As January opens, the planet Venus is moving in retrograde fashion through Capricorn. As it does so, it is threading its way through a crowded tangle of planets, sharing Capricorn with Pluto, Mercury, and the Sun. Venus turned retrograde on December 19 and will remain in that backwards condition until near the end of this month, finally stationing and turning direct on January 29th.
A retrograde planet is going back over ground that it has already covered, often re-thinking and re-framing it. That is one profoundly telling clue about the evolutionary meaning of retrograde bodies in general: they are always about the past. That is the key. As the great southern writer, William Faulkner once said, “The past is not dead. It is not even past.” There is, in other words, no way to separate our personal history from our experience of the present moment. Ask anyone who has ever been betrayed – can they enter into a new relationship without that old ghost haunting them? Once burned, twice smart, as the proverb goes – although in the case of intimate betrayal, “smart” might actually mean “wounded.”
Venus retrograde may not be about those old betrayals, but that is certainly one possibility. Venus is, of course, the goddess of love. It is always about relationships, among other things. So let’s go with the “old betrayals” scenario for a while. We can use it to help us learn some principles that are more generalizable.
If we trusted someone and he or she betrayed us, the hurt of that experience lives on inside us. Naturally we do not want to repeat it. If we dare to love again, the slightest sign of any possible dishonesty on the part of our new partner immediately triggers a red alert in us. Worse, we may read treachery into the most innocent actions, potentially scuttling the relationship with our fears. That is what William Faulkner meant when he said that “the past is not even past.” It lives on in the present, potentially distorting our current experiences.
So far, we have mapped out what we might call an unconscious response to Venus retrograde. We may think we are living in the present, but actually half of what we are seeing is the ghosts of days gone by. On the other hand, in a conscious response to Venus retrograde, we turn the old wounds around. We see them for what – and when – they actually are. Maybe when our ex “had lunch with an old friend,” it spelled the beginning of a bad Country & Western tune for us. But maybe our present partner is actually just “having lunch with an old friend” – and maybe that old friend is rhapsodizing about how lucky our partner is to have found someone as cool as us. It may, in other words, look like the old situation, but in fact it is entirely different. If we are looking at it through the lens of the past, based on past assumptions, we will surely misread it.
How do we get Venus retrograde right? Let’s start with a happy truth. There is an excellent chance that you are wiser now than you were a year or two ago. Time, at least potentially, can teach us many things. The person you were when you got into that bad relationship no longer exists, but your memories are the same. It is time to update them. Your interpretation of that whole situation is rooted in the former level of your self-understanding. Maybe in that version of the story, you were the “innocent victim.” And even if that way of looking at it is basically true, it still leaves you with nothing but the belief that bad things might happen to you at random. That leads only to a mixture of fear and powerlessness – and probably puts an onerous tax on your present ability to feel happiness.
Try these questions instead: why were you in that relationship? What forces inside you led you to choose to trust such a person? What was really going on inside you? What responsibility can you personally take for what happened? And remember: that responsibility is not about you beating yourself up for the past. It is about making sure that you do not let your future be an echo of that past. It is about empowering you.
Here, in a nutshell, is the key to understanding Venus retrograde: all of those are questions you couldn’t even think of in the past, but today you can answer them well and wisely. And in so doing, you re-write your memories, not whitewashing them, but rather making them more accurate and real. You’ve gone back into your past (Venus retrograde!), but you have now truly understood it for the first time.
As we mentioned earlier, we are just using an early betrayal as our launching pad. There are other ways that relationships can cause us to have wounds. Using betrayal as our example is not entirely random though. As we saw, when Venus turned retrograde in December, it was aligned with Pluto – and with Pluto in the mix, it is a good time for many of us to heal such old betrayals, or at least to no longer allow them to corrupt our ability to trust anyone today. Mercury, being about communication, can have a lot to do with lies and misunderstandings. It wasn’t conjunct Venus at that December station, but it was in Capricorn too, and so its energy is in the mix. Let’s add the kinds of wounds that come not only from lies, but from not being heard, or not being taken seriously.
Capricorn itself is the common denominator in this whole present Venus retrograde period. That may be the heart of the matter. Capricorn is about duty. It is about self-respect and the integrity that sustains it. Those are good qualities! But they can be misused. For example, is merely “staying together” always a virtue in a relationship? How many miserable, empty partnerships have lasted “until death do us part?” What price does a soul pay for such masochism? What if that has ever been your story?
As we reflect upon those words, we enter the temple of the mysteries. Built into them is another fundamental insight into Venus retrograde: it is not only about this present lifetime. The memories and beliefs that you are invited to re-write might date to previous lifetimes. And even if that is true, you would also very probably find their fingerprints on your present life as well. Karma really boils down to habit – and habit is your right to remain just as clueless today as you were last year . . . or three hundred years ago.
The magic lies in the truth that you can do better. You can break the old habits. You can update your wisdom and your understanding. The actual shape of your life can catch up with the wisdom you have earned. And this month, we all have a chance to do that. May we all see each other through our present-tense eyes – and may we only follow the rules that are good for our souls, while laughing at the ones that are not.
Listen to the podcast version