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SPECIAL CONJUNCTIONS AND OPPOSITIONS

RETROGRADATION

Leyla Rael  &  Dane Rudhyar

 

A Time for Reorientation

When involution gives way to evolution, or vice versa, what is required is a definite change in the level of activity and consciousness. When a planet operates most focally in terms of its own kind of functional activities — that is, in its cyclic relationship with the Sun — a period of transition is required for the deep-seated change to occur. Astrologically, such a situation is represented by the planet's retrogradation — a phenomenon which is usually not well-understood because it is not usually seen in its proper, i.e., cyclic and process-oriented context. For retrogradation is nothing more nor less than a phase of an overall sequence of relationships between a planet and the Sun.

From a process-oriented point of view, the retrograde periods of planets can be best understood when they are considered graphic representations of certain 'aspects' the planets make to the Sun as seen and experienced from Earth. Retrogradation always occurs when the relationship between a planet and the Sun is about to change from one hemicycle to the next. Such a change occurs, as we I have seen, at both the conjunction beginning a cycle of aspects and the opposition culminating the process. It refers to the need for a radical reorientation in consciousness and/or activity involving the aspecting planetary functions. In both instances, it can also include the possibility of a certain kind of 'mutation' or repolarization.

The term retrograde literally means to 'move backward.' A planet is said to retrograde when its motion appears to be contrary to the usual direction of planets in their orbits, i.e., forward in the zodiac, from lesser to greater longitude. Retrograde planets move backward in the zodiac, from greater to lesser longitude. Only the planets, never the Sun or Moon, go retrograde; but all the planets, at some point in their orbits, appear to stop, go backward for a time, stop again and resume direct motion. To ancient and pre-Copernical astronomer-astrologers, this was a most perplexing occurrence that could only be plotted and perhaps predicted on the basis of past observation, but it could not really be explained. So it remains for many students and astrologers today, who truly understand neither the cause nor the meaning of the planets' retrograde motions. The little R's and D's in the ephemeris are accepted as if there were nothing puzzling about them.

Some astrologers maintain that a planet is 'weak' when it is retrograde. Others, because a planet is as close to the Earth as it can be when it appears to move backward, assert that a retrograde planet is particularly 'strong.' Although they appear to contradict each other, neither of these views is entirely false, but neither represents the whole picture either. In order to understand the full meaning of retrogradation, it must, we repeat, be seen in context. The periods during which planets retrograde must be seen in relation to their whole cycles. The key, we cannot stress enough, is to understand that retrogradation occurs at a particular phase of each planet's cyclic relationship to the Sun when seen from Earth. How many students of astrology realize that any planet in or near opposition to the Sun is always retrograde?!

Actually, when seen heliocentrically (from the point of view of the Sun), there is no retrogradation; the planets always move in the same direction in their orbits. Retrogradation is an optical illusion generated by our geocentrism, by the fact that we view all celestial phenomena from the Earth's surface. Four basic factors combine to produce apparent planetary retrogradation:  

(1) The above-mentioned fact that we are on the Earth, observing all celestial motions from points on its surface,  

(2) the place of the Earth's orbit in the solar system and the Earth's orbital speed in relation to the speeds of the other planets,  

(3) the fact that from our vantage point on Earth the Sun appears to move while the Earth remains stationary, and, 

(4) the fact that none of the other planets moves at the same speed of either the Sun (in its apparent motion) or the Earth.

All of these factors combine to produce the optical illusion we call retrogradation. 

The situation is similar to what happens when a fast-moving train approaches and passes around a curve a slower-moving train traveling on tracks parallel to it. When the faster train comes up on the slower train, the slower train appears to the passengers in the faster train to stop and then move backward as the faster train passes it. When the distance between the two trains increases sufficiently, and the slower train- enters the curve around which it has been passed, the slower train appears (to the passengers in the faster train) momentarily to stop again and then resume its forward motion.

Such are the mechanics of retrogradation. In order to apply them to the actual cases of the planets. Sun and Earth, we have to differentiate between two categories of planets: those closer to the Sun than the Earth and thus inside the Earth's orbit (Venus and Mercury) arid those outside the Earth's orbit. Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. This is because the Earth, like the faster train in the above example, passes Mercury and Venus around, so to speak, an outside track (in relation to the Sun), while it passes Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, etc. around an inside track.

The cyclic relationships between Venus and Mercury and the Sun are very special indeed. At first, when we observe the changing relationships between these planets and the Sun, we may think we have found two notable exceptions to the cyclic pattern of aspects we studied in the previous chapters. Venus and Mercury do not appear to go all the way or 'full circle' around the Sun, but rather to oscillate back and forth in relation to it, more or less carried along by the Sun in its yearly zodiacal Circuit. Mercury never appears more than 28° of arc away from the Suri, while Venus's maximum elongation is about 46°.

Of course, heliocentrically, Venus and Mercury do go all the way around the Sun and travel in the same direction in their orbit. Diagram 4-1 illustrates this cyclic pattern, and by studying it closely we can hope to understand the cycle it represents, the mechanics and meanings of the retrograde motions of these planets. We'll begin by first considering the instance of Mercury's cycle with the Sun.

Since Mercury's orbit is closer to the Sun than Earth's, Mercury is never seen opposing the Sun; Mercury and the Sun can never be on opposite sides of the Earth. Instead of a conjunction beginning the cycle and an opposition dividing it into two hemicycles, what constitute the two major turning points of the Mercury/Sun cycle are two conjunctions — but conjunctions very different from one another.

One of them is called the 'superior conjunction.' It occurs when Mercury is on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth. It is called the 'superior' conjunction because when it occurs Mercury is 'superior to' or 'above' the Sun. Like the Moon in relation to the Earth at Full Moon, Mercury at its superior conjunction with the Sun is as far from the Earth as it can be. It thus refers, astronomically as well as symbolically, to what we can call 'full Mercury.' Moreover, Mercury is direct (moving in its usual forward-in-the-zodiac direction) when it forms its superior conjunction with the Sun.

The other major turning point in the Sun/Mercury cycle is called the 'inferior conjunction.' It occurs when Mercury, like the Moon at New Moon, is between the Earth and the Sun, and as near the Earth as possible. It is thus considered the conjunction beginning the cycle, symbolically a 'new Mercury.' In terms of the cyclic pattern we have studied. Mercury waxes from inferior conjunction to superior conjunction — from 'new' to 'full' Mercury; after the superior conjunction, until the next inferior conjunction. Mercury wanes. It does so both astronomically and visually from our point of view on Earth, and the symbolism of the two hemicycles applies as well. As Mercury approaches its inferior conjunction with the Sun, it appears to slow in speed, to stop, and to become retrograde.

Mercury's retrogradation occurs as the inferior conjunction forms because of a number of factors. The Earth and Mercury are on the same side of the Sun, and both — let us not forget — are moving. As Mercury moves in its orbit, the Earth speeds toward and around

it, coming to pass it on a parallel track in much the same way that the faster train of our earlier illustration passes a slower train. As the Earth and Mercury near one another, Mercury — like the slower train in our example — appears to slow down, stop and become retrograde. When the Earth aligns with Mercury and the Sun in such a way that they (the Sun and Mercury) occupy the same zodiacal degree (inferior conjunction, which from the point of view of the Sun would be an Earth/Mercury conjunction). Mercury is and has been (for some 10 days to 2 weeks) appearing to move backward. Around the time of the inferior conjunction, however. Mercury cannot actually be seen in the sky, for it is too close to the Sun in the daytime, blocked from view by the Sun's light, and it does not appear in the night sky, being below the horizon with the Sun.

After inferior conjunction, the Earth and Mercury move away from exact alignment. Mercury continues in retrograde motion, and because the Sun also continues its apparent motion (actually the counterpart of our own — the Earth's — actual motion), the number of zodiacal degrees between the Sun and Mercury increases. From the time of the inferior conjunction, Mercury is on the other side of the Sun from where it was when it first became retrograde. Some 5 days after the inferior conjunction. Mercury has become far enough from the Sun to be seen over the eastern horizon before sunrise: a morning star.

Several days after this first appearance (approximately 8 days to 2 weeks after the inferior conjunction), the Earth and Mercury have separated far enough for Mercury to appear to stop and resume direct motion. A little more than a week after Mercury turns direct, it reaches its greatest distance from the Sun. For approximately 20 to 30 days after its first appearance, Mercury appears as a morning star, but after having reached its greatest distance from the Sun, the two — because of the variance between the speed of Mercury and the apparent speed of the Sun — come progressively closer together. Heliocentrically, this occurs because Mercury is preparing to pass on the far side of the Sun from the Earth. Thus, about a month and a half after inferior conjunction, the superior conjunction occurs.

At the superior conjunction. Mercury passes on the far side of the Sun in direct motion. It becomes invisible as the superior conjunction forms, and afterward emerges on the other side of the Sun from where it was before superior conjunction. Thereafter, when it appears in the sky again, it rises after the Sun and remains blocked from view by the Sun's brilliance by day. A few days after the superior conjunction, having moved far enough away from the Sun, Mercury appears over the western horizon after sunset: an evening star. About a month and a half after the superior conjunction, Mercury again reaches its greatest distance from the Sun. It appears after sunset as far eastward of the western horizon and the setting Sun as it can. Several days later, a little less than three months after the superior conjunction, the Earth begins to overtake Mercury and prepares to pass it. Mercury appears to stop, in preparation for retrogradation. The inferior conjunction occurs about two weeks later, and a new cycle begins.

In a complete cycle of Mercury and the Sun (as seen from the Earth, let us not forget), there are thus the following stages:

• Inferior conjunction — 'new Mercury' — Mercury retrograde

• Mercury retrograde — 'waxing' and rising ahead of the Sun (morning star) for approximately 10 to 15 days

• Mercury direct — still waxing and rising ahead of the Sun (morning star) for approximately 46 days

• Superior conjunction — 'full Mercury'—Mercury still direct

• Mercury direct — now 'waning' — rising after the Sun (evening star) for approximately 46 days

• Mercury retrograde—still waning and .rising after the Sun (evening star) for approximately 10 to 15 days

• Inferior conjunction—Mercury remains retrograde while a new cycle begins.

These phases of the Mercury/Sun cycle can be symbolically represented as in Diagram 4-2. The important points to remember are: (1) From inferior to superior conjunction Mercury waxes; from superior conjunction to inferior conjunction it wanes. (2) The retrograde period of Mercury occurs around the time of its inferior conjunction with the Sun. (3) At that time the planet appears to come rapidly closer to our own, although it is the Earth which actually nears Mercury. (4) During the first or waxing half of the Mercury/Sun cycle, Mercury rises before the Sun as a morning star, and during the second or waning hemicycle it sets after the Sun as an evening star.

The distinction between Mercury as morning star (waxing) and Mercury as an evening star (waning) is a basic one to make when looking at any particular birth-chart. As morning star. Mercury is behind the Sun in the zodiac. It is either in the sign before the Sun's sign at birth or in earlier degrees of the same zodiacal sign. Diagram 4-3 illustrates such a situation. If we rotate the chart-wheel so that the Sun and Mercury are near the eastern horizon (Ascendant), we will see that Mercury will rise before the Sun, appearing (if it is sufficiently distant from the Sun in longitude) as a morning star before sunrise. When the Sun rises, Mercury will be obscured by the Sun's brilliance.

On the other hand, Mercury as an evening star (waning) is ahead of the Sun in the zodiac. It is either in the sign following the Sun's sign at birth or in later degrees of the same sign as the Sun. If we look at Diagram 4-4 representing a horoscope with the Sun and Mercury in this relationship, and rotate the chart so that they are near the eastern horizon, we see that the Sun will rise before Mercury, and Mercury will be in the sky but invisible throughout the day. If we rotate the chart farther so that the Sun and Mercury are near the western horizon (descendant), we will see that the Sun will set first, leaving Mercury as an evening star over the western horizon.

The meaning of Mercury as either a morning star (waxing) or evening star (waning) can be made clear if we realize that Mercury as morning star heralds a new day, while Mercury as evening star closes an ending day-cycle. This dualism can be significantly correlated with two terms borrowed from Greek mythology: Mercury-Promethean (morning star) and Mercury-Epimethean (evening star). Prometheus and Epimetheus were two brothers, one who always looked forward, toward the future (Pro), the other who, gaze fixed backward, always depended upon precedents and past experience (Epi). These two mythological figures can be considered prototypes for what we have come to call the 'progressive' and 'conservative,' for Prometheus was a rebel and reformer, while Epimetheus was the historian, logician and accountant. The terms provide a convenient way of easily differentiating between the two halves of the Mercury/Sun cycle.

Leaving aside for the moment the retrograde period of Mercury, we should stress that its cyclic relationship with the Sun otherwise exhibits the same visual and phase structure as the soli-lunar and interplanetary cycles we have been studying. At the inferior conjunction. Mercury Is between the Sun and the Earth, as we have said, a situation similar to what occurs at New Moon when the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth. Mercury in this alignment symbolically focuses most strongly onto the Earth — while it is closest to it — the power of life (the Sun) beginning to differentiate and develop as mind (Mercury). What occurs between the inferior and superior conjunctions (Mercury Promethean) is entirely analogous at the mental level to the already-outlined involutionary or first-hemicycle process spanning Phases I through 6 of a twelve-fold cycle.

What occurs between the superior and inferior conjunctions (Mercury Epithemean) is likewise similar to the second-hemicycle process unfolding during Phases 7 through 12. 

From inferior conjunction to superior conjunction, Mercury 'waxes.' It moves away from the Earth, symbolically 'carrying out' the solar impulse imparted to it at conjunction. This is the period during which Mercury as morning star (Promethean) rises ahead of the Sun, heralding the new day. It symbolizes the spontaneous outworking of the mind, often manifesting in persons born with the Sun and Mercury in this relationship as cunning or innate 'know how.'

Mental associations are intuitive and analogical rather than logical or analytical, because the mind, having received a new creative impulse or direction from the Sun, cannot rely on an accumulation of past experience in order to draw conclusions. Rather, in order to substantiate the new impulse, it seeks new experience, fresh data, and it does so eagerly. As at the beginning of any cycle, so much is new, fascinating and attractive. Enthusiastically anticipating and experiencing new material, the mind races, as it were, ahead of itself, pausing to 'take counsel' only after the event. It gathers data, sometimes indiscriminately and apparently willy-nilly. Behind this desire for new mental sensations stands the unself-conscious 'wisdom' of instinct and the involutionary process — of the mind operating at the survival-oriented biological level. Also structuring the experience - gathering process is the power of the solar impulse imparted to Mercury at inferior conjunction: the potentiality for eventually integrating fresh data instinctively gathered into a new synthesis, within the framework of more inclusive, better organized mental vistas.

Between the inferior conjunction releasing such a potentiality and the superior conjunction at which it can be fully realized, the mind, thus impelled and drawn on, reaches out toward the future, trying to focus into concrete form today the ideals which should become realities tomorrow. New experiences increasingly point toward and evoke a sense of new possibilities. A major turning point in this first hemicycle of Sun/Mercury relationships occurs when heliocentric Mercury reaches maximum elongation west, its greatest longitudinal distance from the Sun. At this point in the cycle, the Mercury functions are most focally challenged to project a vision in symbols or concrete behavior which will serve as a foundation for the actual fulfillment of solar potential and purpose at superior conjunction. Mercury's maximum elongation in this first hemicycle thus fulfills, a building function analogous to the waxing square in the first hemicycle of interplanetary cycles.

As the cycle proceeds, Mercury approaches the superior conjunction with the Sun. The superior conjunction marks the transformation of Mercury morning star (Promethean) into Mercury evening star (Epimethean). At superior conjunction, this change occurs with Mercury in direct motion. After superior conjunction, Mercury no longer waxes; it wanes. From the point of view of the Earth, this superior conjunction is astronomically a 'full Mercury,' since Mercury reflects to us a full disc, and the alignment of Mercury, the Sun and Earth is similar to what occurs among the Sun, Moon and Earth at Full Moon. At superior conjunction, Mercury is as far from the Earth as possible; from the point of view of the Sun it opposes Earth.

This is the symbolic culmination of the Sun/Mercury cycle. The Mercury functions acquire the capacity to achieve a maximum of objectivity or concreteness. As the superior conjunction approaches, the mind becomes laden with unintegrated data and ideals which it must begin to sift through, consider as precedent, order and assimilate. This need and capacity for digestion at the mental level intensifies as the superior conjunction nears. The developing mind, having satiated (or perhaps over-burdened and confused) itself with new experience eagerly sought, is 'directly' challenged to change over from its spontaneous, information-gathering, projective mode to a more deliberate, organized, conservative one. In persons born with the Sun and Mercury in this relation, this may lead to intellectual and analytical clarity and a stress upon the need for mental organization, objectivity and memory.

After the superior conjunction, the purely instinctual activity of the mind allowed play during the first hemicycle (from inferior to superior conjunction) must yield to the development of a deeper understanding, of wisdom. The dual nature of Mercury becomes increasingly apparent as the experiencer becomes objective to and separate from the objects of experience. In contrast to the spontaneous nature of Mercury as morning star (Promethean), Mercury as evening star (Epimethean) symbolizes the need for deliberate and self-conscious application of mental power and systematic reasoning.

Between superior conjunction and Mercury's maximum elongation east, the Sun/Mercury relationship unfolds in much the same way as Phases 7, 8 and 9 in the twelve-fold interplanetary pattern we studied in Chapter 2. Maximum elongation again occurs as heliocentric Mercury squares the Earth, but in this second hemicycle of Sun/Mercury relationships, the square is a waning or 'Last Quarter' one. Here the greatest possible stress on applying mental objectivity is made. What had been in the first hemicycle an enthusiastic drive to give vision and form to new ideals settles into a pattern of trying to solve more immediate problems at hand. Mental functioning, if not as innovative as in the first hemicycle, becomes more mature and systematic. The mind is challenged to develop its ability to draw meaning from things which have already happened. In so doing, it turns back upon itself, as it were, and questions the basis on which it had previously operated. This 'Last Quarter' square is again a crisis in consciousness, a parting of the ways at the philosophical or ideological level.

As Mercury has waned, so too has the need for new experience. The mind has been forced to turn pastward, to gain historical perspective for assimilating experience previously gathered, and for providing a context within which to attempt to answer its present questions. After maximum elongation east, the situation is similar to what we encountered at the waning sextile, the beginning of Phase II in the twelve-fold interplanetary pattern. Mental reorganization must occur, and it can happen either on the basis of a reactionary return to what the mind perceives as the strength and wisdom of tradition — or on the basis of a growing openness to a new creative impulse.

As the cycle closes, then, the question arises as to whether or not the mind has become sufficiently universal in scope to interpret past tradition in a transformed, presently applicable and open-ended way. As if in answer, after maximum elongation east. Mercury begins to move back toward the Sun, toward the coming inferior conjunction. As it does, it slows down, preparing for its station and subsequent retrogradation.

The retrograde period closing the Sup/Mercury cycle spans in time about the last tenth-of the entire cycle (an average of about 12 out of 116 days). Most positively, it refers to the final phase of the mind's attachment to the past. But, as Mercury slows and reaches its station, if the mind clings to the past, it can mean the mind coming to a reactionary standstill. This can happen either out of fear, or because past experiences have not been fully assimilated and must again be 'gone over.' The following retrograde period can represent a crystallization at the mental level. It is on this basis, and with the purpose of breaking it up, that the new cycle begins.

On the other hand. Mercury's station and retrogradation can symbolize the mind going over past precedent or re-examining tradition in order to repudiate what of it has become obsolete in light of present questions, problems and future hopes. Mercury- Epimethean/retrograde thus represents a period of deconditioning preparatory to the release of a new creative impulse at the inferior conjunction. This period of deconditioning may be confusing or even chaotic, but it is necessary if the developing mind is ever to become sufficiently free of the past to accept to go a new, future-oriented direction.

In order successfully to pass through such a deconditioning process at the mental level, the mind symbolized by Mercury- Epimethean/retrograde turns inward, away from the taken-for-granted patterns of thinking of family and culture. It must unearth unconscious assumptions and question generalizations habitually made from past experience. Its purpose is to 'return to source,' the power of which will, at the inferior conjunction, fecundate the mind anew, beginning a new cycle of mental development.

The person born with Mercury Epimethean retrograde may be unable to accept the usual patterns of thinking impressed upon his or her nascent mentality by parents, teachers and other traditional authorities. Instead the person may rebel against the past so that new experience can be met more freely than traditional constraints would allow. This may in many instances lead to a more or less prolonged period of confusion, but even this should not be considered absolutely negative. It should be seen as a necessary phase in a developmental process and thereby given a constructive meaning. For Mercury's station and retrogradation lead directly to the inferior conjunction, a new creative impulse and a chance to begin again at a new level.

What actually occurs at any solar conjunction is and remains a mystery. For a few days before and after the exact inferior conjunction, Mercury disappears from view. When it emerges as a morning star on the other side of the Sun, it is nevertheless still retrograde for some 10 to 15 days. A new cycle has begun, and the 'seeds' for a new mind have been implanted — assuming all has gone well at the close of the previous cycle and that there were seeds to be sown. The mind emerging from the solar conjunction is symbolically a mind which has experienced a mystery, an 'initiation' into a new realm of being — however limited or casual this initiation may have been. As a result of this and the previous period of deconditioning, the mind has lost its trust or interest in customary impulses, yet it is not free from them. The cycle has not progressed far enough for the mind to have even a vaguely objective vision of 'where' or to what ultimate purpose mental development is directed. The mind struggles to overcome its own deep subjectivity, as a person who was profoundly asleep struggles to free his mind from strange and wonderful dream-fragments clinging to consciousness as he rises to meet and adjust himself to the morning's brightness. The mind is eager, but with Mercury still retrograde and very near the beginning of the cycle, its activity may be uncertain, its vision perhaps lost and recovered again — or so subjective and idealistic as to be beyond the ken of Other, more objective minds. It awakens to the outer world and its realities only slowly, assimilating the inward experience of the new solar impulse, and finding its 'balance' between the two.

In the deepest sense, Mercury-Promethean/retrograde refers to the possibility of a radical transformation at a very deep and basic level of human functioning, for it follows and builds upon the period of cultural deconditioning symbolized by Mercury-Epimethean/ retrograde. Moreover, here, at the beginning of the life-dominated first hemicycle. Mercury travels in a direction opposite to the motion of the Sun, the source of all life-power. As the 'life'-cycle begins, Mercury opposes, as it were, its flow. What this means can be understood when we realize that in animals, and even among less mentally developed or primitive human beings living in jungles (urban, suburban or otherwise) in want and fear, the Mercury-function is entirely subservient to life's needs, immediate requirements and self-preservation, and to unquestioned, deeply ingrained social imperatives and taboos. Then, or after deconditioning has occurred in the lives of modern men and women, intelligence may manifest primarily as rudimentary inventiveness and self-centered cunning in satisfying desires and basic human needs, regardless of the presence, well-being and desires of others.

A time comes in both collective and individual development, however, when people begin to take a more objective and detached view of existence, and eventually begin to think in terms of abstractions, symbols and collective well-being. When this occurs, it means that the mind has become able to dis-identify itself with the urgent and daily needs of the body and lower psychic nature — thus, to stand still, to 'go against' and disassociate itself from more primitive, organic cravings. It looks at these objectively, seeking understanding and generalized knowledge transferable to other persons, situations as wholes and to the coming generations. All this comes under the category of mind liberated from both the compulsions of culture (Mercury- Epimethean/retrograde) and narrow body-centered desires — a mind working 'against the grain' of the life-force: a mind symbolized by Mercury-Promethean/retrograde.

When Mercury stops again and resumes direct motion, it symbolizes a mind once more polarized toward projecting itself, its new and tentatively focusing vision, into the world, toward experiencing a plethora of new situations and sensations providing material on the basis of which a new level of mental operation can be reached. After the reorientation represented by the entire retrograde period, the new level of understanding to which the mind aspires is no longer centered merely in the urge for self-preservation or a craving for self-aggrandisement. Since the mind has (ideally) left behind the compulsions of both culture and biology, it is therefore free to try to substantiate the new solar impulse in its purity, to try to achieve a new level of integration strictly in terms of the need to which what was released at inferior conjunction came in potential answer.

Thus, the entire period of Mercury's retrogradation should be considered a period of reorientation of the mind during which one cycle of activity and development ends and another begins. It is essential that we differentiate between the two types of Mercury retrograde — Epimethean (evening star) retrograde and Promethean (morning star) retrograde. Mercury retrograde at the end of a Mercury/Sun cycle, before inferior conjunction, and Mercury retrograde after the inferior conjunction has occurred. And we must recognize not only the difference, but also the continuity of process between the two.

This difference and continuity becomes more than theoretical, and the pattern we have studied more than abstract or academic, when we realize that since Mercury's entire retrograde period never exceeds about 25 days, any person born with Mercury retrograde Will experience by secondary progression* the inferior conjunction, and/or Mercury's station and resumption of direct motion at some time relatively early in life. Even someone born at the very beginning of the retrograde period will experience the inferior conjunction by progression by age 12 or 13, and Mercury will turn direct by progression by the time the person reaches 25.

*Cf. The Lunation Process in Astrological Guidance by Leyla Rael (ASI Publishers, New York; 1979) for a basic explanation of secondary progressions.

For persons born with Mercury Epimethean (evening star), Mercury's station and retrogradation may occur by progression at any time between birth and approximately age 65, depending upon how soon after superior conjunction they were born. Persons born with Mercury Promethean (morning star), whether Mercury is direct or retrograde at birth, will experience by progression maximum elongation (if it hasn't occurred before birth) and superior conjunction — possibly maximum elongation after superior conjunction too, depending upon when in the first hemicycle birth occurred and how long the person lives. This 'process by progression' applies as well to practically all natal aspects and configurations, except those involving only very slowly moving planets. What occurs in a person's life and how he or she responds and gives meaning to it when Mercury reaches its station, turns retrograde or direct, reaches maximum elongation or conjoins the the Sun has a particularly deep significance, for it gives direction and 'tone' to the quality of mental development throughout the life. Since Mercury symbolizes functional activities at the core of truly human experience, this process has always basic and far-reaching implications and effects.

The cycle of Venus and the Sun (as seen from the Earth) is entirely similar to the cycle of Mercury and the Sun, although the intervals are longer. While the synodic period (from inferior conjunction to inferior conjunction) between Mercury and the Sun is approximately 116 days, the synodic period of Venus is about 584 days. While Mercury is retrograde for about 19 to 25 days, Venus' retrograde period lasts between 40 and 50 days.

Both ancient mythology and traditional astrology have considered Venus in her dual role as evening and morning star. Venus as morning star, rising ahead of the Sun, is termed Venus Lucifer (literally, "the bearer of light"). Venus as the evening star, appearing in the western sky immediately after sunset and thus following or setting behind the Sun, is called Venus Hesperus (from hesperos, meaning "western").

While Mercury refers to the mind — the 'nervous' functions — Venus represents the inner sense of value, a more 'visceral' type of functions or emotional activities. Venus Lucifer, as morning star rising ahead of the Sun, refers to a type of emotional activity which might be said symbolically to run ahead of the self. It represents a spontaneous quality of feeling reminiscent of adolescence: extroverted, enthusiastic, exuberant. The antennae of the feeling-life are, as it were, extended to the utmost, and the faculty of intuition may develop strongly. The sense of value is attuned futureward; idealism may dominate the inner life, and emotional projection may run high.

Venus as evening star (Hesperus) is by contrast a symbol of a more controlled, reactive feeling-nature. While Venus Lucifer tends to look for correlates to its evolving values, ideals and sense of beauty in the world, Venus Hesperus tends to judge and react to life and events after things have happened, according to a predetermined set of standards. Venus Hesperus can theoretically be characterized as a more mature quality of feeling, for emotionality is not as spontaneous and immediate as when Venus rises ahead of the Sun as morning star. This is not to say that Venus Hesperus represents a passionless or 'cooler' emotional timbre, for it may be just as emotional, perhaps in a more intense, introverted way. Venus as an evening star can also indicate a type of emotional life strongly influenced by traditional or conventional values, or an aesthetic sense dominated by a particular set of standards. It is in that sense essentially conservative and deliberate or calculated.

The same type of reasoning applies to Venus retrogrades to Mercury retrograde. Venus refers to the sense of value, to the functional activity whereby human beings pass judgment upon something's absolute or relative worth: "This is good for me, I love it. This will destroy or irreversibly alter me, and I must run away or protect myself from it." Venus is the 'planet of love' only by extension, for it can just as well be the planet of hate. Its function is to present to us vivid images of what will enhance or degrade our status as human beings. The entire retrograde period of Venus refers to a time when it is necessary and possible to reorient and renew the sense of value. Retrograde Venus in a natal chart indicates that throughout the person's life, he or she will be challenged and has the latent capacity (which must be developed) to transform his or her sense of what is valuable and significant. 

The first phase of Venus' retrogradation — Venus Hesperus (evening star) retrograde — refers to a period of recapitulation of past feelings and values. It represents the inner emotional life coming to a stop in order to be once more fecundated by solar will and purpose. It can involve and require a period of cultural deconditioning, when the feeling-aspect of the inner life must question and emerge from domination by collective, taken-for-granted standards and values. The inferior conjunction occurs with Venus still retrograde, and it signifies the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next.

Venus and the Earth are as close to one another as possible at this time, and the creative impulse symbolically passed from the Sun to Venus at the inferior conjunction, at least symbolically, is most focally transmitted to Earth. This, in persons born with Venus and the Sun in close inferior conjunction, the Venus-functions will tend to be unusually active and focused. But since Venus is retrograde, the focalization tends not to be in terms of what we consider 'normal' biological or social effectiveness. It is rather more introverted, for the feeling-nature turns inward for reorientation, and it may find coping with ordinary emotional or social situations comparatively difficult. This is generally true of the entire retrograde period, which can be likened to a shop temporarily closed to customers for inventory and remodeling.

In biologically-dominated human beings, value is related almost exclusively to self-preservation; but as human beings evolve socially and intellectually, self-preservation becomes synonymous with group well-being, both at the physical level and at the level of cultural images and ideals. During Venus' Lucifer retrograde period, higher motives may transform the primary biopsychic sense of value. In the search for such higher values, some men and women turn to asceticism or altruism, sacrificing personal welfare for the sake of great ideals or in the quest for mystical union with God. These are all possibilities represented by Venus Lucifer retrograde, for it symbolizes the feeling-nature seeking its independence from the instinctual nature by opposing it more or less violently. Traditional values may have been called into sharp question (Venus Hesperus retrograde), but the re-nascent feeling-nature is still struggling to free itself from their domination.

When Venus turns direct, the success or relative failure of the struggle begins to become apparent. For Venus as morning star (direct) turns the feeling nature out into the world again. The new vision and purpose 'received' at solar (inferior) conjunction seeks to substantiate itself, and the person born with Venus Lucifer direct is challenged to be a focalizer of such substantiation. Pouring himself or herself into his or her creations, he or she projects his or her values and ideals onto life, seeking to impress the stamp of the new vision upon society. A new phase in the development of the Venus-functions has begun again.

Of course, any characterization given for any single planet, whether retrograde, direct or in any phase of its cyclic relationship with the Sun, is always at least modified, if not 'alchemically' altered by other factors and interrelationships in any particular birth-chart and life-pattern. Single astrological factors can be discussed and evaluated only for the purpose of intellectual analysis and instruction. The essential value of doing so is to reveal the archetypal patterns of processes underlying all astrological symbols, and to train the astrologer's mind to think in terms of them.

When we come to the planets moving outside of the Earth's orbit, the situation is somewhat different from the pattern we studied in relation to Venus and Mercury, planets moving within the orbit of the Earth. While Venus and Mercury turn retrograde as they approach inferior conjunction with the Sun — thus while they are between the Sun and the Earth — Mars and the planets beyond it turn retrograde when, from the point of view of Earth, they prepare to oppose the Sun. In other words. Mercury and Venus are retrograde during their 'New' phase, when one cycle ends and another begins, while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are retrograde during their opposition with the Sun or 'Full' phase; their motion opposes that of the Sun when they also oppose the Sun from the other side of the Earth.

These facts alone are quite significant in understanding the meaning of these planets' retrogradation, especially when we remember that retrograde planets are as close to the Earth as they can be, and that retrogradation is the result of geocentricity — that planets appear to retrograde as a result of the special relationship between the Earth and the rest of the solar system. What actually occurs to create the outer planets' appearance of retrogradation is illustrated in Diagram 4-5. A planet, moving more slowly than the Earth, is heliocentrically moving on the same side of the Sun as the Earth. Geocentrically, the Sun and the other planet are nearing opposition. But the Earth is also moving, more quickly than the other planet. As the Earth comes around the Sun and approaches the other planet, it moves between that planet and the Sun. It passes the slower planet on an inside track—a situation again similar to the illustration of the trains we presented earlier. The situation is almost as if the Earth, here representing concrete reality and the need in answer to which all planetary cycles proceed, intervenes in the developing relationship between the planet and the Sun, just before that relationship reaches its culmination. The Earth is to the other planet a 'reminder' of the original need the cycle was meant to fulfill. The other planet, about to be confronted with the concrete reality of what has been accomplished thus far (symbolized by its opposition with the Sun) stops, goes over territory it has most recently covered, and, so to speak, asks: "Have I forgotten anything? Is there something that needs to be adjusted or redone before the cycle is fulfilled and things become set? Are there any loose ends to be tied up? Any mistakes to be rectified?"

While Venus and Mercury orbit within the Earth's orbit and therefore represent two aspects of the inner life — mind and feelings — planets from Mars outward refer to the realm of outer activity. Planetary functions referring to the inner life undergo deconditioning and reorientation at the most inward, subjective phase of their cycle with the Sun, for what is most needed for a new cycle to begin is inner renewal and redirection. Planets referring to more objective activities back up for retrogradation just as their cycle with the Sun is about to culminate in outer manifestation — for what is required to bring something to the kind of objective realization and successful culmination possible and necessary at the opposition is perspective, clarity and deliberate, focused action. In all cases, when a planet has the opportunity to operate most focally in terms of its own type of activities, the Earth intervenes, as it were, and the planet backs up goes over territory it had previously traversed, makes a major aspect with the Sun to change its hemicycle relation to it and, finally, resumes direct motion into new territory.

The deeper meaning of the retrogradation of the planets from Mars outwards becomes apparent when we realize that what is possible and necessary for successful culmination at the opposition — the above-mentioned qualities of objectivity, perspective and clarity — is also the foundation upon which the second hemicycle develops in its evolutionary mode. For the opposition not only ends the first hemicycle of activity; it begins the second. Retrogradation at the solar/planetary opposition is thus an opportunity for repairing whatever must be pealed or redone in order to bring the cycle to successful culmination. It is also, perhaps more importantly, a preparation for a possible repolarization or change of gears, the success or relative failure of which will determine the quality of experience and challenge — evolutionary or devolutionary — during the remainder of the cyclic process. Retrogradation is therefore an opportunity for radical transformation and reorientation, for breaking the hold of life, the sway of the involutionary/devolutionary process, over the nascent consciousness, so that a new realm — the realm of 'mind' and the evolution of consciousness—can be entered and a new level of functioning developed later on.

Like the retrograde periods of Mercury and Venus, the retrograde periods of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, etc. must be divided into two phases — one before the opposition to the Sun, one after it. But the sequence of what must be done and the issues that must be met are in the case of the planets outside the Earth's orbit the reverse of what has to happen in the cases of Venus and Mercury. These planets within the Earth's orbit turn retrograde at the close of their second hemicycle with the Sun. Their retrogradation therefore refers to a deconditioning process, first, at the mental and cultural level, then to a process of repolarization at the level of life' and biopsychic compulsion. Since the retrograde periods of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (and Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) occur at the end of the first or involutionary hemicycle with the Sun, deconditioning at the biological level must occur first. Biopsychic compulsions must be met and brought under conscious control before whatever will be seen or realized at the opposition can be made to serve a progressive purpose at the mental-cultural level afterward.

Retrogradation prior to the solar/planetary opposition thus symbolizes the planetary function coming to a stop, preparing the prenascent consciousness to receive the objective illumination of the opposition. It allows sufficient time for the planetary function to retrace the final, culminating steps in its involutionary development, and for the process of biopsychic deconditioning to occur. If the latter is successful, the opposition symbolizes birth in objective consciousness. The following second hemicycle of the overall process then stresses evolutionary development rather than devolutionary disintegration.

After the opposition, the planet remains retrograde for a time equal to its retrograde period before the opposition. This second phase in the retrograde process is necessary as a period of transition during which the change-over from one hemicycle and level of activity and development to the next can be assimilated. The process of biopsychic deconditioning occurring before the solar/planetary opposition may have Operated in what seemed at first a seriously disturbing or cathartic manner. The retrograde period following the planetary/solar opposition also requires the kind of social and interpersonal interaction we saw operating during Phases 7 and 8 of the twelve-fold planetary pattern we studied earlier. This leads to the planet's station and resumption of direct motion, which ends the entire reorientation process. The second hemicycle proceeds on the basis of what has been accomplished — for better or for worse — since the planet first turned retrograde.

When Mars initially goes retrograde, some kind of brakes or self-induced obstacles to its usual outward-directed activity tend to appear. Spontaneity often becomes prey to inner conflicts or self-doubt. Something in the capacity to mobilize energy and act — either for self-preservation according to the values represented by Venus or within the set of social and religious imperatives and taboos represented by Jupiter and Saturn — has become problematic and needs to be re-examined. Rather than proceed in its habitual manner. Mars may, so to speak, timidly check back with Venus: "Are you sure this is what you really want?" Or it may double-check with Jupiter or Saturn: "Are you sure this is permissible and really OK?" In this way, the capacity to act (Mars) is purged of obsolete directives or taboos, strengthened or repaired if necessary. Sexuality, aggression or ambition may become particularly focal Issues up for reevaluation.

After the opposition, understanding of past mistakes should grow. Action may still not be as spontaneous as when Mars is direct, but it is not as unthinking either, having acquired amore deliberate character, wary, as it were, of repeating past transgressions or of falling into compulsive, biologically-dominated patterns. The capacity for .action should now be redirected toward accomplishing chosen ends, perhaps within a wider than merely personal sphere of influence. As Mars approaches its second station and then resumes direct motion, the capacity to mobilize one's resources may again assume a spontaneous character, but by now it should have become definitely reoriented, having a different set of values upon which to act, a different set of goals toward which to aspire.

Mars is retrograde for Only a relatively short time — about one tenth of its two-year cycle. With the planets beyond Mars, the lengths of the retrograde periods increase and span approximately the arc between the waxing and waning trines of each planet and the  

Jupiter turning retrograde refers to the need to reorient and perhaps heal or repair the sense of social participation and/or religious activities. In a birth-chart, retrograde Jupiter may refer to some kind of social or religious maladjustment — that is, to an inability or unwillingness to participate in traditional social or religious patterns and rituals in the usual, expected way. This is because a person born with Jupiter retrograde is challenged to bring to fulfillment in life a new level of social participation and religious feeling. The new level of consciousness and activity should satisfy the personal or meta-personal need which called forth the creative impulse released at the prenatal Sun/Jupiter conjunction. For this reason, when interpreting a significant aspect or retrograde planet in a birth-chart, it is often quite revealing to go back to the prenatal conjunction beginning the cycle. The zodiacal sign, and especially the meaning of the Sabian Symbol for the degree on which the conjunction before birth occurred can be invaluably instructive.

During the first half of Jupiter's retrograde period, before the Jupiter/Sun opposition, the urge for purely personal expansion (so aggrandized in our society) may slow and reverse itself. The quest for power or outward accomplishment may become an inner questioning, a search for a new set of ideals or spiritual meanings. The religious sense may turn inward, toward direct experience and away from the patterns of any particular church. After Jupiter's opposition to the Sun, anew kind of co-operative spirit may develop. An individual may feel pressure to integrate expansive urges with the efforts of others sharing similar ideals. A need and capacity may develop to formulate or express in words, actions or other forms what has been seen or objectively realized at the solar opposition. The need to understand past social or religious patterns may also surface, and an objective grasp of historical processes may develop to deepen the mind and give a broader meaning to social participation and religious striving.

As Saturn turns retrograde, all social and traditional boundaries may come to be questioned. A person born with Saturn retrograde cannot rely solely upon external agents — father, society, cultural assumptions — for self-definition and stabilization. The person must become self-reliant and develop his or her own resources. Fulfillment in stable personality must come from within, born of individual experience and self-conscious introspection. During the first half of Saturn's retrograde period, consolidation is required, and dependence upon external structures must lessen.

This is why in the lives of many people born with Saturn retrograde the father is absent (physically or psychologically) or otherwise unable to fulfill the child's Father-Image in a constructive, satisfying way. Such a situation can lead to one kind or another of father-complex — one in which the Father-Image becomes overly idealized or distorted (because contact with a real, loving and fallible father is lacking), or one in which persists a longing for someone, sometimes anyone, to fulfill the father-role. In either case, the Father-Image, such that it is, dominates the consciousness and life-pattern.

The way in which such a situation is usually worked out is for some substitute for the structuring power of the father to be found. This may be a husband, mentor or guru — or a compelling archetype, whether of a historical or mythological figure, or a set of philosophical or spiritual principles. On the one and, such a solution may not be any real solution at all. For a dependency pattern may merely perpetuate itself. On the other hand, the mentor — human or otherwise — may embody for the growing person something which has not been developed in the family lineage, something which may be not only impersonal but transpersonal. In identifying with the Figure, the youth may activate something previously lacking within and become self-reliant and independent. He or she may also be challenged to move to a greater-than-merely-personal level of activity and consciousness. In such a case, the challenge of retrograde Saturn has been met at the highest level, for the involutionary process of growth and development gives way to a truly evolutionary process of self-actualization. Thus the initial father-complex can be and often has been a steppingstone to greater personal integration and significant accomplishment.

Since the father is the symbol of the structuring power of the culture, and gives to the family its defining socio-economic and class status, a person born with Saturn retrograde after its opposition with the Sun is also required by circumstance or inner need to achieve these outer markers of stability, definition, and social standing for himself. One may be unwilling or temperamentally unable to accept inherited strictures on one's social standing, and such a situation may be in the long run a blessing rather than a curse. For the key to creative self-actualization is always the way in which a person responds, the meaning given, to the circumstances of birth and life. No birth-chart alone can ever tell an astrologer whether a person will use seemingly difficult aspects and life-circumstances as a productive springboard to greater integration, accomplishment or transformation—or if he or she will become a hopeless neurotic paralyzed by insecurity, fear and the complexities of defense mechanisms. Retrograde planets in general pose such a challenge. A person born with Saturn retrograde after its opposition with the Sun is especially challenged to discover and tap inner resources of courage and conviction.

The retrograde periods of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto follow the same essential pattern as those of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. But the periods when these outermost planets are retrograde increase in length with the planet's distance from the Sun. Because they move so slowly in relation to the Sun, the retrogradation of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto occurs at the same season each year as the Sun moves through the zodiacal signs between roughly 120° and 240° away from the relatively stationary planet. This seasonal retrogradation advances through the zodiac at the same rate the planet does.

Due to the transpersonal, transformative nature of what these planets symbolize, and to the present stage of human consciousness in its development, we may not be able significantly to define and distinguish the retrograde periods of these planets from the periods in their cycles with the Sun when they are direct. The idea of a 'reorientation of functions of reorientation and transformation is not only grammatically redundant but obscure, and it also seems a distinction too fine for us to make at the present time.

When we deal with planets at the level of transits, we can, however, differentiate between direct and retrograde motion. A transiting planet often passes over a natal planet or an angle of a horoscope three times because of retrogradation. The first transit is direct, the second retrograde, and the third direct again. When a three-pass transit occurs, it can be thought of as a threefold process in which

( 1) a need is felt or a situation is presented (first direct transit)

(2) a solution is inwardly conceived or outwardly presented (second, retrograde transit) — and

(3) the new idea or form is worked out or developed (third, direct transit).

When the transiting planet is Uranus, Neptune or Pluto, phase (1) presents a challenge to transformation which is either assented to or fought against during phase (2). The results of the transit — whether or not the transformative process has been pillowed to operate successfully — begin to become clear at (3). Such a process sometimes repeats itself in its entirety, especially when Neptune or Pluto is moving very slowly. An entire threefold process can thus span a year or more, and a repeated, six-fold process two years or longer.

A more detailed analysis of a planet's retrogradation can be made according to Diagram 4-6, in which the entire process of retrogradation is broken down into six basic stages or turning points. Such a loop can be drawn and interpreted any time a process of retrogradation becomes pertinent, either in terms of progressions or transits, of the time it spans or in relation to natal factors it traverses. Linking into a process what occurs in life at the times of the six turning points should enable the astrologer to understand the underlying meaning of the process. Knowing the turning points of the retrogradation process and what happened in the client's life in relation to them should reveal to the astrologer the meaning of the events in the client's development. The meanings of the Sabian degrees on which the turning points occur should lend qualitative understanding and luminosity to the interpretation.

1. The date and degree of a planet's entrance to the arc over which it will pass three times

2. The date the planet becomes stationary, the degree at which it begins to retrograde .

3. The date and degree of the planet's aspect to the Sun (inferior conjunction for Mercury and Venus, opposition for all the others)

4. The date and degree of the planet's second station and resumption of direct motion (this will be the same degree as in # I above).

5. It is sometimes interesting to note the date a planet re-traverses the degree in which it previously opposed or conjoined the Sun.

6. The degree (the same as in #2 above) and date on which the planet leaves the arc over which it has passed three times and enters upon new, previously untraversed territory.

 

Astrological Aspects

 

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