Here is a new approach to understanding retrogrades. I would very much like to discuss this with anyone interested.
Astrology has often been called “Cultural Astronomy,” and the phrase rings true to me, in particular that accent on the second word “Astronomy.” We could rephrase that to say that astrology is the “meaning” of astronomy in the sense that astrology for the most part is based on astronomy, like the accurate positions of the planets, the lunar cycle, and all the other celestial phenomenon. Most astrologers like to be as accurate in their calculations as the astronomy will permit.
In other words, astrological interpretations are based on accurate astronomy, as just mentioned. In this sense, our astrological imagination is limited by the facts that astronomy delivers to us. In fact, most astrology has to do with the meaning or interpretation of the astronomical facts, and these astronomical facts have had centuries of time to be absorbed and interpreted by astrologers. However this is not true in all cases, and the “retrograde phenomenon” is a good example of an astrological technique where we have not yet exhausted the astronomical framework or facts.
All planets move through the familiar zodiac in the same direction, from Aries to Taurus, and so on. However, periodically a planet will pause in this forward motion, and begin to move backward through the zodiac, against the grain of the zodiac. Such a backward-moving planet is said to be retrograde. Depending on the planet, a planet can be retrograde from 7% (Venus) to over 44% (Pluto) of the time. There is a table of these figure elsewhere in this book.
In the history of astrology, retrograde planets tend to be interpreted in somewhat of a negative way, perhaps because the backward motion itself of the planet lends itself to ideas of (literally) retro, backsliding, falling behind, and so on.
Burn Rate: The Retrograde Phenomenon
Perhaps no astrological factor has more different opinions and less agreement among astrologers than the phenomenon of retrograde motion, the fact that from the earth's view all planets appear to move backward in reverse motion through the zodiac, one or more times a year. Expert's opinions range from there being no perceived effect whatsoever when a planet is retrograde, to their being a very dramatic effect. But then, even if an effect is indicated, there is a wide range of declarations as to what that effect might be.
The various interpretations are all over the board. In this section, we will examine the physical astronomy behind the retrograde phenomenon and, based on what we find, go on to discuss how this might be interpreted.
For starters, among those who do credit retrograde planets with an interpretation, it is generally agreed that when a planet is retrograde, its nature and effect is somehow retarded, delayed, or obscured. For the most part (and with a few exceptions) in the history of astrology it is not considered a good or helpful thing to have a planet retrograde.
The most well-known example of a retrograde planet and what it portends is that of Mercury. Most of us have heard things like "Don't sign that contract! Mercury is retrograde," and there is a whole astrological sub culture built up around what you should and should not do when Mercury goes retrograde. When Mercury is retrograde, so it is claimed, communications of all kinds cannot be trusted, and may go haywire. The advice is usually "Wait until Mercury goes direct." With this sort of thing in mind, let's examine the retrograde phenomenon.
If we want to understand what most astrologers agree retrograde indicates, it would be something to the effect that when a planet is moving backward in the zodiac, it is not moving forward doing its normal thing. As obvious as that statement is, it makes sense. If we have been progressing forward in one direction or another, and then find ourselves backtracking over the same ground, we are not going forward. That seems to be the essence of the traditional interpretation of what retrograde motion is all about.
Astrologers are not unlike their more psychic cousins, the psychometrists who use various objects to get in touch with different types of information. Instead of handling some personal object belonging to the person in question, we astrologers tend to use all the available astronomical facts as a touchstone or pointer to whatever meaning we are searching for.
Much of modern astrology is concerned with our paying close attention to the observed facts as determined by the science of astronomy and astrophysics. Perhaps early in this century astrologers were a little fuzzy as regards science, but nowadays most astrologers are interested in learning all they can about the hard facts of deep space, the planets, and what not. My point here is that it seems that the more we understand the actual facts, the better directed we are to any inner meanings they may indicate, or point to.
The real facts of any situation are the ultimate talisman or key to the meaning or directionality that may be involved. With this in mind, let us take a look at the very important phenomenon of planetary motion, in particular the fact that the planets appear to go forward and backward thru the zodiac -- the retrograde phenomenon.
Outer Planets Retrograde
First, a brief review. The planets orbit the Sun in large, almost circular, orbits. Considered from a heliocentric or Sun centered standpoint there is no retrograde or backward motion, only the steady forward travel thru the zodiac - cycle after cycle, round after round. Retrograde or backward motion only exists from the Earth centered or geocentric perspective. This itself is a significant statement and can be interpreted.
As the earth moves thru its orbit around the Sun, the other planets at times appear to move backward (retrograde) in the zodiac much like a slower train seems to move backward when seen from within a faster moving train. Thus the position of a planet like Mars (as seen from Earth) appears to slow down in the sky, come to a complete halt (reaches its station or stopping point), and begins to move backward, or retrograde thru the zodiac. After a time of retrograde motion, it once again comes to a halt and starts again in a direct or forward motion.
In the diagram shown here, Earth is the green orbit, and Mars is shown as the red orbit. A number sequence shows how Earth sees Mars as both of their orbits progress. Here are the details, as seen from Earth:
(1) Mars appears direct in motion, moving along it its orbit in the normal direction of the signs of the zodiac.
(2) Mars is Stationary Retrograde, motionless in the sky, and about to begin moving backward against the flow of the zodiac.
(3) Mars is Retrograde, now going over a part of the zodiac it has recently passed through.
(4) Mars is conjunct Earth in both heliocentric and geocentric charts.
(5) Mars is again motionless in the sky as it reaches its farthest point backward in the zodiac, what is called Stationary Direct. It is about to go over a section of the zodiac for the 3rd time during this orbit.
(6, 7, 8) Mars is proceeding on in direct motion along the zodiac.
Inner Planets Retrograde
Each major planet appears to move thru the zodiac with one major zigzag or retrograde loop per year, as the earth completes its annual cycle. The inner planets, Mercury and Venus, have a more complicated schedule. Astrologers note where this loop or zigzag occurs in the zodiac each year. In particular, it is considered significant if the retrograde loop occurs at a sensitive point in one's horoscope, such as the position of a natal planet. In such a case, the retrograding planet may pass over this sensitive point up to three separate times -- forward, backward, and forward again. What follows is an introduction to these three types of retrograde-phenomena.
This technique requires some understanding of the heliocentric workings of the planets. After all, the entire retrograde phenomenon is little more than a reflection of the Earth's motion around the Sun in relation to the planet in question - "thru a glass darkly," so to speak. In all of the following, the steady advance of the planet from the helio perspective should be understood and kept in mind. The planets only move forward, in reality, in a counter-clockwise motion around the Sun as see from above the solar system.
Here are the details for an inner planet retrograde:
(1) Mercury is moving in Direct Motion, in the direction of the zodiac.
(2) Mercury and Earth are at what is called their Inferior Conjunction, still in direct motion.
(3) Mercury is motionless in the sky, at the point where it is Stationary Retrograde, about to go backward through the zodiac. It will pass over an area of the zodiac it just went through.
(4) Mercury is motionless in the sky, at the point called Stationary Direct, where it turns direct in motion and passes over an area of the zodiac for the third time.
Except at the two instantaneous moments when the Earth is conjunct or in opposition to a particular planet, the geocentric position always differs from the heliocentric position. The helio position is a kind of midpoint about which the geocentric position ebbs and flows, at least for those planets beyond the orbit of the Earth. The same thing is indicated for the inner planets (Mercury and Venus) by what is called their points of "greatest elongation" (geocentrically).
This difference between the helio and geo planet positions is based upon what we can call here the maximum phase angle possible between the Earth and the planet in question. Here is a list of the maximum phase angles for the outer planets using circular orbits (average distance from Sun). The fact of a non-circular orbit produces values that may, at times, be greater than those listed below.
Planet Phase Angle
Mercury 22º46' (from Sun, geocentric view)
Venus 46º19' (from Sun, geocentric view)
Mars 41º01' (Heliocentric phase angle)
Jupiter 11º 05' (Heliocentric phase angle)
Saturn 06º01' (Heliocentric phase angle)
Uranus 02º59' (Heliocentric phase angle)
Neptune 01º54' (Heliocentric phase angle)
Pluto 01º27' (Heliocentric phase angle)
Geocentric and Heliocentric: Interface
Most astrologers who have investigated the difference between a birth or event as seen from geocentric and heliocentric perspectives find that the geo chart refers more to our personality or the outer circumstances and appearances in which we find ourselves, while the helio chart points to our inner self, the part of us (who we are) that is living in these personal circumstances. Please see my book “StarTypes: Life Path Astrology” for a more complete introduction to the heliocentric.
The position of Mars in the standard geocentric natal chart and the actual position of Mars in the zodiac in its circle around the Sun (heliocentric) can differ by some 41 degrees or more. For example, my geocentric Mars is at 9 degrees of Aries, but my heliocentric Mars is in 24 degrees of the sign Aquarius -- a big difference. How might we interpret this?
Using standard astrological interpretation methods, we could say that, although my Mars appears to be in Aries (geo), that it, in essence, has an Aquarian tone (helio). Perhaps my rash Aries Mars always manages to accomplish some group or Aquarian goal. This type of geo/helio comparison is worth thinking about. With this approach in mind, some interesting thoughts can be forthcoming when we examine our geo and helio charts side by side. Another, even more interesting, technique is to compare the overall chart patterns in the geo chart against the overall chart patterns in the helio chart. This is covered in the book mentioned above, “StarTypes.”
Before and Behind
What is interesting here is the fact that if we consider the helio position of a planet as where that planet in fact “is” in its journey thru the zodiac around the Sun (which is a fact), then the geo position (except at conjunction/opposition) is ALWAYS either ahead of this helio position or behind it. In other words, the geocentric position for any planet runs for a time ahead of the helio position, stops in the sky, pauses, turns retrograde, and begins to move backward through the zodiac, over the ground it just covered. It continues backward until it crosses the helio position, still moving back (and now behind the helio position), it comes to another slow stop, and begins to go forward again, finally catching up to and passing the helio position. This is what is called the retrograde loop.
The heliocentric motion of the planet is always forward and never stops or wavers. It is the geocentric planet position that shows this forward and backward movement that call the retrograde loop. And keep in mind that the geo position is nothing other than a snapshot of the helio planet's position. In other words, the geo position is how the given helio planet position "appears" from the earth's view, not how it is as an integral part of the solar system. I am not saying here that appearances are not valid or worth considering. We must consider them, for there they are. But appearances can be deceiving, as we all know.
What I am pointing out here, and you may want to think it through like I have had to, is that the geo position for a planet results from how the planet appears to move as seen from Earth. It is the earth's attempt to see where that planet is, and it is a moving target, not because it ever moves any other way than forward, but because WE here on Earth do. Our Earth is moving and this affects what we see, and that effect or appearance results in the retrograde loop. And what thoughts do these differences between the geo and helio positions at any moment suggest?
Here are some obvious ones: The simple fact that there can exist a considerable difference between the geo and helio positions is noteworthy. In some individuals there may be little or no difference between the geo and helio positions for a given planet. Perhaps this might indicate something along the lines of "what you see is what you get." In these cases, the outer (geo) position is identical to the inner (helio) position. Someone with little or no difference may be a natural when it comes to that planet. Its function works smoothly. They are born with it in clear focus, no variation between these two positions.
The Burn Rate
On the other hand, there may be a great difference between the geo and the helio position for a given planet, and an inner need or drive on the part of a person with this configuration to reconcile these two positions and to make them one. I have termed the amount of difference between the helio and geo position for any planet the "burn rate," and we can speak of someone having a high burn rate for Mars (great difference) or a low burn rate (little or no difference).
The name "burn rate" comes from charts of individuals with a great difference between the geo and helio positions for a planet and the fact that they may have to struggle to bring these two points together, to reconcile this obvious discrepancy and make them one in their life. Perhaps this is an indication that they will undergo many experiences (much change) as regards the particular planet over the course of their lives. Perhaps each of us undergoes an initiation for each planet based upon the amount of difference between the geo and helio positions in our natal chart. We have different rates of change in life. Our burn rates differ -- what it takes to pull any given area of our life (planet) together.
To make it easier to work with, we can even create a little index by dividing the difference between the geo and helio position for each planet by the maximum indicated in the table above. The result is an index from 0 to 99 percent (or higher), the higher the index indicating more difference between the geo and helio positions and a high burn rate.
For example, the maximum difference for Mars is 41º 01' (from the table) and the difference between my helio Mars at 24º Aquarius and my geo Mars at 9º Aries is some 45 degrees, actually greater than the average extreme for that planet. 45 divided by 41º 01' equals 1.097, over 100% of the average extreme limit.
In this case, the total is rather large, indicating an extreme amount of change, or difference between the geo and helio positions -- a high burn rate. Therefore I can expect a lot of initiation or change as regards the Mars principle in my life, whatever we could agree that might mean. In fact, I have had a lot of emotional experience, including being a performing musician for a good number of years. This should give you some idea as to how to use this technique.
Moreover, we can calculate this index for all the planets (excepting the Sun and Moon, of course) and get a total index for the chart or birth in question. A high total index for a chart might point to a lot of change within a single lifetime for that person. The individual may have to go through a lot of changes to bring these two positions into alignment. On the other hand, an overall low index, a low Burn Rate, might indicate a relatively stable and smoothly operating life.
The Past, Present, and Future
There is another measurement relating to the retrograde phenomenon that can be made that is, to me, even more interesting. This has to do with the fact that, as mentioned, the geo position (at any given moment) may be either ahead or behind of the helio position for a given planet. If we grant that the helio position (somehow) represents the mean position of the planet in the zodiac (the inner, or essential position), which astronomically it does in fact, then the geo position may either lead or trail this helio position by a lesser or greater amount. How might we to interpret this?
First, let's refresh ourselves on the difference in interpretation between the geo and helio position of any planet, keeping in mind that the geo planet position is the earth's view of that planet as it moves always forward in the zodiac in the sun-centered solar system, and the helio planet position is the position of the same planet in the actual solar system, with the Sun as center.
Astrologers who use helio positions, like Dane Rudhyar, Robert Hand, and myself, for example, find that while the geo position charts the outward personality, circumstances, and how they appear in our lives (as traditional astrology states), the helio position, with its steady advance through the zodiac, marks the inner or true position (and meaning) of the planet.
Retrograde and Direct
Then what are we to make of the fact that the geo position, throughout the course of any year, alternately moves ahead of the Sun for a time, goes retrograde, retraces its steps, for awhile, moves backward to degrees of the zodiac the helio planet has already covered, and again turns direct. This geo position runs ahead of or behind the actual position of the planet in the solar system, considered heliocentrically.
At any given time, the geocentric position of any planet (when not conjunct or opposed) is either ahead or behind the helio position. In fact, in the course of going retrograde and direct, a planet passes over certain degrees of the zodiac three different times, two while going forward, and one while going backward - the retrograde loop. That is a lot of going over the same ground.
This retrograde loop is actually very fascinating, when we consider how to interpret it. What that loop points out is that, for any planet (and its meaning), there are times when the outer function and nature of that planet (geocentric) runs ahead, like into the future, of its true position, and other times when it lags or falls behind (the past) from that true (helio) position. It is something like that our circumstances (appearances) are seldom exactly at one with our true inner meaning.
Sometimes things are future oriented, even hypothetical, like we are trying something out, or experimenting. Things get ahead of themselves. At other times, when the planet falls behind its helio position, we are working with areas well traveled, perhaps something from our past, and we may be much more deliberate and conservative.
Inner and Outer
Try looking at retrogrades this way, and you will quickly find this technique very helpful in understanding where, in the scheme of things, a particular planet is. And, using this view, the fact of a planet being direct or retrograde (while important) may not be AS important as determining whether it is running ahead or behind its helio position. Is it in the future or the past, and how close to either? Are we going over a piece of ground (the zodiac) the first, second, or for the third time? These are questions worth considering, particularly this last one, like going over the same ground for the third time.
Perhaps at times, the external world of appearances or circumstances (geo) runs before or ahead of the real essence (helio) of the planet. At other times, events may trail behind the essence or inner activity and bring up the rear. Perhaps at some points in a year, we are more far seeing or future-oriented (geo position ranging ahead of the helio), while at other times we are concerned with what has happened (the past = geo position falling behind the helio). At times, our mind may run before what is happening, in the realm of the possible, while at others we seem to be doing detective work, figuring out what has already happened. Sometimes we are speculating at the future, while at other times we are more conservative, hanging onto our past.
If we follow the guidelines of those who have studied helio astrology and assume the helio position is somehow the inner or true position, and the geo is the outer circumstances of life, then some interesting thoughts can be forthcoming.
When the geo position runs ahead of the helio position, perhaps our mind runs ahead of our heart, and our inner reality lags behind appearances. Conversely, when the geo runs behind or lags the helio position, then perhaps circumstances don’t reflect how we feel inside, our inner reality.
When the helio is ahead of the geo, perhaps (as regards that planet’s function), we are caught in an overly conservative world, where our inner vision is so much more forward-looking than the events we are trapped in.
When the geo is ahead of the helio, the outer circumstantial events around us appear much more speculative and somehow off-center, compared to how we feel inside. How things will actually turn out may be different when the two positions align again.
Direct and Retrograde Diagramed
The Retrograde Loop: Conjunct
Next is a detailed presentation of what happens during the retrograde phase of the outer planets. Give it a look. I don't know how many diagrams I have seen over the years presenting the retrograde phenomenon, but they all fail to point out the relationship between the geocentric and the heliocentric positions as described below.
Please keep in mind that we cannot examine the problem of retrogradation in detail without reference to both helio and geo positions. They go together. The fact is that the helio moves ever forward in its circle through the zodiac, while our perspective (the geocentric view) ebbs and flows... now ranging ahead of the helio and now behind. Here are some of the details.
Sun Conjunct Planet
At the moment of conjunction, the helio and geo positions are perfectly aligned, and following this conjunction marks the beginning of a period (extending from the conjunction until the planet goes retrograde) during which the geocentric position of the planet ranges ahead of the heliocentric position into new ground for this cycle.
What you see is what you get. The geo position is neither in the future or the past, but squarely in the present. After this point, our appearances (geo) are venturing into a section of the zodiac that is fresh or new, one that has not yet been experienced by the helio planet, since the last complete cycle. We are in new territory, ahead of the game, so to speak, speculating. The difference between reality (helio) and appearances is growing, as the geo position moves out ahead of the helio. We have the lowest burn rate here.
As the conjunction passes, the geo position of the planet moves ahead of the helio position and into uncharted territory, degrees of the zodiac that the helio has not yet seen, since the last cycle. In some sense, we appear to be moving into our own future, ranging ahead of reality.
This marks a period where the geocentric position of the planet stops its forward motion and begins to move back over the new area it has just traversed, making a second pass over this particular area of the zodiac. This always takes place during the waning "square" of the Earth to the outer planet in question.
Planet Retrograde Interpretation
Appearances (geo) are still ahead of reality (helio), but we have stopped forging into new zodiac territory and are going back over the new ground we just covered. Things are not progressing farther into the future, but they are still ahead of the game, which is measured by the actual helio position for the planet. We are getting more realistic, but there is still a discrepancy between appearances and reality, although that discrepancy is narrowing, day by day.
Sun Opposition Planet
Once again, this is a point where there is no difference between the geo and helio positions. They are perfectly aligned and clear, but this is our second pass over this same part of the zodiac.
The time following this marks a period when the geocentric position moves behind the heliocentric position, still covering area gone over before. Meanwhile, the helio position is covering area just covered by the geocentric foray ahead into the zodiac.
Sun Opposition Planet Interpretation
The geo position is no longer speculating, but has moved firmly into familiar territory, that just covered by the helio. We are in the past, as far as the zodiac goes, going backward into the past. We could say that if we were speculative and future-oriented before, then we are conservative or past-oriented now. We are on familiar turf, and may be consolidating our position. Still, we are building an ever larger discrepancy between the geo and helio positions, only this time we are digging in the history of where we have just been.
Planet Goes Direct in Motion
At this point the planet slows to a stop and changes direction once again, from retrograde to direct and begins to cover the same zodiac territory for the 3rd and final time for this loop.
This marks a period when the geocentric position moves from behind to catch up to the helio position at the next conjunction. Also (and this is important), the helio position has now reached the limit formerly reached by the geo position during its previous sweep and is forging ahead into new ground NOT scanned by the geo. This always takes place during the waxing "square" of the Earth to the outer planet in question.
Planet Direct Interpretation
If we want to look for our most conservative position, then here it is. We are moving forward, but over ground that we have repeatedly crossed. This is our third pass over the same zodiac degrees, so we should know it by now. We are coming from behind, perhaps informed by the familiarity and history of our repetition. We may be reactionary and conservative, but our own history informs us.
However, the helio position (our inner reality) is experiencing fresh zodiac territory, so we really have two extremes, the helio in new degrees of the zodiac, and the geo going over old ground for the third time.
Sun Conjunct Planet (again
This marks the point where the geocentric position of the planet has caught up with the helio and they are one. From this point, the geo positions proceeds to forge ahead.
Sun Conjunct Planet Interpretation
Again, what you see is what you get. The geo position is neither in the future or the past, but squarely in the present. After this point, our appearances (geo) are venturing into a section of the zodiac that is fresh or new, one that has not yet been experienced by the helio planet, since the last complete cycle. We are in new territory, ahead of the game, so to speak, speculating. The difference between reality (helio) and appearances is growing, as the geo position moves out ahead of the helio. We have the lowest burn rate here.
As the conjunction passes, the geo position of the planet moves ahead of helio positions and into uncharted territory, degrees of the zodiac that the helio has not yet seen, since the last cycle. In some sense, we as appear to be moving into our own future, ranging ahead of reality.
Event Geo Helio Date
Sun Conjunct Jupiter Apr. 27, 1976
Jupiter Retrogrades Sep. 19, 1976
Sun Opposition Jupiter Nov. 18, 1976
Jupiter Direct Motion Jan. 15, 1977
Sun Conjunct Jupiter Jun. 04, 1977
Notes: The geocentric position in the zodiac where the planet went retrograde is about where the heliocentric position will be when that planet goes direct. In a similar vein, the heliocentric position of the planet at retrograde becomes the geocentric position upon that planet going direct.
Thus both geocentric and heliocentric positions have a time within the cycle during which they lead or are sampling new degrees of the zodiac, that is: going over fresh zodiac area. In fact, the helio position is the midpoint or focus about which the geo position loops, which is what we have been pointing out all along.
The stations or points in the zodiac where the planet goes retrograde or direct are the two points where this maximum phase angle takes place. This may amount to an alternate form of the square aspect where, instead of 90-degrees being the limit, the limit becomes the maximum phase angle, in effect, the stations. In other words, this technique measures the point of maximum phase angle between the Earth and any other planet -- perhaps another approach to the concept of the "square" aspect. Only here we have a measure of the amount of change required for the two planets to become one -- an index of change.
The technique is one of a number of techniques that are very useful for charts where there is no exact birth time. For each planet we can determine the percentage of difference between the geo and helio position. In addition, we can calculate a total for the entire chart using all the planets but leaving aside the Sun and Moon. And then for each planet we can determine where in the retrograde cycle it is. Is the geo position ahead of the helio? Is it ahead and direct in motion or ahead and retrograde in motion? Or, is the geo position behind the helio position? Again, is it behind and direct or behind and retrograde in motion?
In looking at the familiar retrograde phenomenon, we have not introduced any new facts, just clarified what has always been the case, the very direction and steady forward motion of the helio positions, and the changing position of the geo position relative to the helio position, ranging ahead and then behind.
So much of astrological interpretation is based on the astronomy of the moment. My point here is to clearly point out the astronomy of the retrograde phenomenon, so that our interpretive bent and forays are based on solid ground. This view of retrogrades should support some interesting interpretations.
As shown earlier, retrograde is a purely geocentric phenomenon, solely Earth’s perspective on (and from within) the solar system of the motion of the planets other than Earth. The heliocentric positions of the planets never move backward, but always steadily forward in their orbits. Since the geocentric or Earth view of the planet as retrograde or direct is just that: a view or perspective, we can use the heliocentric position as the marker for the present position in the solar system for any planet.
Except when a planet is conjunct or in opposition to the Sun, our Earth sees that helio position as either ahead or behind (in the zodiac) the helio position. That is what retrogrades are all about. There are thus four distinct phases to the retrograde loop, and they are:
The Future: Direct and Ahead
Here the geo positions of the planet appears farther ahead in the zodiac than the actual helio position in the zodiac system. It is as if the planet is moving for a time into the future of where the helio planet position will eventually reach. The geo position is going over ground the helio position has not reached in this particular cycle of the planet’s orbit. This is the first pass.
Retrograde and in the Future
At some point the geo perspective reaches as far ahead in the zodiac as it will during this cycle, becomes stationary for a time, reverses its course, and begins to move backward or retrograde over the very same degrees of the zodiac it recently passed through. Although it is going over the same part of the zodiac, these particular degrees of the zodiac are still ahead of where the helio position for that planet is, still in the future, in this sense.
Retrograde and in the Past
The planet then reaches back to the helio position in the zodiac and, still retrograding, passes over that point and begins to move over degrees of the zodiac that are before or earlier in the zodiac than the current helio position, degrees that can be said to be in the past.
Direct and in the Past
The planet continues to retrograde until it reaches the most extreme point backward in the zodiac for that cycle, becomes stationary for a time, and then reverses its motion and begins to move forward in the zodiac again, although it still is behind the helio position for the particular planet. When the geo direct position reaches the place of the helio position for that planet, we are back at the first phase (#1) above, and so the cycle goes.
Above I have outlined four stages, each of which involves the geo planet position being either direct or retrograde in motion, and also finds that position moving into the future or the past zodiac degrees as compared to the current heliocentric position for the planet. This holds true for the planets outer to the Earth, Mars through Pluto.
For the inner planets, we are looking at how far Mercury or Venus get from the Sun, what are called the points of Greatest Elongation.
In the history of the interpretation of retrogrades, much has been made of course of the direct and retrograde motion. There has been almost no mention of the distinction between direct (or retrograde) motion forward or ahead in the zodiac of the helio position for a planet or backward and behind in the zodiac from that same helio position.
Keep in mind that the geocentric view of the helio planet is how that planet appears from Earth’s perspective, which is what the standard natal chart used by astrologers all over the world is all about, the appearance (rising sign) and circumstances in which each of us finds ourselves embedded.
When the Earth sees the planet’s position in the zodiac moving into degrees of the zodiac that the actual (helio) planet has not reached yet, we can say that the planet has moved into the future of what the helio planet will reach in time. This position and part of the retrograde cycle is future oriented.
In a similar way, the geocentric position is “past” oriented when it moves past the current helio position and back into an area of the zodiac that has already been covered in this orbit’s cycle.
The Past and the Future
My point here is that as we more carefully delineate the retrograde phenomenon, we should feel free to interpret some of the factors that I pointed out above, such as the apparent movement (geocentrically) of the position of a planet ahead or behind the more accurate helio position.
When we see (geocentrically) a planet moving into degrees of the zodiac that the actual helio position has not yet made, we are literally seeing the planet in the future degrees over which it will travel. The same is true when it moves (by retrograde) over degrees that it (the helio position) has already passed. We are seeing the geo planet moving through past degrees, degrees over which the helio has recently passed. Thus the concepts of the future and the past.
When we say someone is “future oriented” or that they are “lost in the past,” perhaps this is the kind of interpretation we are looking at here. Are some of us more future oriented, while others are more nostalgic? These are the kind of questions that the Burn Rate technique may be able to answer.
The term ‘Burn Rate” originated while working with this technique when I began to realize that some people had many planets with a more extreme range or difference between the geo and helio positions for a given planet in their chart.
Let’s take my own chart as an example. The most extreme planet in my chart (from the burn rate perspective) is Mercury, which is at about 88% of its maximum range, and it is in the past… behind the curve so to speak.
The first thing we could point out is that I have a very high burn rate for Mercury, meaning I can expect a lot of mental activity in my life to reconcile the two Mercury positions, that between the helio and geo, a lot of change as regards this planet and whatever we can agree it might mean.
Then we have the fact that it is positioned in the past rather than in the future, suggesting that I am not so much forward looking mentally, as concerned with what already is in place, the past. My mind is back there.
And last, there is the fact that my Mercury is direct in motion, meaning that I am not looking or in the process of going deeper into the past (which a retrograde Mercury might indicate), but have already turned the corner on that and am heading back toward the present. This might suggest that I have an angle on what I am doing mentally, have already finished whatever digging in the past that was required, and am already moving forward, albeit far from the present position of the planet, that is: moving from the past back toward the present. It is also useful to point out that Mercury in my chart is on its third pass through the same stretch of the zodiac.
The Past: Direct or Retrograde
I am distinguishing here (using my natal Mercury as an example) between a Mercury deep in the past that is still retrograde (going deeper yet) and a Mercury that although deep in the past is direct and moving forward. The first is heading still deeper into the past. That is the intention. The second, direct motion, has turned that corner and is looking back toward the present AND going over the same zodiac ground for the third and final time. That is the difference, but one worth interpreting. Direct motion represents a different intention.
The only other planet in my chart that is deeply embedded in the past (also in direct motion) is Neptune. As founder creator of the largest music database in the world (AllMusic.com), a database that has documented every historical piece of music from 10” records onward, this Mercury-Neptune combination which is embedded in the past and directed toward the present makes for a pretty decent interpretation of the facts using the burn rate technique.
What about planets that have a very low burn rate? In this case, the geocentric positions would be very close to the helio positions, like within 10 or 15 degrees. Planets that have a low burn rate have very little change required to make the two positions one, to reconcile the two. In other words, low burn rate planets are relatively stable and clear in nature. What you see is what you get.
Therefore in a natal chart look to these low burn rate planets to bring clarity and clear functionality to the nature of the planet. I like to say that these are areas where you see or function clearly. For example, I have only one planet with a low burn rate and that is Pluto, and the burn rate is 8%. Anything less than about 15% I consider as a low burn rate.
And of course, it is all relative. Whatever your lowest burn rate planet is just that, your lowest, the area where you will perhaps function with greatest ease, clarity, and lack of change over the course of your life. Pluto which has to do with transformation and change itself, and as the planet in my chart with the lowest burn rate it perhaps points to my life-long interest in occult initiation and shamanism, thus my book “Astrology of the Heart: Astro-Shamanism.”
Most astrologers use astrological techniques to learn more about themselves. With these different techniques, in particular if they are well defined and different from one another (such as the Burn Rate technique), my rule is “the more the better.”
Every unique perspective or view on my self and life that I can get helps to triangulate or pinpoint just who I am and why I am here - many snapshots of the same birth event, each taken from a different angle. These add up to a more 3D image of me, my own personal hologram chart. And all astrological techniques may not prove useful. Some techniques just don’t give me results worth the effort of using them. I have learned over the years that this does not mean they won’t be useful in the hands of other astrologers. Some techniques just don’t work well for me.
I have found that these deep heliocentric techniques are among the most accurate, techniques like Burn Rate, Interface: Planetary Nodes, and the helio StarTypes patterns. These seem to work well for almost everyone.
The Future and Back
Another phase of the retrograde cycle is that where the planet is direct and moving beyond the present (helio position) into degrees of the zodiac not yet covered by the helio planet, in other words: fresh degrees of the zodiac not yet traveled on – into the future.
Here the intent and direction is toward the future, traveling over degrees for the very first time in this cycle. As mentioned, the direction is outward, beyond the present and into the future, into the unknown.
This outward direct arc is to be distinguished from the incoming retrograde arc, after the stationary point has been reached and the planet is moving back over the new ground for the second pass. The portion of the zodiac is still in the future, as the helio position has still not reached it, but this is the second pass over this relatively new territory. More important: the intent or direction is reversed.
Instead of heading out into new territory, we are doing just the reverse, heading back toward the helio position, so the freshness is gone. There is not only the knowledge of going over the section for the second time, but the intent or direction is no longer outward, but back toward the present. As for interpretation of this part of the arc, I associate it with a more reasoned or deliberate approach, like having a more conscious agenda or motive. The innocence is gone, and while still out in front of the helio position, we are pointed inward, not outward, with all that might suggest. We are forward looking, but looking backward from within that.
It is the same idea when we look at the part of the cycle that takes place in the past, that section of the zodiac already traveled through by the current helio position. There are two parts here as well.
In the first part, the planet is retrograde and traveling into the earlier (past) degrees of the zodiac, which we can call the past. Each day of the retrograde arc takes the planet deeper into the past, and the intent is to go yet deeper. This is still the second pass.
However, after the stationary point is reached, the planet turns direct and is no longer pointing into the past, but back toward the present. The planet is now in the third and final iteration and passing over the same degrees of the zodiac, as mentioned, now for the third time.
In my experience, the future part of the arc is liberal and points to where we are going or trying to get to, while the past part of the arc is conservative and points to the past, where we have come from. The more extreme the burn rate, the more unstable and change-oriented the experience.
A high burn rate (whether future or past oriented) is hard to resolve and requires lots of change on our parts. The whole idea is to resolve the difference between appearances and reality, planet by planet. With a low burn rate, of course there is no problem. What you see is what you get. However, with the high burn rates, where the spread is wide between the helio and geo positions, resolution is not a slam dunk kind of thing at all.
Below are the synodic periods for the planets that can be retrograde, along with the approximate number of days each planet is retrograde in days and percentages.
Retrograde for approximately 24 days per cycle.
Synodic Period is 115.88 days
21% of the time retrograde
Retrograde for approximately 40 days per cycle.
Synodic Period is 583.92 days
7% of the time retrograde
Retrograde for approximately 82 days per cycle.
Synodic Period is 779.94 days
10.5% of the time retrograde
Retrograde for approximately 121 days per cycle.
Synodic Period is 398.99 days
30.32% of the time retrograde
Retrograde for approximately 138 days per cycle.
Synodic Period is 378.09 days
36.49% of the time retrograde
Retrograde for approximately 150 days per cycle.
Synodic Period is 369.66 days
40.57% of the time retrograde
Retrograde for approximately 159 days per cycle.
Synodic Period is 367.49 days
43.26% of the time retrograde
Retrograde for approximately 163 days per cycle.
Synodic Period is 366.73 days
44.44% of the time retrograde
Interpretation of Retrogrades
Below are general interpretations for all of the eight planets that can be retrograde. For each planet, there are twelve phase interpretations given. These can be divided into four main sections, each one of which has three levels: Low, High, and Very High:
Direct and Into the Future
Direct, Future, Low Burn Rate
Direct, Future, High Burn Rate
Direct, Future, Very Burn Rate
This is the most fresh, forward looking, and innocent part of the cycle, since new degrees are being covered, degrees not yet even covered by the actual present (helio) position for the planet. Big dreams and entrepreneurs belong here. Some work out, some are pipe dreams. The first pass.
Retrograde, Back from the Future
Retrograde, Future, Low Burn Rate
Retrograde, Future, High Burn Rate
Retrograde Future, Very Burn Rate
Here the movements is back from the future and toward the present. This is the second pass over the same territory, but still territory ahead of the present, still in the future. Here is a more sanguine and measured approach, actually taking advantage of the gained perspective, usually with an attempt to implement and benefit. The innocence is gone.
Retrograde, Into the Past
Retrograde, Past, Low Burn Rate
Retrograde, Past, High Burn Rate
Retrograde Past, Very Burn Rate
Here the position has retrograded beyond the present (where the helio position now is) and back into the past, where it has been. All of the images of conservatism, nostalgia, being stuck in the past, digging into history fit here. There is a single minded intent to go backward to where things came from.
Direct, Out from the Past
Direct, Past, Low Burn Rate
Direct, Past, High Burn Rate
Direct Past, Very Burn Rate
Still perhaps deep in the past, the direction now is direct and forward looking and the eye is on the present, rather than gazing backward into the past. There is appreciation and knowledge gained from the past, but this knowledge is being put to work to build something for the present.
There you have a brief introduction to the Burn Rate concept. I have built an ephemeris for calculating Burn Rate which I am happy to send to any of you provided you can receive very large attachments via email.
For those interested in this technique, my book "Burn Rate: The Retrograde Phenomenon" is available in paperback from Amazon.com