The ten astrological planets (including the Sun and the Moon) represent ten faculties of human consciousness. They're like ten lenses (made of different substances) that concentrate and focus the light of consciousness into various dimensions of human experience.
The two 'luminaries' (i.e. the Sun and the Moon) always maintain their forward motion—i.e. they never turn retrograde.
The other eight planets however, do periodically turn retrograde (i.e. they appear at times to move in reverse).
To put it simply, while a planet is moving forward (i.e. is in direct motion) consciousness flows more strongly through the planet from within to without. But when a planet is moving in reverse (i.e. is in retrograde motion) the consciousness principle flows more strongly in the opposite direction—i.e. towards the planet from without to within.
This can be better understood using a diagram.
Imagine that you are the point at the centre of a circle. The area of the circle represents what is known to you—i.e. your familiar and relatively stable personal reality. The circumference of the circle symbolizes the threshold that exists between your known world and 'the unknown'. It defines the boundary through which unexpected events (from outside the circle) impose themselves upon your familiar world. It represents the zone of transition—i.e. the boundary through which the unknown penetrates into your personal world and thereby becomes known (to you).
While a planet is direct (i.e. moving forward) the force of your consciousness, as it flows through the planet, is stronger than the external forces (of the same nature) that are entering your personal world (through the zone of transition). This is symbolized in the diagram (above left) by the superior length of the arrow that points from the centre of the circle to the circumference (as compared to the length of the arrow that opposes it from the circumference).
When, however, a planet is retrograde (i.e. moving in reverse) the flow of external forces into your personal world tends to be stronger than the internal force of your consciousness. This is symbolized in the diagram (above right) by the different lengths of the opposing arrows.
In other words, you're more likely to be able to move forward towards the completion of an envisioned goal while a planet is direct than when it's retrograde. This principle should especially be considered when beginning new initiatives, and taking major steps forward in existing initiatives.
Here are some examples...
The planet Mercury is retrograde from the 12th March until the 4th April, 2012. (In my experience, the effects of Mercury retrograde begin to be felt however, in the weeks leading up to the official start date of the retrograde period.)
The astrological Mercury represents the human 'mental body'. The flow of consciousness through the Mercury faculty produces the train of our thoughts (i.e. our mental processes) and this faculty is also used in the process of 'decision-making'.
While Mercury is direct, the flow of our thought-forms (and our attention span) is strong, and thus we're able to apply our mind to current issues, confident in the knowledge that we have enough information to make a good decision. During this time there are relatively few unknowns (passing into our personal world through the zone of transition) that are likely to surprise us, and undermine our decision-making ability.
When Mercury is retrograde however, the inner force of our mental energy is weakened, and at the same time, the external force of Mercury is strong. This means that, during the retrograde period, unanticipated information is likely to flow into our field of awareness—information that consequently changes our perception (or understanding) of our personal reality. And this information may cause us to rethink any decisions that we're contemplating at this time. That's why it's important to try to avoid making major decisions during the Mercury retrograde period. If we do make such a decision then the chances are that new information will be received unexpectedly, and consequently we'll change our mind and desire to undo certain actions that have already been taken.
Mars began its current retrograde period on the 24th January. This period ends on the 14th April, 2012.
The astrological Mars represents the human faculty of will.
As the consciousness principle flows through Mars we become motivated and energized to fulfill our desires and achieve our goals.
When Mars is direct we're able to more easily assert our will in the desired direction, and we're met with minimal resistance from external forces passing through the zone of transition and entering our personal world.
But when Mars is retrograde then we tend to be confronted by unanticipated external Martian forces that impinge upon our familiar reality and overwhelm our personal will. Therefore, this is not a time when we can expect to easily achieve our goals. What usually happens is we end up being urged (by external forces) in a different direction to that originally intended.
A good analogy for Mars retrograde... You set sail in your boat towards your desired destination. Halfway there a storm arises and blows you off course. You struggle to maintain your course, but end up docking at a different destination.
An example: Lets say that Israel decides to attack Iran during the Mars retrograde period. A military campaign is obviously an activity that's ruled by Mars and therefore it would likely be affected by the transiting influence of Mars retrograde. During and after the initial attack by Israel on Iran there may be unanticipated developments and consequences that significantly alter the direction of Israel's campaign. As a result of Mars retrograde, unexpected forces may enter Israel's world causing major disruptions and changes to the originally intended course of the attack. These forces could not be foreseen by Israel before the attack because they existed in the unknown region outside its sphere of consciousness. But as the assault begins to be implemented, the external forces pass through the zone of transition (into the realm of Israel's subjective reality) and impact on the ability of Israel to reach its desired goal.
The retrograde movement of the six other planets can be interpreted using the same methodology that I have used in relation to Mercury and Mars.
If you have a retrograde planet in your natal chart, or if you begin an important new venture when a planet is retrograde, then it's advisable to take a passive approach to the expression of that planetary archetype. By 'passive' I mean that it's wise to allow external forces (associated with the planet) to guide you in the appropriate direction of expression of that archetype.
In my understanding, we're given retrograde planets to work with because we need to go through a process of realignment. In other words, we're required to make adjustments to our course that are determined by 'environmental influences' (controlled from the higher planes). And this requires that we become receptive to the impact of the external 'super-conscious' forces that are seeking to guide us. The nautical analogy I gave above is applicable here. It is wise for a sailor to adapt to the environmental conditions he faces when at sea, and sometimes he should yield to the force of the wind and allow it to steer him in a new direction.
Retrograde planets indicate that your final destination (or expression of the archetype) will be quite different to what you had originally envisaged, but that is a good thing. You are being shown the way forward by angelic forces (i.e. malachim) operating in your environment. You are learning to trust in the benevolence and wisdom of the Great Mother principle. You will achieve success if you surrender to the higher powers that are seeking to assist you to move forward on your soul path.
(1st March, 2012)