Neptune Retrograde: Entrapment vs Empowerment

Do you ever wonder if your dreams and visions are merely self-deception? Do you ever doubt your path or wonder if you’re believing what you want to believe instead of seeing what’s actually there? Do you ask yourself if your grand vision is realistic or if you’re just fooling yourself and hiding from the reality of the situation? Do you have sickeningly discouraging moments of doubt when you consider whether the wisest course of action would be to give up on your dreams and just stick with the path that’s less of a stretch for you but also feels disappointing? Do you sometimes consider whether acknowledging and accepting defeat would be the prudent course of action instead of continuing to reach for a desire which, in the end, may very well prove beyond your grasp? Do you find yourself worrying, mentally exploring worst case scenarios, and mentally playing out scenes in which your deepest fears come to pass? Are you ever unsure of whether you’re just being paranoid or your concerns are well founded? Have you ever had a nightmare and wondered if it was actually a warning that would be wise to heed?

If so, good job! It’s very painful for any of us to take a long, hard look at cherished dreams and truly consider the possibility that our paranoia may be valid, but when we’re willing to deeply question ourselves from time to time, we’re more likely to catch our mistakes and correct our course. However, if you tend to get stuck in self-doubt or you are unwilling to consider the possibility that you may be mistaken about something important to you, then it may be useful to consider the nature of dreams and reality.

The essence of this dilemma lies in harmony vs disharmony between our inner world and outer world. These are not two separate realms. Our experiences with the outside world deeply influence us from before we’re even born, and the way we live our lives impacts the world around us. There are, of course, some things outside of us which are completely outside of our influence and direct experience in every way, and there is something very deep within each of us that remains unchanged no matter what we experience in life. However, most of our existence as an individual lies somewhere on a spectrum in between those extremes. I’ll come back to this idea in a bit.

The more harmony there is among the various layers of our inner and outer existence, the more empowered, free, fulfilled, and effective we are in life. Our dreams, visions, and intuition are an extremely important part of us because they bring knowledge of the innermost and outermost layers closer to the middle where we’re able to consciously interact with them. These insights may come to us as gut reactions, daydreams, dreams while we sleep, fantasies, worries, premonitions, hunches, synchronicities, symbolism, divine guidance, and deep, inner knowing that we cannot explain. We may also consciously use our imaginations to help us recognize and explore our innermost layers, worries, and aspirations in life. We can later decide what we intend to do and make plans for the future based on our exploration of our fears and dreams.

In astrology, all of this dreaming, doubt, and intuition falls into the domain of Neptune. However, Neptune also has even less pleasant ways of showing up in our lives, too. When it comes to areas which fall under Neptune’s influence, there is an alarmingly vast difference between the higher and lower expressions of what we do, how we do it, and how it impacts our lives. Neptune’s influences encompasses our aspirations, inexplicable fears, dreams, fantasies, symbolism, synchronicities, illusions, escapism, self-doubt, confusion, entrapment, self-delusion, addiction, imprisonment, loss of identity, powerlessness, resignation, submissiveness, self-sabotage, blindness, insight, clarity, surrender, spirituality, broader truth, and ultimate empowerment.

In short, Neptune broadly represents the subconscious mind, and the way we interact with it can be our self-undoing or the path to attaining our greatest victories in life. Why is there such a dramatic polarity within the realm of this one planet? Looking at Neptune’s retrograde cycle sheds some light on this subject.

What is a “retrograde”? The planets in our solar system revolve around the Sun, but we observe their movements from Earth. In astrology, we track their positions in the sky on a two dimensional chart called the Wheel of the Zodiac. As planets move through sections of the sky, they move around the wheel. From this perspective, it appears that planets occasionally stop moving (go “stationary”), start moving backwards (go “retrograde”), stop again, and then start moving forward once again (go “direct”). On the Wheel of the Zodiac, a planet passes over the same part of the wheel three times whenever there’s a retrograde: Once before the retrograde (the “pre-retrograde shadow”), once during, and then once more as it moves forward again after the retrograde (the “post-retrograde shadow”). The part of the chart that it passes through three times before continuing onward is called the “retrograde window”.

In astrology, the retrogrades of all of the planets can be excellent learning experiences because they give us opportunities to take another look at stuff from our past so we can reconsider it and then, when necessary, do something differently moving forward. They offer opportunities for self-correction and growth. They’re generally a time for reflection and contemplation, repeating the past, and more deeply exploring old or outdated themes. This can be very frustrating for people who don’t understand these cycles because it’s human nature to want to keep pushing towards our goals and get frustrated when it seems like we aren’t making progress. However, these times of repeating our past or taking a step back and turning our attention inward are a critical part of progress. Life is cyclic in nature. When we anticipate taking two steps forward, one step back, and then two steps forward again, we can make the most of opportunities that present themselves as they arise, even if the opportunity is simply to stop what we’re doing and focus on inner contemplation for a bit.

Neptune spends ALL of its time in the retrograde windows. It 2018, it entered the retrograde window on February 26th, went retrograde June 18th, went direct on November 24th, and won’t leave the retrograde window again until March 15, 2019. However, it enters the pre-retrograde window of its 2019 retrograde on February 28, 2019. That means that between February 28 and March 15, Neptune will actually be in two different retrograde windows at the same time, and in the 2019 retrograde, it will retrograde back through part of an area that it had already traveled back through in 2018. It does this during every retrograde. This is a big part of picture when we are considering the nature of Neptune. It graciously gives us many chances to “get it right”! (Pluto has overlapping retrograde windows as well, by the way. None of the other planets in our Zodiac charts do this, though Uranus comes very close. It is also worth noting that the Sun and Moon never retrograde.)

While it can be frustrating and quite painful at times when Neptune’s retrograde influences us to more deeply face issues that we thought we had already addressed, it’s a wonderful gift because, for better or worse, our dreams and fears shape our reality. When there’s harmony within the various layers of our existence, our dreams empower us to realize our deepest truths and take effective actions in directions that will ultimately lead us to greater fulfillment in and enjoyment of life. When our perceptions of reality and behaviors are based on our unconscious fears or we cling to our goals despite their disharmony with our inner truth and the outer realities of life, they then become our undoing.

What’s more, it’s very, very easy to misinterpret the meaning of the messages that we get through Neptune, through our subconscious. Humans are indeed extremely prone to allowing their unconscious minds to drive them to repeat the same painful patterns they have experienced in their past because those experiences formed their understanding of how the world works and their place in it. They deeply and unknowingly adhere to that understanding and continue to behave in ways that will allow them to fill the same role and experience the same types of pain they did in the past despite their conscious wish to change their lives. This aspect of human nature is also strongly related to the roles of the Moon and Pluto. The Moon rules Cancer and the 4th House which are about how they way we were nurtured in early childhood forms our psychological foundations, and we most readily notice them through our changing moods and how we’re sensitive to our surroundings. Pluto rules Scorpio and the 8th House which are all about depth. They’re where we face darkness and pain. They’re also where we experience intimacy with others, form deep attachments, and process the pain of losing the people and things we love here. Obsession and addiction to pain are the lower expression of Pluto’s influence. Facing our shadows and depth psychology involving healing core wounds are the higher expression of Pluto’s areas of influence, and if we don’t get stuck focused on the pain, they can lead to profound personal transformation as we let it go when the energy moves into the higher expression of Neptune’s areas of influence.

It’s very important to consider the influence of the Moon and Pluto in order to understand Neptune because each area of influence actively feeds energy and input to the next. The Moon’s areas of influence in large part determine what happens in Pluto’s areas of influence, and Pluto’s areas of influence in large part determine what happens in Neptune’s areas of influence which include Pisces and the 12th house. How we respond to the influence of Neptune then continues to progress back to the Moon’s areas of influence where our emotions and sensitivities are once again impacted by our unconscious minds. If we have experienced healing through this process, then our emotional experiences in life and our attachments and capacity for intimacy will heal as well. Either way, the energy and events keep moving through this progression throughout our lives. (Each of these areas of influence is also directly related to other areas of influence in our charts as well, and the entire interconnected dynamic makes up the whole picture of a chart. It’s fascinating stuff!)

The bottom line is that all three of these areas of influence involve our feelings, desires, fears, and intuition. All three areas also tell us when there’s disharmony among the various layers of our inner and outer worlds.

For this reason, the subconscious messages we get can just as easily (if not more easily) come from our fear-based core beliefs formed in early childhood, from our attachments, and from our addiction to pain (which everyone has to some extent) as from the deeper, unchanging, inner truth at the core of our being or the broader truth that’s so much bigger than any individual. This is why it’s important not to just blindly trust our feelings or our intuition. In order to accurately interpret the meaning of our dreams and intuitive messages, to know what’s real and what’s illusion, we must look to whether we’re experiencing harmony or disharmony among the various layers of our existence.

This is where escapism becomes extremely relevant when we talk about Neptune. This lack of harmony is what we experience when our unconscious fears are holding us back, when our goals do not resonate with our deepest truths, when we’re processing grief, when we’re faced with the possibility that it’s time to let a long-cherished dream die, or when circumstances do not seem to be cooperating with our aspirations. While such experiences can be pretty unpleasant even while we’re doing our best to distract ourselves from them, actually facing them can be excruciatingly painful.

This is why addictions are also related to Neptune’s areas of influence. When we are unwilling or unable to fully face a painful reality, we may find ourselves addicted to ideas, substances, people, or activities that help keep us from facing that painful reality. The disharmony doesn’t just go away though. As time passes and we continue to take (or fail to take) actions based on misconceptions and pain, the disharmony between the various layers grows. This is why addictions are progressive. The pain of living out of harmony with reality gets stronger and harder to ignore, so we have to work even harder to avoid facing it. We become more and more dependent on whatever we’re using to distract, numb, or delude ourselves.

I’d like to pause to make it very clear that this article is in no way judging those who are unable to kick their addictions or face some reality in their lives. All of us do this to some extent. Escapism is very necessary in life! In fact, our ability to keep things out of our conscious experience is an essential survival skill. We need our illusions and distractions. We can only handle so much of reality at once because our conscious minds are not infinite. We can only face so much pain at once because our central nervous systems get overwhelmed and start to shut down if we experience too much at once. This isn’t a race, and there’s no finish line in life where we finally arrive and are fixed, healed, and perfect. We’re all always perfectly imperfect, and if we can deeply accept this about ourselves and life, we can open ourselves up to experiencing so much more joy and wonder and success in life. Each person’s journey through life is unique and a necessary part of the whole of it. There’s no part that’s better than any other because it’s all one interconnected thing. We have to struggle in order to grow, and we can’t experience happiness without also experiencing sadness. It’s important to forgive ourselves for not being perfect and have compassion for our suffering. I’m saying this because I want to be clear that it’s okay to mistake fantasy for reality. It’s okay to get confused. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to avoid facing the truth. If we’re really meant to face something, we will do so when we’re ready. As previously stated, we get many opportunities to see what we need to see, and it happens when we’re ready for it to happen. We will be incapable of seeing it until then no matter how loudly it is screaming at us. There are things we can do to support ourselves in this area, but there’s really no need to push or judge ourselves. We can even just relax and enjoy the ride sometimes! Life will always be messy. Be gentle with yourself.

That said, I will discuss some perspectives that may help find the highest expressions of Neptune’s areas of influence, but first I’d like to briefly describe how Neptune’s retrograde cycles can influence how we experience truth and illusion. When we’re able to work with the natural influence that Neptune’s path has on our lives, we can make the most of her retrograde phases.

The first phase of Neptune’s retrograde cycle is when Neptune is direct and no longer in the previous retrograde’s shadow. In 2018, this was from mid March to mid June. This phase is relatively straightforward for Neptune. It’s a time for just dreaming our dreams and attempting to bring them into reality. It’s a good time to try new things and put previously clarified insights into action.

The second phases is Neptune’s retrograde. In 2018, it occurred between mid June and late November. During Neptune’s retrograde, we’re likely to be influenced to face our fears, take a closer look at our dreams, and struggle to figure out what’s real and what’s just wishful thinking. It’s a time of confusion, but we may not see the confusion for what it is until we look back at it later. At the time, it may instead feel more like a struggle or like we’re fighting for our dreams. We may consciously or unconsciously halt progress towards one dream to work towards another in order to see what we need to see about it. Circumstances may even force us to slow down or stop working towards one or more of our dreams during this time. If we take the opportunity to work with the influence of the retrograde, this struggle or confusion will eventually give way to a whole new level of clarity.

Some clarity may arise during the retrograde, but typically, the fog doesn’t fully lift until Neptune goes direct again. Those who are particularly in tune may have sudden realizations or epiphanies as Neptune stations or begins to move forward again. If we used the opportunities to deeply question ourselves that we encountered during Neptune’s retrograde and we stuck with them until clarity arose, then during the third phase, we’re able to begin to apply what we’ve discovered. We may begin to correct areas that need some adjustments, or we may wrap up whatever old business we needed to address and begin to move towards other aspirations once again. We may also simply renew the same dreams and continue on the same path with increased confidence and empowerment. Towards the end of this phase, we may finally get some of the answers for which we have been searching.

In the fourth and final phase, the pre-retrograde shadow starts before the post-retrograde shadow of the previous retrograde has ended. What happens during this phase may lead us to realize that the answers to our questions raise even more questions. We may begin to feel a new stage of our journey beginning despite not having much, if any, clarity about what it will entail. It may feel like everything is coming together all at once. We may even feel a sense of events being tied together in beautifully expansive and intricate ways. Or we may simply begin new endeavors and develop new dreams as we move on from our past. Stay alert and ready to make big changes during this time. In 2018 and 2019, the fourth phases occurs between late February and mid March. Once the fourth phase has ended, the first phase begins again. Watch for the theme of a realization received towards the end of the fourth phase to repeat itself with increased clarity and depth the following Autumn.

I’d like to take a moment to point out that transits and natal chart placements are not definitive predictions. They are, for the most part, simply natural tendencies. Also noteworthy is the fact astrology is incredibly complex. Our natal charts are simply snapshots in time, and they’re impacted by current transits (what’s happening in the sky now), the charts of people in our lives, and other factors. Additionally, everything in any chart is connected to everything else in that chart one way or another. No placement is an island. I’ve read books by people who have been astrologers for four decades, and those astrologers say that they’re still seeing things in their own natal charts that they’d never noticed before.

One of the things in a chart that can impact how Neptune’s areas of influence impact us is placements in those areas and aspects to those placements. For example, if Neptune in your natal chart is in hard aspect (square, opposite, or conjunct) to a personal planet (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars) or if you have personal planets in Pisces or the 12th house, than the cycle I described related to Neptune’s retrograde may impact you much more strongly. You may also find that you experience this cycle more often and in shorter periods of time than what is described in this article. If, for example, your natal Neptune is in hard aspect to your natal Moon, then you may find that you experience these cycles every month as the transiting moon conjuncts your natal moon.

How might we make the most of Neptune’s influence? As mentioned above, people usually see their inner world and the outer world as two distinct things, but they are not actually two separate realms. Our experiences with the outside world impact us from before we’re even born, our perception of the outside world is a direct reflection of our inner state, the way we understand our perceptions influences our behavior, and our behavior impacts the world around us and the types of experiences we will have in the future. We are an inextricable part of the world and people around us, and vice versa. There are plenty of things in the world that are entirely beyond our influence and direct experience, of course, and there are things within us that are so deep that we never consciously observe or alter them.

There is an entire spectrum of levels ranging from the deepest level within us, the part of us that never changes, to the outermost level. One might say that the second to outermost level is existence itself. The universe. Life. Science says that matter and energy cannot be created nor destroyed. They just keep changing forms. Everything exists within, arises from, and returns to the same universal pool of matter and energy. The very outermost level is the timeless stillness, silence, and space upon which the dance of existence manifests as it swirls into and out of a myriad of forms throughout time.

Our conscious awareness lies towards the middle of these levels. Some people naturally focus more attention on the outer, and some people focus more on the inner. Our range is generally pretty limited either way. We can explore in either direction, and when we do, we also wind up with a better understanding of the other because our outer world is a direct reflection of our inner world. We can learn about ourselves by going out and experiencing more of life in the world around us, and we can learn about life and the world around us by diving to new depths within our own unconscious minds.

Our subconscious minds deliver information to us from the levels outside of our conscious awareness. These messages come to us through our emotions, dreams, visions, intuition, symbols, synchronicities, imagination, IFS, etc. The information in the messages could come from our own unconscious minds, or it could be from something bigger than us.

Rainbows are a wonderful analogy for these levels. If the warm end of the color spectrum is the innermost layers and the cool end is the outermost layers, our conscious minds would generally focus on yellow and green. We can explore orange and blue through introspection and experiencing the world. We can, if we so desire, explore further and learn a bit about our deepest unconscious workings and our individual Selves in red as well as the broader spiritual truths of the universe in violet.

There is, however, another color in the spectrum. The same color can, at times, be seen either the red side or the violet side of the spectrum. It’s the color magenta. In this analogy, magenta represents that unchanging level of ourselves that lies beneath everything else. It also represents the outermost level, the void that allows for the birth of the world of form. It is the timeless stillness, silence, and space that exists within, beneath, and beyond all things. It is awareness of this level of our being that makes us one with the whole of existence. It opens us up to experiencing the entire rainbow. It is why surrender is the only thing that leads to true empowerment.

We can most fully access “magenta” by looking deep within ourselves. This is much easier said than done because there is a gaping hope, a void, an emptiness within all of us that we feel threatening to swallow us and spend all of our efforts trying to avoid. It’s the pain of separation, of aloneness. We must allow it to consume us entirely in order to realize that it is not our end, but our beginning. By allowing ourselves to be fully annihilated by the aching chasm we feel within us, we find home, wholeness, and unconditional love and acceptance. We finally find the fulfillment that we have been searching for somewhere out there all along by surrendering to the very pain we have been trying our very best to avoid and finding that this pain is “magenta”. The void is true freedom. We cannot know this until we allow ourselves to be fully engulfed by it. Until then, it will feel like we must avoid it at all costs.

We can also catch little glimpses of “magenta” by experiencing the world around us in a way that causes let go of our attachment to our personal significance in the world. This may be done through activities such as staring into the night sky or observing the view from a mountaintop while contemplating how infinitesimally small we are.

Either way, there must be a loss of ourselves as an individual in that moment in order to experience “magenta” and know that everything is right in the universe. Magenta is Oneness. Magenta is the highest expression of Neptune.

It’s entirely natural to fear death. Humans have a very strong self-preservation instinct. It keeps us alive as individuals and as a species. Facing any kind of death, whether it’s of our bodies, dreams, ideals, beliefs, relationships, or anything else can be extremely difficult. Even change can be difficult, especially if we don’t know how things will turn out. There’s a part of all of us that craves stability.

Consider the position of Pisces on the Wheel of the Zodiac. Each sign resolves an issue created by the previous sign, but it also creates an issue for the next sign to resolve. In Scorpio, things are dark and intense and very personal. Sagittarius comes in with a drive to lighten up, let go, and explore the world in search of Truth. Capricorn comes in with traditional values and society’s expectations, and it seeks to create material gain in the world as it exists. Aquarius comes in and says, “You know what? There are some things about the way the world currently works that are messed up. Let’s fix it.” Aquarius is very idealistic, progressive, and driven by its belief systems. Pisces comes in and just lets it aaaaaaaaall go. It’s the end of the cycle. It’s where we release our attachments and beliefs and allow things to change or end. And what comes next? Aries. Aries is the spark of life. It’s the creation of new energy. It’s passion and strength.

The lesson of Neptune, Pisces, and the 12th House may best be summed up with the old adage, “If you love something, let it go. If it returns to you, it’s yours forever [or at least until the end of the next cycle]. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.” When we allow our dreams to just entirely die, we’re allowing the opportunity for them to be reborn full of new life or for new and better aspirations to take their place. It’s scary because we don’t know what will happen, but if we can allow ourselves to stay in the space of not knowing for a bit, it gives way to a much deeper clarity when the time is right.

One final thing to consider is that the higher expression of every sign of the Zodiac incorporates a bit of its opposite, so it’s necessary to stay grounded in Virgo in order to realize healthy expression of Pisces. The old proverb, “Before enlightenment, chop wood; carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood; carry water,” describes this dynamic quite well. The higher expression of Pisces is very much about opening ourselves up, but in order for it to be safe to do that, we need to make sure our physical and practical needs are met. One area in which Virgo particularly excels is keeping our surroundings well organized, so de-cluttering can be an excellent way to support higher Pisces expression. Physical self-care such as eating nutritious food, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, and getting enough physical activity are also part of Virgo’s domain. There’s much more that could be said about Virgo, of course, but the main idea here is to remember that balance is important. Take good care of yourself!