by Gary P. Caton, 2018 Celestial Planting Calendar
The apparent retrograde motion of the planets is an interesting natural phenomena. The word “planet” is derived from the Greek word “planētēs” meaning “wanderer.” And while it is natural for those who wander to backtrack from time to time, it remains a genuine mystery for many just what the deeper meaning of these backward celestial wanderings could be. In particular, Venus is the planet that is most rarely found moving backward. Venus is retrograde for only about 40-43 days of its 584 day synodic cycle, or about 7-8% of the time. This gives an important clue. Retrograde motion is at strong variance to what is usual or “normal.” Coincidentally, it just so happened that Steiner gave his groundbreaking Agriculture Course in June of 1924, at a time of one of these relatively rare Venus retrogrades.
One of the things I really love about the Biodynamic system is that it derives planetary functions directly from the astronomy, and in this way we can use further astronomical observation to gain deeper insight into the retrograde mysteries. In the very first lecture of the Agriculture Course, Steiner tells us that Venus (along with Mercury and the Moon) belongs to the group of planets closer to Earth which work via limestone in the soil, respond to water and activate the reproductive parts of the plant.
More recently, George Schmidt and his coworkers divided the planets into three groups, those near, far and “wechsel” or alternating. This concept is based on the Earth-Sun distance of approximately 93 million miles, also known as the astronomical unit (AU). Jupiter and Saturn are always further from the Earth than one astronomical unit, with the Moon and Sun being conversely relatively near. But Mercury, Venus and Mars are sometimes closer to the Earth than the Sun, and sometimes farther. It is in their periods of closeness that they appear retrograde.
For instance, at the inferior conjunction (from Latin inferius, meaning “below”) with the Sun, Venus is a mere 24-25 million miles from Earth, less than 1/3 AU. At superior conjunction (from Latin superius, meaning “above”), Venus is more than six times farther, about 162 million miles.
When Venus is closest to Earth we experience the apparent retrograde, as Earth is being passed by the speedier planet. Venus is invisible to us at this time because it is too close to the Sun, but a mere 36 days on either side of the inferior conjunction marks its brightest apparitions. Here Venus is only in crescent phase, but because of its proximity to Earth it appears larger, such that its illumination is greater than its much smaller “Full” phase Venus.
The turning points in Venus’ relationship to Earth occur around her elongations. When Venus reaches Greatest Western Elongation (morning elongation), her daily eastern speed as seen from Earth becomes greater than that of the Sun, and the planet moves in the prograde direction as it moves further away from Earth. When Venus approaches Greatest Eastern Elongation (evening elongation), her daily eastern speed decreases and eventually reverses. The planet then begins to move in the retrograde direction as it starts moving closer to Earth. Venus’ evening elongation this year is on August 17 and her morning elongation will be in January 2019.
Now that we understand Venus’ alternating nature astronomically, let us apply it to the Biodynamic system. In lecture one of the Agricultural Course, Steiner tells us that Venus, along with Mercury and the Moon, belong to the group of planets closer to Earth which work via limestone in the soil, respond to water and activate the reproductive parts of plants. Maria Thun assigns Venus to the Light/Air ether which corresponds to flowering parts.
How can we reconcile these positions? It seems to me that the effects of Venus are more earthy in the closer part of its orbit namely the “inferior phase” (from evening elongation through inferior conjunction to morning elongation). And conversely, Venus takes on a more cosmic energy in the further parts of its orbit, what we call the “superior phase” (from morning elongation through superior conjunction to evening elongation).
In practical terms, if “inferior” means “below,” then Venus’ inferior phase, especially during retrograde when Venus is closest to Earth, may be a suitable time for working with the soil itself, testing it and remediating for proper balance – particularly with respect to the minerals calcium and magnesium which limestone provides. When we map the celestial motion of Venus, there is further reason to think that this “below” part of the agricultural work especially applies to this particular Venus retrograde, which occurs this year between October 5 and November 16.
Over the course of eight years, Venus retrogrades five times. Each of these retrogrades has its own particular shaped loop in the sky. Only two of these loops have a shape where Venus loops downward into the southern latitude, below the ecliptic. This 2018 retrograde is one of the “below” shaped loops. Venus will be significantly below the ecliptic (that is, lower than any of the stars in Virgo) not only during its retrograde, but for all of September, October and the first week of November. This is a rare moment to work with the earthy side of Venus, as it relates to the Earth/Water, reproduction and Root/Leaf functions, and also to soil.
Gary P. Caton - Astronomer, Writer, Forecaster
Growing up in a rural setting outside Leesburg, Virginia, Gary developed passions for gardening and farming early in life and has lived on working farms.
In 1993 Gary was initiated into the planetary mysteries by seeing alignments in a dream. His deep love of nature fuels his enthusiasm for stargazing and astrophotography. Gary claims it has been a true joy combining his lifelong passion for learning with the tasks of completing the calculations and contributing to the forecasts for this calendar. Based on more than two decades of experience, he incorporates several new elements into this text, including consideration of the sextile aspect and a look at the deeper mysteries of the retrograde loops of Venus and Mars.