Notes from a Particularly Harrying Mercury Retrograde


Scene 1: Friday night. Decently crowded, recently opened, still-on-the-stylish-list restaurant/lounge. America.

I stand near the bar with a dear friend, waiting patiently among the others to be served. As we make small talk, I point to an especially interesting-looking, high-design plastic bottle sitting atop the bar. I've never seen anything quite like it before.

'What is that?' I wonder aloud to my friend.

A pleasant-enough-seeming gentleman witnesses my pointing, overhears my aloud wondering, and enters the conversation. 'It's water… from Iraq.'

Pause, of a distinctively awkward nature.

Turns out it indeed is a bottle of water. I can't get close enough to read the label, but I assume this fashionable—presumably $5 a pop—bottle did not originate from Baghdad or Fallujah. This gentleman's communiqué—presumably a joke, or at least a lighthearted attempt to join our small talk—hovers out there over us, adrift.

I say, 'I just don't know what to say to that.' The three of us allow conversational silence to persist for several moments before the gentleman departs our presence.

I didn't know what else to say, but I'll tell you what I was thinking: We are enjoying ourselves at a well-appointed bar, downing deliciously overpriced cocktails, scanning the urban-sophisticate faces. We are lucky. An enticing object enters my field of vision, and I wonder aloud what it is. A pleasant-enough-seeming gentleman, eager to make a social connection, speaks the first words that come to his mouth. It is a reference to a war our country is currently fighting, on our (economic) behalf, while we down deliciously overpriced cocktails at a well-appointed urban-sophisticate bar. War is emotionally devastating, and this gentleman proffers his remark offhand; casual, almost flirtatious. He does not know our views on the war, nor we his. But, undoubtedly, we each experience some type of emotional reaction to this intensely significant event in our cultural lives. We certainly share the awareness that this war is being waged right now as we speak and drink. What is happening right now in Baghdad? What is the water there like? Is there enough of it? Is it drinkable? Is it exportable? Water—the element of emotional feeling, currently highlighted by the planets with Venus and Mars in Scorpio. Sitting atop the bar is 'water from Iraq'. Hovering in this bar are Americans' feelings about the war in Iraq—sadness, anger, ferocity, hurt, fear, confusion, mistrust. This gentleman has them, too. He has spoken of these depths without knowing what's been said. He has revealed more than he consciously knows. I hear because I paused to listen. End of scene.

This interaction immediately struck me as exemplary of the current retrograde movement of Mercury through Sagittarius, which results in three conjunctions with Pluto over the course of a month and a half (Nov 20, Dec 7 & Jan 4). Most people rightfully associate Mercury retrograde with more standard foul-ups in communication, transmission and transport, and these past couple weeks have included more than a fair share of such snafus. So far, I've personally encountered or heard tales of bank errors, traffic jams, missing pages, absent emails, wrong numbers, computer crashes, changes and changes back again, discs stuck in CD players, torturously slow grocery lines caused by cash register malfunctions, and the requisite not-having-the-right-wordses. These, alas, we can expect to continue until at least Dec 20 (when Mercury goes direct) or longer, as Mercury catches back up to normal speed. Let me remind you to cultivate patience—with Sagittarius as the sign of the retrograde, many problems of these problems are being caused by cutting too quickly to the chase, hurrying into sloppy work, overlooking details, or insisting on one way as the only right way.

Throw Merc-retro-in-Sag's multiple conjunctions with Pluto into the mix, and we get scenes like the one I described to you: people communicating so quickly ('the first words that come to his mouth') and/or with one overriding purpose in mind ('eager to make a social connection') that their utterances unwittingly rise up from the unconscious and expose complex psychological issues, heavy-duty but with little immediate awareness.

As a pair, Mercury and Pluto symbolize a penetrating mind for deep intense scrutiny and the ability to be extremely persuasive (i.e., dogmatic, controlling) in thought, writing and speech. But, as I've mentioned before, Mercury is in detriment (the sign opposite its ruling sign, which is Gemini is this case) when in Sagittarius, such that enthusiastic tone and compulsive conviction are made to try to overcompensate for rushed consideration and incomplete analysis. Add the retrograde wackiness, and it's a recipe for instances where the penetrating scrutiny is accidental and the ardent dogma persuades toward ends unimagined by the supposed persuader. Such instances of psychological projection are common enough, but I'm noticing them more now, thanks to Mercury's vocal influence.

Of course, we may become so frenzied with our own mental rushing around and so frustrated with our own Merc-retro mishaps and delays, we hardly register these inadvertent abreactions in others. After all, there's a fundamental incompatibility between fast mental motion (a la Sag) and taking notice of underlying psychological complexities. To capture the best insights from what this current planetary situation has to offer, we must find time to observe and listen. Instead of allowing our mouths run, we can let our minds do it instead, following our internal intuitive investigator into the unknown—and consciously continuing not to know. We can ask questions, calmly and without presuming to get the answers we anticipate, and let them think the issue more fully through before adding more detail. And we can slowly, conscious repeat the words we've just heard back to the speaker, and maybe he/she will be deepened and transformed by what is visible in the mirror we've held up.

I leave you with…

Scene 2: Familiar cable news program. Pundit after credentialed pundits, often in pairs, speak with feral assuredness in broad strokes. Because they are experts, they must be right, and they try to convince us.

A pleasant-enough-seeming gentleman laments the tragedy of media cameras capturing the image of Arab children playing out pretend beheadings and suicide bombings. Indignant, he describes this tragedy to the viewers: 'It's not like some innocent game of Cowboys & Indians like the kids play here.'

Among other thoughts, I'm left to consider: What does history tell us about the source of the Cowboys & Indians game? And how innocent is that?