by David McConaghay
Today is Saturday, September 22, 2018, the Autumnal Equinox, when we experience equal hours of light and dark. This letter is composed in Denver, Colorado.
As Fall officially arrives, there is strong forward momentum as all the planets are direct after a Summer full of retrograde introspection.
Vedic Astrology measures the cumulative effect of nine planetary bodies from our perspective here on Earth. Of these, only five (Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn) vacillate between direct and retrograde motion.
The other four “planets” are the two luminaries (Sun and Moon), which are always direct, and the shadow planets (Rahu and Ketu), which are always moving in the counter-clockwise direction indicative of retrograde.
Between April 18 and August 27, 2018, at least two planets were retrograde, and for one-third of that time, we had three planets appearing to move backwards in the sky.
Of course, the planets don't actually stop, turn and start orbiting in the opposite direction. This is merely a trick of perception, similar to how a car you pass on the highway appears to be moving backwards for a moment as you fly by. The illustration below (from Wikipedia) is worth studying.
The effect of retrograde is to invert the energies governed by a given planet. For example, Jupiter represents the part of us that seeks inspiration and higher meaning. It rules the realm of experience we call “religious.” Jupiter is associated with “the king of the gods” in Indic, Western and Norse mythology, whether named Indra, Zeus or Thor. This indicates the way Jupiter calls us toward the highest authority, inspiring us to pursue the Truth that surpasses all other truths.
When retrograde, Jupiter asks us to review that Truth, and scrutinize it to be sure it is accurate. When Jupiter retrogrades, it is time to test the teachings we’ve received, to question our teachers to ensure that our beliefs hold together. If our deepest beliefs lack integrity, if our chosen path fails the experiential exam, perhaps we are wise to adjust our psycho-spiritual orientation before continuing any further.
Jupiter was retrograde from March 8 through July 10, 2018. Think back: did you undergo any re-evaluation of your belief structures during that period? Personally, it was during this time that I became profoundly disillusioned with the organization that I had previously regarded as my spiritual foundation. Right as Jupiter turned direct, I set out to establish a different path for myself based on an updated interpretation of who holds true authority over my life (hint: I do).
Similarly, during this time, there was great upheaval in the Shambhala tradition as its previously unimpeachable leadership was revealed to have perpetrated acts unbecoming of spiritual luminaries. These allegations had swirled for a long time, and the turmoil is ongoing, but it was July 11 (the day Jupiter went direct) that this damning article was published in the New York Times. Previous to publication, of course, there was a great deal of research and fact-finding — the sort of behind-the-scenes work typical of retrograde periods.
When planets are retrograde, it can appear on the surface that there is nothing happening in that area of life. Appearances are deceiving, in this case, as there is likely to be significant churning occurring just below the surface, the results of which come forth when direct motion is resumed.
Mars was retrograding from June 26 until August 27, 2018. When exalted in Capricorn, where it has been since March 8, Mars’ tendency is to serve as the impulsive spark that sets Capricorn’s carefully laid plans in motion.
However, when retrograde, that energy is directed inward, creating circumstances in which Capricorns’ plans are given extra scrutiny to be sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed.
The intensity of Mars can make this inquisition feel combative or destructive — a true trial-by-fire. Indeed, Mars is trying to destroy that which makes us weak, and if all the details of a plan are not in alignment, perhaps that plan deserves to be tossed to the flames.
In reality, it can feel particularly harsh when we've been working hard on a plan and someone comes along and starts poking holes in it. We may feel compelled to fight for our ideas, just on principle, and are thereby in danger of missing the opportunity to patch the gaps.
Saturn was retrograde in Sagittarius from April 18 until September 6, 2018. Saturn is the planet of long-term limitations, bringing awareness of our inevitable dissolution and delivering our karmic comeuppance. Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter, and is the sign of religion, higher education and laws, both human and divine.
The pressure exerted by Saturn’s presence in Sagittarius can be seen in the ongoing disintegration of our most vaunted institutions. In the current political climate, people on all sides of the spectrum seem to feel like the courts, the churches and universities are under duress and losing whatever integrity they had left.
When retrograde, the stress associated with Saturn becomes internalized, making otherwise benign circumstances feel like they have lifelong consequences. The events in which we’re involved may be mundane, but there is an ever-present sense that the way we do anything is the way we do everything. This feeling is full of wisdom, although it can be overwhelmingly stressful. The truth is that every thought, word and movement does have repercussions. When Saturn is retrograde, we feel the pressure of that fact very viscerally.
For a real world demonstration of what happens when a planet shifts from retrograde to direct, the congressional hearings to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court began on September 4, 2018, when slow-moving Saturn had almost come to a complete halt before resuming its forward motion. And things are certainly moving now, are they not? The karmic comeuppance upon which Saturn insists is impossible to miss, especially amidst these most recent proceedings involving Christine Blasey Ford. Do you think Judge Kavanaugh is feeling any pressure?
Mercury was retrograde in Cancer from July 26 until August 19, 2018. “Mercury retrograde” is perhaps the most (in)famous astrological concept circulating throughout popular culture in the 21st century United States. Mercury is retrograde about one-third of the time, so it would be wise for everyone decrying or belittling its effect to educate themselves about its actual implications and, on some level, get used to it.
Mercury governs the insatiably curious aspect of our minds, the part of us that wants all the information available, with no regard for what purpose it might serve or what meaning it holds. Mercury simply wants to collect data, build skills, and communicate. No planet moves faster around the Sun, so Mercury brings a certain quickness to everything it touches, a sense of urgency that can derail into outright frantic antics.
Can you think of a time when someone was talking to you super fast because they had a lot to say and had to get it all out immediately or else you just wouldn’t understand but in order to get the first part you had to hear the second, third, fourth and fifth parts of the story too because it’s all connected and none of it makes sense unless you hear the whole thing and you really wanted to comprehend them because they were so enthusiastic but they were talking so fast you had troubling following the thread? If so, that would be an exaggerated expression of Mercury.
Mercury retrograde, again, internalizes these qualities, imposing a funhouse mirror effect upon all the details and logistics that need to be accurately communicated. The above example is the kind of thing that happens when a person has had a long time to think about what they’re going to say before they say it, and when the dam breaks it all floods out and lots of crucial minutiae are lost. The other end of the spectrum is to stutter, overthinking the words, stymying their natural flow with hesitation and thus distorting the intended message.
In Cancer, Mercury really just wants to talk about feelings. Cancer is ruled by the Moon, indicative of the mind and emotional body. Cancer is compelled to nurture others in order to feel nurtured in return and wants nothing other than unconditional love. Therefore, when in Cancer, all of Mercury’s cleverness and dialectic skills get put to use in the pursuit of complete, unconditional, mutual nurturance.
When retrograde, this process can become a bit clumsy. The romantic poem is misremembered; the overeager new lover says “I love you” way too soon; sensitive couples spend endless hours practicing reflective listening trying to unpack one split-second of their interaction and get nowhere, or likely end up more confusingly entangled than when they began.
As of September 6, however, all the planets are moving direct. I invite you to look back at your calendar or peruse your journal. Over the summer, did you experience any of the stuckness or unavoidable introspective reevaluations associated with these retrograde cycles? Have things started moving noticeably forward since the start of September?
With all the planets direct for the next several weeks, it is time to put plans into action. It is time to embody all the internal shifts that have been occurring. All the behind-the-scenes, below-the-surface work that’s been in process over the summer must now face the test of outward expression.
The only planet not to retrograde during this time was Venus, but she has her turn coming up, from October 6 until November 16 in Libra, her own sign. This will be a potent period for reviewing our sources of pleasure in life and examining if perhaps we are compromising too much or too little to achieve said pleasure.
If you experience any specific alignments in the timing, or if any of the issues touched upon feel particularly relevant to you, please let us know in the comments! Thanks for reading. Take care out there.
David McConaghay is a Denver-based Ayurvedic Doctor, Vedic Astrology, Yoga Philosopher and Doctor of Divinity candidate who specializes in helping people navigate transition. He serves as the Communications Chair for COLORAMA. His work and play is collected at VedaDave.com
From the professional and student members of Colorama