Posted by: Donna Cunningham | July 20, 2011

Making Retrogrades Work for You

Donna says:  April Elliott Kent’s new book is a highly readable tour through the astrological fundamentals for beginning and intermediate astrology students.  This excerpt is reprinted with permission of the publisher.   

(c)An excerpt from The Essential Guide to Practical Astrology (Alpha Books/Penguin 2011), by April Elliott Kent

Because a planet doesn’t seem to function as expected while retrograde, astrologers tend to issue dire warnings about not getting your computer repaired while Mercury is retrograde and not buying a house while Venus is retrograde.

There’s something to these warnings, but proclamations like that always make me feel rebellious, and at the very least it’s fair to ask “Why?” After all, it’s not practical to spend nine Mercury retrograde weeks out of every year in communication/technology lockdown mode.

In fact, what I’ve often found is that Mercury (mischief maker that he is) often likes to push the issue; that just before Mercury turns retrograde, the car breaks down, your computer gives you the blue screen of death, or you accidentally drop your cell phone in the aquarium. Well, what are you gonna do? If you live 20 miles from your job and public transportation isn’t an option, you make your living as a website designer, or you don’t have a landline obviously, you’ve got to play ball with Mercury.

So what does it mean when Mercury, or indeed any planet, is retrograde? It means that you may not have all the facts you need to make an informed decision about matters related to that planet. It’s the reason astrologers urge clients not to make big, not easily reversible decisions like getting married or buying a home when Venus (planet of property and marriage) is retrograde, or to perhaps rent a car instead of buying one when Mercury is retrograde, or to resist following their guru to India when Neptune is retrograde.

AstroTip:Retrogrades are not, generally, the right time to begin things; rather, they’re times for finishing up unresolved matters. The popular thinking is that anything that begins with re- is appropriate to do during a re-trograde period: rethink, reissue, refinish, refresh, and, most of all, reflect.

The Shadow Period

So up until the minute the planet turns retrograde, and the minute after it turns direct, you’re in the clearright? Sorry. You also need to know about a little something called “the shadow period,” which begins before the planet turns retrograde and extends after it turns direct again. These are periods when the planet is still functioning in a sort of retrograde fashion even though it is, technically, moving forward.

It works like this. On April 17, 2010, Mercury turns retrograde at 13 degrees of Taurus, which for the sake of narrative interest we’ll call “Disneyland.” Mercury continues on its backward trajectory until May 11, 2010, when it turns direct again at 3 degrees of Taurus–let’s call it “Dodger Stadium.”

But of course, this is not the first time in recent history that Mercury had visited Dodger Stadium; in fact, he had caught a game there on April 3, 2010, on his way to Disneyland. Now, it’s well known that Mercury has a bit of a short attention span, to the extent that I rather suspect he keeps forgetting about the whole retrograde business entirely.

And on April 3, when the Dodgers waved up at Mercury and told him, “See you again in a couple of weeks!”, Mercury had gone on his blithe and merry way, not quite sure what to make of that comment, so distracted by it that he started losing people’s mail and scrambling their phone calls and crashing their hard drives. He was still moving forward, but his mind was back at Chavez Ravine with those inscrutable, irreverent Dodgers.

So on April 17 Mercury gets to the ticket booth at Disneyland when he realizes that somewhere along the way, he’s lost his wallet. He turns retrograde, to retrace his steps and find it. He’s now in full-on backtracking/misplacing things/forgetting stuff mode, stumbling along until eventually, on May 11, he finds himself right back at Dodger Stadium, where the entire team snickers and veteran sportscaster Vin Sculley holds up Mercury’s wallet.

Mercury slaps his forehead; says, “Oh yeah. Retrograde!”; turns direct again; and starts the same tedious trip down Interstate 5 toward Disneyland, for the third time. But he’s still a little rattled, plus he keeps finding lost mail along the way, discovers his lost car keys, and meets up with old friends. At last, on May 27, Mercury again reaches Disneyland, where he finally buys a ticket and gets to ride the Matterhorn bobsleds. That’s the real end of the “shadow” period.  

Reprinted with permission. The Essential Guide to Practical Astrology, April Elliott Kent, Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

About the Author:  April Elliott Kent, a professional astrologer since 1990, is the author of The Essential Guide to Practical Astrology (Alpha/Penguin, 2011) and Star Guide to Weddings (Llewellyn 2008). Her articles have appeared in The Mountain Astrologer and Dell Horoscope, on the websites and, and in Llewellyn’s Moon Sign and Sun Sign books. April is a member of ISAR and graduated from San Diego State University with honors in Communication, Her website is http://www.bigskyastrology.comThe Essential Guide to Practical Astrology is available from and other online booksellers:


  1. That’s a really helpful metaphor for the retrograde period, and I’m so glad whenever I find other people, and most glad when they’re reputed, recognized astrologers, that include the shadows in their consideration of the retrograde. In my opinion, there’s simply no other way.

    If I may make a suggestion however. I’m not American and I know from experience that great books travel the world really fast (I found “my” Moon Signs book in a bookshop in a small East-European country 7 years ago.). While I did appreciate the meaning behind the examples with Disneyland and the stadium, all the specific details confused me and had me do all sorts of mental efforts to guess what they meant or if they were important details, as I had no idea what they were. Had it been about leaving “home” to go to Disneyland, and getting lost along the way and forgetting wallet at “home”, I think it would’ve been a lot easier to follow – for me and other foreigners who don’t know who or or what Chavez Ravine or the Matterhorn bobsleds are.

    But hoping I did not miss any really important clues along the way, I really enjoyed your version.

    (thank you, Donna for another great suggestion. hope you get better soon. and PS 🙂 I had invented for my personal use a really “nice looking” image of you, but seeing an actual picture, I was in awe: you are beautiful.)

    • Hi Cris! April here, and you make a very good point. It’s all too easy for me to forget that I’m writing for the whole world, and not just my own little corner of it! There may be hope for me yet, though – thanks to my wonderful readers from the antipodes, I’ve mostly broken my Northern Hemisphere bias. Thanks for your comment, Cris, and I’m with you on the retrograde shadow periods … so useful.

      • Don’t feel bad, Cris, I’m an American and I forgot that Dodger’s stadium hasn’t been in New York for what, 40 years??

  2. The only planet I was born with that was retrograde is Mercury within 4 degrees of the Sun; which I heard means it was combust or burnt up in the Sun.
    I have never forgotten my infant hood and my state of conscious awareness, that I had concepts but must learn a foreign language in order to communicate.
    My earliest recollection is in the hospital where I was born and hearing someone in the room with me ,crying softly like water gently lapping against the shore. I was detached from it and wondered about it.
    As stated elsewhere on these posts I had a lot of motor and communication frustrations as an infant and later difficulty when communicating my observations. People would misunderstand and actually get really mad at me.After a number of experiences like that I gave them symbols or performed symbolic actions and if they didn’t get it, I let it go and went my merry way.
    Another thing that happened until my late 20’s was that I could be talking and suddenly I was transported elsewhere and had realizations or deeper understandings on the subject I was speaking about or an unrelated subject. My brother use to wonder where I went then…often when coming back I could not pick up the tread of what I had been talking about , especially if the deeper revelation negated it.
    Mercury went direct at age 11. Up until then I relied on my intuitive ” just knowing in the Heart” and if my Heart said so then it was cut in stone and a fact. But at 11 I began to analyze what I just knew and the mechanics of whatever it was. I began to see the larger social picture in detail.
    I have not been bothered by the blank out experiences since my late 20’s or early 30’s but still experience the mundane physical Mercury Retro. frustrations with hardware like your article describes.
    My mercury also squares its own nodes, whatever that means? Does a Retro planet always square its own nodes?

  3. It would be helpful to discuss the retrograde effect of planets other than Mercury. The others don’t get nearly enough attention and discussion, IMO.

    • Agreed. She does discuss them in her book, but publishers put a limit on the length of book excerpts. Donna

      • Sorry, Donna, I was not talking about April’s excerpt in particular, it just made me think of the subject in general. Maybe a suggestion for a future article from you (hint, hint)?

    • Jack M, I’m with you 100%. I never used to pay much attention to retrograde periods other than those of Mercury and Venus. However, one advantage of blogging and updating Facebook regularly is that one is always looking for something to write about; so the past couple of years I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the other planets’ retrograde periods, and the stations in particular are pretty dramatic!

  4. Though not much of a baseball follower, I sure am a fan of Mercury, Disney, and April’s Big Sky astrology.

    Cheers to Mercury’s next scheduled Universal REMINDER to us, its retrograde from August 3 – 26. Retrograding from 1 Virgo to 18 Leo – a Leo “staycation” of sorts?! – perhaps a good time to rethink how we need to show the love in our lives.

    • Very kind of you, pdw, and much appreciated! As it happens, this Leo is planning a “staycation” for the next couple of weeks. In keeping with Mercury retrograde, I look forward to taking a little time slow down and sort through all the stacks of paper, half-finished projects, and article ideas I haven’t had time for lately.

    • Just GRRRREAT a Retro Merc Solar Return birthday year!
      Can feel it coming….
      Just hooked up to an old friend I havnt seen for 15 years , ran into her at a Pow Wow and she took me around to see all her kids who are all grown up now. They were all babies when I took her and other SunDance sisters into the BWCA, a 6 million acre National Park of Islands and water. Road less and travel is by canoe. They were little bitties then and have never forgotten our excursion.I was a Super Hero to them which I didn’t realize tell now!
      Then my youngest son who is in the workhouse had the owner of his storage pitch a fit and now I am taking care of all his dragons horde of junk. I had my Peter Pan sets in his storage and removed that first. Wow it got damaged from the moisture and is in need of repairs. The 6 ft. Pirate Ship and lost boys Tree house took a beating. This has 11 sets and would take me 7 hours to set up for workshops with children. It was very successful with the kids. Leo rules kids……I will be making repairs and re entering NEVER NEVER Land during Retro Merc. May be even re activate the Peter Pan workshops!
      That will mean getting a VAN to carry it! I have a little Plymouth Neon right now #^%#*!!

  5. Donna, thank you so much for sharing this with your readers! Your books are among my favorites and had a big influence on me when I was preparing to become a professional astrologer. It’s an honor to have a piece of my work featured on your website. Wishing quick healing for your poor wrist!

    • April, I’m so grateful for your article this week and your generous response to my readers’ questions and comments. An opportune moment, since I’ve been sidelined with the pain and limitations of this wrist. I feel that I’ve left my readers in good hands, both literally and figuratively. Perhaps when I’m better, we could do a Question & Answer session on transiting retrogrades, if you feel comfortable with the topic? Donna

      • I’d love that – feel better soon, you are missed!

  6. I completely forgot about the retrograde and I purchased a new iPad2 that I’ve been wanting forever. I ordered it and later in the day realized I didn’t get the one with 3G. Called Apple immediately and was told it was already shipped. I wanted to take it with me on a trip. Now I have to return it ASAP, with added expense, get my card reimbursed, and get the one I thought I was ordering in the first place.

    As I was on hold with the representative, it hit me! Mercury Retrograde, what was I thinking!?

    • Terri, I feel your pain. I bought my current laptop computer a few years ago on the very day Mercury turned retrograde (some astrologer I am!). Soon found out it wouldn’t run the operating system I wanted to install, and I’ve also had to send it back to the manufacturer twice for repairs. Otherwise, I love it… but I’m sure glad I bought the extended warranty! Good luck with your iPad2!

  7. Wonder, would anyone go so far as to not plan a birth on a day say more than 3 or 4 planets are retro-grade? Or would it only apply to the planning part not the actual birthing bit? (ie. a child is born with 4 planets retro natally.)

  8. What would be the effect when a planet goes retrograde in your progressed chart? Say Venus goes retrograde in your progessed chart does that mean you should never marry…is the meaning different because the chart is progressed?


  9. Did the shadow period start today??? My ethernet cable suddenly stopped working; AND a delivery we were expecting did not arrive because it was improperly addressed (two digits transposed) and therefore UPS shipped it back to the company which will have to REship!

  10. Wow! At the beginning of August, Mercury joins Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and Chiron in retrograde motion. Does this seem a trifle excessive to anyone else?

    • You know, this sort of collection of retrogrades happens periodically when all the outer planets are close within a few signs–and then it’s the season of the year when the inner planets are in the opposite signs from the outers. It was happening in the early 1940s too–and then the people born in Capricorn to Pisces had like 4 or 5 retrograde planets. Donna

      • I was born in 1983 and have Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto all in retrograde. I’ve never encountered any writing about what it means for a non-Mercury planet to be retrograde, except a vague notion that the planets behave erratically, or maybe more internally instead of through external events…?

        I’ll look forward to checking out April’s book and would be interested in looking at any other resources anyone might recommend.

      • Here on Skywriter, there is an article and then a Question & Answer session on natal retrogrades by Erin Sullivan, who wrote an important book on the topic. Use the onsite search engine. Donna

      • Wonderful! Thank you!

  11. the last time my husband and I bought a car during a Mercury retrograde period was a disaster. We bought it in the spring, and later that year discovered it had no air conditioning installed. We sweated the entire summer, and the following winter (we had the car not even a year), my husband got involved in an accident. Fortunately no one was hurt, and he was not at fault; with the money we received in settlement, we bought another, better, car, this time with a/c! Lesson learned: don’t buy a car during retrrograte mercury periods!

  12. boy, I was thinking Dodgers stadium was still in NY!! 🙂
    This is a great description of Merc RX… other planets?? not so much.

    A really good thing to know is when Merc is conjunct the Sun during that Rx period. That’s when you pick up the “get out of jail free” card.. so to speak.

  13. KAT,
    See what the planets are doing in your chart and check the progressions and see when they go direct. That should give you some clues.

  14. …..April 15 2011…………….With Mercury in retrograde you may notice a less than perfect version of yourself reacting strongly to mishaps and incidents in your life. There are some very valuable lessons to be learned while Mercury is in retrograde because it asks us to look into unresolved issues and energies.

  15. I appreciate good writing on any subject– and this especially, since it is both informative and fun. Glad to find the link from Donna Cunningham’s blog. I’m late to the party, I know. But I just read Richard Tarnas’s “Cosmos and Psyche” which sent me on a hunt to learn as much as possible about the outer planets. So as to understand generational attitudes regarding The Big Issues like spirituality. But I’m not without curiosity (aka easily distracted) about my own chart, so searched “retrograde.” I’m a Boomer; the Saturn/Pluto thing of course. But also R Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter. However, at this age, I hope I’ve Re-flected, Re-formed, and Re-deemed myself enough not to have to Re-peat any of the stupid stuff in the next Re-incarnation. 😉

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