How Planets Started Retrograding: A Fable

Long ago, before astrology became an art and science, the King and Queen of the heavens, the Sun and Moon, would host frequent dinners for all the planets at their heavenly palace. The Queen would dress in her brightest white gown, adorned by glistening stars and cloudy lace. She would always expect fascinating conversation. Instead the gathered planets would complain about humans. They all sat at a huge round table in a spacious chamber decked with stars and moving swirls of distant galaxies.

Decked in his motley colored robes, Mercury griped the loudest and fastest. “I feel like I’m their servant instead of a servant of the most High,” he spat out. “They expect all their messages and commerce to go merrily along without so much as a thank you or thought about how hard I have to work, between heaven, earth and the underworld, to keep things straight.”

Not to be outdone by his diminutive peer, Jupiter said, “Yes, ingrates,” slightly shaking the table with his thunderous voice. “We do our very best to bring them wisdom, guidance and understanding, and they just whiz along as if the universe unfolds nonstop just for them! I think they should . . .”

Mars stopped playing with the Royals’ silverware just long enough to interrupt what would have become one of Jupiter’s monologues. “They should do a lot of things. But I like ‘em. They tend to do whatever pops in their minds without thinking about the consequences or mulling over things too much. I think you all demand too much of them.”

“I don’t think we demand enough of them, actually,” Saturn drawled out. “We do all the heavy lifting for them, and they claim the glory all for themselves.”

“Look, maybe we take ourselves too seriously,” said Uranus, decked in a simple silver tunic. He sat flanked by his quieter companions, Neptune and Pluto. “After all, why should they be so much more in awe of us! Yes, we’re bigger than they are, but we must recognize that Terrestrials have a right to their independence and creative flair without attribution to us.”

“I always forget you’re here,” Saturn said.

“One day, you won’t have that luxury, sir,” Uranus retorted.

“Terrestrials?” Mercury said.

Uranus sighed. “Beings from the planet Earth, also known as Terra.”

Mercury was oblivious to Uranus’ impatience. “Terrestrials. Hunh. I like that word. Thank you!”

Amused, Uranus said, “My pleasure.”

“You’ve been unusually quiet, Venus. What do you think about the…Terrestrials?” said the Queen, beaming all her brightness on the third most beautiful being in the room, after the King and herself.

Venus cleared her throat and stroked away the locks of hair nowhere near her face. “I see everyone’s points. Humans are often rude and inconsiderate. They like to claim their good fortune without acknowledging our labors.  Earth would be so less attractive if they didn’t have us. But, at the same time, why should we expect them to be aware of us and all we do in their world when there’s no proper time or reason to take notice of us?”

Saturn’s usual stony face seemed to almost crack into a million pieces, with his mouth at the epicenter of the explosion. “No proper time? No proper reason! I give them plenty of time!” Plumes of dust rose around him as he sputtered. “I give them plenty of reason! I think we all do!”

The Sun burst in, then. “I think we should all remember that what we give humans is only at the blessing of the Creator who made us! Yes, we may do a lot, but even your majesties only rule by the power given to us.”

The room fell quiet.

“But something must be done,” the King continued. “I, too, have seen how humans seem to take our gifts for granted, never stopping to honor, contemplate or improve upon the blessings we share. It is one thing to honor their independence and creative flair, but we must also be honored.”

“Yes, the King is right!” Jupiter bellowed, slapping the dinner table enough to rattle the silverware.

“Of course, the King is right. The King is always right, isn’t he?” Pluto said, perhaps a little louder than he meant. Everyone looked at him, attempting to determine whether he was being brazen or brushing off Jupiter’s enthusiasm. Pluto looked back and merely smirked.

“You are quite wise, my husband.” Looking at Venus, the Queen said, “As are you Venus. Perhaps it would be wise for them to have proper time at which to take notice of us.”

Mercury got excited. “Yes, maybe if each of us had a parcel of time, reflecting the King’s daily full chariot ride around the Earth, the Terrestrials might have enough time to understand and appreciate what we do for them!”

The Moon spread her gorgeous full face at Mercury. “I like that. My husband’s regular chariot ride will be known as days to them and each of us will have one.”

Everyone nodded. The King sat erect, as he was wont to do when he was about to make a decree. “So shall it be that these ‘days’ will start with I and the Queen having ours first. Then shall Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have theirs!”

“Wait a minute, what about . . .” Uranus squealed from across the table.

“May I suggest a different order, my love?” said the Queen.

Surprised, the King said, “You see a better way?”

“I would never presume to see an order different from yours as better. But it may prompt the humans to reflect upon the cosmos more profoundly.”

“Then by all means, show us the way, my Queen.”

The Queen bobbed her head at the King, zipping a gleam on all the dishes and silverware on the table.

“I suggest we alternate the days between what’s male and female among us.”

“How are you going to do that when there are fewer females here?” Saturn said.

“Uh, how about the more obvious fact that . . .” Uranus said, before the Queen spoke again.

“Not entirely true. We seem to forget that our dear Mercury here is both male and female. He is a blend of both.”

Mercury blushed.

“So I suggest we start off our days with the King and Queen, as the King suggested. But then shall Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn go, alternating between male and female.”

All the planets named seem to coo and nod at the Queen’s suggestion. The King cleared his throat to amend his decree.

“HEY! WHAT ABOUT US?” Uranus belted as he gestured to his companions, Neptune and Pluto.

“Oh, yes, what about you?” Saturn drolly said, pursing his lips.

The Queen looked embarrassed and at a loss for words. The King didn’t miss a beat.

“The seven days will reflect the seven planets humans can see with their own two eyes. But there will come a time when they will also see you with more than their eyes. But not yet. They must earn the ability to see you all. Seeing your beauty will mark the beginning of their awareness of who they are in the cosmos. Their recognition of you will be more significant than our seven days. It will mark the beginning of a time when humans will hunger for more than the planets gathered at this table. Individuals will remember us as we seven servants journey at the footstool of the Almighty, the thing humans call the Zodiac. However, whole generations will remember you.”

Uranus, for a change, was shocked by the King’s prophetic and wise words. He bowed.

The Queen was very encouraged by the King’s clarity and spoke. “Alright, then! Let’s agree to meet here again on…Sunday! We will discuss how this new arrangement has worked for everyone. “

Jupiter reached out one of his massive hands and grabbed his huge chalice. He made a toast. “Here’s to a new era for us planets!”

All the planets, even sullen Pluto, gripped their chalices and joined in the toast. And for the first time in many, many years they enjoyed their meals with lively and pleasant conversation. The Sun and Moon were ecstatic.

Next Sunday everyone was back at the dinner table. To the Queen’s horror, the complaining and grumbling were also back, even louder this time.

“You know what thousands of those dust mites did on my day? Nothing. They lay around waiting for something or another. I thought they would organize mighty attacks or strategize glorious battles on my day. Or something.” Mars practically spewed lava.

Mercury cocked his head sideways as if he were one of Mars’ black hunting hounds. “Last Sunday you didn’t care what they did. Why expect more now?”

“I don’t know!” Mars blustered. “Isn’t that what my day should be about!”

Before Mercury could answer, Venus sounded out.

“My day was lovely. People relaxed, picked flowers, made love. At night, they partied into the wee hours of the morning.”

“For some reason, they called my day ‘hump’ day,” Mercury said slowly. “Things seemed to go pretty much as normal, but I spent most of the day attempting to figure out what they meant.”

“Well, did you?” Jupiter thundered.

“Yes. I was merely the middle of the week for them. Nothing special.”

“The week?” Neptune asked.

“Yes, that’s what they call our seven days.”

Neptune laughed. “They called them the week?! The week!” She roared some more.

No one was amused.

“Oh well, you have to be out of sight to get it, I guess,” Neptune said recovering her composure.

“I didn’t get it,” Pluto said, with his elbow on his armrest and his hand holding the full weight of his head.

“Maybe you’ll have to get it later,” Neptune said.

Pluto’s hand slid toward his chin and his eyes danced before hers.

“How was everything for your Majesties?” Saturn asked, attempting to reestablish decorum.

“I would have to agree with Mercury and Mars,” said the Moon, barely reflecting her usual bright light. “On my day, people mostly seemed moody and reluctant to get on with their day. I felt no more honor on that day than the next.”

“That may have been some of my fault, my sweet,” the King chimed in. “When I made an extra effort to shine, people played and frolicked in my light. But when I lay quietly behind some clouds, they seemed no more mindful of my presence. So I made most of day bright and shiny for them. They were probably exhausted.”

“Yes, it’s completely disheartening. I expected mirth and learning on my day. But everyone was counting the hours to Venus’ day,” Jupiter said. Then he let out a sigh that echoed throughout the now quiet chamber.

“Sorry,” Venus said.

“It’s okay,” Jupiter puffed out.

Looking as bored as ever, Pluto said, “Well, I don’t know what you all expected. You can’t change how people think about you according to a day, especially if you appear the same to them every day.”

The Sun roared at Pluto, “What did you say?!”

Everyone looked back at Pluto as if he were doomed. Even Neptune gulped.

Pluto scratched the back of his neck with his right hand, sat up straight and then repeated, “Well, I don’t know what you all expected. You…”

The King started to rise out of his seat. The Queen interjected.

“You’re right, Pluto.”

“WHAT?” said the King.

“He’s right. He might have been more civil, but he’s still right. We appear to them the same every day, so they have no reason to change how they behave. The day doesn’t matter.”

“Then are we going to need more than a week’s time, your Excellency?” Saturn said.

“I believe so,” she said.

“How about as long as your full drive around the Earth, my Queen?” Mercury said.

“28 days?”

“Roughly. Give or take a day,” he added.

“But that doesn’t solve the problem. The Queen will still look the same during those 28 days,” Uranus said flatly.

“Well, you could change your adornments during those 28 days, your Highness,” Venus mused.

“Yes, I could. I could take 14 days to reveal my front in all its regal splendor and glory. And another 14 days to obscure more and more of my back as I face my King,” the Queen said, clapping her hands.

Neptune coughed. “Glamour puss!”

Mercury squinted. “Did you say…”

“I think that sounds…intriguing, your majesty,” Mars said, with a gleam in his eye.

“Don’t you think this might be showing the…humans too much, my sweet?” The King said, barely able to conceal his objections.

“Not at all. You give your all every day,” The Queen said curtly.

“We also can have those annual occasions where I cover you during the day and you cover me at night,” the Queen said, stroking the King’s hand.

“Ah, yes, the humans call those eclipses,” Mercury ventured.

“But this doesn’t solve the problem of how human beings will honor us. How do the rest of us come to appear different?” As Saturn said that, a humid heaviness and hush descended on the room.

Mars was first to break the silence. “It’s stuffy in here. We need air.” He got up and bowed. The King assented. Then Mars performed the usual court custom of taking a few steps back, so he wouldn’t directly show the royals his backside. Planets only took a few steps. Smaller heavenly bodies would keep stepping back the full length of a room until they were let out a door. As Mars opened a window, the King slammed the table and said, “That’s it!”

Mars slowly turned, thinking he had somehow offended the royals. Again. All attention was rapt on the King.

“I know how ALL of you can give the mortals pause, by doing exactly in your orbits what you avoid in court.”

“And that is…?” Mercury asked.

“Showing your backs. All of us show all of ourselves to them. But if you all show your backs, then it may prompt humans not to take our good graces for granted,” the King said, gesturing his hands forward as if he had given them all a gift.

“We would all go backwards, even you?” Uranus said.

“There’s no need for the Queen and I to…retrograde. We have our daily and now… moonthly motions. We also have eclipses that will give mortals pause enough. But the rest of you will retrograde.”

“This will be something all the planets do, or only the ones the Terrestrials can see now?” Pluto almost hissed out.

The King ignored Pluto’s insolence and proclaimed, “It’s something ALL the planets will do!”

“This is brilliant, my Lord!” The Queen said.

“I know,” said the King.

Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto gave quick glances to each other, wondering how much of the Sun’s smug self-satisfaction they could stand. They were grateful to be far enough out from the King that they didn’t have to feel much of his heat. The rest of the court was enthralled and excited.

“Will we all have a moonth of our own to go backward?” Venus mused, thinking of all outfits she could wear.

“No. You each will have designated times and durations. Mercury!”

“Yes, your Highness?” Mercury trembled out.

“You will retrograde most frequently as you orbit closest to me. You will retrograde for three weeks, roughly, every four months.”

“Oh, I bet the mortals aren’t going to like that!”

“The foolish among them won’t. But the wise will recognize this as a rebirth for how they create communion and do commerce. They won’t let their minds get stale. They will review, recreate, or revisit to get perspective.”

“That sounds lovely!”

“Venus, once every year and a half, roughly, you will retrograde your beauty for about six weeks. Mars, you will retrograde for about two and a half months, every two years.”

“Thank you, your Majesty!” Venus and Mars said in unison, and then both blushed.

“Jupiter and Saturn, you both will retrograde every year for four and some odd months. You will have four months before our annual conference and four months afterwards to move forward. In between, you will give human beings ample reason to be mindful of all that’s noble and requires discipline.”

“Most gracious, your Majesty,” Saturn said.

“You are beyond reproach, your Highness. I marvel at your wisdom and your ability to calculate so quickly all that…”

“You are welcome, Jupiter.”

“As for Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, I give you five months, more or less, to retrograde. Similar to Jupiter and Saturn, I will give you three months before our annual conference and three months after to move forward. But during your retrograde, men and women will have reason to contemplate your unique gifts.”

“Well, that’s when they realize we’re there, that is,” Pluto said.

“Yes, and we pray that will not be too long in coming,” the Sun added.

Neptune’s eyes lit up. “I think this will work!”

Uranus and Pluto looked mildly surprised.

“Of course, it will,” said the King.

Mercury stood. “So I propose we meet here next Sunday to see how the new royal retrogrades take effect!”

“We may need more than a week, Mercury,” Saturn said.

“Saturn’s correct. Let’s meet in a moonth,” said the King. “In that time, we can have you go retrograde, Mercury, and see what happens.”

“So be it,” the Queen exulted. Then they continued with their dinner, eating and talking as merrily as they did when the week was invented.

The planets met again for their dinner with the Sun and Moon. This time they could only talk about Mercury’s swift success with his retrograde. Everyone then talked excitedly about their upcoming retrogrades, even Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, though no humans knew they existed at the time. But that didn’t matter. People came to see that nothing was guaranteed or a necessary given, even bad fortune. No one would take the planets for granted ever again.


2 Responses to “How Planets Started Retrograding: A Fable”

  1. mark seltman Says:

    Retrograde motion is a good time for planetary psychotherapy. Reflection is necessary, however, challenging to see when behavior is modified based on an exoteric system of punishment and reward doled out by dysfunctional hubristic parents. Reminds me of something my friend, Michael Lutin says, “It’s easy to forgive your parents after you’ve screwed up your own kids.” Thanks for the fun read. mark

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