Western astrologers and Vedic astrologers have many views on the meanings of a planet being Retrograde and I would like to review those that I use in my practice.
Some Western Views
Internal. Many astrologers consider retrograde planets to express themselves more internally than externally. i.e. for the person to be more introverted or introspective. Retrograde times are excellent for retrospection, and contemplation in general.
Past Lives. Here we see retrograde planets as "Living outside of time", i.e. either wanting to live in another (past) era, or not being swayed by current cultural trends nearly as much as others are, or expressing past life themes (or trying to relive or recreate them).
"Weaker". Note, I do NOT subscribe to this view of retrogrades. But for completeness, I decided to include it.
Many Western astrologers have been taught that retrograde planets are weaker, and some continue to hold this "antiquated" view.
It is my belief that many concepts from mediaeval Horary astrology were mistakenly brought over into modern Western astrology, and. for example, in Horary astrology it is not promising for the planet representing the person or question to be retrograde, as the desired outcome is thwarted.
But this view has no place in modern Western astrology because of reasons outlined below in the Vedic section.
Strong. When a planet is retrograde, it is closer to the Earth than at any other time. As a result, it appears in the sky both bigger and brighter.
So the ancients immediately concluded that the brighter, bigger planet was also stronger than usual!
Throughout the Classical Vedic texts, retrograde planets are considered very strong, and can be the basis for raising a person's life well above the ordinary (e.g. if a retrograde planet participates in a positive yoga).
Exaggeratedly Strong. But all is not well in the sky when a planet is retrograde. Like a planet being Exalted (which also exaggerates its strength), a retrograde planet may have too much strength and overly magnify its qualities, to excess.
For example, a retrograde Mars can be tremendously willful, independent to a fault, and hot-tempered. (Or notably courageous, deeply passionate, and with great initiative.)
Martin Luther King shows the expression of the high side of Mars retrograde.
His incredible courage, profound passion for his cause, and his outstanding leadership are really Mars at its best:
Notice that Dr. King's Mars is in the second house, and his powerful speeches have been heard and replayed millions of times.
On the other hand, Saddam Hussein embodied the worst of Mars retrograde.
He was sadistic, antisocial, paranoid, and narcissistic:
(Note: we do NOT have a birth time for his chart)
Diseased. The very well respected Dr. Charak, a specialist in Medical Vedic astrology, found through extensive research that retrograde planets can indicate ill health and disease with respect to the houses ruled and occupied.
The "excessiveness" of retrogradation apparently can be disruptive to the person's physical wellbeing, especially if the retrograde planet is poorly placed, aspected by malefics, and/or weak in some ways.
I recently had a client with retrograde planets (in a planetary war with each other and in a Maraka house) whose life was defined by severe illnesses for decades. Note that she had a confluence of negative factors beyond what I've listed, and most people shouldn't fear that their retrograde planets will have a negative influence on their health.
Slow. When a planet is retrograde, it is not only moving backwards to the eye, but it is also more slow-moving. And when it approaches its turnaround point (changing from retrograde to direct or vice versa), it appears to actually stand still.
My Vedic guru Hart de Fouw has helped me to see that stationary planets can manifest in two very different ways:
Stagnant, blocked, at a standstill, frozen with fear, or otherwise quite disabled.
If well placed or in a mature healthy person: centered, poised, calm, or even able to step out of time and see things more deeply and act more magically.