The Truth About Mercury Retrograde
Image: Brian Varcas
To set the scene………
There’s always much talk (and a fair amount of hype!) when Mercury turns retrograde, most of it pretty negative and doom laden. Mention of travel disruption, communication breakdown & misunderstandings abound. People roll their eyes and brace themselves for a few weeks of chaos and confusion as they anticipate the trickster aspect of Mercury messing with their lives. And yes, it can be true that these happenings occur more readily during Mercury’s retrograde phase, but the essence of the trick being played upon us is that they’re not negative events, but moments designed to stop us in our tracks and wake us up.
Many years ago I worked with an Ericksonian hypnotherapist who used the technique of unexpected mispronunciation (often of their name) to pull people up short and take them by surprise, inducing a moment where their ‘everyday’ consciousness was interrupted and a brief state was born into which he could then insert a hypnotic suggestion. Retrograde Mercury acts in much the same way. It suddenly presents us with the unexpected in the context of everyday life, lifting us out of the semi-conscious state in which we often pass our time. At that moment a new suggestion can be made by the cosmos. Seeds for the growth of a different perspective can be planted. If, however, we respond to this moment by frantically trying to return to the ordered world we thought we knew, a moment of creation and awakening can be lost, never to return.
The time of Mercury retrograde is always a time of truth, even when communications seem disrupted and misunderstandings are rife, because misunderstandings themselves are part of the truth of being human. When Mercury is retrograde we’re given a chance to address them and correct the course of events, rather than sweeping them under the carpet, ready to trip us up another day. Indeed, whatever Mercury retrograde brings to us, the best reflection is always, ‘What truth does this reveal to me, and why have I needed it revealed in this way at this time?’. The answers to these questions may be very enlightening indeed…
So no matter what you may have heard about how it’s nothing but a pain, causing disruption to our plans, throwing our communications awry and generally chucking a spanner into the works of our lives, the passage of Mercury retrograde is actually a gift from the heavens which gives us an opportunity to reflect, take stock, review, and correct mistakes we may previously have made in the rush and whirl of everyday life. It’s how we receive and use this gift that matters.
A while ago I heard someone tell a story of when they were travelling and every plane they were booked on was delayed or cancelled. They began to think they would never arrive at their destination and were becoming increasingly frustrated. In a packed airport departure lounge, filled with equally frustrated people, this person decided to make the best of a bad situation. She looked around to see who looked like someone she’d like to get to know better, noticed a woman in the corner, sat down next to her and sparked up a conversation. They ended up sitting together when the flight finally left, and in the course of their conversation on their shared journey, this person’s life was quite literally changed over-night. The seeds of a new perspective were sown. Now, I have no idea whether or not Mercury was retrograde at this time, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was, and this story gives a wonderful example of how retrograde Mercury can work…. if we let it!
Nothing that Mercury retrograde throws our way is insurmountable, no matter how disruptive it may feel at the time. And none of it is essentially negative or bad. So if Mercury retrograde messes with you, consider yourself blessed with an opportunity to wake up and smell the coffee, embrace the unexpected and be prepared for a new perspective. You see, despite the bad press, Mercury retrograde is actually our friend if we’ll only allow it to speak its often unwelcome message! It will reveal to us where adjustment is needed, within and without, and where our attention and focus may be hindering rather than helping us. It’s sent not to frustrate us but to show where flaws exist in our thinking and perception, which need to be addressed. It also gives us a valuable opportunity to revisit ground covered in the previous few months and correct any decisions or communications that need further attention. This is not the heavens wanting to trip us up, a cosmic banana skin on the pavement. No, this is the heavens giving us the chance to review, reflect and try a different way. Mercury’s regular retrograde cycle is a self-correcting mechanism of the universe, enabling things that need adjustment to be adjusted before it’s too late! And for that reason alone we should welcome Mercury Retrograde with open arms…
A (very) brief explanation of what retrograde motion actually is…
When we say that a planet is retrograde, we mean that, from the perspective of the Earth, it appears to be moving backwards against the constellations of stars that form the zodiac signs as we know them. This phenomenon occurs because the speed at which the planet is orbiting the Sun is different to the speed at which the Earth orbits the Sun. Of course, the planet in question hasn’t suddenly changed direction, it merely appears to have done so at certain points in its orbit relative to the Earth. As such, planetary retrogradation is an illusion, but a significant one none-the-less, for the messages that it brings us about the inner work we need to undertake at those times.
All planets other than the Sun and Moon (which, of course, aren’t actually ‘planets’ anyway!) undergo periods of astrological retrogradation, and the amount of time they spend retrograde lengthens according to their distance from the Sun, with the Outer Planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) remaining retrograde for several months but Mercury being retrograde for only about three weeks at a time.
The astrological significance of a retrograde planet
A retrograde planet in a birth chart renders the expression of that planet more contemplative and considered, less likely to unconsciously follow the herd. There can be both individuation and internalisation when a natal planet is retrograde: we express it in a more individual way due to the deeper level of consideration we bring to it, and we process its influence much more as an internal experience than as an external encounter. The riches of a retrograde planet are discovered within us, not through interaction with the outside world. Thus, when a planet is retrograde by transit (that is, at any current moment in our lives), we experience its influence more deeply within us, as we’re encouraged by the cosmos to contemplate the truths of life in a reflective way.
And a bit about the planet Mercury, Ruler of Gemini
(and, traditionally, Virgo)
The planet Mercury is the planet of communication, teaching, learning and understanding. It relates in part to our mind and intellect, how we go about gathering information and the way we communicate that information to others. It governs our interest in life in general, and how much we do or don’t interact with our environment. It also relates to our childhood education, our early life, to siblings and to our local environment and community. It seems like a broad range of areas covered by Mercury, but in essence they’re all about contact and connection in some form or other, whether it be the connection that we experience in early life via our immediate family and community, or the connection that we can nurture at any time through communication with others.
Mercury helps us understand life and make sense of our everyday experience. It does not, however, take us deeply into things, preferring to deal with the necessary surface issues of life before moving on to the next thing. Mercury is a flexible planet and its energy can be quite immature at times! It is often observed that Mercury has few morals. It’s not immoral, it’s amoral: it seeks understanding and recognises connections and possibilities without particularly engaging in the rights and wrongs of those possibilities. In myth, Mercury was the messenger of the gods. It wasn’t his job to judge the messages and information that he imparted, only to communicate them.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, never journeying more than 28o away from it. As a result, the only possible aspects that can occur between the Sun and Mercury are the conjunction (0o) and the semi-sextile (30o ), and Mercury can only ever be in the same sign as the Sun, or the preceding or following sign. So, for example, everyone born with the Sun in Capricorn will have Mercury in Sagittarius, Capricorn or Aquarius.
Why everyone talks about Mercury Retrograde!
As you can see, Mercury is very influential in our day-to-day existence, ruling the building blocks of our interaction with others such as computers, the media, telecommunications, travel and our local environment. So it’s no wonder that we experience its effects quite readily. We all know the frustration of a computer crash, a cancelled train or a misunderstanding with someone that leaves everybody feeling out of sorts and dissatisfied. When Mercury turns retrograde these things can occur more frequently and with greater consequences, hence the negativity surrounding these periods of time.
But in allowing ourselves to be distracted by the practicalities of such inconveniences we can easily miss the deeper messages that Mercury holds for us because, remember, a retrograde planet turns us in upon ourselves to process its lessons within, not tackle them in the external world. If we focus all our energy and attention on getting our computer running again we may just miss the most important aspect of the trickster’s influence in our life… that which reminds us we’re actually in control of very little in life. In fact, it’s only ourselves over which we can really claim any sovereignty, and to tie ourselves in knots trying to control the material world and its vagaries is a long and exhausting journey with few rewards at the end of it!
Which, of course, isn’t to say that we shouldn’t sort out the computer problem or find a different route to that meeting we should be at when our train’s cancelled, but it does mean we should also remember there’s a whole other level to what’s going on, and the more we can engage with that too (and what better time to do that than sat in a station waiting room, or in a traffic jam, with nowhere to go and nothing to do?!) the better. Like the story mentioned earlier, of the woman who made the most of her disrupted journey and as a result met someone who changed her life, we too can use Mercury’s tricks and games to enhance the richness of our own existence if we choose.
Thank you for reading! I hope I’ve given you a new perspective on our trickster friend, who merely wants us on track and will do what it takes to get us there!