When is Mercury retrograde?
Mercury is retrograde three times a year for approximately three weeks at a time. Click here to see a table of current and upcoming retrogrades of all the planets, including the time frames and associated zodiac positions: 2010 On a Page or 2011 On a Page. You can download this information for free.
What is Mercury retrograde?
You hear this expression a lot in astrological circles. It’s even made its way into the mainstream public, perhaps more than any other technical term from the field of astrology. When things seem crazy, I get lots of phone calls asking me if Mercury is Retrograde – and often, it is! Paying attention to Mercury Retrograde can save you from headaches and costly mistakes.
Mercury retrograde can literally be translated as “think back.” It presents us with the opportunity to reflect and review, to re-visit issues about which we thought we had made up our minds. It’s an ideal time to finish unfinished business (like paperwork that’s been sitting around a while or photos that need to go into albums or onto a disk). We often end up re-doing something that wasn’t done right the first time. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when we’re more likely to make mistakes, necessitating re-doing things later – maybe during the next Mercury retrograde!
Retrograde comes from Latin for “backward step.” In astrology, it’s when a planet looks like it’s doing a slow zigzag in the sky. It’s an optical illusion as a faster planet passes us or as we pass a slower planet. To understand this, picture you’re passing a slower car in a lane next to you. You’re both traveling forward, but because you’re quicker, the other car seems to you like it’s slipping backwards relative to you.
We experience this optical illusion’s influence as quite real. Matters associated with the planet can seem to be at a standstill for a few days at the beginning and ending points of the retrograde period, called the “stations,” when the planet seems to screech to a halt. In between, progress is difficult in these concerns and we may have to re-learn lessons about the affected affairs or about behaviors related to the planet. Activities connected to the planet begun during its retrograde often require adjustments or “going back to the drawing board” later. The retrograde phase of a planet’s motion seems to predispose us toward the more trying or negative expressions of whatever the planet represents, unless we’re actively trying to find the highest and best use of the planet’s energies.
Mercury wears a couple hats that strongly impact our daily lives. As “messenger of the gods” (from Roman mythology), communication is an obvious one. The other is easy to see, too: transportation (the local variety) – think of his winged feet. Mercury got around a lot and had a lot to say. When Mercury is retrograde, we tend to have more problems with all forms of communication (verbal, written, electronic, postal, mental), and with local transportation matters. Those include anything and everything from commuting to skateboarding, affecting drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Mercury is also associated with lower education (through grade school or junior high), where we learn the basics of communication and language(s). So Mercury retrograde affects lots of people in that arena, too.
As the planet closest to the Sun, Mercury’s orbit is the quickest. It circles the Sun (and the zodiac, from our viewpoint) about three times in one earth year, passing us about three times each year. Each time it passes us, it appears to move backward for about three weeks. For 2-3 weeks before and after this backward step, it moves forward through the section of the zodiac where the backtracking occurs. Thus, it traverses this area three times: forward, backward, forward.
An easy way to understand this is to imagine that you leave home on an errand and five blocks from home, you realize you forgot something. You have to backtrack to pick it up and head out again. In the process, you traveled those five blocks away from home, backtracked those same five blocks, and traversed them forward again after retrieving your item and heading out again. You pass over that five-block range three times, twice forward and once backward. This phenomenon of three passes may be related to the idea that things happen in threes!
The range of degrees (like those five blocks in the example above) are known as the retrograde’s “shadow,” a term coined by astrologer Roxana Muise*. When I asked her to review this article, she added this twist to the example above that states nicely how we can learn from our experiences during Mercury retrograde: as you left home, you noticed a large mud puddle along your way; while returning, you see that someone stepped in it and muddied up the path; before you head out again, you change into a pair of boots.
Mercury retrogrades can sneak up on us quickly. Just as we’re catching our breath from one retrograde period, Mercury is getting ready to enter another one. That's why it's a good idea to
keep an eye on when the "shadow" period will begin for the next one!
What do we experience when Mercury is retrograde?
There’s more “telephone tag” when Mercury’s retrograde. More items get lost in the mail. It’s a good idea to double-check instructions you’re giving or receiving to make sure everyone is on the same page. Proofread documents before you release them. Watch out for transpositions in writing or in calculations, such as your check book. You might be more likely to forget to record debit or ATM transactions, too. And it’s important to actually read the fine print before signing a contract. (Many people try to avoid signing contracts altogether during Mercury retrograde.)
Decisions we make during Mercury retrograde can lead us to later ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” Many people experience the problem of “open mouth, insert foot.” Often we have the “I should have said” regrets after a conversation, particularly a heated one. Just in case things don’t go as expected, it’s smart to have a Plan B ready. Be on the lookout for transpositions and malapropisms.
On the transportation side, Mercury retrograde increases the likelihood of traffic problems. Allow extra time to get where you’re going. Always keep an eye on your auto’s condition. If you suspect a problem, try to get it taken care of before Mercury nears the shadow date range. Schedule regular maintenance away from the retrograde time frames, when Mercury is moving forward – that’s the time for “smooth sailing.” But if you do spot trouble, don’t delay getting it fixed just because Mercury is retrograde – that could mean more trouble, like a break-down.
Concerning health, Mercury is affiliated with breathing, the nose, mouth and lungs, and thus airborne illness. Fresh air is a must during Mercury retrograde, and controlled breathing helps under the pressure of stress. Mercury governs all the senses, and some people experience temporary difficulties with one or another of them during Mercury retrograde periods. Mercury also rules the hands – wash them frequently when in contact with the public.
Some infamous examples of things that occurred during Mercury retrograde are:
What if you're born with Mercury retrograde?
To see if you were born when Mercury was retrograde, look at your chart for the Mercury symbol (a cross with a circle above it and a curved "thinking cap" above that) and see if it has the "Rx" symbol (looks like the symbol for prescriptions) next to it. If you don't have your chart, find out your time of birth and calculate your chart for free at: www.alabe.com. (If you don't know your birth time, enter noon and usually that's close enough for this purpose.)
Since Mercury goes retrograde frequently, many people are born with this in their natal chart. Often they’re in their own mental worlds and have difficulty communicating clearly with others. For instance, they have a conversation in their head but the other person doesn’t know about it, of course. They think they’ve said what they meant to, but they leave something important out. Or they mishear what someone else says. They project their own thoughts onto other people’s words.
Some famous people born when Mercury was retrograde are:
Often times, people born with Mercury retrograde are shy in their youth or keep to themselves. But sometime in their first 22 years, a time arrives when they come out of their shell. Often it is at the age that corresponds to how many days after their birth that Mercury finished its retrograde period. In astrology, we look for this in the person’s “progressions,” a symbolic system equating influences present in the days and weeks after our birth with conditions years later in our life. (See my related article: MAKING PROGRESS - ASTROLOGICALLY.) It can also happen that a person born when Mercury is direct (moving forward) has Mercury turn retrograde by progression, lasting approximately 21-22 years. During this period, they experience life similarly to those who are born with Mercury retrograde.
An interesting example is Ludwig von Beethoven. He began to turn deaf around age 28 as his progressed Mercury entered the shadow of its upcoming retrograde. He experienced his lowest point of productivity around 1812 to 1816, just as Mercury was making no progress as it slowed down to turn retrograde in 1815. His compositional style took a turn around then, too. Wikipedia.com tells us works from his Late period [around 1816 until he died in 1827] “are greatly admired for and characterized by their intellectual depth, intense and highly personal expression, and experimentation with forms.” I bolded points that illustrate the nature of Mercury retrograde, when a person is absorbed in his own thoughts and does things differently than before. With Beethoven, we also see a change in a sense (losing his hearing) with the impending retrograde. Of course, not everyone whose Mercury turns retrograde by progression will lose one of his or her senses, but anyone can begin to use senses or mental capacities differently during a Mercury retrograde, whether that’s by progression or in the “transits” (those are the transitory movements of the planets through the signs across time).
How to handle Mercury retrograde
How can you handle a Mercury retrograde period?
One of my calendar fans offers CDs with gong attunements for the various planets. His site:(http://www.gongmaster.org/) is listed in my Links). He uses these for his students and himself as Retrograde periods begin and end. You might want to try listening to the Mercury gong as a meditation.
The symbol for retrograde looks like an ”R” with an “X” going through it, the same as the symbol for a prescription. Think of a retrograde period as a prescription to review or re-do. If you’re looking for Mercury in your chart, its symbol is the bottom half of a circle sitting on top of a circle, which in turn is on top of a cross.
Mercury Retrograde in the Signs
The sign through which Mercury is traveling describes the ways in which we communicate at that time, which of course become more difficult when Mercury is retrograde. Also, there are certain associations for each sign which can also be problematical during Mercury retrograde in that sign.
ARIES Haste makes waste, so slow down. Think before speaking, watch your temper and look before you leap. Be especially careful around fire (or flammables), heat, sharp objects, weapons, and machinery.
TAURUS Stubbornness can do you in – try to be more flexible. Learning takes longer but retention is good (in fact, it may be hard to forget, even if you can forgive). Watch out for jealousy and be careful with money.
GEMINI (This is the most difficult sign for Mercury to be retrograde in.) You get too easily distracted, especially when multi-tasking. Take a deep breath or do aerobics to clear your head. Be cautious in your interactions with neighbors, siblings, students or teachers.
CANCER Emotions intrude into the realm of thought. Too bad your gut instincts aren’t working any better. Keep your head above water and avoid withdrawing into a shell. Your mind’s on security, home and family.
LEO Pride, willfulness or over-dramatization can cause problems. Pecking order, power and leadership are issues. Work is too easy to shirk, and fun beckons. Find outlets for your creativity, be with children or coax out your inner child.
VIRGO (This is the second toughest sign for retrograde Mercury.) Picky, picky, picky - if nothing pleases you, you might end up with nothing. “Analysis leads to paralysis.” Forgive yourself – “We’re only human; we’re supposed to make mistakes” (as Billy Joel says, or rather sings, it best). Details can bedevil you and good help is hard to find.
LIBRA You’re frustrated when things aren’t fair – and they can’t always be, can they? Expect someone to play the Devil’s Advocate (maybe it will be you). Indecisiveness is a problem. Relationships are a tricky path to maneuver. Examine contracts and agreements carefully.
SCORPIO Try not to be manipulative even if you think it’s for someone else’s own good. You’re more likely to brood, be obsessive or to take things too seriously. Secrets can come back to bite you. Be wary of errors in financial matters or bad decisions about private (even sexual) matters.
SAGITTARIUS You tend to be mentally scattered or wanderlust distracts you. You laugh off problems that you probably need to take more seriously. This is not a good time for long distance travel or communicating in a foreign language – it’s too easy to lose things in translation.
CAPRICORN It’s hard to stay organized and easy to lose track of time. You want control but feel it slipping through your fingers. Irresponsible people may foil your careful plans. Difficulties arise in dealing with governmental matters or people in positions of authority.
AQUARIUS Be careful of being too opinionated – try to listen to the other guy’s views. You want to follow the beat of your own drummer – so what if other people think that’s too weird. Rebelliousness can be problematic. Dealing with groups or friends is more troublesome than usual.
PISCES Confusion and deception are pitfalls. You may need extra downtime or sleep. Answers come in dreams or after meditation. Music soothes you and logic escapes you. Water calls you, though it can present danger, as can feelings. Watch out for those who profess to know The Truth.
Look at your birth chart to check the degree range of Mercury retrograde against the way the signs line up with your houses (sectors of a chart). The houses indicate life circumstances. The house or two of your chart where Mercury is retrograde show areas where you’re most likely to have challenges. (See my “Astrologer’s Apprentice Cheat Sheet” for keywords for the houses.) If you have a natal planet in the degree range of Mercury retrograde, you’ll experience the retrograde intensely in ways related to the affected planet (again, see my keywords). You could also feel Mercury retrograde strongly in the area associated with any natal planets directly opposite the retrograde range (count six signs in either direction).
Who is affected most by Mercury retrograde?
People born with the Sun, Moon, Mercury or the Ascendant (“rising sign”) in either Gemini or Virgo (the two signs said to be “ruled” by Mercury) are always strongly influenced by Mercury, whether it’s forward or backward. So of course they feel Mercury retrograde more than the rest of the population.
If your birthday occurs when Mercury’s retrograde, you’ll feel like it’s retrograde for the entire time that your birthday chart (called your “solar return” chart) is in effect, from 3 months before your birthday until 9 months after your birthday! And I’m sorry to tell you that it’s not uncommon to have Mercury retrograde at your birthday two years in a row. I’ve had that happen twice.
As with any factor in astrology, we should be careful not to draw too many conclusions from just one piece of the complex puzzle that makes us who we are or that makes our life what it is. It can be helpful to know about Mercury retrograde (or any other challenging astrological factor), but if you obsess over it or become afraid to leave the house because of it, that’s a bad sign.
Good luck dealing with the challenges of Mercury retrograde. It’s not a curse, just a time to go in reverse.
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*Here in her own words is Roxana Muise’s excellent explanation:
©2005 by Janet Booth
©2001-2013 Janet Booth for JanetsPlan-Its.com and AstrologyBooth.com