You can pretty much guarantee that toxic relationships, patterns, and behaviors will be caught in the transformative planet's crosshairs.

By Maressa Brown
April 27, 2021
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Even though 2020 is barely in the rearview mirror, you've likely found yourself wondering from time to time exactly how so many historic, challenging incidents could have ended up packed into one calendar year.

And while there are quite a few explanations for that, astrologers will tell you that the year was set up to be life-changing, thanks in part to a rare meet-up between two outer, or transpersonal, planets: Saturn, the planet of boundaries, restrictions, and separation, and Pluto, which oversees death, rebirth, and transformation.

On January 12, 2020, the pair met in the first of three conjunctions in Capricorn, setting off a year riddled with social distancing, sickness, and all too many lives lost, as well as that ever-growing sinking feeling that the old "normal" was slipping between our fingertips and leaving in its place, initially, grief, and ultimately, a new reality.

Pluto retrograde explainer
Credit: Alex Sandoval

All of that was in great part the work of Pluto, the God of the Underworld, which requires us to look at our shadow selves, negative patterns, belief systems, and psychological wounds in order to claim our inner power. Now, while 2021's astrology is a whole different ball game, it's worth keeping the power of the transformation planet in mind heading into its annual retrograde — this year, from April 27, 2021 to October 6, 2021. Here, what you need to know about Pluto's backward turn this year.

What It Means When Pluto Is Retrograde

The planet of transformation, death, rebirth, power and control, the subconscious, and spiritual growth moves extremely slowly, spending anywhere from 12 to 31 years in each sign and taking 248 years to make one trip through all 12 signs. And for about five months every year, Pluto appears to move backward from our vantage point on earth, which means it's retrograde. (That's right, it's not actually moving backward. Ditto with when Mercury is retrograde.)

While moving direct (in other words, whenever it's not retrograde), Pluto's forces can be felt externally. It can shed light on a power struggle you're experiencing with a coworker, lead you to uncover a generations-old family secret, or help you take back control of your life following a breakup. But its retrograde turns its effects inward, requiring you to think about your own personal power, areas of life you wish you could gain a greater sense of control and how you might do that, or aspects of your life you might need to burn down in order to rebuild.

What to Know About 2021's Pluto Retrograde

Ever since November 26, 2008, Pluto has been in Capricorn, the cardinal earth sign symbolized by the Goat and known for its industriousness, pragmatism, cool demeanor, and drive. It'll remain there until January 21, 2024. And from April 27, 2021 to October 6, 2021, Pluto will move backward from 26 degrees to 24 degrees Capricorn.

Inching back two degrees might not sound like a lot, but over the course of a little more than five months, you'll have an opportunity to do some inner work — just like the hardworking Goat — around any power and control issues. Perhaps you'll be coming to the conclusion that you've allowed a close friend, sibling, parent, partner, or manager step all over you and make you feel powerless. Or you've been on some kind of power trip that's harmful to your relationships and ability to maintain your sense of centeredness. It could also be time to look at any of those underlying psychological struggles, like addiction or compulsive behavior, that we often brush under the rug because we're not super comfy with looking at our darkest truths.

And because Pluto is in Capricorn (ruled by taskmaster Saturn), you'll be especially tuned into thinking about ways in which you might need to reclaim your power — or let go of controlling tendencies — in your professional path and in regard to boundaries and structures in your life.

Pluto works sort of like a building demolition, blowing up whatever is false and rotten in order to rebuild from the ground up. So when it's retrograde — especially in a sign that's all about taking slow and steady steps to achieve — you can pretty much guarantee that toxic relationships, patterns, and behaviors will be in the transformative planet's crosshairs. And as intense and intimidating as that might sound, identifying whatever needs to be eliminated — and ultimately, rooting it out — can lead to healing, breakthroughs, and personal growth.

Which Signs Will Be Most Affected by Pluto Retrograde

Although every sign has the potential to feel the effects of the God of the Underworld moving backward, those born while the sun was in the sign of Capricorn — annually from approximately December 22 to January 19 — or with your personal planets (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, or Mars) in Cap (something you can learn from your natal chart), you'll feel this retrograde more than most.

If you want to zero in even further, check to see if you have a personal planet that falls within five degrees of where Pluto stations retrograde and direct (26 and 24 degrees Capricorn). If so, you could be especially called to tune into and address inner power and control issues. (Related: What Your Moon Sign Can Tell You About Your Personality)

And if your rising/ascendant is a cardinal sign — Aries (cardinal fire), Cancer (cardinal water), Libra (cardinal air) — you'll be compelled to identify and clear any toxic dynamics in your career (Aries), partnerships (Cancer), and home life (Libra). It's also worth checking your natal chart to see if any of your personal planets (again, that's your moon sign, Mercury, Venus, and Mars) fall in a cardinal sign, as in that case, you'll feel this Pluto retrograde more than others.

The Bottom Line on Pluto Retrograde 2021

Although retrogrades get a rep for being daunting or troublemaking, they're often just asking you to take a step back from daily life to slow down. That's especially the case when it comes to Pluto, which takes so very long to make its way around the sun. And any transformational progress that stems from its retrograde motion will match its unhurried pace.

If you tend to be especially action-oriented, you could find yourself frustrated by the molasses-like evolution of a Pluto retrograde. But it can help to think about it like shimmery moonlight hovering above a midnight path; when harnessed correctly, it'll allow you to illuminate dark, daunting terrain — in order to eventually make your way through even stronger, more empowered, and truly self-aware.

Maressa Brown is a writer and astrologer with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to being Shape's resident astrologer, she contributes to InStyle, Parents, Astrology.com, and more. Follow her Instagram and Twitter at @MaressaSylvie.

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