|"Mercury with caduceus" on ceiling mural |
Allegory of the Planets & Continents (1752)
by Tiepolo (1696-1770),
Würzburg Residence, Germany
Every three months the planet Mercury turns retrograde—that is to say, that Mercury appears to move backwards from our point of view. This optical illusion happens with all the planets and objects used in astrology, with the exception of the Sun and Moon. The reasons for this are quite technical, but have to do with the disparity in the speed and distance of two moving objects as they meet at a certain point along their designated paths. Imagine the perceptual illusion created when looking out from a fast moving car or train; objects moving at a relative speed yet slightly slower appear to float backwards in relation to the objects (telephone poles and trees) racing by in the background.
The perception is quite convincing but not quite accurate to reality. Then again, what is reality but an illusion itself—an agreement made within consciousness about how things should or shouldn’t work? We could get rather philosophical with all this, but my point here is that time itself is relative to motion; all matter is energy in motion. You catch my drift? “Truths are illusions about which it has been forgotten that they are illusions,” said Freidrich Nietzsche. In a sense, Mercury retrograde is an illusion within an illusion. While not what it appears to be, it still has a profound effect on consciousness, as does everything else.
Mercury retrograde is probably one of the most well-known of astrological phenomena. Even the conservative home maker next door is probably aware of it, and likely has something to say about it. With anything that reaches a level of consensus understanding, it’s plagued with myths and misunderstandings. Mercury retrograde has reached the status of a cursed deity, the ubiquitous symbol of everything that’s going wrong in our daily affairs.
Yet, with every stereotyped consensus perception, there’s still a modicum of truth. For good reason, Mercury retrograde is known for its correlation with a higher incidence of “unfortunate” happenings—most usually involving something technical, mechanical or dealing with communications (in all its varied manifestations). Did your computer crash? Oh, it’s Mercury retrograde! Your car is having trouble? That e-mail didn’t get delivered? Well, you know, it’s probably that damn retrograde.
This is all quite true, but not entirely true. For instance, lots of cars break down and computers crash when Mercury isn’t retrograde. So how do we explain this? The key is in the fact that I stated above: Mercury retrograde seems to correlate with a higher incidence of “unfortunate” happenings. Can we prove this statistically? No. Do I care to? Not really. I do believe there have been studies on this in some shape or form, all of which were pretty inconclusive. That usually happens when you put astrology under the scientific ringer. It doesn’t work out too well for astrology’s reputation.
So what is happening when Mercury is retrograde? Well, on one end (and highly subjectively I might add), things do get a little wonky, especially electronics and machinery. This is most noticeable during Mercury’s stations—that is when Mercury is slowing down to change directions, coming to a standstill. For our purposes, this happens on the days of and surrounding Oct. 4 and Oct. 24. At least in my experience, this has been a consistent observation. Of course, the whole period of Mercury’s retrograde is wrought with “unfortunate mishaps”, as well as its shadow periods (Sept 29- Oct 4 and Oct 24- Nov 10).
The truth is, Mercury retrogrades will not affect everyone the same, nor is there any way (that I’m aware of) to predict whether this one is really going to nail you or not. Maybe if Mercury were to hit a planet or sensitive area in your chart, it might be more significant, but then again, maybe not. How I view Mercury retrograde is this: Hermes, the Greek representation of Mercury, is a trickster. The trickster is notorious for throwing a wrench in our plans and expectations; not because he’s out to get us like some psychopath (though maybe Hermes was a little sociopathic), but because he’s like the cosmic wild card. Not even the “Gods” are immune to the trickster’s antics.
When Mercury is retrograde, its trickster side seems to come out to play more than usual (though let us not forget that all planetary archetypes do have a trickster side to their expression, regardless of whether they’re stationary or direct). A bi-density/bipolar being, the trickster doesn’t take sides. He can fly from this world to the next with the greatest of ease, poise and elegance. But his “curses” can also be blessings in disguise. Like the illusion of a planet moving backwards in the sky, it’s all a matter of how you choose to view it. Lewis Hyde, in Trickster Makes This World, says of Hermes:
“Accidents break the surface of our lives to reveal hidden purpose or design. The carefully interwoven structures of thought and social practice provide stability and structure, but they bring a kind of blindness and stupidity, too. Gifts of Hermes tear little holes in those fabrics to offer us brief intelligence of other realms”.
To quote Meister Eckhart, “We are made perfect by what happens to us rather than by what we do”. As I’ve often written, Mercury retrograde helps us to see outside the suffocating bind of beliefs. If you really take a look, beyond all the “accidental mishaps” that may or may not surround you at these times (which, as we have just learned may be helping us break free of our perceptual prisons); you will see what you have refused to see before.
If Mercury retrograde does one thing consistently, its challenge our perceptions of the world and our beliefs about what is or isn’t truth. Still, your computer might crash, light bulbs burn out, or a rock might bless your windshield while driving on the freeway (yes, that happened to me a few retrogrades ago). But maybe, just maybe, that really annoying and seemingly meaningless mishap is trying to tell us something, trying to break us free of our blindness or stupidity. Maybe, like Carl Jung said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate," Mercury’s retrograde foibles reveal deeper layers of the psyche, bringing to the surface those artifacts clogging up the mental septic tank.
We need order and structure to survive, but the trickster’s purpose is to keep our structures loose and flexible, free from becoming either too rigid or oppressive. When taking a look at the world around us, consider it a blessing that Mercury turns retrograde every three months; it keeps our minds and the structures they create open, fresh and alive. Astrology is often blind to the trickster. I think that on some level, our attraction to astrology is/was a way to gain more control of the chaos inherent to the world—and by extension the cosmos itself.
When we include the trickster in our pantheon of astrological symbolism, we open to an entirely new perceptual field, one that reveals the ever changing nature of life predicated on the unexpected. Hyde’s brilliant book is chock full of ingenious insights that can help us to understand this process. I highly recommend it. Often, the most rewarding things in life come to us from out of the blue, when we aren’t expecting them. This is often what can happen during a Mercury retrograde cycle. As with any retrograde, its purpose is to redirect consciousness from some rigid path or expectation, to reveal a broader field of possibility, and to help us step back and do things differently.
While it’s probably best to stick with some of the usual advice, to avoid signing major contracts, purchasing expensive equipment, executing some big project, coming to a critical, conclusive decision or to be more clear and redundant in your communications while Mercury is retrograde, we can’t forget that sometimes the unexpected turn of events are actually blessings from the gods. To appreciate these “accidents” and “mishaps”, we need to remain open to the unexpected. To quote Hyde once more, “The agile mind is pleased to find what it was not looking for”.
So, rather than pushing against life, trying to force our will and exceptions onto reality, Mercury retrograde is a time to step back and see things differently—to not look, but rather allow the unfolding to reveal “brief intelligence of other realms”. We shouldn’t fear this pertinent astrological cycle, hiding out in our house until it’s all over; and we certainly shouldn’t follow some rigid rules that tell us to put everything on hold until Mercury is direct and moving forward. Some of those rules are helpful, and can assist us to simply see that there may be holes in our game plan that we aren’t quite aware of; but Mercury, the trickster, is always lurking in the shadows, waiting to remind us that rules are meant to be broken.
Mercury Retrograde in Scorpio/Libra
Sept 14, 2014: Mercury enters retrograde shadow
Oct 4, 2014: Mercury stationary retrograde (retrograde begins)
Oct 25, 2014: Mercury stationary direct (retrograde ends)
Nov 10, 2014: Mercury leaves retrograde shadow
Mercury’s retrograde cycle occurs just beyond the equinox transition and the New Moon in Libra. These two events bring a dramatic yet subtle shift in collective focus and priorities. As with all Mercury retrograde cycles in 2014, two signs are involved, both water and air signs. While spending more time in air signs with these cycles, the slight dip into the proceeding water sign has a certain symbolic significance.
Mercury will retrograde through Scorpio from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10—just under a week. It then dips back into Libra for the remainder of the retrograde. In the zodiacal cycle, Scorpio symbolizes a certain kind of relationship—one that takes commitment to a whole new level. The Scorpionic relationship is imbued with a kind of intensity and passion that takes a little bit of time to get used to. When consciousness reaches Scorpio, it’s ready to take the plunge and go really deep. That Mercury backtracks into Libra, a sign that favors social niceties and the seeking of common ground, indicates that this cycle alludes to that fact that we may, collectively and individually speaking, need to backtrack and get more acquainted with certain formalities before we take a leap and get really dirty. This could apply to a whole host of things. Relationships might be one of them, but there are many variations of this.
In order to merge deeply with something or someone, we need to have a certain level of trust established first. That’s what Libra is all about—gaining trust in another human being or what have you. If we can’t trust someone, we can’t let down our guard and release certain barriers to allow for the free exchange of energy and resources. So we may find ourselves needing to test the waters, to talk things out, re-negotiate or re-communicate our intentions so that everyone is clear about where the other truly stands.
The fact that things aren’t moving as quickly as you may like them to may have much to do with this process that needs to happen first. There may be a sense of restlessness with other commitments or attachments made previously, as if we feel stifled or too co-dependent. Again, this retrograde process allows us to see the holes in the current framework so that we can reestablish our commitments or our point of view. Keep the trickster in mind. Let the unexpected do its thing. New relationships may pop up or old commitments may fall apart. Let the chaos work its magic; embrace the contingencies. Mercury retrograde in Scorpio/Libra can help us see those dynamics within our interactions (personal, intimate or otherwise) that we were blind to before.
Beyond the symbolism of the signs involved in this retrograde cycle, Mercury retrograde is a time to go back and review those things we’ve been working on to gather more information, to look for loose ends, and to return to things we’ve forgotten about or have left behind. The past often plays a significant role at these times. With Scorpio/Libra, that may involve past relationships and the karmic dynamics generated between the individuals involved. Keep your eyes peeled, your ears receptive and your mind loose and flexible. When Mercury changes gears, we need to be agile and prepared in case things go awry. When we go with the flow and trust the process that presents itself to us, we’re less likely to experience the many frustrations so prevalent at these times.