Mercury Retro: A Down-to-Earth Look at a Recurrent Cycle

Among astrologers, when communications go astray, one may hear the endearing term, "Mercury Retched!" They are referring to a time when the Mercury is retrograde. This is an annoying time when the little details of life seem to get mixed up, papers get lost or misplaced, computer files vanish, and people have problems with schedules and appointments. It seems as though a cosmic hiccup disrupts the normal flow of thought and communication.

Do the stories below sound like your own experiences?

* You have one of those months when nothing goes right.
* The rent check gets lost in the mail so the landlord charges you a late fee. The bank erroneously credits your account for $60 when you deposited a $600 check, therefore the second check (both rent and late fee) bounces. The landlord is perturbed.
* You type a contract but page four mysteriously disappears in the word processor. This isn't discovered until the boss is presenting the contract to important clients. The boss is irate.
* You plan to have dinner with friends but no one is at the restaurant at the appointed time. After waiting an hour you give up in disgust and head home to peanut butter sandwiches. The next day you find that you went to the wrong restaurant.
* You drive through heavy traffic to get to a dentist appointment, only to find that someone forgot to write it in the appointment book and you must reschedule.
* You miss an important phone call because the phone was accidentally left off the hook.
*You can't reach an important website and complain to the administrator but you eventually realize you accidentally erased one letter of the URL address.
* It seems that for several weeks all you do is rewrite checks, re-type your work, and schedules go completely haywire.

If any of this sounds familiar then you have probably experienced the phenomena known as Mercury Retrograde.

Mercury Makes Mistakes

Mercury is the familiar winged messenger of the gods in Greek mythology. The astrological symbol Mercury has to do with communications, intelligence, analysis, and thought. Speaking and writing fall under the jurisdiction of Mercury, as well as activities that require the use of your hands such as typing.

About every four months there is a three-week period when the planet Mercury slows down and apparently reverses direction. At this point the powers of communication are at a low point. We end up backtracking over the same mental or verbal material. During this cycle we stumble over myriad mistakes, errors creep into our work, and we may feel less focused than usual. The astrological admonition when Mercury is retrograde is to not undertake any actions that fall under the rulership of Mercury. This means we should avoid signing important papers, contracts, or documents, and sidestep negotiations, decisions, and important meetings during this time.

During the year, Mercury is retrograde (or in the shadow path of a retrograde cycle) approximately 20 percent of the time. If you know when Mercury will be retrograde you cann escape many pitfalls in your path. Businesses as well as individuals can benefit by noting these cycles. During these periods it is unwise to begin new projects or make travel plans. Be particularly cautious of math errors, mix-ups in paperwork, and making decisions based on possibly faulty information. Re-check small details.

The keyword is "RE" for retrograde, as in re-do, re-think, and re-build. Jobs begun during a Mercury retrograde usually require re-working later on. Say the wrong thing, and you may need to re-create a relationship, too.

This is, however, an excellent time to refine existing written work, to re-think long-term plans, and to reflect upon and digest information you've obtained over the past months.
Just as the brain needs sleep part of every day, the universal mind needs a time to re-charge periodically throughout the year.
Consider the retrograde periods as a time to assimilate the immense amounts of data we are inundated with on a daily basis. This can be a restful time of inner reflection and mental renewal from which we emerge refreshed.

How Do Planets Reverse Directions?

As a planet circles the Sun, it sometimes appears to stop and turn backward in its orbit. Of course a planet cannot actually stop in its path and change direction, but from our view here on Earth that's exactly what it looks like. When a planet appears to reverse direction in the orbit, it is termed "retrograde." The point when the planetary motion slows to an apparent stop before a change in direction is called a "station." We have both a station retrograde, when the planet is going "backward," and a station "direct," when the planet heads back in its normal orbit.

If you are a bit confused when thinking about this concept, (even many dedicated astrology students are unclear on this subject) consider a favorite analogy from a book by Vivian Robinson: "Picture two trains side by side, heading the same direction. Both are accelerating as they leave the station, but the one you are riding is traveling just a bit faster than the other. If you look out your window it appears as though the other train is backing up even though, in reality, both trains are moving forward. As Earth turns and moves through space, Mercury is also turning and moving in an orbit around the Sun. Planetary orbits are not perfect circles so speeds vary dependent upon the distance to the Sun. The different relative speeds produce the retrograde phenomena."

Using The Cycles To Your Advantage

All the planets have retrograde cycles, but Mercury has the reputation for causing universal problems in everyday life. Life in the 90's is information intensive. Communications are now a mainstay of existence. Mercury cycles are especially important for those who use communication for business, whether you are a realtor, secretary, writer, or salesperson. Anyone who deals with the public will "feel" Mercury's rhythm at work at some point.

Some lucky souls float untouched through the retrograde cycles without experiencing a single error. These are usually people who have Mercury retrograde in the birth or progressed chart. These folks may actually find themselves acting as an anchor of stability when others are losing their heads. This may be because they have grown accustomed to double checking every detail.

Should Mercury make a "station" at a degree that is important in your particular chart, it is likely that a choice is presented that requires a decision. However, the decision must be carefully thought through unless you wish to repeat the whole process again when Mercury turns direct! During the retrograde period you should go back over existing information. As Mercury makes the station direct, you are still not ready to come to a conclusion, but can re-inspect the problem in a rational manner. While in this "shadow period," when Mercury passes over the same degrees it traveled on its way "backwards," we still find communications and thought moving slowly. When Mercury reaches the "shadow point," or the same degree it was in when it turned retrograde, we can make final resolutions, move forward mentally, and go ahead with plans and ideas formulated during the retrograde period of contemplation.

The table below may be helpful for planning in the year 2000. One caution however is that a transit to the station points before, during, or after the retrograde event can trigger more difficult activity than mere mix-ups.

For instance, on January 26, 2000, Mars crossed 17 Pisces and "triggered" events of a Mercury Retrograde nature for someone with that degree prominent in both the birth and progressed chart. Communication problems that started as early as January 25 included a modem failure which meant a computer drive had to be wiped, long distance service was disrupted mysteriously (probably a "slamming" incident) so that by March an extraordinarily high bill appeared, and an old credit file was reopened, so that the person received bills for an account fraudulently opened by forgery in 1989! The Mars transit represented "energy" that put into motion several communications which were still being resolved while Mercury was in the shadow period after the turn direct!

Whether your particular experience with a Mercury Retrograde will be a mere "comedy of errors" or something more serious is dependent upon the entire chart. Consult an experienced, certified astrologer for more detail.

Mercury Turns Retrograde Shadow Period Mercury Turns Direct Shadow Period
2/21/00 at 17 Pisces 9 2/7-2/21 3/14/00 at 2 Pisces 49 3/4-4/4
6/23/00 at 19 Cancer 57 6/7-6/23 7/17 at 10 Cancer 24 7/17-7/30
10/18/00 at 15 Scorpio 46 9/28-10/18 11/8 at 29 Libra 56 11/8-11/25

This article was first published in Sowell Review (March/ April 1999), but has been updated for the year 2000.
Copyright 1999, 2000 by Bette Denlinger. All Rights Reserved