Once upon a time, it was mainly astrologers who kept an eye on Mercury retrograde, alerting their friends, families, and clients to back up their computers, postpone signing contracts, think twice before sending a critical email, and verify what they think they heard. Nowadays, Mercury retrograde has gone mainstream. Non-astrology-minded friends mention it on social media as easily as they talk about the full moon and the weather (“So weird at work today! Is Mercury retrograde or something?”).
As people have become more familiar with Mercury retrograde, other planetary retrogrades are starting to get some recognition. I admit I don’t pay that much attention to the retrograde periods of the planets from Jupiter on out. They spend months in retrograde, from about 4 months a year for Jupiter to nearly 6 months for Pluto. I figure, when a planet is retrograde that much of the time, their retrogrades feel almost as normal as their direct motion. However, their stationary periods—when they appear to slow down and stop before changing direction—are more noticeable, but that’s another post for another day.
That leaves Venus and Mars, which like Mercury, go retrograde for comparatively brief periods. They’re not as well-documented as Mercury, so it’s harder to look them up and get examples what their retrogrades are like. But looking at what the planet is associated with is a starting point. As Mars is retrograde as I write this, I’m focusing on it for now.
|Planet||How often retrograde||How long retrograde|
|Mercury||3 times a year||About 3 weeks|
|Venus||Every 1½ years||About 6 weeks|
|Mars||Every 2 years||About 2-2½ months|
The Lesser Malefic
At its core, Mars is about taking action. It shows how we go after what we want. It represents willpower, how we assert ourselves, and how we express our anger and aggress.1 Its qualities are traditionally masculine: courage, initiative, violence, independence, brutality, conflict; the symbols for Mars and for male are the same: ♂. Not surprisingly, the planet named for the Roman god of war rules warfare. War is conflict on an international scale, but Mars rules smaller competitions as well: sports, political races, contests—those events where there are winners and losers, victory and defeat. (If you’re interested in compromise and the possibility of win-win scenarios, you’ve moved into Venus’s territory.) Mars also rules the people who participate in these activities: soldiers, the police, athletes, first responders, surgeons. Mars is not an utterly malignant force, but there are elements of pain and danger in many of its rulerships, qualities that earned it the epithet of the “Lesser Malefic” in traditional astrology. In a war, those elements are obvious, but they’re in Mars’s other rulerships as well. Sports often carry a risk of injury, sometimes of death. Even in a democracy, people may live and die by who wins a political contest, even in another country. Surgery—deliberately injuring someone in order to help them—saves lives, but patients die both on the operating table and afterwards.
So if Mercury retrograde has a reputation for misunderstandings, mistakes, travel plans gone awry, and glitches, what happens when Mars is retrograde? We get used to how a planet behaves when it’s in direct motion. By contrast, during its retrograde period, what that planet rules often feel unbalanced, unpredictable, and “off.” When a planet is retrograde, it’s physically closest to Earth, suggesting that it’s stronger than usual. While there’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about a planet’s retrograde period—it’s different, not broken—often the things that we experience and do during a retrograde don’t go the way we’d planned. With Mars, sometimes that can hurt, but it can also feel as though it has stalled out and there isn’t enough drive and focus for your usual activities.
During this retrograde, Mars is in Aries, one of the signs that it rules. This is a comfortable position for Mars. Signs shape how a planet expresses itself, but since Aries shares many characteristics with Mars, Mars gets to act almost as purely “Martian” as possible. So we have the planet of action, assertion, and brutality, strengthened both by being in a sign that reinforces its essential nature and its proximity to Earth, at the point in its cycle that can be discombobulating because we’re not used to it.
The 2020 wildfires
This year, Mars is retrograde from September 9 to November 13, 2020. As of this writing, we’re about two-thirds through this retrograde period. Thinking about what’s been in the news lately that seems particularly Mars-like, the wildfires out west come to mind. Yes, there have always been wildfires and the 2020 wildfire season started before Mars went retrograde. But the fires have been unusually widespread this year, even by modern standards. In early September, just as Mars went retrograde, the media was focused on how there were wildfires not only in California but also Oregon and Washington, even possibly threatening Portland, Oregon. This is when Mars would’ve appeared to have been slowing down, stopping, and then starting up again in reverse: that stationary retrograde period that can make a planet more noticeable.
Just to take one of the better-known wildfires as an example, the El Dorado fire has Mars symbolism in its origins. This fire was accidentally started during a gender reveal party. The Ascendant is in Scorpio, also ruled by Mars, a sign associated with secrets (such as the baby’s gender), and ruling the Ascendant makes a planet more prominent. The baby was apparently revealed to be a boy—again, Mars and “male” share a symbol.2 The announcement involved setting off a pyrotechnic device of some kind, which ignited dry grass in the park where the party was held, starting the fire. Explosives are a Mars thing, even when they’re not meant to kill people. The party was on September 5. This was a few days before Mars turned retrograde, with it less than 1° away from its retrograde degree 28° ♈︎ 08′), in that crucial stationary retrograde period. The act of putting a fire out is called “firefighting,” and like explosives, fighting is a Mars thing. This particular fight, like many of the wildfires, has been challenging, but that’s in keeping with Mars retrograde.
To the best of my knowledge, as of this writing, the El Dorado fire is still burning.
- Yeah, that’s a verb. It’s obsolete, but I figured it would be fun to use. And it fits the sentence grammatically.
- After Gender Reveal Celebration Sparks Fire, Some Say The Parties Have Gotten Out Of Hand – WBUR (September 9, 2020)
- A pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party sparked one of the California wildfires, burning over 8,600 acres – CNN (September 7, 2020)