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Mercury Retrograde: The Facts

Mercury The Trickster.

Everyone has their Mercury Retrograde horror stories.

Communications go wonky. Computers misbehave. Things are lost and then found later and then lost again. Appointments get cancelled or forgotten. Wrong numbers are dallied. Delays interrupt the normal flow of things. Second thoughts lead us to doubt our decisions. Arguments erupt. The best laid plans seem to spin their wheels in the mud, and “business as usual” can be very hard to maintain. We drift off in mid-sentence and wonder what we were just… um….. you know…

While Mercury is retrograde, his Trickster side comes out to cause playful but frustrating havoc.

When Mercury goes retrograde, it appears to go backwards in the sky. Physically speaking, this is an optical illusion because we’re observing it from Earth’s perspective, but astrologically it is very significant. Any retrograde planet’s energy becomes much more internalized, more intense and harder to express outwardly in a way that is direct and clear.

Since Mercury is the planet of communication and mental thought, you can see how it could feel like somebody stole your brain! Just when you thought you had things figured out, along comes Mercury retrograde to spin your head around and make you feel a little nuts. Mercury is probably the most notorious of all the planets that go retrograde. It does this more often than any other planet—3 to 4 times a year, and lasting just over 3 weeks at a time.

Normally Mercury is physically too close to the Sun to be seen. But when Mercury is near its retrograde station (when it turns to go retrograde), or near its direct station (when it returns to forward motion), it is far enough away from the Sun to be seen by the naked eye in the twilight or pre-dawn sky. For a few weeks around the time of the retrograde station, its faint light can be seen briefly after sunset, hovering just above the western horizon close to where the Sun has just set. When it nears its direct station (at the end of the retrograde phase), for a few weeks it can be seen briefly in the morning just before sunrise.

Rethink, Rehash, Reflect

Mercury retrograde is a good time to rethink, rehash and reflect, especially about the events and situations that developed in the 2-3 weeks leading up to the retrograde (while it was in the pre-retrograde Shadow; more about this later in the article). Mercury retrograde is a good time to catch up on things you’ve been putting off. Meditate, dream, be creative. Approach life from a different perspective for a while.

It’s a great time to do research and gather information, while Mercury is retrograde, and then make your final decisions after it goes direct. There’s almost always more information that surfaces later in the retrograde cycle (sometimes even in the post-retrograde Shadow) which can change the whole picture.
A good way to take advantage of this energy is to read books and learn about the areas of your life that are active or problematic. Do your research, learn as much as you can, gather new information—including about Mercury retrograde itself.

That’s why it is traditionally recommended not to sign contracts or begin new ventures under Mercury retrograde. Better to wait until it goes direct when all the facts are in, if possible, and ideally a good 2-3 weeks afterwards (when Mercury is out of the Shadow).

If it’s not possible to delay an important decision (we don’t always have the luxury of putting our lives on hold for that long), try to anticipate potential problems that might arise, even more-so than you usually do. Don’t assume that the other person is assuming the same thing that you are. Double check everything, and be prepared for surprises and delays. Stay flexible, and leave at least twice as much time for things as you think you’ll need.

Mercury retrograde is also a time to “reflect” — to expand your awareness into the back corners of your mind and the mysterious depths of your unconscious. A great way to make the most of Mercury retrograde is to get a personal astrology reading. This can give you a personalized look at which areas of your life are being affected by the mischievous Mercury. And more important, a reading can give you valuable insight and understanding about other changes and challenges happening in your life in general. Since you have more access to your intuition and unconscious during Mercury retrograde, you can often discover insights that are normally blocked by conscious thought.

In mythology, Hermes (the Greek forerunner of the Roman Mercury) was not only the Messenger God – he also guided the souls of the dead into the underworld. Mercury retrograde can open up a doorway into the “underworld” of your unconscious, which can change and transform the perceptions and experiences in your “above-ground” conscious mind.

Dreams during Mercury retrograde may also provide important clues and insight about situations in your life that you are ordinarily unable to acknowledge or perceive. Daydreaming can also take your mind on a magical mystery tour into the unconscious realms.

Left Brain, Right Brain

When direct, Mercury’s archetypal energy (or essence) tends to work most comfortably in the “Left Brain” mode of the mind—logical, sequential, straightforward and analytical. The retrograde phase, on the other hand, tends to encourage us to use our “Right Brain” more—creative, intuitive, lateral and non-rational (which is not necessarily the same as irrational).

The zodiac sign that Mercury is traveling through and the aspects it forms (by transit or in the natal chart) will modify our mental orientation to some extent. For example, when Mercury is in the Water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), it will tend to be more intuitive, sensitive and imaginative. When Mercury is going through the Air signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius), it is typically more cerebral, intellectual and interactive. When Mercury travels through Earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), it is often more logical, down-to-earth and serious. And when Mercury sprints through the Fire signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius), it is bright, excitable, intuitive and expressive.

“Left Brain” and “Right Brain” are originally medical terms associated with the left and right hemispheres of the physical brain, which specialize in different modes of information processing. Physically, they each literally control different modes of human experience and behavior.

The physical brain is ruled by Mercury―but don’t forget he’s a Trickster! One would think logically that the left side of the brain would control the left side of the body and vice versa, but no. There is actually a cross-over between the brain and corresponding body functions: The left side of the brain controls the right side of the physical body, and vice versa.

Psychologically and metaphorically, the Left-Brain and Right-Brain correspond to:
Right side of body       Left side of body
logical                            intuitive
hierarchical                   lateral
analytical                       creative
literal                             metaphorical
Yang                               Yin
Male principle              Female principle

Each of us has our dominant mode—the style of thought that we are most comfortable with. We may be skilled in both modes, but just like we have a dominant hand (usually the one we write with) we usually have a preferred mode of information processing too.

Natal Mercury Retrograde

Astrologically, a person’s dominant mental mode tends to correspond to Mercury’s placement in their natal chart. Of course, our mental orientation is affected by more than just Mercury, but it is probably the most specific significator of this.

If you were born while Mercury was retrograde, you probably process information a little differently from your Mercury-direct friends. You probably perceive everything that they do (and then some) but have difficulty organizing it and putting it into words to communicate your perceptions. Ideas are often strong, even innovative, but when you try to share those ideas it may seem like you’re trying to draw a picture with your non-dominant hand while looking at its mirror image. People might therefore see you as someone who is quiet or shy, but it’s not probably because you don’t have anything to say.

It typically requires extra effort for the Mercury retrograde mind to navigate between internal perceptions and external communication. However, by the time you manage to get it out there, it may be richer and more in-depth – not in spite of but because of the extra effort necessary to formulate those ideas. Rather than making the mind weaker, Mercury retrograde can actually make it stronger and more intense. It’s just that it’s hard to take what’s going on inside and communicate it outside effectively.

It can also be difficult to be objective about your own ideas. Ideas and thoughts may seem to be fused with your sense of self, making it harder to experience yourself being separate from those ideas. It’s a little like trying to look at the under-side of your chin! This understandably makes retrograde Mercury harder to work with in many ways, but not impossible. Like the different modes of processing information, retrograde Mercury typically requires a slightly different approach and a gentler touch than a direct Mercury.

Lost and Found in Translation

When Mercury is retrograde by transit (in other words, now rather than when you were born), all of us go through the mental experience that people born with Mercury retrograde live with all the time. Expressing ourselves clearly, directly and easily can be a challenging task, requiring extra effort and a more concentrated focus. There can be a long stretch between our subjective experience of an event and our ability to accurately describe or convey that experience in words.

Want to learn more about retrograde planets? This is an excellent book! You get extensive information about all the retrograde planets, not just Mercury. Learn what it means to have retrograde planets in your natal chart. Discover how retrograde natal planets change and evolve throughout your lifetime. And get more in-depth information on retrogrades as they happen in the present. A highly recommended book if you already know the basics about Astrology.

This is because with all communication, there is a lot of translation that must take place to go from the essence of our personal experience to the communication of words. This process goes through a number of filters on its way to becoming the spoken or written word ― culture, education, expectations, feelings and intention (conscious and unconscious).

In addition, there is the inherent nature of language itself, which ultimately represents, symbolises, expresses, and can even shape our experience, but it is not the experience itself. Language is a connecting rope that stretches between our experience and our expression of it. In a way, we use language to bridge the gap between dimensions ― between the dimension of subjective experience and the dimension of objective manifestation. Anyone who has used one of those automatic translation services online to translate a web page, can tell you that some things just don’t translate easily, if at all.

This is a central part of the fundamental struggle of Mercury retrograde. Mercury when retrograde brings us in closer contact with that inner subjective experience, making it harder for us to bridge the gap between inner and outer life; between Left and Right Brain. This is true whether we live with this extra sensitivity all the time (having natal Mercury retrograde) or if we live with it 3 or 4 times a year when transiting Mercury goes retrograde.

Navigating Through Experience

The whole natal chart will affect how a person experiences Mercury retrograde, to some extent. But for all of us, it signifies a shift in the way our mind works during the retrograde phase. Some people find that when Mercury goes retrograde, they are thrown into their non-dominant left/right brain mode (whichever is less dominant or less used). This can be distressing if we aren’t familiar or comfortable with the other mode. It’s like trying to write with your non-dominant hand.

During Mercury retrograde, problems can result when Mercury’s mental energy is flowing in a right-brain direction (intuitive/retrograde), but we keep trying to force ourselves to primarily use the left-brain mode (logical/direct). This is like trying to swim upstream—you can still get to where you’re going, but you’ll probably have to work a little harder to get there.

Other people discover that if they are normally more comfortable in their right-brain or intuitive mode (which is often the case for someone with natal Mercury retrograde, for example), they will tend to feel more at home in the Mercury retrograde energy. For these people, this may feel more like a vacation than something to “get through.”

However, Mercury retrograde is not just a psychological experience. Life circumstances take place that don’t conveniently conform to what our brains want to do. It’s not usually possible to take three weeks out of our busy schedules to go on retreat to ponder the mysteries of life. What’s worse is that Mercury retrograde often brings problems and unexpected setbacks that must be dealt with, making it difficult to take refuge in a dreamy state of withdrawal from the world.

When setbacks and problems happen, it helps to slow down, expect that things will take more time, and be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself like an alien who has just landed on an unfamiliar and confusing planet ― in a way, you are! Take it slow, be a little more prepared than usual, stay focused as best you can, and enjoy the weird and wonderful scenery.

Pre-Retrograde Shadow

This phase lasts about 2½ weeks. During this time, you will often notice an increase in weird Mercury retrograde energy, the closer we get to the retrograde station. Events and circumstances will seem to anticipate the retrograde phase. Decisions made during this time can often take on the same “do it over again” pattern as when Mercury is actually retrograde. If you need to make an important decision during this time and you can’t put it off, it is a good idea to research as much as you can and try to build lots of flexibility into your plan that can accommodate future changes and adjustments. Be aware of important themes and situations emerging during this time, since these events or their underlying dynamics will often repeat or require deeper consideration throughout the retrograde cycle.

Retrograde Period

This phase lasts 3 to 3½ weeks. It’s usually best to not expect everything to go “business as usual” during this time! Leave yourself lots of extra time to do what needs to be done and to get wherever you’re going. It’s very common to encounter unexpected delays and complications that can be time-consuming and frustrating if you’re not prepared for them. This is a good time to research and investigate information that will help you make later decisions, but avoid making final or irreversible decisions now, if possible.

Don’t assume that the other person is “on the same page” that you are. Miscommunications are very common, and (like the quote at the start of this article) what you think was communicated may not be what was actually heard. Double check everything, and be prepared for surprises and delays. Stay flexible as much as possible.

Give your brain a vacation by spending some time in your Right-Brain, letting your mind free-associate, drift and coast in its own creative way. Be aware of intuitive thoughts, ideas and sensitivities, since you are more attuned to the subtle perceptions that are usually camouflaged in the busy hum of our day-to-day thoughts.

Be open to rethinking decisions, opinions, ideas, plans and interactions from the past that you thought were finished, as it may be time to work with these at a deeper level. Don’t be surprised if you hear from someone you haven’t been in contact with for a while, or if you find yourself revisiting an old situation, perhaps seeing it now with fresh eyes.

Catch up on things you’ve been putting off, finish up old projects, and take some time for closure with the things in your life that have recently ended. Do what anyone does when they take a breather ― relax, regroup, recharge and reconsider your plan of action.

Post-Retrograde Shadow

This phase lasts about 2½ weeks. This is the time when you get to apply and assimilate the information, research and insight you’ve been gathering in the previous two phases. This doesn’t necessarily happen quickly though!
When Mercury turns direct, it’s like he’s waking up out of a deep sleep and it takes a bit of time before he gets up to speed again. So it can feel like Mercury is still retrograde in the first week or so after turning direct.

Many people find that new information is still emerging during this phase, so it is a good idea to still tread cautiously about making irrevocable and final decisions. It is often recommended that, if possible, you wait until Mercury is completely out of the Shadow before you put important new plans into action, lest you discover that waiting would have given you a better advantage or outcome. By that time pretty much all the data is in, and your usual ability to consider it objectively and clearly has returned.

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