Blaming Mercury Retrograde Again


We can't blame Mercury retrograde for everything… though the urge for such an easy answer tempts us.

It wouldn't be fair, though. That grants far too much power to one of the most common astrological phenomena there is. After all, Mercury typically moves retrograde three times a year, for three-and-a-half weeks a spell, which means that Mercury is retrograde about 20% of the time. For us to live in constant fear of computer crashes and travel snafus one-fifth of our lives—or to blame any and every inconvenience during this time on poor scapegoated Mercury—is to wrongly use astrology as an excuse, rather the tool for better self-understanding and more conscious living that it is.

It seems we hardly ever hear much about Mercury, except when he takes his thrice-annual bouts of retrograde motion. Maybe that should be our clue not to give too much power to his retrograde periods when we barely grant him importance the rest of the time. But Mercury is very important, if not often overlooked, as the mighty messenger man who smoothes over the intrinsic gaps between us and every other subject and object in our immediate environment via intellectual reasoning, communication and transportation.

We do not know this person or thing over there, and it does not know us. How do we overcome this not-knowing? We think about the person or thing. We speak to it, and perhaps it speaks back, spawning a conversation. We think more about it. We speak more. If knowledge of this person or thing is still beyond our grasp, we move toward it. We bring ourselves right up to it. We deliver something, we pick up something else; we exchange knowledge. We think about what we have given and taken. We work it into our previous knowledge. Later, we think and speak of what we've learned as we meet another something or someone. Mercury has done his job. Mental activity continues.

Reminder of the obvious: When a planet turns retrograde, it doesn't actually start moving backwards. It just appears to be moving backwards from our perspective on Earth. The planets in our solar system move at different rates in different orbits, just as zooming cars vroom down freeways at different speeds in different lanes. When we drive on the left at 80 mph and pass the silver BMW going 60 mph on our right (Point 1: Slow traffic, stay right.), the BMW looks, from our view, to move backwards in space (Point 2: Why's that Beemer going so slow?). But, of course, it doesn't move backwards (Point 3: Don't shift into reverse while going 60 on the freeway. Very bad idea.). Retrograde motion, in this sense, is an optical illusion. No planet has actually changed direction. It's all about the changing viewpoint.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this distinction between 'moving backwards' and 'appearing to move backwards' in interpreting the astrological meaning of Mercury retrograde. It is not that Mercury retrograde simply messes up the flow of all Mercury-related activities (more notably, modes of communication and transportation). Rather, an altered perspective in these areas results in what may seem like mess-ups, though perhaps they're not.

Likely, there are hard-to-see cosmic reasons why apparent Mercury-retrograde snafus happen. Due to the cancelled flight, you have been granted an extra three hours in the airport; during this time, you can catch up on reading, write a journal entry or escape into much-needed reflection on your past or visualization of your future. Thanks to the traffic jam, you've noticed buildings in your city that evaded your consciousness as you sped past them; one of them is where you wish you lived (and if you lived there, you'd be home now). When the check doesn't arrive on time, your mind must kick into a different gear. Maybe you needed the money right away and are forced to develop a creative detour; maybe you didn't need the money as badly as you thought.

In an age of ever-increasing information and motion, we often take for granted how many insignificant transactions and interactions make up our days. Often, Mercury retrograde's worst offenses are our own fault for not taking the patient, though time-consuming, approach. Many computer crashes are caused by antsy users who, unwilling to wait for a momentary system sputter to work itself out, start pressing too many buttons. Many lost bills are buried beneath piles of unprocessed or misfiled papers on desks of people too overwhelmed with too much responsibility for processing or filing way too much paperwork. Mercury retrograde slows us down and returns our attention to what we've overlooked or hastily assumed without consideration.

That's why it's so unfair to chastise Mercury retrograde—or any single astrological occurrence, for that matter—as 'bad'. Mercury retrograde is decidedly not bad. It does convolute the usual performance of logic, but one man's confusion is another's inspiration. Some people actually work better when Mercury is retrograde. This can be particularly true for those born during a Mercury retrograde phase. For these folks, it's as if, when Mercury turns retrograde, others finally speak their language and understand where they are coming from; their inherently odd way of thinking, talking and/or writing suddenly doesn't seem so odd.

Mercury retrograde is a perfect time to experiment with more poetic forms of communication, as well as returning to projects with which you've hit a creative block. The alleviation from rigid mental routine can be as pleasant and enlightening to those open to changing perspective, as it is frustrating to those who insist (to no satisfactory end, mind you) on every day being as identically 'productive' as every other day.

And yes, in case I forgot to mention it, Mercury is retrograde now.