Burning Mars retrograde

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.

PlanetHow often retrogradeHow long retrograde
Mercury3 times a yearAbout 3 weeks
VenusEvery 1½ yearsAbout 6 weeks
MarsEvery 2 yearsAbout 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.

El Dorado Fire event chart: September 5, 2020; Yucaipa, CA; 10:23 AM PDT.3

To the best of my knowledge, as of this writing, the El Dorado fire is still burning.

Comments, sources

  1. Yeah, that’s a verb. It’s obsolete, but I figured it would be fun to use. And it fits the sentence grammatically.
  2. After Gender Reveal Celebration Sparks Fire, Some Say The Parties Have Gotten Out Of Hand – WBUR (September 9, 2020)
  3. A pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party sparked one of the California wildfires, burning over 8,600 acres – CNN (September 7, 2020)


Fire photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.com. Mars symbol and retrograde symbol are in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons. I threw them all together.

R is for retrogrades

Coming into the Pagan Blog Project, I thought there would be a few letters that would be a challenge to write for. The obvious ones were Q, X, and Z. (Indeed, any letter with a high value in Scrabble is a candidate for being challenging.) As it has turned out though, I thought of something right away for Q, and I have something lined up for Z, although X is still a vacuum as I write this. Meanwhile, it was letters like F and N that have thrown me. For this week, my mind got stuck on R (a letter with a value of 1 in Scrabble—it should have been easy!). I could think of nothing to add beyond what others had posted on the Rede or ritual, nor did I have anything to say on the topic of reincarnation. I was wrestling with a potential post on rulerships which just wasn’t working, when I realized that retrograde starts with R also. And so here we are.

A planet is retrograde when it appears to be moving backward in the sky. While this happens to all the planets, I pay the most attention to the retrograde periods of Mercury, Venus, and Mars. The other planets from Jupiter on out stay retrograde for longer periods of time. I think we get used to that, and it’s harder to see differences between their direct and retrograde periods. With these three faster planets, there’s more contrast.

As with many other topics in astrology, there are different opinions about what it means when a planet is retrograde. In traditional astrology, being retrograde is one of the debilities, a condition that makes a malefic planet nastier or a benefic planet less helpful. A retrograde planet may be considered weaker in Western astrology, but I’ve heard that in Vedic astrology, retrograde planets are said to be stronger because this is when they’re closest to Earth. Modern psychological astrology tries to avoid dualistic “good/bad” language: the energy of a retrograde planet is seen as turning inward and being less noticeable as a result. Personally, I’ve found that the psychological interpretation works best when describing natal planets that are retrograde. When we’re talking about the effects of a transiting retrograde planet, often the conversation turns to what’s been happening in our lives, and lots of the time, what we’re talking about is what has gone wrong—the traditional descriptions still seem to work for events. (And often I’ve noticed that the problem started well before the retrograde period, sometimes months or years earlier, but it comes to light when the planet goes retrograde.)

Mercury rules communication and perception, so when it goes retrograde, we tend to notice right away. Its retrograde cycle is fairly even, lasting about three weeks every three months, each period falling a few days earlier than it did the year before. Entire books (plural) have been written about Mercury retrograde, the best known of the retrograde planets. In terms of events, this is a period famous for delayed travel, glitching computers, misunderstandings, and having to redo and revise a lot.

Venus’ retrograde periods last about 40 days; Venus goes retrograde about every 18 months. The most dramatic case of Venus retrograde I’ve encountered involved two of Venus’ traditional rulerships: relationships and beautiful things. A person had surgery and their coworkers started their customary collection to buy flowers for them. As it turned out, this person had alienated so many of their colleagues that not enough money was collected to buy even the smallest flower arrangement. After more money was secured, the coworkers ordered an arrangement to be sent to the person’s home. It was misdelivered to a neighbor who wasn’t on good terms with this person and refused to hand over the flowers. (The florist accepted responsibility for the delivery error and replaced the flowers.)

Like Venus, Mars doesn’t go retrograde every year. Its retrograde periods are about 2 to 2½ months. When I first decided to watch Mars retrograde, I wasn’t sure what to look for. Would wars go badly? Wars tend to go badly for someone even when they’re going well—that wasn’t going to work. In a list of traditional astrological factors to take into consideration when timing elective surgery, avoiding Mars retrograde periods was one suggestion. That made sense: Mars traditionally rules iron and steel, as well as weapons. Surgeons, who use steel scalpels and knives to inflict controlled wounds (which is what surgery is) are Mars’ by association—and you wouldn’t want anything glitching during surgery if at all possible. And its Mars’ rulership of iron and steel that I’ve noticed the most when Mars is retrograde. I had a computer die abruptly when Mars was retrograde: the hard drive fried. Along the same lines, a friend had severe car problems stemming from rust during Mars retrograde.

And if you want to do some observing of your own:

2013-2014 Retrograde Periods

Planet Goes Retrograde Goes Direct
Mercury October 21, 2013 November 10, 2013
February 6, 2014 February 28, 2014
June 7, 2014 July 1, 2014
October 4, 2014 October 25, 2014
Venus December 21, 2013 January 31, 2014
Mars March 1, 2014 May 20, 2014


One of the first things you learn about Mercury retrograde periods is that they’re associated with times of re-: redoing, revising, rereading, reworking, etc. I am hard-pressed to remember a Mercury retrograde period that has involved more re- verbs than the current one (July 14 – August 8, 2012).

  • Reknitting: I wish to enter the sweater I’m currently knitting in the state fair, which means I need to finish it by mid-August. The pattern is a self-contained exercise in Mercury retrograde, as it’s filled with errors and unclear explanations. Up until now, though, I’ve managed to find corrections and clarifications for each of the problems I’ve encountered. Well, now we’re in the retrograde period, and while the problems continue to pop up, the solutions have evaporated. Thus, I’ve had to rip out and reknit. Let’s see, so far that’s part of one sleeve reknitted and the entire lower panel of the sweater (twice!). Reknitting is common, retrograde or no retrograde, but when there’s a deadline involved, it’s stressful as all get-out.
  • Redoing: We have a fiscal year at work that runs from July 1 through June 30. Sure, that means our current fiscal year got going before Mercury went retrograde on July 14, but no, we didn’t have the budget set up on July 1. Doing that during the retrograde has proven that Mercury retrograde and accounting are a poor combination. Between budgeting far too little money for our basic expenditures and learning that our finance department has misunderstood for years what we’ve been spending money on, actually getting bills paid has become a monumental task. We spend our energies on reviewing past financial reports and revamping current budgets.
  • Rereading: I rarely reread books, simply because there are so many books out there that I haven’t read and want to. However, I’m rereading one right now, and even more appropriately, I started it on July 14, when I was still unaware that a Mercury retrograde period was starting. Okay, this one isn’t a rant, but if something unfrustrating is happening during Mercury retrograde, I figure I ought to highlight it!

Mind you, it’s all supposed to be better in the end. The reknitted sweater shouldn’t have the problems that would cause it to lose points at the fair. The reworked budget should lead to our having better grasp of our finances. Every time I reread the book, I should retain more information from it. But it’s intensely frustrating, and I am anxiously awaiting August 8.