As Mercury turns retrograde this week, he’s joining four other back-tracking planetary players — Mars, Pluto, Saturn and Jupiter.

While I was working on Astrology Hub’s Full Moon in Scorpio article last week, I was struck by a factoid shared by astrologer Jamie Partridge:

Five retrogrades occurring at once is rare, occurring only 4 percent of the time.

I was intrigued. Certainly, as any astrologer knows, we don’t see this many retrogrades happening at the same time very often.

But, I wondered, exactly how often it does happen? And what might it mean for us?

Understanding Retrogrades

Before we can explore the question together, you’ll have to understand what a retrograde actually is.

We all know the planets revolve around the Sun.  Planets with orbits closer to the Sun have a shorter distance to travel; therefore they routinely “lap” the outer planets.

(Click Astrology Hub’s Free Gift offer when it pops up to watch the Mars retrograde video for a visual explanation.)

So, a retrograde is simply the illusion created when a planet closer to the Sun catches up to, and passes, a planet further from the Sun.

(In fact, retrogrades can be seen from every other planet in the solar system as well. In fact, for someone living on Mercury, something is always retrograde, which explains a lot.)

retrograde perfect storm

Photo Credit: NASA

Viewed from Earth, retrogrades occur when the other planets are at their closest point in their orbit to the Earth — otherwise known as “perigee.”

From our Earth-centered point of view, the Sun and Moon can’t retrograde. (Because the Earth travels around the Sun, and the Moon travels around the Earth, the retrograde illusion doesn’t apply.)

For planets with orbits inside of the Earth’s — that means Mercury and Venus — they appear to retrograde when they are aligned between the Earth and the Sun.

For all of the other planets, retrogrades happen when the Earth is in the middle — Sun on one side, planet on the other. Or in other words, the planet is opposite the Sun.

Outer Planet Cycles

So, what does it take to see multiple planets retrograde at once?

In the case of the planets beyond the orbit of the Earth, they need to be grouped in the same part of the Zodiac, in order for their retrogrades happen at a similar time during the year.

Lucky us, it just so happens that for the last 85 years, the slowest-moving planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto have stayed within a 120 degrees of each other in the Zodiac.

Therefore, every year the retrograde dates for Uranus, Neptune and Pluto have overlapped. And when they do, we’ve had at least three retrogrades occurring at once.

(To learn more about the long-term cycles of the outer planets in history, check out Richard Tarnas’ work Cosmos and Psyche.)

The Retrograde Perfect Storm

But wait, there’s more. Jupiter and Saturn creeping toward the same part of the sky as the outer planets.

retrograde perfect stormThat means that each year over the next seven years, we’ll have two or three months during which all FIVE of these planets will be retrograding at more or less the same time.

And, if at any time during their collective retrograde Mercury, Venus or Mars joins them, we end up with six or seven retrograde planets simultaneously.

Conversely, we’ll also have stretches of the year in which NONE of these five planets are retrograde. If Mercury, Venus or Mars isn’t retrograding, we’ll go for several months with NO retrograde planets.

Put another way, throughout the year our retrograde cycles will seesaw from several months of NO retrogrades, followed by several months with MANY retrogrades.

So, what’s this mean for me?

Well, I’m glad you asked…

You see, in Nature, growth isn’t linear, and it isn’t constant. The natural rhythm of life is closer to the maxim: “two steps forward, one step back.”

Retrograde planets remind us of this dynamic. We move forward, but then we need time to contemplate, and make adjustments, before for the next round of forward motion.

Retrogrades pull our energies inward. The makes space for more awareness to enter the equation.

Usually planets take turns going though a retrograde cycle. Astrologers consider having 1-3 planets retrograde at any give time just “business as usual.” Each planet gets a turn to have its affairs up for review and reconsideration.

But as we enter an “all or nothing” phase, things may feel harder to manage for the human kingdom.

Rather than riding our cosmic cycle up and down gently rolling hills, the terrain becomes rugged. Think deep descents we fly down at breakneck speed, followed by steep climbs pedalling hard to get to the top.

How we adapt to climate change seems an apt metaphor. As weather patterns shift, many places are likely to experience longer periods of drought, punctuated by more intense storms.

Take my home state of Texas, for example. In the past year, we’ve ended a multi-year drought with three statewide 10-20 inch deluge events. Planners must consider new ways to manage water in the coming years to handle these kinds of extremes.

Similarly, we may need to devise new ways to adapt to the cosmic climate extremes. Perhaps you’ll decide to divide your annual goals into those for the busy season, and those for the recharging season. Or maybe you’ll tackle collaborative projects during the retrograde-free months; and turning inward for more introverted, deep work during the retrograde season.

How often does this happen?

It may be a retrograde perfect storm, but we’ve been through this before. Twice in the 20th Century in fact. Once in the early 1940s, again in the early 1980s.

(If you were born during one of these time periods, you can check to see how many retrogrades there were at the time you were born. Just pick up an ephemeris, or order a chart from our online astrology report service).

As Uranus and Neptune begin to pull away from Pluto, the effect will  lessen in intensity in coming cycles.

We’re still here. But hopefully each time through we are collectively wiser for the journey.

[Post Update: For those who want to dive more deeply into this phenomenon, astrological researcher David Cochrane has produced a new training video on how to identify these retrograde periods.]

41 Comments

  1. Justdare on April 28, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    Great article! You maybe did miss a third time period in mid March 1967 ( March 8-16) that 5 planets were retrograde at once. I was born smack in the middle of those 9 days so I have 5 RX planets in my natal chart.

    • Donna Woodwell on April 29, 2016 at 12:53 am

      Thanks! Your retrogrades must include Mercury, Venus or Mars. There are likely a few of those spread out through the time period, in addition to yours. We need a computer to find them all! (Wouldn’t that be cool?)

  2. T on May 14, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Donna, thank you for this! Great info! Can you throw some light on how this will affect people born with many planets retrograde in their chart? Are they more comfortable with the energy?

    Thanks again 🙂

    • Donna Woodwell on May 15, 2016 at 5:02 pm

      Great question. I’m not sure what I think of the theory that folks with more retrograde planets are more comfortable when planets are retrograde — I say theory, because we really don’t have any evidence one way or another.

      For example, I have Mercury and Mars retro in my natal chart. It certainly doesn’t mean I am Mercury- or Mars-challenged in life (heck, I was a journalist).

      Mercury and Mars happen to be retrograde now. Would that mean I’m “more comfortable”.. more comfortable than what? Other times in my life? Or than other people who weren’t born with those planets retrograde.

      I certainly feel the “subrosa” vibe that comes with all these retrogrades. Do I prefer it this way because it’s familiar? I don’t think so. Do I cope with it better than others? I’m not sure how to answer that… what scale do you use?

      Or maybe it’s a really good question, not because it has an answer, but because it makes you think through these ideas. Sometimes I think astrology is at it’s best when it makes you think, yes?

      FYI, we’re going to have a free webinar at Kepler College on June 4 to talk about these retrograde-y questions. The sign up should be available soon at kepler.edu

      • T on May 15, 2016 at 6:05 pm

        Thanks Donna! Now my thinking cap is ON! :). . . .This question arose as I knew of a natal chart that has SEVEN planets retrograde (sadly we are out of touch) and wondered how these planets being retrograde affected him differently than me, who has one planet retrograde. .

        The take aways for me from your reply:

        – As someone with retrograde planets in the natal chart, you ARE familiar with the energy of these retrogrades (as opposed to someone like me, with one planet retrograde) . .

        – We don’t know enough to build parameters for comparison (frustation of getting things done in first go! vs knowing that things will have to be continously REvised for them to be done?); (experiencing the energy internally vs externally?).

        Interesting stuff! Thanks for the info about the webinar. . .I ‘ll keep a lookout for the details :).

        • Donna Woodwell on May 15, 2016 at 6:21 pm

          An interesting aside… After this article came out, David Cochrane showed how to use Sirius software to show when multiple retrogrades would occur, and produced some interesting graphs.

          Yesterday I was at a one-day symposium on sleep and dreams at the Univ. of Texas. One of the researchers posted a graph of sleep/dreaming stages, which *visually* looked identical to the graph David made for the retrograde cycles.

          Since I don’t really believe in “just coincidence”.. it made me think what if retrograde energy are more like “dream perception” and direct motion is more like “awake perception.” I mean, it’s only Western culture that’s given exclusive dominance to the “awake perception” — any indigenous culture would honor both as important parts of the whole.

          Lol. Another thing to think about…

          I also think it depends on what is retrograde. I’ve been making some charts of the apparent motion for retrogrades, and there are different kinds of patterns. I suspect what’s retrograde may matter as much to perception than the retrograde itself.

  3. Staci Welborn on May 23, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    I am one of those people that have 7 planets retrograde. I’m in astonishment after reading my birth chart. It goes into grave detail about my life, my mother and father, it explains it better than I can. My life has been very hard. I’m 35 now.

  4. Lindsey on April 25, 2021 at 4:16 am

    Yes I was born in 84 and I also have 7 retrograde planets in my chart (all w the exception of Venus) I Would say this definitely comes out in some way as I was the kid at school that was a loner but at the same time never really got picked on because though mostly I minded my business and got the same in return in some strands way if I had to do it I just seemed to know where to go that would expose someone’s vulnerability or hidden pain so that they would never approach me again, of course as I got older this type of method just Is not the best way to go , but I also learned to communicate and have the friends I need I consider most acquaintances I do not use the word friend lightly and prefer quality to any quantity, I am late in life still waiting for the bloomer part but I won’t give up on myself I know it’s in there 👻☠️Chart ruler retrograde Pluto yes you could say I don’t sweat the small stuff I have definitely been reborn through some serious shit , which unfortunately I seem to have stepped in Again – though I know the only way out is through. It still is quite an isolating and scary process -disorienting but the more I read up in the retrogrades the more sense it seems to make to me – I have always been different. I’m wondering about Mars retrograde and Saturn retrograde in scorpio my first house/ascendent of course I understand to some degree but i would be curious to find a more detailed interpretation (my retrograde Pluto is at 0 degrees in the 12 house in libra so it is conj ascendent as well)

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