What Is Mars Retrograde Anyway?

FYI, it's right around the corner — and it could spell trouble for your motivation and sex life. (And make everybody wayyy more passive aggressive.)

What Does Mars Retrograde Mean? (Sep. 9)
Photo: Chelsea Victoria/Stocksy

The path to hitting your most ambitious goals is rarely linear and involves revisions and adjustments along the way. That’s just the nature of chasing dreams — and a reminder that motivation can rise and wane. And there’s an astrological event that serves to remind us of this very fact: Mars retrograde.

In astrology, Mars is the planet that oversees action, strength, courage, and sex. When it appears to move backward from our vantage point on Earth, we must contend with a lack of forward movement and dulled passion — whether it relates to your career or your sex life. This time will also require us to process hidden anger, and reflect on our current big picture action plans and how they might be made even more effective.

Here’s your full guide to understanding the basics of Mars retrograde — including how long it lasts and when the next one is coming — and making the most of this aggravating slowdown.

What Happens When Mars Is Retrograde

Your general energy and libido might take a hit.

Because Mars rules our energy levels and sex drives, its retrograde tends to have a dulling effect on motivation, leading to reduced vitality and lethargy. It’s not uncommon to feel less interested in working out, starting new projects, or enjoying between-the-sheets romps. And because these activities, in their own way, offer us an outlet for daily stress, we might be quicker to get aggravated and feel impatient when dealing with everyday stressors.

It’s harder to build momentum.

Mercury crosses wires, spurs technical glitches, and overall, slows down how we communicate, which, in turn, can slow progress on our everyday to-dos and big picture goals. But Mars retrograde’s effect is even more directly linked to taking action and moving the ball forward. For instance, it could be a particularly challenging time to launch a new business or go full-throttle on that new wellness plan. While efforts like these won’t necessarily be deterred entirely, you just might have to deal with more stops, starts, and roadblocks than usual.

This could lead to feeling stuck or frustrated by a general lack of progress on, well, just about everything, but it might also present an opportunity to brush up on your mindfulness practice and finding merit in the here and now.

You’ll be urged to reflect on how you do — or don’t — deal with anger.

Mars, named for the God of War, manages how we go to battle in everyday life. This could look like butting heads with a colleague, debating politics on Facebook, or arguing your case for a higher paycheck. But retrogrades shift a planet’s themes to be felt in a more internal, reflective way. Mars’ slowdown can make it feel like even more of a struggle to go to bat against any “adversary,” literal or figurative.

But the silver lining here is that it can also stir you to reflect on how you address your anger and frustration, how you cope with confrontation, and how old wounds and repressed feelings could be informing your fieriest displays of emotion.

The silver lining here is that [Mars retrograde] can stir you to reflect on how you address your anger and frustration, how you cope with confrontation, and how old wounds and repressed feelings could be informing your fieriest displays of emotion.

You’ll be pushed to face unrecognized tension.

Whether you’re steaming over a friend hijacking your wedding shower with her baby news, you’ve been biting your tongue on a relative’s political views, or you’re ignoring sexual desires, Mars retrograde is here to force the issue. It’s a time to finally face any anger, resentment, or other forms of tension that you thought you could simply ignore.

Your health could take a hit as a result of internalized anger.

Because Mars rules physical vitality, its retrograde can weaken our ability to manage the effects of stress, unresolved anger, and other emotions on the body. For that reason, it’s a time to do your best to step up therapeutic routines to help you identify and cope with your thoughts and feelings, be that meditation, talk therapy, long hikes, or FaceTime check-ins with friends and loved ones.

If you’re an Aries or Scorpio, you might feel it more.

If you were born under Aries (March 19-April 19) or Scorpio (October 23-November 21), or any of the major planets in your birth chart are in either of these signs, you’ll likely be more sensitive to Mars’ retrograde phases. That’s because both Aries and Scorpio are ruled by the go-getter planet, so its influence is stronger on these signs. Plus, chances are your Mars-ruled astrological wiring has led to a career and/or lifestyle that requires you frequently exerting yourself through fiery debate, aggressive sales techniques, and/or strenuous physical activity, so you could feel it more for that reason, too.

How Often Mars Is Retrograde

Mercury retrograde gets a lot of flak for messing with our efforts to travel, use technology, and enjoy smooth communication. And the reason it tends to be the main astrological target of our ire (outside of, say, crazy-making full moons) is that it happens so frequently: every three or four months for a total of three or four times a year for about three weeks at a time.

Mars, on the other hand, goes retrograde for about two to two-and-a-half months every couple of years, or 26 months to be exact. This means it's retrograde approximately 9% of the time.

Just as with Mercury, and any planet going retrograde, there’s a lead-in and phase-out to a Mars retrograde known as the shadow or “retroshade.” In short, the pre-shadow begins when Mars, moving direct, hits the point at which it’ll be when its retrograde ends. And the post-shadow ends when Mars, again moving direct, returns to the point at which it’ll be when its retrograde began. Think of it as an astrological zig-zag.

But what’s true for every major astrological aspect is true here, as well: The day you’ll feel the effects of Mars’ backwards turn the most will be the day it “stations” (aka goes) retrograde or direct.

When the Next Mars Retrograde Is Coming

This fall, the planet of action will inhibit forward movement in its own way by going retrograde from October 30 to January 12. Because it forms a square (the most tense angle one planet can form to another) with Neptune, the planet of illusion, it might be tougher to stay grounded in reality and stand in your sense of self when doubts, insecurities, and fears rear their ugly head. 

And because Mars will be retrograde in Gemini, the mutable air sign, which happens to be ruled by Mercury, this transit could affect how you communicate and connect with others, and heads' up — everyone’s more likely to be passive-aggressive.  It’ll be a time in which you’ll have to work especially hard to be patient and diplomatic while identifying and addressing any deep, underlying impediments to your passions and drive.

And while this Mars retrograde might sound like the last thing you need right now, take heart that it could lead to self-awareness and an even greater appreciation for your inner sense of get-up-and-go.

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