Mercury Retrograde Revealed
When a planet is retrograde, it looks like it’s reeling backward through the zodiac. In truth, the planets move forward constantly, but that’s not the way it looks. Although the Sun and the Moon clearly revolve in the same direction all year every year, the planets seem to follow a less consistent pattern. On a regular schedule, each of the planets appears to slow down, reverse direction, and retrace its path, arcing backward across the zodiac. For weeks or months at a time (depending on the planet), it wheels against the planetary tide. Then once again, it seems to slow down, turn around, and resume normal movement (which is referred to as going direct).
When ancient astronomers saw the heavenly bodies whirling backward, they invented all kinds of schemes to account for the phenomenon. In the second century BCE, for example, astronomers in Greece were convinced that the planets looped around their usual orbits on little spheres carved from the purest crystal. Needless to say, they were wrong. The planets never actually switched direction. Retrograde motion is solely a perception — an illusion caused by the fact that the planets, including Earth, are always in motion, tracing arcs across the sky as they loop around the Sun at varying speeds. You can experience the same disconcerting effect in a train. If two trains pull out of the station
together but your train is moving faster, the train on the adjacent track appears to slide backward. That backward motion, like the retrograde motion of the planets, is an optical illusion.
Successfully Handling Retrograde Mercury
Here’s a typical scenario from my life: The phone rings. I pick it up hesitantly (because, like most people, I have a teeny bit of telephone ESP). And indeed, it’s one of the usual suspects calling in a frenzy after having experienced one frustration too many. The final straw may be a lost ATM card, an endless wait in the doctor’s office, a missed appointment, a computer crash, the inability to rent an apartment at 1977 prices, a voice mail disaster, or another harrowing descent into an HMO inferno. Listening to the litany, I know what’s coming. My faithful follower is about to ask this question: Is Mercury retrograde? Often, the answer is yes. Tiny Mercury, the planet nearest the Sun, appears to
change direction more frequently than any other planet. It goes into “reverse” three or four times a year for around three weeks at a stretch. During those irksome interludes — and particularly at the beginning and end — you can expect small mishaps, petty annoyances, and all sorts of miscommunication. When Mercury is retrograde, messages disappear in cyberspace, straightforward statements are misinterpreted, people forget appointments and lose papers, and answering machines, faxes, copiers, computers, and cellphones threaten to strike.
Making the best of it
Why crazy things happen when Mercury is retrograde, I can’t claim to know. Astrology, to my way of thinking, is a system of metaphor, a symbolic cosmic language that reflects our lives the way the sea reflects the sky. So even though none of the planets ever actually spin backward, their apparent turnaround subtly affects our reactions, our perceptions, and our experiences.
When Mercury is retrograde, vexation abounds. Yet despite what you may have heard — and despite the inventory of possible woes I listed earlier in the chapter — retrograde Mercury isn’t to be feared. It’s a lesser force, not a tsunami. It forces you to slow down (because you’re stuck in a traffic jam), to be flexible (because your flight just got canceled), to check on things you might normally ignore (because your package should have arrived by now). It encourages you to try another approach. Thus it offers something most people desperately need: a timeout, a chance to pick up the pieces.
When Mercury is retrograde, do not
- Launch an important project.
- Purchase a computer, a cellphone, a Blackberry, or any other communication device, including expensive fountain pens.
- Buy a car, a boat, or a home.
- Move into a new dwelling.
- Start a job.
- Begin a relationship.
- Sign a contract.
- Expect things to go smoothly.
- Try to fight the fates. Forcing things to happen on your schedule only creates further mayhem.
To get the most out of Mercury retrograde, breathe a sigh of relief and get off that treadmill. You’ve been given a reprieve. All you have to do is
- Revise. (Mercury retrograde is invaluable for writers.)
- Reconsider. (If a former lover or an old problem reappears, Mercury retrograde can help you resolve the situation.)
- Revisit the past.
- Change your mind.
- Confirm your reservations.
- Check the facts.
- Make repairs.
- Do tasks you’ve been postponing.
- Correct mistakes.
- Get organized.
- Catch up on all forms of correspondence