Three or four times a year, everyone who knows something about astrology goes through a ritual called Mercury retrograde. Everyone who doesn’t know about astrology gets to have the experience, not sure what it is, though perhaps suspecting that something weird is going on.
We are now approaching the first of four Mercury retrogrades that span between early February 2014 and early February 2015. The upcoming retrograde begins February 6 with Mercury in Pisces and ends on February 28 with Mercury in Aquarius. What I call the “echo phase” and what other astrologers call the “shadow phase” began January 22. The after-retrograde shadow phase begins when Mercury stations direct and runs through March 20.
Typically, the retrograde itself lasts three weeks, but the whole process—wherein Mercury is dancing around the same approximately 15 degrees of the zodiac, lasts for two months. Hence, while Mercury is retrograde just 19% of the time, the retrograde effect can be felt about half the time. It’s the most concentrated around the days when Mercury changes direction.
Associated with lost keys, late or lost payments, disk drive failures, and communication mishaps, Mercury retrograde does not have a very good reputation. Yet, some people love it—if you’re the creative type, or if you have a slightly tweaky mind, if you like the feeling of swimming against the current, you might be one of the people who looks forward with glee to Mercury retrograde happening.
Thanks to the Internet, more people than ever know about Mercury retrograde. The idea is now lodged in popular consciousness as what’s likely the most familiar technical astrological concept. I just searched Google got 405,000 results for Mercury retrograde.
But what is this event really about? And how does it work?
Let’s start with Mercury, the planet. This fleeting little world, the one closest to the Sun, is associated with the mind, ideas, and communication. Mercury is the messenger of the gods, and also the trickster. It’s an event associated with Gemini and Virgo.
In modern astrology, Mercury picks up many of its ancient associations—for example, the messenger function translates to mail and telegraph. It’s associated with communication of all kinds, communication devices, computing devices, commerce, and the flow of money (rather than acquiring wealth—that seems to be more about Mars). Surrounded as we are by all these devices, and nonstop messaging, and by financial instruments (such as debit cards) that are morphed with communication devices (such as the World Wide Web), we have given Mercury a lot of power in our lives.
Hence, Mercury retrograde is probably more powerful in our lives than it ever was. We swim in an ocean of things ruled by Mercury. Our consciousness is fully immersed in them; in many ways, so is our identity. With the advent of handheld devices that go on the Internet, this seems to transcend economic barriers now more than ever.
In English, the word mercurial means “sprightly, volatile, quick,” associated with the speed with which the planet Mercury moves, and how fast and how frequently it seems to change directions (that is the retrograde). It can have a sharp wit and seem smarter than you—Bob Dylan has been described as mercurial and he’s also a Gemini, one sign that Mercury rules.
Mercury is the Roman incarnation of the Greek god Hermes, and analogues of these figures show up throughout Western mythology. There’s also an association to the element mercury, or quicksilver, the only metal that is a liquid at room temperature. Mercury’s androgynous and liquid quality hints at a certain ambivalence. The old books describe its nature as neither male nor female. Between metrosexuality and the LGBTQ movement, we have some clues that gender roles and relationships are coming under the increasing influence of Mercury.
It’s interesting that mercury the metal is a persistent environmental contaminant, and one that is known to interact with and disrupt the normal action of sex hormones. The element mercury is known to artificially induce androgyny.
Of course, the planet Mercury is not made of mercury. It has a huge core with a very high density, leading astronomers to believe that it’s made mostly of iron. In fact, Mercury is believed to have the highest iron content of any planet in the Solar System.
This is all another way of saying Mercury retrograde means a huge magnet passes between the Earth and the Sun, making its closest pass to our planet at the same time. This may explain why devices act weird, but I think that it also helps explain why the mind gets wonky, such as the tendency to lose things, or to perceive problems as being worse than they are: The nervous system runs on electricity. The mind is a device that is, at least on the physical plane, rooted in electricity and magnetism.
In my view, the effects of the retrograde are evenly distributed between a perceptual event and one in the world-outside-the-mind. The combined interaction is powerful—more so for not being easily discernible as a reality or as an illusion.
Some important things to know about Mercury Retrograde:
Don’t Sign, Don’t Buy
This is not a time to sign or buy anything, when you can avoid doing so. I have experimented with making purchases during or near Mercury retrogrades. Most of the time, it turns out I don’t need or don’t use what I purchased. Sometimes it does not work, works strangely, or does not do what I intended it to do.
So I divide my life into times when I buy things and times when I don’t. I will generally make major purchases with Mercury direct and out of echo phase. There are rare exceptions, but not so many. If you buy something during a retrograde, try not to be too attached to it, or expect a break-in period, while you work out the bugs. Really, most things can wait a week or two or three. If they cannot wait, be extra conscious, keep your paperwork, and make sure there is a good return policy.
As for contracts, it’s not always possible to determine when you sign your lease or make the deposit, but I have been known to make landlords wait for weeks before even leaving a deposit. Plan ahead and use what flexibility you have. It’s worth finagling this when you can. The operative events are the first payment and the signature on the contract. The problem if you sign with Mercury retrograde, or about to retrograde, something is likely to reverse itself. Or, you will learn something you wish you had known sooner. Which leads to my second point.
The Truth Comes Out
Mercury has a way of shaking out information, especially right as it stations. You can count on this. If you’re working on a mystery, or a riddle, or an investigation, or research, or trying to solve any mental puzzle, keep it going till the next Mercury station retrograde. Just to be sure, wait for the second batch of information just as Mercury stations direct. This is one reason you want to wait before signing or buying.
If Communication Is Missed, Don’t Assume You’re Being Ignored
Many people shoot off one email and expect a reply. With spam filters, busy people processing hundreds of emails a day, and odd errors like emails not arriving, it’s better to give people the benefit of the doubt. Give people a day or two to respond and, if they don’t, send over a friendly one-liner to the effect of, “hey I emailed you, just want to make sure you saw it.”
If Communication Gets Dicey, Pick Up the Phone
We are getting better at communicating online, but still, it can be difficult to relay feelings or basic concepts, especially with Mercury retrograde. The moment things get weird, pick up the phone and clarify—before things get out of control or real misunderstandings happen.
Resolve the Past, Plan the Future
I have found that the best use for Mercury retrograde is to tidy up what you’ve left unresolved in the past. Clean your desk, organize your stuff, contact old friends, go through your email, and see if you missed anything important. While you’re at it, collect your ideas and figure out what you’re going to do next. Plot and scheme. Use the various qualities of the retrograde to refine your plan over time, then plan a launch some time after the station direct.
It May Not Be Broke; Don’t Try to Fix It So Fast
One phenomenon I’ve noticed during Mercury retrograde is that things seem broken or may appear malfunctioning, but they really are fine. Or, the problem is not as bad as you think. Therefore, before tearing everything apart, or spending a lot of money, or sending anything back to the factory, troubleshoot carefully and try simple solutions. Look for workarounds. The issue I’m suggesting you avoid is solving a problem that doesn’t exist, or worse, making a bigger problem than you thought you had.
Always remember that Mercury is the trickster. That means he, she, or it can be tricky, and you need to use your mind—not have your mind be tricked. Mercury is a kind of a game. Be a good sportsman and keep your sense of humor during Mercury retrogrades.
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© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies