Have you noticed media’s negative portrayal of Mercury in retrograde?
It is very likely that you have heard people say (with a sense of foreboding) that “Oh dear, Mercury is about to go into retrograde.” Sadly, the media has taken this astrological event and turned it into something that causes some people to want to withdraw from the world and not re-engage for the entire 3-week duration!
Yes, when Mercury is in retrograde, we can experience some challenges, especially when it comes to all forms of communication (e.g., spoken, written). However, I will argue later in this post that these are actually valuable times each year. I will also provide some recommendations about how to successfully navigate and even thrive during these time periods.
However, before we address Mercury retrograde, we need to take a step back and discuss what retrograde means both astronomically and astrologically.
Planets in retrograde
What you may not know is that planets other than Mercury can be in retrograde. In fact, the only celestial bodies in our solar system that cannot be in retrograde are the Earth, Sun, and Moon. This means that the following 8 planets have retrograde phases: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
Regarding the retrograde periods for these 8 planets:
- They are in retrograde for a different amount of time. It can range from just a few weeks (e.g., Mercury) to several months (Jupiter).
- Some will go retrograde every year (e.g., Saturn), while others only go into retrograde every couple of years (e.g., Mars).
- The planets furthest from the Sun (i.e., Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) are actually in retrograde for about half of every year.
- All asteroids (e.g., Chiron, Juno) can also be in retrograde.
- The Moon’s Nodes are almost always in retrograde. However, rarely will astrologers look at whether Nodes are moving in direct or retrograde when analyzing a chart.
The symbol for retrograde
The symbol used to indicate if a planet is in retrograde can be seen at the right. It is the same symbol used for prescription medication. It is described as a capital R and “the tail of the R is crossed.”
Typical number of planets in retrograde within a natal chart
Because 8 of the 10 planets in our solar system can be in retrograde at any point in time, it’s very likely that one or more planets were in retrograde at the time of your birth.
If you have your natal chart and you know how to locate the planets in the interior area of your chart, you can determine if any of the planets were in retrograde at the time when you were born. Usually, you will find this symbol at the end of the string of numbers and symbols representing the planet (usually toward the center of the circle/chart).
If you are looking at ONLY the 8 planets in our solar system that can be in retrograde (i.e., Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) :
- Most people will have 1, 2, or 3 of these 8 planets in retrograde in their natal chart.
- Although there’s nothing “wrong” if this is the case, it is unusual for a chart to have:
- No planets in retrograde
- More than 4 of the 8 planets in retrograde, especially if they include those closer to the Sun (i.e., Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn)
Astronomically, what does it mean when a planet is in retrograde?
Retrogrades happen due to variations in the orbital speed of the planets around the Sun. Some planets move quickly around the Sun (e.g., Mercury, Venus), while others move very slowly (e.g., Uranus, Neptune, Pluto).
When a planet is “in retrograde,” it “appears” as if it is moving backwards from the Earth’s point of view. In actuality, this is a visual distortion or optical illusion; the planet is not moving backwards – it just looks as if it is doing so.
I find that the following analogy is often helpful in understanding retrogrades:
If you are located on a fast-moving train and you pass beside a slower moving train, then from your vantage point on the faster moving train, it will visually appear as if the slower moving train is actually moving backwards. It isn’t, but it just “appears” to be moving backwards because it’s moving more slowly than you are. That is what is happening when a planet is “in retrograde”; i.e., a faster moving planet moves by a slower moving planet and the slower moving planet appears to be moving backwards.
Astrologically, how does being in retrograde influence the expression of a planet’s energy?
There are differing opinions among astrologers regarding how retrograde influences the expression of planets. In order to keep this discussion simple, I will choose one approach. However, feel free to explore other theories.
One way of describing what happens to the expression of a planet that is in retrograde is that the energy of that planet is believed to “go underground.” While in retrograde, a planet appears to be out of sync with its normal motion around the Sun.
This can influence the planet’s expression in various ways. Here are a couple of examples:
- The energy of that planet may be expressed in a unique or unexpected way. For example, Neptune often relates to our intuitive abilities. Ironically, when Neptune is in retrograde, intuitive abilities can actually become more pronounced.
- The energy of the planet might also be expressed in a subdued way. For example, Mars is associated with courage and energy. But when Mars is in retrograde, we may have a difficult time being courageous or using our energy to take action.
EXAMPLE: Uranus in retrograde
My natal chart is presented to the right. Uranus is in retrograde in my chart. You will find this planet in the middle ring of my chart. It is in my 12th house (between the 9:00 and 10:00 hours) and very near the Moon. If you were looking at a clock face, it would be located at about 9:45. If you look toward the end of that string of symbols and numbers, you’ll see the retrograde symbol.
Here is how you would verbally describe Uranus in my chart: “Uranus is located in my 12th house at 14 degrees and 44 minutes of Leo, and it is in retrograde.”
POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION: Uranus has to do with changes and rebelliousness. If Uranus was not in retrograde, I might be someone who was openly rebellious. Yes, there is a rebellious side to me, so this is accurate. However, because Uranus is in retrograde, it is subdued or not as apparent. I look “normal” on the surface; so much so that many are surprised to learn about some of the things I’d done to rebel against some societal beliefs.
What about Mercury retrograde?
Now that we’ve discussed retrograde, let’s return to Mercury retrograde.
When Mercury shifts into retrograde, it stays there for about 3 weeks before moving direct again. This typically happens 3 times each year (sometimes 4 but that’s rare).
Based on the information provided previously, you now know that when a planet goes retrograde, it “goes underground” or is expressed in a unique way. Mercury is the planet associated with thinking, learning, and all forms of communication (e.g., spoken, written). When Mercury is in retrograde, we can experience challenges in all of these areas because the energy of Mercury is harder to access and/or may be expressed in unique ways.
Here are just a few of the possible challenges we might encounter during Mercury retrograde periods:
- It may be harder to think clearly and/or we may be thinking very deeply about some subjects.
- We may have a harder time paying attention to details.
- There can be delays or mix-ups in plans of any kind (e.g., meetings, travel).
- It may be harder to express our thoughts clearly (and for others to do the same). This can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, arguments, and even hurt feelings.
- There can be disruptions in any technology or electronic devices, especially those used for communication (e.g., computers, phones).
Re-framing Mercury retrograde in a positive way
To be blunt, I disagree with the media’s representation of these Mercury retrograde periods as negative or even scary. I firmly believe that these 3 periods of time each year are actually extremely important and valuable.
I think we will all agree that our world is constantly “on the go” and that everything around us is continually changing. We all need these Mercury retrograde periods as a time to “catch our breath.” It is important to take time to pause, review what has recently happened, and process information privately before publicly moving forward into the next phase in our lives.
Yes, challenges can (and do) occur, and I get just as frustrated as anyone else when this happens. But I quickly remind myself of the importance of this time period. I also remember that any problems are simply a by-product of the important inner work that is being done when Mercury is in retrograde.
Recommendations for how to survive and even thrive when Mercury is in retrograde
Mercury retrograde periods are going to happen. You could try crawling into a hole and hiding, but most of us don’t have the luxury of doing this 3 times a year for 3 weeks each time.
Instead, I have made my mission to help people learn how to “work with” these time periods. With just a shift in perspective, we can survive and even thrive while Mercury is in retrograde.
Here are some suggestions for how to do that:
- Re-frame: Remember, this is actually an important time that happens every few months. It’s a time for reflection before moving forward again.
- Go Inward: Take time to breathe! Spend time alone focusing your energy on the “re” words . . . reviewing, revising, revamping, reformatting, reflecting, re-imagining, etc. You might even want to return to something with fresh eyes that may have been abandoned.
- Slow down: Think, speak, write, and even walk at a slower pace. Our attention isn’t fully focused externally, so slowing down will help us avoid making mistakes. Again, breathing will help!
- Communication: During these time periods, we definitely will benefit from thinking before we speak or write. We need to choose our words carefully. Be patient with each other! For example, if your feelings get hurt, try to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Or if you or someone else is having a difficult time communicating their thoughts, help each other by asking respectful questions or postponing important conversations until a later time.
- Pay extra attention to details: Definitely proofread your emails and texts before hitting send. And if possible, this may not be the best time to make any major decisions, purchase large items, and/or sign important contracts. But life cannot come to standstill. If you need to do these things, then just be sure to take as much time as possible to think through your decisions and/or to double- and triple-check all details.
- Technology & Electronics: If problems come up, be patient. Reach out for competent help. Make sure you back-up your data.
- Finish Projects & Cleaning Up: Although this usually isn’t a great time for starting anything new, it actually is a good time to finish something. It’s also a great time for cleaning and getting organized. You can think of this as cleaning out whatever is no longer needed in order to make room for the new things coming once Mercury begins moving direct again. This can include possessions, but it also applies to clearing out things like emails, old files, and even outmoded thoughts or beliefs.
INTERESTING NOTE: For those who have Mercury retrograde in their natal chart
Although not always the case, if you were born during a time when Mercury was in retrograde, you may find that retrograde periods don’t impact you very much.
I have actually spoken to several people where this is the case. They have told me that they always wondered why people complain about Mercury retrograde. In fact, they often report that when Mercury is in retrograde, they have an easier time thinking and communicating.
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By Anne Reith, Ph.D.