Reexamining the Outer-Planet Backdrop


As we approach Mars's imminent retrograde—beginning on April 17, just a couple of weeks from now—I felt it might be useful for us to review the broader astrological backdrop against which it's occurring.

Mars is considered a 'personal planet' because of its relatively fast pace (when it's not appearing to decelerate in advance of retrograding, that is) in comparison to the other planets from Jupiter outward, which are farther from the Sun and thus orbit it more slowly.

When a personal planet like Mars (or Mercury or Venus) is retrograde, it's such big news because this faster-moving body essentially becomes 'stuck' in a certain sector of the zodiac-wheel. The affairs and activities associated with that retrograde planet don't proceed as swiftly or smoothly as we typically expect, compelling us to invest more mindful attention over a lengthier time-span on items that ordinarily seem to function almost automatically. (That's why when Mercury—the planet charged with administering our transmissions and transactions—turns retrograde, the flow of our day-to-day business so often goes haywire.)

As the agent of bodily impulse, initiative, courage, and personal will, Mars threatens to stall or stunt our forward progress during its upcoming ten-week retrograde phase, causing us to redouble our efforts and/or necessarily divert our energies elsewhere in the hopes of getting something moving… with the obvious potential to flare up our impatience and irritation levels. As a likely result, we may become so fixated on these short-term obstructions and/or our frustrated desire to resolutely take actions which carry us closer to our immediate target, we lose sight of the bigger picture—and risk overreacting to temporary delays, creating unwanted fallout in whichever other life-zones we aren't immediately fixated on, and/or subverting longer-range goal-driven strategies.

All the while, the outer planets continue to align in their more-slower-forming aspects, framing those macro-level symbolic messages and lessons which are in effect over months or years at a time. We must simultaneously bear those in mind alongside whatever Mars-retrograde hitches or hindrances demand prompt, persistent attention… lest we grow excessively consumed with forcibly driving onward a singular agenda right away, and neglect to properly contextualize the here-and-now within the larger astrological cycles.

As I mentioned in my astrological overview of 2016, the outer-planet landscape stays pretty much the same as it has through the first two-thirds of the year. Until September, Jupiter remains in Virgo… and, during these intervening months, continues to participate in the now-familiar aspects it's formed since late '15.

Jupiter's still in a trine to Pluto in Capricorn, a synergistic boon of earth-sign practicality that aids us in looking closely and carefully at the many details, dimensions, and data-points which, when taken together, could comprise a systematic process for establishing purposeful habits, making incremental improvements and fixes, and/or inching toward our most ambitious aims. Though a retrograde-stymied Mars in Sagittarius (the sign where Mars resides through the end of May, before slipping back into Scorpio) desperately hungers for any meaningful motion which plainly promotes one particular direction, belief, or priority over another, it's not especially meticulous or nuanced in how it directs its assertive energy. But because Mars 'reports' (by dispositorship) to Jupiter for expression while in the Jupiter-ruled sign of Sagittarius, its most effective actions will require a steadier hand and closer attention to detail than a Mars in Sagittarius generally prefers.

Therefore, as we sputter, scuffle, and/or strain through Mars's retrograde, we must remember that 'motion' doesn't always manifest in a brisk, bold, or lively fashion. Sometimes, it might even look as if we're not moving, due to how modestly and moderately every maneuver must be taken in order to avoid errors in dosage, depth, discrimination, or pacing. We must be observant enough to both detect and honor our smallest bits of progress, knowing each builds upon the last—and sufficiently steadfast to allow these efforts to assemble over time, to grander cumulative effect. Otherwise, if we keep telling ourselves 'nothing is happening' (because what is happening is too faint or gradual to quench our intrepid hungers), we're likelier to act out in some sensationally-reactive spectacle which may indeed dramatically move all the playing-pieces around the board… while splattering prior-made plans and/or flinging detritus from the fallout every which way.

Jupiter also remains in a mutable T-square configuration, opposing Neptune in Pisces while both are squaring off against Saturn in Sagittarius. This present emphasis on the mutable signs signifies that we're in a transitional moment, one in which we assess the fruits produced from our efforts during the most-recent, now-tapering-off 'season' and make preparations for inaugurating the next. (I consider Jupiter's move into Libra in September, which triggers a cardinal T-square with Uranus and Pluto, as a marker of 'the next'.) A similar theme is raised by Jupiter's current waning square with Saturn, the three-quarters point in their 20-year cycle, coinciding with a heightened awareness of all that's gone down since their last conjunction (in 2000)… and the corresponding pressure to adjust or alter our guiding paradigm, in order to integrate the lived-and-learned experiences reaped during this cycle into better-informed intentions for the new cycle beginning in 2020.

Though, at our most frustrated, we might believe we're well past that point where we must pull off some momentous 'new start' or die trying, the wider astrology instead tells us we're not yet through the making-sense, letting-go, clearing-out, getting-ready stage. Factoring that in mind together with Mars's retrograde, we might wisely choose, over these next few months, to channel our assertive efforts into 'moves' meant to gain clarity, resolve unfinished business, clean up scraps left over from prior incarnations, and/or strengthen our skills, capacities, and constitution. That way, we're still dynamically acting toward our desired ends… but mindfully delaying our big advance until a more astrologically appropriate time, while we work to finesse the existing conditions into better shape, laying groundwork for that much more successful a 'new start' once the time is right.

Lurking amidst all this, the square between Saturn and Neptune continues to fuel a pervasive sense of disillusionment, as we confront the more-palpable-than-ever chasm between our highest ideals and the many realities which fall discouragingly short. At its most inspirational, this Saturn-Neptune square snaps us out of our self-sacrificial dream-worlds, goading us to more earnestly strive to create life-structures and institutions which satisfy more of our collective needs, alleviate suffering, and cultivate compassion. Yet, we often experience Saturn-Neptune squares less as a motivating factor—and more like a nagging reminder of how unfair, divisive, and harsh our collective existence can be. Giving into that sort of worldview (no matter the evidence always available to support such a cynical conclusion), alas, contributes to the sort of dangerous desperation that empowers nihilists, ideologues, crusaders, and despots to sneak through the gates of common reason.

Above all else, we've got to hold out hope for our ever-evolving world to bring improvements, relief, justice, and joy… just as we know this Saturn-Neptune influence (like everything in this dimension) will eventually pass on, lifting its grey filter and restoring fuller color. However, we must never attach these hopes to any belief-system which fractures our humanity into factions (bad/good, wrong/right, the problem/the solution) that turn on each other in a paradoxical attempt to restore unity. We have every right—perhaps even an obligation—to orient our 'moves' around particular principles or platforms we feel are ethically correct, but needn't sharpen our point by attacking or demonizing those which fall short. Creating villains is the surest way to guarantee you'll always have somebody to fight against you. Short of having to defend one's safety, it's more convincing to sure-footedly move toward a goal, purpose, or value (even if, yes, you're moving slower than you'd like) than to concentrate your moves on opposing someone or something else.