Mercury retrograde has a reputation for sticking a spanner in the works and messing things up. He gets the blame for accidents, mistakes, lost items and communication meltdowns, but it’s not his fault! It’s you who loses your phone, misses the train, and chooses to send misguided text messages, not Mercury.
The planets don’t cause anything. They reflect changes to the archetypes that function through your psyche. Mercury retrograde represents a journey into the unknown so you can expand your awareness. These times provide an opportunity to change the way you think, but first you have to listen to what Mercury is trying to tell you. If you learn the lessons of Mercury retrograde, you’re much less likely to suffer these mishaps of communication because you’ll understand your own mind better.
Mercury retrograde periods happen three or four times each year, and last about three weeks each time. They provide an opportunity to slow down and pay attention to what you’re doing so you can break out of old habits and bring a new perspective to your life. If you work with the energy of the time rather than battling to swim against the tide, you’re less likely to be surprised by setbacks and problems, even when they do happen.
It’s also important to remember that accidents and mistakes happen all the time, not just when Mercury is retrograde. But when Mercury goes retrograde, these kinds of events may be more likely to occur, or you just don’t deal with them so well. We’ll have a look at why that might be in a moment, but first:
What does Retrograde mean?
All the planets have periods of retrograde motion (except for the Sun and Moon because they’re not planets – they’re luminaries). When a planet is retrograde it appears to be moving backwards in the sky. It’s not actually going backwards – it just looks that way to us down here on Earth.
It’s like when you’re in a car going along the motorway and you overtake another car in the next lane. You’re both still barrelling forwards, but the other car will appear to be moving backwards in relation to you. It’s an optical illusion.
When a planet goes retrograde it moves over the same points in the zodiac three times (sometimes more) during its cycle. It also appears to slow down and is said to be ‘making a station.’ For a short while, the planet appears to stand still in the sky over one particular point: it stations retrograde, and then stations direct at the end of the cycle.
There’s also a shadow period before and after the retrograde motion where the effects fade in and then out again. This happens because the planet slows down as it approaches the station retrograde, and then takes a little while to get back up to normal speed again following the station direct. The shadow period is also sometimes referred to as the ‘retrograde zone.’
In general, retrograde motion is interpreted to mean that the energies represented by the planet have turned inwards so they’re not as easy to access with the conscious mind. Activity in the area represented by the sign and house position of the planet will tend to slow down and problems can arise depending on how you deal with the situation.
Mercury Retrograde 101
Mercury represents how you think and communicate, as well as short journeys and travel. It covers all aspects of perception and how you understand information and navigate reality. More details on the planet here: Mercury Keywords
Mercury is also the only god who can travel between worlds with impunity. He journeys into the Underworld and back on a regular basis, guiding souls into the afterlife. It’s this function as soul guide that allows Mercury to pass messages from the deeper Self to the ego, or conscious self.
And this is what’s happening during a Mercury retrograde cycle. Your mind turns inwards and away from its normal worldly concerns. This lack of attention can then lead to communication breakdowns and technical malfunctions and all the typical Mercury retrograde bugbears.
Mercury retrograde represents a shift in perception that helps you to see things in new ways and find alternative solutions to problems. At best, you’ll be able to tap into creative ideas and possibilities and find new ways to connect with others. But you might also feel confused and a bit lost.
Communication isn’t straightforward at the best of times. We don’t understand what’s going on in our own minds, never mind with other people, so even with Mercury direct there are misunderstandings. Mercury retrograde makes the mismatch between what we think is going on and what is actually going on worse.
So the key to making the most of Mercury retrograde is to go with the flow and slow down. Pay attention to what you’re doing and work with your mind, not against it. Mercury retrograde encourages you to turn inwards so you can gain greater insight into the workings of your own mind.
The worst effects of Mercury retrograde usually happen when you try to carry on as normal. If you think you’re in control and on top of everything, then beware. You’re more or less inviting Mercury in to mess up your life, re-arrange the furniture while you’re asleep, hide the remote control, and drop your phone in the toilet!
Remember: everybody experiences Mercury retrograde at the same time, so even if you manage to stay out of trouble on a personal level, you may still get caught up in the collective effects of the transit, like travel delays, for example. But whatever happens, the important thing is how you respond.
It’s worth mentioning that if you’re an introvert or prone to being philosophical and reflective by nature, then Mercury retrograde might not cause you as many problems. The inward focus feels normal to you. But you’ll still have to deal with people around you crashing into the furniture, losing their keys, and getting confused – so prepare wisely!
To make the most of these times you need to understand the difference between the various parts of the Mercury cycle. Here’s a diagram showing the basic relationship between Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth – not to scale!
The cycle starts with the superior conjunction which is formed when Mercury is on the opposite side of the Sun to Earth and moving at full speed. When Mercury reaches its greatest eastern elongation, the planet appears to slow and goes retrograde and passes between the Earth and the Sun, where it forms an inferior conjunction with the Sun. Mercury then stations direct just before it reaches its greatest western elongation, and slowly picks up speed until it makes the superior conjunction again.
At the time of posting (12th March) Mercury has just entered the shadow period for his first retrograde cycle of 2018. The cycle began on 17th February with the superior conjunction at 28° Aquarius, and it unfolds like this: [for this year’s dates go here: The Astrology of 2020]
- superior conjunction with Sun: 17th February
- entered shadow period: 8th March
- stations retrograde: 22nd March at 16° Aries
- inferior conjunction with Sun: 1st April
- stations direct: 15th April
- leaves shadow period: 3rd May
- superior conjunction with Sun: 6th June (start of next cycle)
This cycle is often divided into two phases named after the Greek gods of forethought (Epimetheus) and afterthought (Prometheus). The Epimethean phase starts with the superior conjunction and ends with the inferior conjunction. It’s during this phase that the mind turns inwards when Mercury stations retrograde.
The Promethean phase starts with the retrograde inferior conjunction and ends when Mercury reaches full speed at the superior conjunction. This is when the mind begins to turn outwards again, although you won’t really feel it until Mercury turns direct.
To see how this works it helps to break the cycle down into four phases starting with the station retrograde during the Epimethean phase:
Station Retrograde (Epimethean)
This is when your mind turns inwards to reflect on what you’ve been doing over the previous month or so since the last superior conjunction of Mercury and the Sun. Mercury crosses the threshold into the Underworld and pulls your mind into a liminal space that can make it hard to think clearly. You may feel confused, frustrated, and full of doubt and uncertainty. But it can also bring up new perspectives and possibilities, solutions to problems and creative ideas to improve your life.
Now is a good time to step back and check to see how your life is unfolding. You don’t have to stop doing everything or put your life on hold. You just need to pay attention to what you’re doing and thinking. It’s a time to focus on being more self-aware, rather than rushing about. If you resist the need to slow down you’re more likely to have communication breakdowns or travel mishaps.
Resistance is also a sign that there’s something in your unconscious that you don’t want to look at. But if you work with your unconscious during this phase you can grow in wisdom. However, don’t expect the answers to be delivered in clear and obvious ways. The unconscious speaks in symbols, images, metaphors, and intuitions, so you’ll have to learn how to interpret what Mercury is telling you.
The best way to handle this phase of the retrograde cycle is to be flexible. Listen to your intuition and dreams and trust that your deeper Self knows what it’s doing. This is the time to be experimenting, percolating new ideas and projects, editing creative work, rethinking and reviewing. Invite Mercury to surprise you and he’s less likely to pull the rug out from under your feet.
This marks the end of the Epimethean phase and the start of the Promethean phase of the retrograde cycle. Your mind is still focused inwards but it’s an important time of preparation. If you’ve been paying attention to the messages coming from your unconscious, then this should be a turning point.
The inferior conjunction only lasts a short while, so it’s good to take a day off and rest if you can. Let your deeper Self reveal your next steps. Let go of anything that no longer works and be open to the possibility of changing your approach. This is the moment to plant seeds in your mind for the next phase of activity. There may be a spark of inspiration, a new idea or fresh approach. Or perhaps just a feeling of renewal and hope for the future.
Don’t expect results now – that comes later, when Mercury turns direct. This is a new beginning but it happens in the dark. Now is when you get a sense of where things may be heading for the rest of the cycle.
This phase begins with the inferior conjunction while Mercury is still retrograde and it’s all about preparation and waiting. It can be a frustrating time because you want to push ahead with your brilliant new plans seeded at the conjunction, but your mind is still focused inwards.
You may want to take action in the outer world, but it’s better to wait. This is the time to prepare for when Mercury turns direct. You’re waiting for your seed to sprout, or your fruit to ripen. You can feel the birth coming, but now isn’t the time to push. Now is the time to gather inner resources, plan and prepare the foundations for the new beginning to come.
It might not look like much is going on but your unconscious is beavering away behind the scenes, so continue to pay attention. Meditate, watch your dreams, write in your journal, and so on. There may be clues to how you should proceed when Mercury turns direct.
If you have no choice but to complete a project now, then try to leave things open so you can make changes later, just in case something new comes up. Be as flexible as you can and don’t nail anything down too firmly. And if obstacles come up, don’t try to smash through them now. It’s better to learn how to work with them or learn from them. They may spontaneously dissolve when Mercury turns direct anyway.
Station Direct (Promethean)
This phase starts slowly and it can be a tense time. Your mind begins to focus on the outer world again, and this can be a relief, but if you take action too soon you could run into problems. At the beginning Mercury is stationary so be careful not to get ahead of yourself. Allow a couple of days after the station direct (at least) before doing anything major.
When Mercury is moving forward again, you can get going with the plans you’ve been making and take up the opportunities you spotted during the introspective phases. You can launch your projects and set your plans in motion. But don’t expect immediate results during this phase. The seeds you planted at the inferior conjunction will bear fruit at the next superior conjunction.
When you reach the superior conjunction, you’ll find out whether your new ideas and projects have been successful, or not. Beyond the superior conjunction, Mercury will begin to slow down again and you’ll be ready to take a step back and begin the process of rethinking what you’re doing and planting new seeds for the next cycle.
These phases of the Mercury cycle also apply to your natal Mercury position. You can find out more here: The Four Faces of Mercury
Mercury and the Elements
Mercury goes retrograde every four months and cycles backwards through the elements in consecutive order. This means he cycles through your horoscope in a pattern and gives you the opportunity to become aware of habits of thought in different areas that may need to be changed or improved.
In 2018 Mercury is going retrograde in Fire signs but he’s starting to transition into water signs for 2019. Here’s a summary of each element and what Mercury is encouraging you to learn:
Water: an opportunity to rethink your emotional habits and how your feelings contribute to the quality of your experience. Pay attention to your moods, feelings, sensitivities to food, stress, dreams, and emotional issues in relationships. Time to let go of old emotional wounds and heal the past.
Air: an opportunity to rethink your relationships and thought processes and to see how the way you communicate influences the quality of your connections with others. Pay attention to your thoughts and speech, how you connect and network and share information. Time to think things through and achieve greater clarity of mind.
Earth: an opportunity to rethink how you relate to physical reality and deal with any security issues and how you meet your basic needs. Pay attention to your health, home, job, and finances, as well as issues around feelings of self-worth. Time to resolve practical problems and assess your resources, inner and outer.
Fire: an opportunity to rethink your ideas about the future and how you channel inspiration, creativity, and intuition. Pay attention to the symbolic patterns of your life, how you play, experiment, dream and explore, as well as how you take the initiative. Time to be inspired by a new direction and get out of old habits and ruts.
Mercury Retrograde Advice
The main piece of advice for navigating Mercury retrograde is: don’t panic! Like attracts like, so if you go into this period thinking everything is going to go wrong, you’re more likely to cause yourself problems. If you panic or allow your mind to be anxious and fearful, then you’re looking for problems and asking for things to go wrong. Sometimes things go wrong even when you’re positive and calm – shit happens!
The worst days for problems tend to be around the stations, both retrograde and direct. So if you know there’s a Mercury retrograde period due, you can plan to finish important projects before then, or arrange to travel before or after the period, for example.
If you can’t wait or delay your plans, then proceed carefully with your eyes open. Pay attention, listen to your intuition and trust the signals that come up. Be flexible and willing to change your plans as you move forward.
In general it’s not a good idea to start new projects or plans at any point during the retrograde period, including the shadow period before Mercury turns retrograde. This is because you don’t know how things will change in the meantime. It might be fine if you’re careful, but Mercury could come back from his trip to the Underworld with new information that changes your mind about what you’re doing.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mercury retrograde periods are the perfect time to assess projects and ideas and make changes. You can also finish things you’ve already started, tie up loose ends, let go of the past, dissolve bad habits, and find solutions to outstanding problems.
This is a collective process so we’re all working on the same basic issues at the same time. But a particular retrograde cycle will only be significant for you personally if it forms direct connections to your horoscope. So look at the house position of the retrograde transit and whether it aspects any personal planets or angles. Good luck!
More Mercury Retrograde Advice:
- Mercury Retrograde Explained
- Everything you need to know about Mercury retrograde
- The Mercury Retrograde Shadow period
- Dana Gerhardt on the planet Mercury
Image: retrograde gif