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When Mercury Retrograde Ends, Mercury Retroshade Begins

Photo-Illustration: by Preeti Kinha; Photos: Getty Images

I know you know that Mercury Retrograde — which wreaks much-hyped havoc that results in communication mishaps, transportation breakdowns, and your ex texting you at 1 a.m. — is a somewhat quarterly astrological occurrence that only lasts for three weeks.

But doesn’t it feel like the hellscape that is Mercury Retrograde actually starts earlier and lasts longer than those three weeks? Take, for instance, last month: Technically, Mercury Retrograde started on December 29 — but weren’t we all feeling the burn a few weeks before? Sure, you could blame it on the holidays … or you, like me, could shake your fists at retroshade.

What is retroshade?

Technically speaking, retroshade refers to a planet’s “retrograde shadow period,” which occurs both before and after the retrograde itself. It’s when the planet slows down as it prepares to enter retrograde and speeds up as it leaves its backward motion behind. It also corresponds with the retrograde motion itself, showing us exactly which portion of the sky will be visited three times over: before retrograde, during retrograde, and after retrograde.

To understand this concept, visualize walking in the snow ten paces, creating a trail of footprints behind you. Then, if you were instructed to walk backwards four paces, retracing your exact steps, you would find yourself returning to those same footprints again. Finally, you’re told to continue forward the remainder of the trail, which means stepping into those footprints for a third and final time in this bizarre winter exercise.

Basically, retroshade is a planet retracing its steps. Let’s take, for example, the current retrograde. Mercury went retrograde on December 29 at 24º Capricorn, and will conclude its backward motion at 8º Capricorn on January 18. So to figure out the pre-shadow period, we will use an ephemeris (an astrological table that details the exact location of the planets on a daily basis) to identify when Mercury was first at 8º Capricorn — and, would you look at that, it was on December 12! Then, to determine the post-shadow period, we’ll want to see when Mercury clears that final position of 24º Capricorn (the spot where Mercury went retrograde), which will be on February 7.

So, to recap, between Mercury Retrograde pre-shadow (December 12 through December 29), Mercury Retrograde (December 29 through January 18), and Mercury Retrograde post-shadow (January 18 through February 7), we’re looking at a whopping nine weeks of mayhem. Yikes.

So is retroshade worse than retrograde?

Fear not, friends. The retroshade period is not nearly as calamity filled as the retrograde itself.

In fact, you can actually prepare for the retrograde by tracking the pre-shadow phase. Because the pre-shadow period charts the area of the sky where the planet will return during retrograde, it’s guaranteed to revisit whatever themes are coming up during that initial retroshade. For example, if you’re dealing with family issues or tackling a difficult project at work during the pre-shadow period, it’s likely that the planetary retrograde will specifically address those same matters. Likewise, those are the same situations that will be resolved during the post-shadow period on the other side of retrograde. See, there’s a method to the madness!

Wait, don’t all planets go retrograde?

Why, yes! Which means retroshade applies to all celestial bodies.

And in case you forgot, Mars — the planet of action, motivation, and determination — has been retrograde since October 30 (at 25º Gemini) and will finally finish its backward spin on January 12 (at 8º Gemini), yielding ten long weeks of … well, burnout. But, based on the principles of retroshade, Mars actually began its pre-shadow period on September 4 and will conclude its post-shadow phase on March 16, meaning this Mars Retrograde story is almost five months long. Sheesh! Don’t panic, though: During Mars Retrograde’s post-shadow phase, we actually have the opportunity to revisit whatever fell by the wayside during this planet’s long backward spin. While Mercury Retrograde focuses on miscommunications and foibles, Mars Retrograde is really about energy depletion. Mars has life-force energy, so when this planet goes backward, we are liable to find ourselves drained, fatigued, and uninspired. Likewise, as Mars gains momentum during the post-shadow phase, not only will our energy and motivation be steadily increasing (finally), but we’ll also feel inspired to adjust, tweak, and even correct some of the Mars Retrograde mishegoss.

Finally, know that it’s my personal (and professional! I am an astrologer, you know) astrological philosophy that the planets’ motions are always supportive and beneficial, even if it might seem a little convoluted in the moment. Yes, Mercury Retrograde or Mars Retrograde might be stressful and challenging, but it also encourages us to slow down and examine a situation from a completely different perspective. Sometimes things need to be flipped upside down in order for us to see them a bit more clearly. You know? You know! You got this!

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