Retrograde Mercury

(c) Joanne Wickenburg

Its been said that planets are weakened when retrograde. Not so! Especially when considering the retrogradation of Mercury, our planet of communication and mental development. In fact:

Mercury is closer to the Earth than at any other time in its entire cycle!


What does that tell us? When a planet is at its nearest point to the Earth, it is, in theory, “in our faces.” It is telling us that there is something about its function that we cannot ignore. We need to take a close look at what is going on in our lives and make adjustments when deemed necessary. In other words, retrograde planets, especially Mercury, Venus and Mars, show periods in our lives when we need to slow down and be more introspective. Retrograde planets show when we need to review what we have already done rather than jump into new experiences, and take responsibility for our actions or beliefs.


The diagram on this page illustrates the retrograde “zone” very clearly. Consider the half-moon circles as Mercury. It is between the Earth (at the outside of the wheel) and the Sun (at the center.) At its superior conjunction, Mercury is as far from Earth as it can get at any point in its orbits around the Sun. At the inferior conjunction, when it is retrograde, it is at its nearest point to Earth. Before it actually turns retrograde, it will first swing past the degree at which it will later align with the Sun, then it turns retrograde to come back to align with the Sun, and lastly, it turns direct, to eventually again pass the Sun’s degree. 


This sequence creates a “zone” that is sensitive. Between the time Mercury moves over its inferior conjunction point, but before it reaches the point at which it turns retrograde, you have a tendency to get ahead of yourself. Then, once it turns retrograde, you are given an opportunity to back up and take care of unfinished business. If you don’t do this, then things tend to go haywire, forcing you to stop and take care of what you have ignored. Because our society is geared toward work, work, work, we tend to ignore the signals of planets when they retrograde—when they tell us it’s time to slow down and internalize the results of our past external drives.


Halfway through its retrograde period, Mercury will align with the Sun, but continue moving backward. From that point on, until it turns “direct,” you are challenged to plan for the future, but it is recommended that you not yet act on those plans. Timing is still premature. When Mercury turns direct, you are free to begin taking on new things, but full consciousness is not experienced until it passes the degree at which it first turned retrograde.


Refer to the illustration again and place your finger on the half-moon circle and mentally consider it to be Mercury. Now, move your finger counter-clockwise and stop it when you reach one of the two conjunctions with the Sun. Look at how close it is to Earth when retrograde (the inferior conjunction) and how relatively far from the Earth it is when at the superior (direct) conjunction. This practice should leave little doubt in your mind that retrograde planets are important. They are not weakened, as many texts infer. They are, in fact, operating with great potency. By their nearness to our planet they are making their message stronger. They are warning us not to overlook their importance and not take their energies or functions for granted. This seems particularly the case when dealing with Mercury, which retrogrades about three times each year. We all know that planets never really reverse their orbits, but it appears that way when viewed in relation to the other planets, because the retrograde planet is so near the Earth. 


It is amazing how many non-astrologers are familiar with Mercury retrograde. Unfortunately, it has become somewhat demonized, which is a shame because its retrograde condition is actually very important, and has a very significant purpose. The common perception is that it marks a period of time when all communications are tangled, cars break down, important appointments are missed, misinformation is spread and so forth. While these types of things often do occur, it is not the fault or the intent of Mercury. It is our own lack of understanding regarding its purpose.


In most cases, when things do go wrong while Mercury is retrograde it is because we have ignored its previous warnings; warnings that told us we had gotten ahead of ourselves, put things off, or we had so many things on our minds that our brains were experiencing overload, no longer capable of keeping things organized. “Let’s meet for coffee at Starbucks,” you might say to your friend. S/he agrees. You go the Starbucks on 1st and Broadway and your friend goes to the Starbucks on Main Street and Oak. An important distinction was ignored during the original conversation. Here’s another example: You get tongue-tied and stumble over your words when trying to teach a class. Perhaps there was simply too much going on in your mind all at once and your brain simply could not process it all correctly. Or perhaps you weren’t ready to teach the class, so something important was left out.


Mercury’s retrogradation often shows times of mental confusion, which can cause problems in communication and even snags in transportation. Signing contracts, mailing important papers, acting on new ideas, etc. should be postponed if possible during these times. Retrogrades suggest that you need to slow down, back up and take care of unfinished business. Mercury is signaling that it’s time to pause and reassess, to establish better techniques for using mental energy. It is time to catch up with yourself rather than moving ahead, trying to assimilate new data. Mercury cautions us that we can “short circuit” ourselves if we don’t stop every now and then to assimilate what we have already experienced. This is a time to “edit,” to go back over what you have already done and make adjustments or corrections. The house through which it is transiting shows the area of your life where this will apply most strongly.


For example, Mercury retrograding by transit in the 6th house suggests the need to catch up on her routine activities and obligations than attempting to fit new routines into your already too-busy schedule. Conditions in the job might be particularly confusing now. Computer breakdowns could occur. Because of Mercury’s natural rulership over all forms of communication and local transportation, we often find problems with the phones, errors in our appointment books, car problems, etc. The interesting thing is that we have usually been forewarned that problems were on the horizon if we do not take the time to back up and take care of unfinished business. 

Everything seems to come home to roost. Frequently we get so caught up in our jobs, home, family, etc., that we overlook important details because we have over-extended ourselves in some way in the area of life ruled by the house through which it is retrograding. 


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The resulting problems will also affect what is going on in the Gemini and Virgo houses, due to its rulership of these signs. If we don’t heed its message, Mercury will remind us of what we have overlooked, or it may frazzle our thinking because we simply have too much on our minds and we can’t keep things organized any longer. We continue to make the same mistakes or experiencing the same problems over and over again, sometimes with ramifications experienced from one Mercury retrograde period to the next.


The retrograde cycle can be divided into specific stages, which have been thoroughly described in my book, Your Hidden Powers: Retrograde Planets and Intercepted Signs. In a few words, you will find that the best time to back up and complete unfinished business is when it first goes retrograde up until the time it makes its inferior conjunction to the transiting Sun. Once this conjunction occurs, it continues to retrograde backward about the same number of degrees. In other words, the Mercury/Sun inferior conjunction occurs at the midpoint of its retrograde cycle. This midpoint starts the next phase which involves preparation for the future. By then, you should have cleaned up your mess.


When Mercury turns direct, you are ready to act on those plans. If new projects are initiated prior to its turning direct, you might later find that your actions were premature because they were not thoroughly formulated. Being cognizant of Mercury’s retrogradation, and working with it instead of against it, enables you to use the transit to your advantage.


If, during the period just preceding Mercury’s retrograde motion, you were aware of the fact that things were getting out of hand, and you stopped “overloading” your mind or adding new things to your agenda, then the Mercury retrograde period will have no ill effects. You can use that time to quiet your mind and get ready for your next mental adventure.