What does it mean when we say Mercury is "retrograde"?
On April 21, 2023 Mercury will officially retrograde at 15 degrees of Taurus and end around May 15 when it goes direct at 5 degrees of Taurus. But what does that actually mean?
Mercury is so pretty!
You've probably seen this on the internet before: someone has announced that Mercury retrograde is coming up, and you can tell they're absolutely terrified. Everything is panic and chaos. Mercury is coming in to ruin everything, burn our lives to ground and leave nothing but ashes in its wake. And it's coming for you, so you better buckle up. But if you buy one lotion now, you'll get one 30% with this special Mercury retrograde discount, and that will help you weather this terrible astrological shitstorm that's about to go down over the next 3 to 4 weeks. Now you have two emotional support lotions you didn't need. 3 to 4 weeks pass and nothing noteworthy happens.
Mercury retrograde has become such a pop phenomenon that I even see ads on social media using it to sell products. Last Mercury retrograde I got an email for a discount on skincare products advertised for that reason. Except they usually say "Mercury is in retrograde," which doesn't make any sense linguistically. Retrograde is a state of motion; a description of the planet's movement, not a place. This is a personal pet peeve, but I digress...
Mercury retrograde has become so demonized by the Pop Astro world that the phrase sends people into a tizzy. As an astrologer, I find this take to be overdramatic and mostly the result of a lack of education on what "retrograde" actually means. The dreaded Mercury retrograde is about to be demystified.
To really understand what a retrograde is, let's talk about what is happening astronomically when Mercury is "retrograde".
The Astronomy of Mercury Retrograde
(Note: For the rest of this section, any time I refer to a "planet" I am not including the Sun and the Moon. Even though we may refer to them sometimes as planets in astrology, they are not planets in this context. "Planets"will refer to Mercury through Pluto.)
There are two types of motions we observe of planets in they sky - which we call primary and secondary motion.
Primary motion is what we observe of the Sun rising in the east and setting in the west. All celestial bodies ie stars, planets, the Moon, the Sun, etc follow this motion.
Secondary motion is the path the planets follow as they travel through the zodiac (remember, the zodiac is an imaginary projection onto the sky!), which is observed as movement from west to east. Primary motion and secondary motion are happening at the same time, but primary motion is much faster. However, secondary motion is also observable. Regardless of whether a planet is retrograde or direct, it will continue to follow primary motion. This is all happening because the Earth is rotating, and 24 hours, or one Earth day, is one rotation of the Earth on its axis.
Within secondary motion, or movement through the zodiac, planets can be described as being either direct - which is observed as moving west to east, or forward through the zodiac - or retrograde - moving east to west, or backwards through the zodiac. Again, it's important to note here that when I say planets, we are not including the Sun and the Moon, as they are not technically planets are therefore can not ever be retrograde. If the Sun or Moon are retrograde, something is VERY wrong. Like end of the world wrong.
Retrograde motion does not mean a planet is physically moving backwards through the sky. This is actually an optical illusion that we see all the time. If you've ever been in a car on the freeway and another car passes you at a faster speed than you're going, you can momentarily feel a sensation of moving backwards or being stationary, despite the fact that you and the other car are both moving forward. This is essentially what is happening when we say a planet is "retrograde."
In our solar system, all planets orbit the Sun. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, and therefore the fastest. It makes 3-4 laps around the Sun for every 1 lap the Earth can make. Each time Mercury passes the Earth, we observe this optical illusion where we perceive Mercury's motion change as it stalls in the sky and then appears to move backwards (ie "retrograde"). This is why Mercury "retrogrades" 3 to 4 times in one calendar year. Once Mercury has passed the Earth, we observe its motion as direct (or "prograde") once again.
Venus, a faster planet, starts from behind the Earth but then moves ahead of it.
The same applies to planets that are slower than the Earth. Earth makes about 2 laps around the Sun for every lap Mars makes, because we are physically closer to the Sun and have a faster speed than Mars. Therefore, every 2 years, we experience a Mars retrograde, where Mars appears to move backwards through the sky. This is because we are passing Mars on our journey around the Sun.
This works the other way around also. If we were on Mars and observing the motion of the Earth, we would see the Earth retrograde. But we would all know from our lived experience on Earth that Earth never actually moves backwards. It's an optical illusion.
The Astrology of Mercury Retrograde
Astrology is a divinatory art based on observable phenomenon in the sky from Earth, so it's coming from a geocentric perspective. Astrologers understand that Mercury is not literally moving backwards, but that doesn't mean it no longer holds any meaning even if the motion of retrograde is an illusion.
As if Saturn would ever be afraid of Mercury lol
When we assess the strength of a planet in astrology, retrograde motion is a negative ding when assessing its strength, but it's one of the last considerations. This should be further reassurance that retrogrades aren't too serious, it's more like a temporary bummer. For context, Pluto spends about half of our year retrograde. That isn't to say Mercury retrogrades don't have their purpose, or ways they can be used constructively. If you can understand their purpose and power, you can use them to your advantage. It's just simply not the worst state a planet can be in.
There are other compromised conditions Mercury can be have, and I find people will often ask me "What's going on, Mercury isn't even retrograde?!" but it will feel similar to what they expect of a Mercury retrograde. Planetary relationships will always be the strongest indicator of how we experience a planet. For example, if Mercury is retrograde and making a strong aspect to the Moon, we will probably feel that retrograde potently for that time, because the Moon filters all planetary energies and is the direct filter to our experience on Earth. If the Moon is in aversion (ie not making an aspect) to Mercury, you might not feel the effects of Mercury at all. Another example of a time that can feel like a Mercury retrograde but isn't is if Mercury is receiving difficult aspects from one or both malefic planets (Mars and Saturn). This would feel the most difficult, like a very potent and powerful retrograde, and astrologically would be much worse for Mercury than just retrograding.
Mercury is traditionally the planet of currency, trade, transport, communications, medicine, language, math and numbers, exchange, and technology. People commonly talk about issues with their devices breaking or misfiring, WiFi connections, phone signals, etc during Mercury retrograde. This is because Mercury is the traditional signifier of technology, and any changes to it's condition that impact it negatively can signal similar things happening to us here. That doesn't mean Mercury retrograde is the only time you experience your dishwasher breaking or your phone randomly having no signal. But it could be a time where any technical issues we have come to light, or we become aware of some issues that need to be fixed.
Other common Mercury retrograde experiences are: forgetfulness, making unusual typos and errors you wouldn't normally make, sending messages meant for someone else to the wrong chat, plans set into place are canceled or rescheduled, and ex's start coming out of the woodworks to check in on you, or maybe you're the one waxing nostalgic for an ex (This one comes up up during Venus retrogrades too).
Mercury is a planet about fluctuation and adapting, and I feel that Mercury is keeping us on our toes and trying to keep us from getting too rigid, too set in our ways, and trying to remind us to not take life so seriously. Tech glitches are annoying and inconvenient, but it takes us out of our routines and forces a little perspective. I truly think the best way to handle these difficult situations is to laugh, shrug it off, and move on to finding a solution, or doing things a little differently. After all, one of Mercury's archetypes is the trickster.
Working with Mercury Retrograde
Mercury retrograde is considered a time to do all things "re" -- rethink, review, remember, redistribute, recover, realize, revisit, rewrite, redo, redevelop, recognize, reinvent, etc. . It's the opportunity to sit back and look at what's been going on and either plot a new course, fix a mistake, or correct something that isn't working. It's commonly said that one shouldn't start anything new, or sign contracts during Mercury retrograde because things that happen or are started are often reversed (another re- word). This is the time to research, revise, and reschedule before we make our big move. I think it's so lovely that this time is programmed into the universe for us. I often find that meetings and plans will end up getting canceled by the other party during Mercury retrogrades. What was that, Universe? Stay home and rest? You don't have to tell me twice! As an introvert this is pretty much my dream scenario.
How do I know if Mercury retrograde will be significant for me?
The people who are most impacted by Mercury retrogrades are going to be the following:
1. You have Mercury activated through a major timing technique. Your astrologer may have told you it's your annual time lord, or is featuring prominently in your solar return chart.
2. Mercury will be retrograde in a part of your chart activated by profection/annual transfer.
Unless Mercury is specifically activated for you, you probably won't experience any serious effects of Mercury retrograde. It may not register for you at all! Or it will be so minimal that there is no major impact in your life whatsoever. Honorable mention to our Virgo rising and Gemini rising friends who may experience Mercury retrogrades potently as well, but activation by multiple timing techniques will be more powerful.
We will all experience the retrograde, but to varying degrees. The best way to know how a Mercury retrograde may impact you is to work with an experienced astrologer who can review with you how and if Mercury retrogrades will be significant for you in this current year.
If you're unsure if this is you right now, you can always book a reading with me here and we can explore this together!
Mitigating Mercury retrograde
The reality is that life goes on and we have to keep moving forward regardless of what the planets are doing. If you're really concerned about Mercury retrograde impacting you, there are some ways to work around it.
Avoid making significant plans or completing important tasks on Wednesdays or Saturday nights. Mercury rules Wednesdays and I've personally noticed that is often when things especially go awry during retrogrades. For example, my job's online system crashes pretty reliably at least once every Mercury retrograde and it is usually on a Wednesday. If you want to take it a step further you can avoid Mercury hours, but it just depends on what you're attempting to do.
Double check all your emails, texts, and messages for errors before you send them and make sure they are being sent to the correct people. Generally try to be extra mindful of what you say and how you're saying it.
Avoid times when Mercury is rising or culminating. You may need to check the chart of the moment to determine this, and an astrologer can help you find ideal times to complete tasks through the process of selecting an ideal time. This is a branch of astrology called electional astrology.
I am open for bookings currently on my website here and would be more than happy to discuss any concerns and upcoming transits that may be impacting the unfolding story of your life! If any of my offerings don't seem to fit what you're looking for, we can always figure something out together if you reach out to me at email@example.com.
If you're still feeling stressed about it, remember: You've already lived through dozens, perhaps hundreds of Mercury retrogrades since your birth and you're still here. Chances are you will survive many, many more.
Wishing you all the best!
Astrologer at Soulhealingwithmichelle.com