Editor’s Note: This classic Eric Francis piece about Mercury retrograde originally published Aug. 21, 2009. You can see that full members’ issue here. Note: Monday’s transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun might signal a brief reprieve from most Mercury Rx shenanigans, but stay alert and focused nonetheless. — Amanda P.
Dear Friend and Client:
Here is the question everyone has asked at least once: how exactly do you not get your ass kicked by Mercury retrograde?
Cloud to ground lightning over Pentagon City in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: Wikipedia.
Here’s a better question: how do we use these phases, which come dependably three times a year, to spark our creativity, solve problems and improve communication with the people around us? In other words, having the benefit of honoring astrology, how do we get it to work for us??
The answer, if you can call it an answer, requires us to do what nearly every message in our society is telling us to avoid: slow down, use your senses, be more thoughtful, and put an emphasis on completing things rather than beginning them. Switch to decaf at 3.
If Mercury is the planet that speaks, Mercury retrograde is the planet that listens, and invites us to listen. If Mercury is the god who can fly, turning that retrograde is inviting us to come in for a landing.
Every Mercury retrograde is different; the one that’s coming up is impressively so, with Mercury passing through the long-standing Saturn-Uranus opposition, as well as making a series of aspects to Pluto in early Capricorn. The Aries Point is involved, which is an alert to pay attention to big news that affects us personally, and personal news that feels a tad bigger than life.
The coming retrograde is going to shift things, and shift them a lot. More than Mercury is involved in the process this time around. If we think of the experience as a dialog between Mercury and the other planets, we have a conversation with some of the biggest players of all: the gods of change. Mercury will also be dancing back and forth between Virgo and Libra, which tells us that the two most significant things we can be changing are our minds and our perceptions — particularly our perceptions of ourselves and our relationships.
Most people would say this is the most difficult thing of all you can try to do. People spend years in therapy attempting to make changes of this kind. They rarely work; but most people don’t stick with the process and most therapists have a lot to learn that few others seem to be teaching. Maybe this is why so many people find Mercury retrograde so difficult. It’s little wonder that we need it three times a year to make any progress at all.
What Actually Happens…
Mercury’s surface looks similar to our Moon’s. Each is heavily cratered and made of rock. Photo: APOD.
Astrology is based on astronomy. To start with, when Mercury is retrograde, a planet, namely Mercury (the one closest to the Sun), passes between the Earth and the Sun. Mercury’s orbit is shorter than the Earth’s — 88 days as opposed to 365-1/4 days. So three times a year, Mercury comes blowing by. Mercury is an enormous magnet, mostly composed of a huge iron core, so we get a surge of magnetic energy blowing by.
Though this has, to my knowledge, never been established by science, a huge magnet going by is going to affect the Earth’s magnetic field. Nothing has no effect. We’re not talking about nothing here. And it’s going to affect the magnetic field of a human being as well as a planet.
Magnetism and electricity are directly related; they are so close as to be the same thing. The human nervous system works on electrical impulses; literally, on electricity. Therefore, this is going to influence us, just like the Moon affects the Earth’s tides. Think of this as the electrical tide, which influences our thoughts, feelings, perception and memory — and all of these gadgets we take into our aura, from iPhones to regular phones to our computers and cars and, well, other people.
To my knowledge, never in the history of civilization have we lived immersed in so many electrical fields, covered by an electrical grid and soaked in radio waves, microwaves and light pollution. So there are really three players in this equation: us, gadget/radiation haze that surrounds us, and a hefty magnet that people thousands of years ago figured out was associated with communication.
The Echo Phase into the Turnaround Phase
Like nearly all things in astrology and in our lives, Mercury goes through a series of phases on the way into and out of being retrograde. The phases represent subtle or not so subtle shifts in awareness, circumstances or information coming to the surface. Usually they are obvious enough that you can actually feel them happen, and associated specific conditions with the aspects as they change. As of Monday, Aug. 17, we began what’s called the echo phase (sometimes referred to as shadow phase). Technically, this is when Mercury enters the part of the zodiac where it will be retrograde in a matter of weeks. This is the warm-up, when we need to be making preparations for what will inevitably (and somewhat unpredictably) follow.
The echo phase is the time to mend your fishing nets, back up your disk drives, maintain your equipment and work out disagreements with people before they blow out of proportion. To that end, make sure there’s a fresh battery in your Pocket Rocket. Virgo is the sign that rules doubt. Therefore, use the opportunity of Mercury in its home sign to uncover and resolve your doubts, or at least a few of the nagging ones. (And as Mercury moves into Libra in a few days, we will be able to translate them into relational terms more easily.)
The beginning of the echo phase coincided with a Mercury-Saturn conjunction in Virgo. And Mercury is about to oppose Uranus in Pisces. In other words, Mercury is passing through the slow-moving Saturn-Uranus opposition that we’ve covered extensively on Planet Waves. There will be two more of these passes, around Sept. 22 (during the retrograde) and again on Oct. 8 (on the way out). We might not notice the monumental changes associated with Saturn-Uranus if not for the planet of the mind getting right in there and telling us what’s going on.
The next phase is the turnaround, which is also called the storm phase. This is in effect between approximately Sept. 3 and Sept 10 — a week during which Mercury (from our viewpoint on Earth) slows down, stops, changes directions and picks up speed retrograde. Note, the turnaround (or station-retrograde) happens in Libra. It’s about finding balance in the midst of change — which is the story of our lives.
The Retrograde Phase
The actual retrograde spans from Sept. 7 through Sept 29. Those are the actual days that Mercury appears to be moving backwards. Treat this phase as if it’s a world apart; a bubble in the deeps of time. In a sense, what happens there stays there. That’s why you don’t want to initiate projects during this phase; it’s the time to complete things that you want to be settled and resolved.
From much experience, I can tell you that you can safely slow way down spending money, making commitments or starting projects. It is possible; obviously plenty of things begun during Mercury retrograde still exist. Yet there is plenty of frustration and failure in the world, and we often wonder why that is so.
Mercury takes a cup from Venus, a dance performance. Photo by 0xDE.
Consider the retrograde a review. This is going to be a pretty comprehensive review, given how many other planets Mercury makes contact with: again, Saturn, Uranus, Pluto and others. Mars is also in the mix.
Virgo doesn’t just see the details, it sees them in a critical way. And often that critical really means self-critical. We have a lot to learn about how to be self-critical in an effective way, not the obsessive, nitpicky verging-in-psychiatric way that we tend to do it.
With any retrograde, we emphasize the past, and issues and conversations that relate to Mercury’s current placement or indeed anything can come up; we need to work them out as gently as we humanly can.
Retrogrades emphasize introspection. This is about getting to know yourself. The Libra piece is about getting to know yourself in relationships. There is the relationship and there is how you respond to it; the circumstance. Astrology is less about circumstances. It’s more about self-knowledge. That comes along with circumstances; but the circumstances are secondary.
During this retrograde, Mercury is warming up the Virgo-Libra cusp where Saturn will soon arrive (on Oct. 29). Mercury is running vanguard for his great friend Saturn, helping us make some changes in our minds, and scope out the more permanent changes that will arrive in the next season.
Involved in this is Pluto. Mercury makes three squares from Libra to Pluto in Capricorn. Pluto together with Mercury is all about understanding your motives. There is something deeply psychological here. Pluto always is, and now we are adding the energy of consciousness. The relationship is a square, which is an internal question that precipitates outer events; it’s preparation for when Saturn shows up in the same spot in about two months from now and squares Pluto — the first Saturn to Pluto quadrature aspect (90-degree based) since the rather eventful summer of 2001.
The Retrograde Works Out
After the retrograde, Mercury covers in forward motion the same ground that it covered in reverse during the past 23 days. Note that when something happens three times in relationship to Mercury retrograde, it happens once during the first echo, once during the retrograde and again during the second echo. This is Mercury covering the same degrees of the zodiac three times. All planets do this when they’re retrograde, but to my knowledge none covers as many degrees as Mercury, and none changes speed as quickly as Mercury.
Element mercury (Hg), liquid form. The element Mercury is associated with things that are difficult to grasp, fast, slippery, or have odd properties (such as being a liquid metal). Photo: Wikipedia.
Just as Mercury reaches the end of the retrograde, it slows down, stops and turns around. This is another special moment of its own, the second ‘storm’ phase. These turnaround or storm phases surround the station direct or retrograde, and they are clearly the most sensitive times to watch; the times to be on high Mercury alert. Particularly during the storm phases, don’t make assumptions. If someone does not answer an email, don’t assume they hate you; write to them again, or pick up the phone. Relationships lived by text message can be stressful and there is a wide margin of error.
Once the station-direct happens on Sept. 29, we are in the second echo phase until Oct. 14, when Mercury enters new territory for the first time since the first echo phase began. This is like a third chance to work out the same issues, address the same themes and explore the same ideas. It’s like the last layer in the process; perhaps the bottom layer, perhaps the top layer.
A Few Ideas to Remember
We are in a moment before the precipitation of fast events. During the retrograde, the Libra ingress of the Sun happens (that is, the equinox, or beginning of Northern Hemisphere autumn), and it makes a square to Pluto. Saturn is getting ready to change signs and change Pluto. Many other events can be described as precipitating or causing a cascade. It’s important to keep your thought process positive.
If you set aside the future and focus on the healing process, you will make a lot more progress than if you push an agenda.
Work for closure, in small things and big ones.
Part of this process is about untangling the difficulties in advance of the big transits that come in October and November.
It’s crucial to understand the difference between sensitive versus obsessive. One way or the other — Pluto versus Mercury. With this kind of astrology, it’s necessary or at least very helpful to cultivate patience with yourself and with others.
This is happening in a time when everything else is happening really quickly, that is to say, when we are surrounded and confronted by constant change. The question is, what exactly is happening? What exactly is changing??
Yours & truly,