The Truth About Mercury Retrograde

Mercury Retrograde: Don't Panic!Image: Brian Varcas

Mercury’s retrograde cycles in 2023

Mercury ret. in Capricorn: 29th December 2022  – 18th January 2023

Mercury ret. in Taurus: 21st April – 15th May 2023

Mercury ret. in Virgo: 23rd August –  15th September 2023

Mercury ret. in Capricorn & Sagittarius: 13th December 2023 – 2nd January 2024

(All dates are UT)


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 is true that these happenings occur more readily during Mercury’s retrograde phase, but the essence of the trick 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 forever.

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 scanned the room 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 solely negative. 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 comes not to frustrate but to reveal the flaws in our thinking and perception. It also offers a valuable opportunity to revisit ground covered in the previous few months and correct any decisions or communications that need further attention. It’s not a cosmic banana skin on the pavement, but instead a 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 it 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 fixed stars. 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 from the perspective of the earth. As such, planetary retrogradation is an illusion, but a significant one none-the-less for the wisdom it shares about the inner work needed at those times.

All planets other than the sun and moon (which, of course, aren’t actually ‘planets’ anyway!) undergo periods of retrogradation, and the amount of time spent retrograde lengthens according to their distance from the Sun. Hence the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) remain retrograde for several months but Mercury is retrograde for only about three weeks at a time.

The astrological significance of a retrograde planet

A retrograde planet in a birth chart reflects an area of the psyche where energy is focused inward rather than externalised. Whereas a direct (that is, a non-retrograde) planet interacts with, influences and is influenced by the environment, a retrograde planet saves its energy for the individual rather than the external world. In effect, instead of acting as a bridge between the inner and outer, it pulls up the drawbridge and keeps itself to itself! As such, a retrograde planet can indicate a strength of sorts, an area in which we are self-sufficient and independent of other people. However, when we need to use the planet to navigate externally we find that we can’t engage it effectively and the planet struggles to make its mark. Essentially, retrograde planets act in a more subjective manner precisely because they lack a connection with the objectivity of the external environment. We may look at the world through our own eyes without realising that other people see things very differently!

There can be both individuation and internalisation when a natal planet is retrograde. We express it in a more individualistic way due to its disconnect from the influence of external forces and we process its impact as an internal experience rather than an external encounter. The riches of a retrograde planet are discovered within, not through interaction with the outside world. Thus, when a planet is retrograde by transit we experience its influence more deeply within us, as we’re encouraged to contemplate the personal truths of life in a private and subjective way.

This article is taken from a longer piece that features in my e book ‘Living Astrology – Sedna and Other Astrological Avatars’. It includes information about Mercury retrograde through the signs and houses, to help you discern what each Mercury retrograde cycle means for you personally. Find out more about it here

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 (30), 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.

I was born when Mercury was retrograde, so how do its retrograde passages affect me?

When we are born with a planet retrograde in our chart, we often find that when that planet goes through its retrograde cycles we are more in tune with the prevalent energy than those people born when the planet was in direct motion. People born with Mercury retrograde often find that life goes more smoothly, not less, when Mercury turns retrograde again. The challenges that other people may face at this time are either met with greater ease or simply don’t arise in the first place. Many people born with Mercury retrograde see this time as one of rest and relaxation where life flows without great effort and things fall into place more readily than at other times.

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 if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the practicalities of inconvenience we can miss the deeper message that Mercury brings because – remember! – a retrograde planet turns us toward our self to process its lessons within, not outward to 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… the reminder that we’re actually in control of very little and much of our ‘control’ is in fact illusion! We can only claim sovereignty over our self. To tie ourselves in knots trying to control the material world and its many vagaries is a long and exhausting journey with little respite!

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 woman mentioned earlier who made the most of her disrupted journey and 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.

This article is taken from a longer piece that features in my e book ‘Living Astrology – Sedna and Other Astrological Avatars’. It includes information about Mercury retrograde through the signs and houses, to help you discern what each Mercury retrograde cycle means for you personally. Find out more about it here

Sarah Varcas