mercury retrograde!”
Mercury retrograde has long been blamed for so many issues: communication breakdowns, loss of data, mixed messages, computer failures, printer malfunctions and other communication related problems. Poor Mercury.
Is it a coincidence or simply an easy way to blame some unforeseen universal force? Or is it something else?
This is part one of a three part series that will explain retrograde planets and their impact in the horoscope which therefore influences our life experience at its very core.
First, let’s define the astronomical term retrograde as it relates to the planets. When a planet goes retrograde it seemingly appears to change direction when viewed from earth.
The key phrase is as viewed from earth or from a geocentric perspective and how we see it from earth. All retrograde phases are created from an illusion by the march of planets around the Sun as viewed from earth. (Here’s more information about the astronomy of retrograde planets from Wikipedia.)
Thousands of years ago when the ancient Rishis of India were divining the system of Jyotish (Vedic Astrology) they observed closely the movements of planets in the night sky. Retrograde planets appeared incredibly bright to the naked eye as viewed from earth, as they still do today. That is because retrograde planets are actually closer to earth during this phase. The brightness or magnitude and implied speed conveys their strength and their influence upon us.
It is this power that affects our lives and our karmas as seen through the lens of the ancient Indian astrological science of Jyotish or Vedic Astrology.
Are retrograde planets really that important?
From the Eastern spiritual philosophy, we have many lifetimes. Retrograde planets are a keystone in the horoscope as to why we incarnated. They also show where we have significant karma and tremendous desire that will be experienced in this lifetime.
“We are desire. It is the essence of the human Soul, the secret of our existence. Absolutely nothing of human greatness is ever accomplished without it. Not a symphony has been written, a mountain climbed, an injustice fought, or a love sustained apart from desire.
Desire fuels our search for the life we prize.”
~ John Elderidge.
What does it mean when a planet is retrograde in a horoscope?
Before I answer this question there are a few key astronomical facts to keep in mind: sun and Moon never go retrograde. Rahu and Ketu (the north and south nodes of the Moon) are always retrograde. Mars, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn all experience an apparent retrograde phase.
What are Rahu and Ketu and why are they so important? Rahu and Ketu are Chaya Grahas or shadow planets. Technically they don’t exist but that is a story for another day.
Originally they were just a single entity, an Asura. In other words, celestial beings that are considered to be somewhat selfish as they are constantly battling with the Devas (divine beings) for control of the universe!
They tricked the Devas and snatched the Amrita (the nectar of immortality) and managed to drink one drop before they were cast out forever by Vishnu. Since the Asura had already drank the drop of Amrita, they became immortal, albeit in two halves since Vishnu threw his discus and cut them off at the neck before casting them out.
In the horoscope, Rahu (north node) is the head and Ketu (south node) is the tail. Rahu has a head and a mouth but he has no stomach. He can never get full and therefore has unquenchable desire. And wherever he is in the horoscope signifies this phenomenal desire in our lives.
Conversely Ketu has no head but instead has just a heart. He is mostly concerned with moksha (spirituality) and he is very detached. Ketu is completely the opposite of Rahu. Furthermore, Rahu and Ketu are always directly opposite one another in the horoscope.
Is it to be a spiritual life on one hand or is the focus on material gain? Do we have to first experience Rahu in our horoscope to get to Ketu and moksha? Can’t we have both in a balanced harmonious way? How might Rahu and the retrograde planets in our horoscope light the way and help us answer these questions?
Rahu is doubly important because of his full-time retrograde status. He becomes the leader of all retrograde planets in the chart—a little like the Pied Piper of the retrograde planets.
Please keep an eye out for part two of this series, where we will explore the key meanings of the planets, as well as how a retrograde planet in the karmic pattern of the horoscope can influence us directly and the details about why they are so important.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman