As astrologers gain a better understanding of how the planets affect us, most can agree on one thing: The inner planets (Mercury, Venus, and Mars) rule very distinct areas of our lives. In fact, you could even distill their realms of influence down to a word or two (it might be a little reductive, but it can be done). Meanwhile, the astrological influence of the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) is a little harder to pin down.
There are actually a couple reasons why it's so difficult to describe how these mysterious, faraway planets influence our lives.
For one thing, they just don't do as much as the inner planets. According to the Astrotwins, the outer planets move very slowly through the signs of the Zodiac, sometimes taking up to 15 years to complete a transit. This can make it harder to determine whether Neptune, for instance, is impacting changes in our lives — or if we're just growing up.
For another thing, the outer planets rule more nebulous areas of our lives (forgive the pun). Jupiter, the authority figure of the planets, handles matters of trust, luck, and wisdom. Saturn touches most forms of challenge: discipline, limits, and fear. Uranus rules internal changes and inspiration. Dreamy Neptune influences our intuition and spiritual side. Most distant of all, Pluto's influence is most clearly felt in our areas of control (or lack thereof) in our lives.
Keep these more abstracted qualities in mind when you get news of an outer planet entering retrograde. Unlike a Venus or — shudder — Mercury retrograde, an outer planet retrograde does not necessarily spell doom. Well, at least Jupiter, Uranus, and Pluto retrogrades are fine by us. When these planets take a backspin, they can actually have positive effects on our lives: Jupiter retrograde gives you a chance to think through your actions, Uranus retrograde can be personally liberating, and Pluto retrograde can actually be a wakeup call to take control of our everyday lives.
That said, Saturn and Neptune in retrograde can be just as nightmarish as the most signal-scrambling Mercury retrograde. Where Saturn retrograde sends plans and logistics into a tailspin, Neptune retrograde is just the harshest reality-check you can imagine (this is the period of time when you will realize you may never make your wildest dreams come true).
If the outer planets remain a mystery, the best way to understand them is to witness them in action: Journal about the major changes in your life and read your horoscope to know which signs they're currently transiting. Keeping better tabs on these celestial bodies, alongside your own life events, will demystify them soon enough.