This article was updated in November 2017 with additional information about Mercury retrograding through the natal houses. It can be found in the final portion of the article entitled ‘Understanding the impact of transiting Mercury Retrograde in your own birth chart’.
[Editor's Note: While this article by Sarah Varcas originally ran in June of 2014, since Mercury retrograde cycles back every four months and since there are so many (fearful) misconceptions about this time period, we are featuring it again. It gives a very clear (and clear-headed) description of the benefits and challenges of Mercury Retrograde.]
To set the scene………
There’s always much talk (and a fair amount of hype!) when Mercury turns retrograde, most of it pretty negative and doom laden. Mention of travel disruption, communication breakdown & misunderstandings abound. People roll their eyes and brace themselves for a few weeks of chaos and confusion as they anticipate the trickster aspect of Mercury messing with their lives. And yes, it can be true that these happenings occur more readily during Mercury’s retrograde phase, but the essence of the trick being played upon us is that they’re not negative events, but moments designed to stop us in our tracks and wake us up.
Many years ago I worked with an Ericksonian hypnotherapist who used the technique of unexpected mispronunciation (often of their name) to pull people up short and take them by surprise, inducing a moment where their ‘everyday’ consciousness was interrupted and a brief state was born into which he could then insert a hypnotic suggestion.
Retrograde Mercury acts in much the same way. It suddenly presents us with the unexpected in the context of everyday life, lifting us out of the semi-conscious state in which we often pass our time. At that moment a new suggestion can be made by the cosmos. Seeds for the growth of a different perspective can be planted. If, however, we respond to this moment by frantically trying to return to the ordered world we thought we knew, a moment of creation and awakening can be lost, never to return.
Mercury Retrograde: A Time of Truths Revealed
The time of Mercury retrograde is always a time of truth, even when communications seem disrupted and misunderstandings are rife, because misunderstandings themselves are part of the truth of being human. When Mercury is retrograde we’re given a chance to address them and correct the course of events, rather than sweeping them under the carpet, ready to trip us up another day. Indeed, whatever Mercury retrograde brings to us, the best reflection is always, ‘What truth does this reveal to me, and why have I needed it revealed in this way at this time?’. The answers to these questions may be very enlightening indeed…
So no matter what you may have heard about how it’s nothing but a pain, causing disruption to our plans, throwing our communications awry and generally chucking a spanner into the works of our lives, the passage of Mercury retrograde is actually a gift from the heavens which gives us an opportunity to reflect, take stock, review, and correct mistakes we may previously have made in the rush and whirl of everyday life. It’s how we receive and use this gift that matters.
A while ago I heard someone tell a story of when they were travelling and every plane they were booked on was delayed or cancelled. They began to think they would never arrive at their destination and were becoming increasingly frustrated. In a packed airport departure lounge, filled with equally frustrated people, this person decided to make the best of a bad situation.
She looked around to see who looked like someone she’d like to get to know better, noticed a woman in the corner, sat down next to her and sparked up a conversation. They ended up sitting together when the flight finally left, and in the course of their conversation on their shared journey, this person’s life was quite literally changed over-night. The seeds of a new perspective were sown. Now, I have no idea whether or not Mercury was retrograde at this time, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was, and this story gives a wonderful example of how retrograde Mercury can work…. if we let it!
Mercury Retrograde is Not Essentially Negative or Bad
Nothing that Mercury retrograde throws our way is insurmountable, no matter how disruptive it may feel at the time. And none of it is essentially negative or bad. So if Mercury retrograde messes with you, consider yourself blessed with an opportunity to wake up and smell the coffee, embrace the unexpected and be prepared for a new perspective.
Despite the bad press, Mercury retrograde is actually our friend if we’ll only allow it to speak its often unwelcome message! It will reveal to us where adjustment is needed, within and without, and where our attention and focus may be hindering rather than helping us. It’s sent not to frustrate us but to show where flaws exist in our thinking and perception, which need to be addressed.
It also gives us a valuable opportunity to revisit ground covered in the previous few months and correct any decisions or communications that need further attention. This is not the heavens wanting to trip us up, a cosmic banana skin on the pavement. No, this is the heavens giving us the chance to review, reflect and try a different way.
Mercury’s regular retrograde cycle is a self-correcting mechanism of the universe, enabling things that need adjustment to be adjusted before it’s too late! And for that reason alone we should welcome Mercury Retrograde with open arms…
A (Very) Brief Explanation of What Retrograde Motion Actually Is…
When we say that a planet is retrograde, we mean that, from the perspective of the Earth, it appears to be moving backwards against the constellations of stars that form the zodiac signs as we know them. This phenomenon occurs because the speed at which the planet is orbiting the Sun is different to the speed at which the Earth orbits the Sun. Of course, the planet in question hasn’t suddenly changed direction, it merely appears to have done so at certain points in its orbit relative to the Earth. As such, planetary retrogradation is an illusion, but a significant one none-the-less, for the messages that it brings us about the inner work we need to undertake at those times.
All planets other than the Sun and Moon (which, of course, aren’t actually ‘planets’ anyway!) undergo periods of astrological retrogradation, and the amount of time they spend retrograde lengthens according to their distance from the Sun, with the Outer Planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) remaining retrograde for several months but Mercury being retrograde for only about three weeks at a time.
The Astrological Significance of a Retrograde Planet
A retrograde planet in a birth chart renders the expression of that planet more contemplative and considered, less likely to unconsciously follow the herd. There can be both individuation and internalisation when a natal planet is retrograde: we express it in a more individual way due to the deeper level of consideration we bring to it, and we process its influence much more as an internal experience than as an external encounter.
The riches of a retrograde planet are discovered within us, not through interaction with the outside world. Thus, when a planet is retrograde by transit (that is, at any current moment in our lives), we experience its influence more deeply within us, as we’re encouraged by the cosmos to contemplate the truths of life in a reflective way.
A Bit about The Planet Mercury, Ruler of Gemini (and, Traditionally, Virgo)
The planet Mercury is the planet of communication, teaching, learning and understanding. It relates in part to our mind and intellect, how we go about gathering information and the way we communicate that information to others. It governs our interest in life in general, and how much we do or don’t interact with our environment. It also relates to our childhood education, our early life, to siblings and to our local environment and community.
It seems like a broad range of areas are covered by Mercury, but in essence they’re all about contact and connection in some form or other, whether it be the connection that we experience in early life via our immediate family and community, or the connection that we can nurture at any time through communication with others.
Mercury helps us understand life and make sense of our everyday experience. It does not, however, take us deeply into things, preferring to deal with the necessary surface issues of life before moving on to the next thing.
Mercury is a flexible planet and its energy can be quite immature at times! It is often observed that Mercury has few morals. It’s not immoral, it’s amoral: it seeks understanding and recognises connections and possibilities without particularly engaging in the rights and wrongs of those possibilities. In myth, Mercury was the messenger of the gods. It wasn’t his job to judge the messages and information that he imparted, only to communicate them.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, never journeying more than 28 degrees away from it. As a result, the only possible aspects that can occur between the Sun and Mercury are the conjunction (0 degrees) and the semi-sextile (30 degrees), and Mercury can only ever be in the same sign as the Sun, or the preceding or following sign. So, for example, everyone born with the Sun in Capricorn will have Mercury in Sagittarius, Capricorn or Aquarius.
Why Everyone Talks About Mercury Retrograde!
Mercury is very influential in our day-to-day existence, ruling the building blocks of our interaction with others such as computers, the media, telecommunications, travel and our local environment. So it’s no wonder that we experience its effects quite readily. We all know the frustration of a computer crash, a cancelled train or a misunderstanding with someone that leaves everybody feeling out of sorts and dissatisfied. When Mercury turns retrograde these things can occur more frequently and with greater consequences, hence the negativity surrounding these periods of time.
But in allowing ourselves to be distracted by the practicalities of such inconveniences we can easily miss the deeper messages that Mercury holds for us because, remember, a retrograde planet turns us in upon ourselves to process its lessons within, not tackle them in the external world. If we focus all our energy and attention on getting our computer running again we may just miss the most important aspect of the trickster’s influence in our life… that which reminds us we’re actually in control of very little in life. In fact, it’s only ourselves over which we can really claim any sovereignty, and to tie ourselves in knots trying to control the material world and its vagaries is a long and exhausting journey with few rewards at the end of it!
Which, of course, isn’t to say that we shouldn’t sort out the computer problem or find a different route to that meeting we should be at when our train’s cancelled, but it does mean we should also remember there’s a whole other level to what’s going on, and the more we can engage with that too (and what better time to do that than sat in a station waiting room, or in a traffic jam, with nowhere to go and nothing to do?!) the better. Like the story mentioned earlier of the woman who made the most of her disrupted journey and as a result met someone who changed her life, we too can use Mercury’s tricks and games to enhance the richness of our own existence if we choose.
Understanding the impact of transiting Mercury Retrograde in your own birth chart
If you have a copy of your birth chart you’ll be able to see where Mercury retrograde’s influence will be most keenly felt in your life. Once you have identified the house in which it travels backwards you can attend to that area of life and use the retrograde period to carry out a ‘spring-clean’ of the issues and circumstances you encounter there.
Here’s some practical advice for Mercury transiting retrograde through each house. I hope it helps!
If Mercury is retrograding through your 1st house take time out to consider new beginnings that may be on the horizon. If you encounter unexpected delays in advancing important plans don’t panic. Use this opportunity to review those plans, any associated agreements with other people and your expectations overall. There may be something you’ve overlooked which needs to be addressed, or you may simply be in need of some time out to take stock and stop pushing forward for a few weeks, even if it feels like the worst thing possible at this point! It won’t be. And come the end of the retrograde period you’ll be better equipped to make significant progress. Beware of jumping to conclusions or making spontaneous decisions during this passage of Mercury retrograde. The temptation may be strong, but the outcome of doing so will be less than desirable! Patience pays at this time so use it well, to reflect and review plans and prepare for progress in a few weeks’ time.
If Mercury is retrograding through your 2nd house take time out to review matters pertaining to your resources, both financial and otherwise. This is a great time to catch up with unpaid bills and to get your finances in order. If you discover you have less money than you anticipated (which can happen at this time!), use the retrograde period to come up with a viable plan for money management from hereon in. This transit can be a wake-up call to pay more attention to what you have, what you don’t have and how best to use the resources at your disposal. It’s also a good time to develop gratitude for life’s blessings, rather than simply using them up as they arise. The 2nd house also relates to the body, so take good care of your health during this transit. If you feel tired, rest. If you feel ill, don’t push through but instead do what your body needs to heal. It is, after all, our most precious resource and our relationship with it can reflect our wider attitude towards the physical world. Through nurturing our body we can learn to nurture our environment and those within it: all important contributory factors to our quality of life.
If Mercury is retrograding through your 3rd house you may encounter travel disruption as you go about your everyday life, so if you’re going somewhere important it can help to allow longer for the journey. If you’re not delayed great, you simply arrive early and have time to gather yourself! If you are, you can stay cool knowing you’re on top of things despite the delays. All types of communication can be specifically impacted by this transit so back up your computer beforehand and make sure you know where those important letters are that you need to refer to in the coming weeks. Paperwork and admin live in the 3rd house, so this is a good time to catch up on correspondence in all its forms and clear the decks of outstanding communications. It’s not, however, a good time to begin a chain of official or legal correspondence, which is best left until the retrograde period is over. If you have siblings, check in with them during this time. They may need your support or simply appreciate a chat over coffee. And if they’re labouring under the impact of Mercury retrograde perhaps you can help them out by sharing a new perspective on their current challenges! Students may especially feel this transit as the 3rd house in part rules learning and education. Use this time to catch up on outstanding assignments and get your notes in order! Drawing up a study plan for the coming months can be a fruitful activity now, as is revision. But beginning a new course of study is less well aspected and doing so may see a need to change direction in due course to better meet your study needs.
If Mercury is retrograding through your 4th house issues in the home and in your immediate family may occupy your attention. If the need for home repairs comes to light, be thankful that you’ve discovered them now and can begin to address them, but be sure to be clear with any trades people or experts you need to consult: double check agreements, prices and arrangements to ensure you’re all on the same page. Check in with your parents if you feel so inclined. They may need your support, or perhaps would simply appreciate an update on your life, no matter how mundane it feels to you! And if there are unspoken issues at home, consider bringing them out into the open for a frank discussion that enables everyone to have their say and reach an accord so everyone can move forward in a positive way once the retrograde period is done and dusted. Which reminds me… housework is also well aspected now, so consider a spring clean or a bit of redecoration if you feel so inclined. It can really change the energy of your home and freshen things up for the months to come!
If Mercury is retrograding through your 5th house consider getting creative for a while, in whatever way suits you. And remember, creativity comes in all shapes and sizes: it’s just as creative to cook your favourite meal as it is to produce a work of art or play a musical instrument. Weeding the garden can be a wonderfully creative process as you clear the ground for new life to emerge. The key thing here is to be creative for your own satisfaction not for someone else’s. Don’t seek external recognition but instead enjoy the results of the creative process as it gets your energy flowing and enlivens your spirit. Self-expression is highlighted now, but not in relation to the outside world. This is an inner process of connection with the essential creative energy that exists within us all. No audience is needed nor recognition necessary. Seeking these from others at this time will likely leave you dissatisfied and disappointed. We create now for us and us alone and reap the benefits of doing so. If you have children, be sure to connect with them during this time, creating space for them to express themselves if necessary. You may find issues arise that were previously obscured, along with an opportunity to clear the air if necessary.
If Mercury is retrograding through your 6th house be patient with everyday inconveniences. Find ways to rise above petty frustrations and obstacles, so you can remain calm even in the face of unexpected hassles. Issues at work may create frustrations, but it’s also a good time to review policies and procedures and clarify any misunderstandings. A frank discussion with colleagues could be very helpful now if you can all engage with a view to improving the general experience of the work place and the tasks at hand. It’s best not to arrange desperately important activities for this period as daily life can be disrupted during this transit, making it difficult to perform at your best. But if you can’t avoid them, allow more time to get to places and double check agreements and understandings to ensure everyone involved is on the same page. The 6th house is also the house of health, so take care of yours during this transit. Don’t push through bugs and viruses, but instead give yourself time and space to recover. Everyday stresses can cause us to neglect our physical, mental and emotional needs, but if we do so during this transit our health may well suffer, complicating things further down the line. Take it easy, eat well, get plenty of sleep and consider a trip to your favourite alternative therapy practitioner if you see this transit coming up. In any event, health issues that arise now are usually short-lived, but will be more so if you give your body what it needs to rest, recuperate and heal.
If Mercury is retrograding through your 7th house this is a good time to air any relationship grievances and articulate previously unexpressed thoughts and feelings. Whilst general communication with others can be hampered by this transit, efforts to clarify misunderstandings and allow space for everyone to express themselves are well aspected. Attempts to get your own way regardless of what others want, however, are not! So be prepared to compromise and forgive when necessary and appropriate, remembering that misunderstandings often have two equally valid sides with no unequivocal ‘right and wrong’. If a blast from the past arises in the form of an ex-partner or friend from days gone by, this may be an opportunity to resolve old hurts, even if just by agreeing to bury the hatchet and move on with your individual lives. Be wary of getting over-involved with someone from the past though, as the completion of this transit may well see the distance between you grow again, awakening old hurts and causing regret that you let down your guard to go back there in the first place.
If Mercury is retrograding through your 8th house double-check agreements about shared resources and finances to avoid misunderstandings. This isn’t a good time to sign agreements or contracts with other people, especially financial or property-related ones, but if doing so is unavoidable be sure to read and re-read the small print to avoid being stung further down the line by unexpected prohibitions or responsibilities. This is, however, a good time to discuss shared finances and resources, whether they be shared with a partner, other family member or someone else. Reviewing financial planning and investments is well aspected now, but don’t enter into new arrangements until this transit is over. This transit is also very useful for self-examination and exploring your thoughts and feelings towards important matters in life. Be prepared to ask difficult questions of yourself and wait silently for the answers to arise within. Insights garnered during this time can lay the foundation for significant inner change in the coming months. If sexual problems arise during this time, don’t despair. They are likely to be short lived and symptomatic of current circumstances rather than a deeper issue in need of attention. Everyday stresses may result in a lack of interest in sex, but it will pass and your sex-life will go on! Alternatively, this can be an interesting time for sexual experimentation or revisiting old partners with whom chemistry still exists. Be sure not to attempt to deceive or act in secret though, for Mercury retrograde in the 8th will ensure that relationship deceptions will always be found out!
If Mercury is retrograding through your 9th house take time out to reflect upon your understanding of life and the meaning you assign events. We can all too easily assume that our perspective on life is ‘the truth’ rather than one of many! Use this transit to view things through a different lense and reach new conclusions. For students this can be a useful time to review and revise previous learning and to discover new ways to apply your understanding to everyday life. If you have burning questions about your spiritual path and direction, use this transit to articulate them as best you can. Allow answers to arise in their own time, which may take longer than Mercury’s three retrograde weeks. Clarifying the key issues and life challenges you face now, lays the foundation for important insights in the months to come. Should you have connections with foreign lands they may be activated by this transit, with communications from abroad reaching your door or computer screen. If you’re travelling abroad, be humble and patient with the people you meet and the situations in which you find yourself. Bear in mind that cultural and language differences can more readily result in misunderstandings, and a smile and out-stretched hand can go a long way to smoothing over potential irritations.
If Mercury is retrograding through your 10th house it may be necessary to resort to old tactics in terms of your career, perhaps reconsidering roles or activities previously consigned to history. If so, be sure to view this as a return to strength, to something that you know well and can use to your advantage, rather than as a step backwards. Past experience and old skills not used in a while can get you out of a tight spot now, so honour them as the valuable resources they actually are. Your public life may be the source of some stress at this point, so be careful what you say online, for example, to ensure you don’t unintentionally stir up a hornet’s nest that you can’t then control! Like the 4th house, the 10th is also connected to parents, so you may find them featuring in your life more than usual. They may be in need of your assistance or simply want to connect, as may you. If there has been previous misunderstandings between you, this may be a good time to clear the air and start over. However, beware of sweeping past pain under the carpet now, as it will only arise again later if it’s not been resolved to your satisfaction.
If Mercury is retrograding through your 11th house, connections with groups and like-minded individuals may feel unusually strained and problematic. Whilst this can be an isolating experience it won’t last forever. See it as an opportunity to acknowledge that even those whose values we share are still individuals with their own subjective perspectives and priorities. Difference doesn’t have to equate with distance, and lessons learned now can help secure relationships in the long run if there can be mutual appreciation of both difference and similarity. This is also a good transit during which to review our life goals and aspirations: a great time to draw up a ‘bucket list’ of things to do and make plans to meet future goals. Whilst our place in wider society may feel strained during this transit, it will reveal where we can soften our stance towards others – fostering understanding where we may otherwise judge and condemn; where we may need to stand firm despite the unpopularity it brings; or where a change of perspective may be necessary in light of what we learn from others. Involvement with groups, be they work-related, social, creative, therapeutic or any other kind, may be subject to unexpected disruption: meetings are cancelled, key people don’t turn up, agendas get muddled, intentions aren’t shared. Best allow the storm to pass without making too much of it. Once Mercury changes direction things will most likely settle down and everyone will be wondering what all the fuss was about!
If Mercury is retrograding through your 12th house take time out to listen for the ‘still small voice’ that speaks words of wisdom within. This is a very private and solitary time during which seeking external guidance won’t help. The answers are within now, and your task is to listen when they are spoken. You may find that life takes you to hospitals or other institutions during this transit. If so, go with an open mind that enables you to hear what’s actually being said and not jump to unnecessary conclusions. Information received now, from any source, can be used to illuminate your spiritual life as much as your mundane one, and it can be especially important to see god(dess) in everyone, including yourself. Unconscious habits may trip you up now so try to be as self-aware as possible, and be willing to accept responsibility for your role in any interpersonal problems that arise. It may well not be all your fault, but a willingness to acknowledge that it takes two to tango can go a long way now to keeping the peace and healing relationship wounds.
Thank you for reading! I hope I’ve given you a new perspective on our trickster friend, who merely wants us on track and will do what it takes to get us there!
*subtitles by InnerSelf
This article was originally published
About the Author
Sarah Varcas is an Intuitive Astrologer, committed to decoding wisdom messages and applying this wisdom to the experience of our everyday lives with all their challenges, rewards, twists and turns, revealing the bigger picture to assist all of us in navigating the road ahead. She is deeply committed to the notion that 'we are all in this together', and can often be found reading her own words to remind herself what she should be working on today! Her own spiritual path has been very eclectic, spanning Buddhism and contemplative Christianity alongside many other diverse teachings and practices. Sarah also offers an online (via email) Tuition and Coaching in Intuitive Astrology course. You can find out more about Sarah and her work at www.astro-awakenings.co.uk.
Retrograde Planets: Traversing the Inner Landscape
by Erin Sullivan.
The movement and cycles of retrograde planets are based entirely on the apparent motion of the Sun through the zodiac. Erin Sullivan has interpreted these movements in a way that is immediately apparent and useful to both novice and professional astrologers, and provides both psychological and mundane interpretations of retrograde planets.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.