At the time of the writing this article, we are a few days into a Mercury Retrograde period. These periods have a bad reputation, and they are one of the more feared transits in our modern culture. It is true that if they are not handled correctly, these periods can bring about frustration and inconvenience. Unlike Eclipses, however, they are a part of the ordinary harmony of the Music of the Spheres. This article will talk about Mercury Retrogrades from a metaphysical, astronomical, and astrological perspective, and it will also discuss how they can impact you on a personal level.
The Metaphysics of a Mercury Retrograde
From an Essentialist perspective, everything we can observe has its roots in metaphysical principles. Because we are living at the end of the Late Iron Age, many of these principles have been lost to our understanding. In Western Astrology, we are working with a broken tradition, but many of the metaphysical principles can still be derived from what we do know. There are also many fine astrologers and scholars working to retrieve not just the mechanics of our astrological heritage, but also the philosophy.
In Modern Astrology, it is common to think of the Sun as just one’s ego or identity, and the Moon as confined to our emotions and psychic intuitions, but these are the Luminaries, and their meaning is far deeper.
All of the Traditional Planetary Principles come from the Sun, and the Solar Principle encompasses all of the others. At the beginning of time, all was One. One of the Mysteries of our existence is that these principles became separate from the One, and the story of how this happened is found in various Mythologies. The two Planetary Principles that remained the closest to the Solar Principle, which is also the Source, are the Mercurial Principle, which is Intelligence or Wisdom, and the Venusian Principle, which is Love.
Even though these Principles have remained close to the Source, we are still in an imperfect world, and so even Intelligence and Love stray on a regular basis.
The Astronomy of a Mercury Retrograde
We can see this principle reflected in the physical planetary cycles as seen from Earth. Venus can never stray 48° away from the Sun, and Mercury can never stray more than 27°. On a purely physical level, the reason for this is that both of these planets are closer to the Sun than the Earth.
From a two-dimensional perspective, the orbits of these planets behave almost like a pendulum with the Sun being the center or focal point. This is a moving pendulum. So, from the perspective of the Earth, all of these bodies travel across the ecliptic in a predictable pattern with Mercury and Venus sometimes ahead of and sometimes behind the Sun.
Mercury starts from behind the Sun, catches up and then surpasses the Sun. When she has gone too far, she turns around and goes backward or retrograde. At a certain point, she will get too far behind the Sun and then will turn around to catch up again. This is the part of the normal cycle of Mercury (and of Venus).
Mercury retrogrades generally happen 3 times a year.
The Astrological Symbolism of a Mercury Retrograde
One of the most important axioms in astrology is “as above, so below.” This means that we can interpret the physical behavior of the planets in the sky in light of metaphysical principles, and from there, derive their astrological meaning. With respect to Mercury, it is helpful to look at the Retrograde Period in the context of the entire cycle.
Cazimi – in the Heart of the Sun
All of the planetary principles originate from the Solar Principle, so we begin Mercury’s journey with her inside of the Sun. When planets are within 17′ of the Sun, they are said to be Cazimi, which means “in the heart.” Cazimi gives a planet great strength or dignity.
Direct, under the Sun’s beams
We live in the world of flux and change, and thus, we are not able to stay within the womb of our mothers. In the same way, a planet does not stay long in the special place of Cazimi. In the case of Mercury, she starts to move forward and away from the Sun. The physical Sun moves as well, but Mercury’s motion is faster.
At this point in time, Mercury is severely weakened. This condition is called Combust. Mercury is taking her first steps and is overpowered by the Sun. There is safety in being so close, but under the watchful gaze of the Sun, she can not do as she pleases. She is Combust until she separates from the Sun by about 8°30′. At this point, she begins to gain a little strength. She is still weakened, in a condition known as “under the Sun’s beams.” This lasts until she separates about 17° from the Sun.
Once Mercury is ahead of the Sun by about 17°, she is able to move ahead at her full strength. She is like a child running ahead of her mother. Like this child, she can only go so far before her mother will call her back. so we can be pretty certain that she will be covering this territory again shortly. This is said to be Mercury’s shadow period. Quite literally, Mercury is getting ahead of herself. On the other hand, like a child who has gotten away from her mother, she has a little more freedom to act and to do what she wants to do.
When Mercury gets far enough away from the Sun, around 27°, she stops and turns around. Her mother has called her, and she must come back. This is the beginning of the Mercury Retrograde period. Mercury needs to cover the ground she has already covered in order to return to the Sun.
Mercury Retrogrades are famous for causing communication problems and all sorts of mischief, particularly with respect to paperwork and the general functioning of an office. Yet, the reason for this mischief is that in the previous period, we were moving too fast, and it is time to slow down and reflect. We have trouble when we resist and try to forge ahead anyway.
Return to the Sun
Mercury then returns to the Sun. She first goes back to being under the Sun’s beams, and then she is Combust. After that, she returns to the special condition of Cazimi. She briefly holds her mother’s hand or gives her a hug, but she does not stay very long.
Our young Mercury has a short attention span, and so she sees something interesting and keeps running. She goes Combust, then under the Sun’s beams, and then runs free of the Sun again, this time going in the opposite direction. This is the deepest part of the Mercury Retrograde. We are having to do things over and over because of mistakes or omissions. On the other hand, we have gotten used to the difficulties and frustrations and have learned to cope with them.
This may also be a time that we start to feel nostalgic, thinking about and reflecting upon the past.
Direct Motion – Catching Up
Just like our young child, Mercury can only go so far in the other direction before she needs to return to the Sun again. This time the Sun is ahead of her, and she has to run to catch up. This is an active and productive time. We have fully reflected upon and absorbed everything that we have learned up to now, and we are ready to put it into practice.
The little child has seen many things as she has run ahead of and then behind her mother, and she is ready to tell her mother all about it. Mercury will return to the state of Cazimi, and the cycle will begin again.
Variations on the Theme
While all Mercury Retrogrades follow this general pattern, some are more difficult than others. One of the most important factors for judging what the period will be like is the sign that it occurs in. Some signs are friendlier to Mercury than others. Whenever Mercury goes retrograde, she spends more time in a particular sign as she goes forward, backward, and then forward again over the same territory.
This can be likened to the difference between a child running free of her mother in her own backyard and her running free in a dangerous or hostile place. The level of friendliness or hostility a sign has to Mercury is known as her Essential Dignity or Debility in that sign. Below are the easiest and most difficult signs for a Mercury Retrograde.
- The best and easiest sign for a Mercury Retrograde is Virgo, and the second easiest sign is Gemini.
- Mercury Retrogrades is Libra and Aquarius also tend to be rather mild.
- Mercury Retrogrades in Sagittarius are rather difficult
- The hardest Mercury Retrogrades are the ones that occur in Pisces
Mercury Retrograde on a Personal Level
Now that we have looked at Mercury Retrogrades globally, let’s look at how they may impact you.
Transitting Mercury Retrograde
Transiting Mercury Retrogrades impact everyone, but some people are affected more than others. If Mercury is touching your chart in sensitive areas during her retrograde periods, you will feel the impact more strongly then if she is not. Your Sun is always a sensitive spot in your chart, but there are many other sensitive places as well. With a Nativity Chart reading, you can learn all of your sensitive points.
In general. the sensitive points will be in the same Mode (Cardinal, Fixed, or Mutable) as the sign Mercury is in.
- The Cardinal Signs are Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn
- The Fixed Signs are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius
- The Mutable Signs are Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.
One of the things that you may notice is that the Mutable Signs contain the signs that Mercury is best in and the signs that are the most difficult for her.
Mercury Retrograde in a Nativity Chart
When you were born, all of the planets were in a particular place in the sky. With a Nativity Chart, we take a snapshot of where the planets were when you took your first breath. These placements will impact you for your entire life. Everyone was born at a particular place in the Mercury cycle as described above.
Instead of one of these stages being a temporary condition, it will be a major theme over the course of your lifetime.
Mercury Retrograde by Progression
While our Nativity Charts do impact our entire life, our charts also develop over time as well. One of the ways to track this development is through a technique known as Secondary Progressions. With Secondary Progressions, each day after our birth corresponds to that year of our lives. So, if you want to know how you have developed by the time you are 30 years old, you look at the transits 30 days after you were born.
Because Mercury moves very fast compared to many of the other planets, she will usually go through several of the above-described phases during a person’s lifetime.
The times that Mercury is retrograde can be inconvenient and troublesome, but they are a natural part of the rhythm of the Music of the Spheres. They are times to reflect and absorb new information and things that you have learned. These periods occur three times a year. While they impact some people more than others, their effect is worldwide. You may have been born during a Mercury Retrograde, in which case, the themes of reflection and looking back will be a part of your life story. You may also progress into one of these periods, which bring these themes to the forefront for several years.