The Astrological Planets

4. The role of planets

Astrologers link each planet to categories of human behavior or the potential for particular types of events. Based on the positions of the planets as observed from a particular location on earth, astrologers interpret how the qualities associated with the planets are related to human behavior, both positive and negative, or to natural events, such as weather or earthquakes.

The meanings of the planets in Western astrology are closely related to the mythology of Ancient Greece and Rome which described the characters of the gods for which the planets were named. The meaning can be modified depending on if the planet is in a sign that is more or less compatible with its own meaning (referred to as ruler, exalted, or in fall or detriment), the angular relationship between two planets as viewed from the earth (their aspects), or whether the planet appears to be moving backward when viewed from the earth (retrograde).

(This animated gif was obtained from Dr. Stephen J. Daunt's Astronomy 161 web site at The University of Tennesee, Knoxville.) Retrograde Motion

In the image at left, the earth appears at the center, the red is Venus in its orbit around the white dot representing the Sun. Ffrom the point of view of the earth, the Sun can be seen following a path called the ecliptic - represented by the yellow circle.

The normal motion of the planets is direct - from the point of view of someone on earth, they all appear to be moving in the same direction around the earth as the Sun and Moon (which never go retrograde). But because the earth is not the center of the solar system, there are times when the planets appear to change direction and reverse themselves. This backward (retrograde) motion is an illusion based on the position of the earth and the other planet in their respective orbits around the Sun and the fact that the planets do not orbit the sun at the same speed. It is similar to the illusion created when you drive on the freeway and pass a slower car. If you didn't know you were moving, it would look as if the other car was suddenly going backwards. Until the time of Copernicus, the reason for retrograde motion was not understood.

Since astrology is an earth-based practice, from the astrologer's point of view, at times it appears that a planet slows down until it is stationary, and then moves backwards. Later, the planet will once again appear to slow until it is stationary and then it returns to its normal forward motion. In Western astrology, the most common interpretation of retrograde motion is that there is a more inward looking character applied to the interpretation of the planet. This interpretation is most commonly applied to Mercury, Venus and Mars. The outer planets tend to be retrograde quite often and for long periods of time so many astrologers do not to take their retrograde motion into account in an interpretation.