Brace Yourselves — Mercury Has Stationed Retrograde
It’s still astounding to me that “Mercury retrograde” has entered into mainstream cultural awareness, but here we are. As it happens, Mercury is currently in the process of stationing and will begin its first retrograde period of 2021 on January 31st.
Before you start panicking, let’s break down the mechanics of the Mercury retrograde cycle and talk about what it might mean for you.
It’s Actually Not that Bad
No, really. Mercury retrograde periods are not that bad. Somewhere along the way their bad reputation got wildly exaggerated, but the retrograde is a completely normal part of the planetary cycle. Every planet has a retrograde period. In fact, Venus and Mars retrogrades can be much more difficult than Mercury’s retrograde, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Mercury rules communication, short distance travel, and all those small details of every day life. These are the things we have a kind of quotidian awareness of; we can’t help but notice when daily frustrations arrive with Mercury’s retrograde. It’s much easier to be actively aware of a few weeks of daily interruptions and frustrations than a six-month long subconscious, existential, philosophical meandering (hello Neptune retrograde in Pisces, coming June 2021).
And yes, you will absolutely experience those daily frustrations. There will be miscommunications. Technology won’t work like it’s supposed to. Items will be misplaced, things will be forgotten, mistakes will be made. But, for the most part, these are frustrations on a very small scale. This is just the daily minutia of life. It’s annoying, but it’s not a crisis.
What Exactly is it Though?
Let’s back up for a second and define what a Mercury retrograde is from a technical perspective. As they (and we) orbit, all planets move forward through the Zodiac, right? The easiest way to understand this is to think of the Sun; we all know that through the course of the year the position of the Sun — relative to us — moves from Aries to Taurus to Gemini, and so on. The rest of the planets complete this same Zodiacal cycle, but at different rates.
When a planet moves retrograde, it appears to be moving backward through the Zodiac rather than forward. So, for example, later this year Jupiter will move forward from Aquarius into Pisces. It will then station retrograde and appear to move back into Aquarius.
I know. What?
It’s important to understand that the planets are not actually moving backward but simply appear to be moving backward from our vantage point here on Earth. A retrograde happens every time the Earth overtakes a planet with a slower orbit or when a planet with a faster orbit overtakes us; i.e. Jupiter appears to be moving retrograde when we pass it on our path around the Sun but Mercury appears to be retrograde when it passes us and proceeds to swing around the Sun.
Imagine pedaling your bike. There’s a moment, every time the pedal reaches the bottom of its revolution, when your foot (Mercury) looks like it’s moving backward relative to, say, your knee (Earth) or your hip (Jupiter) or the frame of the bike (the fixed constellations). You know you aren’t moving your foot backward though, you’re moving it forward along the path of the pedal. It just appears that it’s moving backward.
Another very good analogy for retrograde motion is the experience of sitting in a train and passing a slower train. As you pass it, there’s a moment where you have the sensation that the slower train is moving backward. Of course it’s not really, it just seems that way from your perspective.
Now that you understand what a retrograde technically is, you may wonder why something that isn’t actually happening can affect you. Fair enough.
We could get into a very meta existential conversation about how perception is the entire basis of reality, but I won’t digress that far. I will say, however, that perception is a significant part of astrology. This can be as seemingly complicated as perceiving Mercury to be orbiting backwards or as seemingly simple as perceiving the Sun to be setting. The Sun isn’t really “setting,” right? But we perceive it to be, and in doing so we experience a whole range of emotions and actions as a consequence.
A Mercury retrograde, or any planetary transit, is much the same. When the Sun sets we expect darkness. We know to drive with our headlights on. When the Sun is in Leo we expect hot weather. We know to put our winter coats in the back of the closet. When the Moon is new, we can expect the low tides to be even lower and the high tides to be even higher. The Sun and Moon are more obvious to us, but every celestial body in our solar system exerts energy in the same way.
So Back to Mercury
When Mercury is moving retrograde, or rather we perceive it to be, we encounter difficulties in the areas that Mercury rules. In case you need a reminder after our very long digression, Mercury rules the areas of communication, speech, messages, reading and writing, short distance travel, payments, and daily tasks and errands.
Some stereotypical Mercury retrograde difficulties can look like miscommunications, writer’s block, a local road closure, a package lost in the mail, or your phone breaking. This current retrograde is happening in the Air sign of Aquarius, so a particularly archetypal expression might be the wifi going out.
How it affects you specifically will depend on what house and planets it’s transiting in your house; i.e. where is Aquarius in your birth chart and what natal placements or aspects do you have there? It will also have an affect on the houses that it rules in your birth chart; i.e. where are Gemini and Virgo in your chart? This will help you to identify the themes and specific areas where you might encounter trouble during the retrograde period.
How to Deal
Like I said before, Mercury retrogrades aren’t the worst thing in the world, but they still low-key suck. Here’s a collection of my best advice for dealing with it.
- Cross your t’s and dot your i’s, literally and figuratively. Check your work, re-read your messages, double-check if that payment actually posted. Leave as little room for error as possible.
- Expect the unexpected. Adopt a more flexible mindset during this time and know it’s not the end of the world when something goes wrong. Whatever it is, it very may well resolve itself by the end of retrograde period.
- Listen more than you speak. The potential for misunderstandings and miscommunications is higher right now. Make sure you understand what people are saying to you and that they understand what you are saying to them.
- Slow down. Instead of working against Mercury, let your energy flow with Mercury. Slow it down and review what’s going on. Take inventory in your life, button up your daily routines, make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Have a sense of humor. Mercury is a little bit of a trickster. When something incredibly annoying happens, try to laugh it off. Or at least don’t lose your head over it. This is only temporary, or dare I say mercurial?