Yes. Venus is super weird, so I definitely want to talk about it later. But first let’s talk about the moon and Mars. So another way to explain everything that I was kind of mentioning in that mercury video is basically, there are not that many aspects that are possible between the Sun and Mercury in a given birth chart. You can basically have a conjunction or a very weak semi-sextile. So the backwards way to kind of figure out what other planets work like that is, is it possible for the sun to make an opposition with that planet. Two planets that we say follow the sun in astrology are Mercury and Venus. Mars is usually pretty close by, but when he does go retrograde, he ends up like way far away and it is in fact possible for Mars to make an opposition with the sun. So it’s possible to have the Sun or Mars in any sign. Even if it’s pretty rare to get like a far-away combination. The Moon, on the other hand, goes through all 12 zodiac signs every single month, so during a Full Moon, the Sun and Moon are farthest apart. Therefore they can be opposite each other. So you can have any possible moon sign and sun sign. Planets that are like past Mars are slow-moving and therefore there more generational or related to you know, your age so your birth year, rather than your sun sign is what matters.
You may know what your Mercury sign is, but do you know why? It’s only possible for Mercury to be in the same sign as the Sun, the one before, or the one after. Picture this inner circle as the one the sun seems to be making through the zodiac signs around Earth in one year. Then the outer circle is Mercury making the same moves through all the signs, but those little loop-de-loops are Mercury retrograde. When you calculate that out in an astrology chart, Mercury is never found more than 28 degrees away from the Sun, and because each sign takes up 30°, even if the Sun is at the furthest possible point of a single sign, Mercury can only be in an adjacent sign. If you superimpose it on the chart, it looks like this with Mercury retrograde backtracking ground that the sun already covered. Crunch that out and it looks like this. So you’ve got about a 50% chance of having Mercury in the same sign as the sun, 10 to 40% chance of the other two. Each sun sign has one cardinal, one mutable, one fixed Mercury choice. Fire suns can’t have air Mercuries, Earth suns can’t have water Mercuries.
This month, and throughout this year, two of the darkest, yet most powerful outer planet placements slid into a fluid relationship called a sextile. Their influence on each other has the potential to pull out the most frightening qualities of each – sheer intensity – but, because of their alliance and receptivity, their most empowering features will shine through.
Jupiter in Scorpio has already demanded strength, honesty, and vulnerability from the parts of us that are most dark, most secret, that cause us to feel the most shame. These parts are the same ones that cause us to lie and cover up parts of ourselves – but we are being asked to observe why. We lie and we hide and we cover up what we really are when we have been made to feel shame, when we have been taught to question ourselves, when we have been told we cannot give straight and clear vision to what really happened, when we have been told we do not know who we are or what we’re saying or doing.
Scorpio as a sign has a reputation for being dishonest. This is an unfair condemnation of the imaginative powers required by those who, restricted by circumstance, must creatively find ways to assert their right to privacy, to live in their power without commanding attention. Scorpio as a sign has a reputation for being negative. The person who gives voice to mundane evils hiding as white noise is often identified as the one who “started it.” When the cogs of functionality require compartmentalized illusions to keep everyone saying they’re feeling fine, that they’re okay with this, telling the truth is the same thing as disrupting the peace.
Something about this past full moon and this January 1st was intensely aligned and organized, which is calming. The beginning of our new year lined up with a strong lunation, on a Monday, a moon day, the beginning of the week. The lunation in question fell in Cancer, definitively aspecting some of the more personal planets, and softly dancing with some of the larger-scale transits that will shape the year to come.
It’s symbolically rich. Cancer is the sign of attachment, attachments that ask us to feel, and to sacrifice some of what we feel and hold them privately to preserve the attachment and work together. Throughout the first weeks of our new year, this energy – of renewal, in combination with recommitment – will call on us and ask us to enter our year with sureness and confidence in our desires and precise self-knowledge of our capabilities and hopes.
Say it with me: astrology isn’t just your sun sign.
Many people are drawn to the illusory image of “the cusp” as the explanation for why they just Don’t Feel Like a Typical Zodiac Sign. But any astrology take worth its salt will point out that your sun sign isn’t the be-all end-all. While the luminaries (the Sun and Moon) and rising sign dominate in explaining the crux of someone’s personality, the other planets can pose specific challenges to those points. They can drown them out in number and intensity, or even negate and obfuscate their strengths.
Astrology already accounts for designated patterns of why someone would relate or not vibe with their sun sign. The most important of these is the position of the inner planets, which describe parts of our personality that are present, but less focused on discussing direct things like our ego and our emotions, pieces that are more personal or obvious to us.
Even more so, because of simple astronomy, we already know specifically why so many people feel aligned with a sign adjacent to their sun sign. Not just any other sign, but exactly the ones highlighted by The Cusp – the signs bookending their sun sign.
The inner planets’ relatively similar orbital rates and close positions mean that, unless recently interrupted by a retrograde, they often tend to clump up in the same few zodiac signs, and from Earth’s vantage point this is often pretty close to the location of the Sun. In natal charts, this means that it is very common for people to have a stellium (three or more placements) that falls in the sign adjacent to their sun sign.
Cusp babes, as said by the “general cusps,” tend to fall on days when the Sun has recently changed signs (clearly.) But there’s something else important about this. Usually, when the Sun has changed signs, the inner planets change signs, have already changed signs, or are about to change signs as well.
Basically, the planets and Earth are all moving around the Sun at different rates. The inner planets – Mercury, Venus and Mars – orbit the sun on rates that are even marginally similar to Earth’s and all of their distances are similarly much, much closer to the Sun than all those other guys. The gap between Mars and Jupiter alone could fit several more sets of Mercury, Venus, and Earth between them.
This means that within the scope of one Earth year, one revolution of the Earth around the Sun, the inner planets cover quite a bit of ground in the zodiac. Because the zodiac is a geocentric system of mapping the sky in relation to Earth, the ground they cover in the zodiac is quite similar to that of the Sun. The illusion of retrograde motion additionally makes them track closer to the Sun through the zodiac. The outer planets, being much further away and taking more time on the scale of an Earth year to cover the same ground in the zodiac, move at rates more like tens of Earth solar years. Jupiter itself, the next closest one, takes over a dozen Earth years to clear the entire zodiac wheel.
The result, in astrology? It is exceedingly common for people to have one or more inner planet in the sign next to their sun sign. Some people even have all three, which alone is a forceful stellium that can displace much of their visible characteristics and traits onto that sign. If you have three major planets in Libra, you’re going to feel a bit like a Libra to other people. You have very defined and wide-ranging traits that are absolutely informed and described by the energy of Libra, and that’s a totally legitimate interpretation of the chart.
It’s worth nothing that each year, based on outer planet movements and retrogrades, having a stellium in a particular sign is more or less common for given signs. That’s because outer planets can make up stelliums as well. For example, in a year when Jupiter is in Virgo and no inner planet retrogrades occurred within a few months’ radius, Virgos and possibly Leos or Libras might commonly see Virgo stelliums occur in their birth charts.
Another rarer example would be when two outer planets conjunct or pass in a sign, such as the Uranus/Neptune rendezvous in Capricorn around the early 90s. Many millennials born in the winter of affected years have supercharged Capricorn from the abundance of planets in that region of our zodiac at the time. It has a magnetic pull on the place of the chart where it falls, since two heavyweight planets are holding it down. For someone who already has a lot of activity in the sign, the stelliums get enormous – I have seen Sagittarians, Capricorns, and Aquarians from the time period with 5 planet stelliums in Capricorn. It affects each chart a different way, but it always has an effect. Something similar will happen with an upcoming conjunction of Pluto and Saturn just a few years from now – some Capricorns, some Aquarians, and some Pisces born in that span of time will be very, very Aquarian, and lots of children born in those years will have a similar magnet on the part of their chart that holds the degrees of Aquarius.
What does having a stellium mean, though?
When this does happen, and someone DOES have a stellium in an adjacent sign, made up of inners, outers, or some combination, they obviously approach the venues of those planets (and the regions of the affected houses) in ways ruled by that sign. This is the case for everyone, but the weight and proportion of traits ruled by one sign will change according to the number of planets. For people with significant or very affective personal stelliums, the line becomes blurry – how much of their personality is ruled by one sign, their Sun sign, or the other, their stellium?
Astrological interpretation is meant to suss out these differences and explain them fully. This is why you need someone who can actually read the chart, take stock of what’s there, and interpret it based on their knowledge – someone who can understand what it’s trying to tell you about yourself and your path, your roles and your opportunities. The chart, when read thoroughly, describes very clearly what traits belong where and how they can manifest. Like reading any planet, the traits of the sign and planet and house and any aspects or important movements it makes will affect what it has to stay. A stellium just adds a gravity to the energies in their corner, and can give someone an air or a flavor of a different sign.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone smugly state to me that astrology Cannot Be Real because “I’m an Aries and I’m shy,” or “I’m a Virgo and I am a mess,” or “I’m a Leo and I have stage fright and short hair,” or whatever. Listen, no single astrologer has ever said you must be x because your sun is y. And there’s so many ways that astrology already accounts for that.
However, a popular trend with some astrologers has been to…NOT explain or educate people on why they might have real and detailed aspects in their chart that express this, that very clearly show and describe why someone might feel distant from their sun sign or have traits of multiple signs. Instead, a school of thought has emerged where intermediate level astrologers draw a haphazard line around the dates of sign change in the zodiac and say… “welp, falling here makes you both of these signs, actually, because you’re on the cusp.”
Listen, I get it. Some signs get relentlessly dunked on, or get summarized so brusquely and cruelly. If all you see all the time when you first get into astrology is a constant barrage of “this person is a sensitive crybaby who never does anything cool” or “all of these people are manipulative cheaters and liars who are incapable of love,” it feels really bad. It hurts your self-esteem even though it’s stupid and you know it doesn’t really reflect on you. Ultimately, it turns you off of your sun sign. It makes you look for reasons not to be that, identify with that, or call yourself that. That is why those of born between like the 15th – 30th and 1- 10th of a given month (depending on your flavor of cusp-strologer) get so entranced upon finding the concept of The Cusp.
I am On The Cusp, as in a general cusp that someone attached to the dates of my sun sign. When I first heard of cusps, I was a wide-eyed kid who devoured astrological concepts…and who was incredibly disappointed by the “fussy schoolmarm” depiction of Virgos.
I really believed in the system of astrology and found it fascinating, but when it came to what it said about me, I was like, so offended that these people who didn’t know me were condemning me to a life of being boring and enjoying broccoli and folding socks. All the other signs got these fun, exciting associations, like parties, glamour, witchcraft, science, romance… I was miffed to be described solely with words like “critical” and “narrow-minded” and so on, and I stayed away from my own chart except to sigh dejectedly and curse the sky for not making me a Fun and Cool Leo, until one day, digging through some Google search or another, everything changed.
I stumbled upon some Geocities site with in-depth catalogues of this new thing called the Cusp Signs, and I was like, WOW. I am Not Like the Other Boring Virgos who are just whiny and fussy because actually, I am a Virlibra!! I am beautiful and desirable while still being enthralled and soothed by neatly organized things and the act of alphabetizing. This makes so much sense!!
Learning that I was a Cusp felt freeing, and it made me feel so, so special. I, unlike those one-dimensional, middle-of-the-month Virgos before me, was a complex being. I had more than two traits, and some of them were even cool. I was so proud, and whenever someone would wave me off and be like “Typical Virgo!” I would smugly reply, “Actually…” and inform them about ~The Cusp~, and feel proud of myself for knowing this secret and being able to describe what gave some people an astrological edge.
But that’s why it was such bad astrology. (Aside from the fact that jumping to correct people on my sign is like, peak baby Virgo and should have been proof enough for me that cusps are fake.)
When I had looked upon my sun sign as a failed and inadequate descriptor of me, Not Like The Other Virgos little me, I was dismissing the art of astrology and its complex network of concepts and reading techniques that vividly illustrate how each one of us is a multi-layered whole, a holistic being formed and described by a combination of life experience, background, generation, and so much more, a soul at a place in time shaped and shaping the context of people and place and time they’re part of.
My chart, in actuality, had never condemned me to a life of high neck frocks and furrowed brows and maternal tsking at people for folding book corners or whatever it is schlocky sun sign descriptions of Virgo say we do. My chart already had a lot of beautiful connections, placements, and detail that explained, with accurate and ancient measures, why I am a type B, self-expression oriented, emotional, social Virgo – and still very much a Virgo, who experiences more butterflies from opening a new package of really nice pens than getting a text back from someone I have a crush on.
When I learned how to read those points and orient myself in the complex and illustrative mess that is any natal chart, I began to see and appreciate the qualities that I desired that were already in me, because I could clearly identify where they were, and they were so much more descriptive and real when placed in their proper context. Even better, I allowed myself to acknowledge the wonderful things about my sun sign that I tried to cast away by embracing “being a cusp.” When I saw myself more objectively, through learning to read the objectively pointed out places in my chart that show my habits and my potential, I genuinely did like myself more, even the parts of me that I thought of badly or was disappointed in before.
I want you to have a better experience with astrology too, and I want you to have it with things you can find yourself. So it’s time for us to debunk The Cusp.
Cusps are fake.
Cusps are fake cause they don’t use the coherent principles that astrology was built on to inform their interpretation. They’re loose, vague, and just not the most specific or accurate way of talking about why someone doesn’t feel or express certain traits. They simplify sun signs and collapse all the other placements that add nuance, depth, and clarity to any reading, waving them off in favor of simplicity.
People latch onto it because it is the easiest and simplest to understand answer to “not feeling your sun sign,” and it makes a lot of intuitive sense. The thing is, astrology requires precision and logic in addition to intuition. That is what makes it more rigorous and precise than other forms of spiritual work – things have their place, their definitions, and their effects. Sometimes, a feeling is enough to go on. But astrology has added benefits because it has easily-mapped systems.
That being said, the experience of feeling like a cusp is totally real. It just usually isn’t caused by “being a cusp.” We’re going to talk about the real reasons that someone might not identify with their sun sign and why they might “feel” like a cusp.
Not all planets are interpreted equally, that’s for sure. There are some planets that everyone straight up loves, or at least appreciates having in their corner. For those of us who associate our emotions with celestial bodies, there’s something irresistibly charming about the moon — we relate to her cycles of hiding in rest, and then shining close and beautiful upon all. There is something sympathetic about the moon, and astrology nerds love her nearly unanimously.
Likewise, it’s very rare for someone to complain about the unbounded energy and excess a strong Jupiter transit brings them. (“It’s going through my second house? For an entire YEAR? Helping me bring in extra cash? Oh noooo,” said basically no one ever, save for maybe an extremely change-resistant Virgo.)
Beautiful Venus is romanticized and adored for her glamorous associations with love and money — things people categorically love — and even Mercury, the trickster scapegoat, who consistently gets the most blame for Literally Everything from casual astrology fans, is almost never unwelcome for those of us who study the stars. Who could look down upon the gift of our own voice? Our ability to communicate and connect, the parts of our lives that Mercury’s placement make easier for us to navigate through that connection? These planets and bodies are all held in high regard for their blessings, whether they appear in a harmonious birth chart configuration or make a pleasant, lucky slide through an aspect of our charts throughout our lives.
But then, there are the others.
Some planets have had a bad reputation for literal centuries. The old classical astrologers resented them so much that they even gave them a mean name — the “malefics.” They were understood to, at best, bring difficulty into someone’s life, and at worst, to create obstructions, large blocks that we stumble on over and over and over again for decades at a time. Their place in your life presented a magical door that continually gets slammed shut in your face, and only your face, every time you try to walk through.
Now, it might be that I have a habit of rooting for the underdog thanks to my rising Chiron, but I’ve always found this interpretation of the Big Baddies to be cruel and unsympathetic to their energies, and also to the people affected by them. I feel that acting as though birth placements are some kind of lifelong curse is an unnecessarily defeatist and wholly inaccurate view that makes astrology itself out to be some big mean malefic. A great example of how this works is the classical malefic — Saturn.
The old astrologers really, really did not like this guy. They named him after a dude that ate like six of his own children. In Vedic symbolism, he has just as much of a tough guy reputation, but more along the lines of “tough love.” I much prefer the Vedic metaphors for Saturn as a planet — he is a teacher, a “lord of karma.”
The one aspect of Saturn’s malevolence that we have no control over is where he falls in our birth chart. There, he brings some kind of discomfort or difficulty to an area of our life, a mark that follows us throughout childhood and adolescence. It’s something so intrinsic to us for the first few decades of our lives that we have, for the most part, learned to work around it, and just accept it as something we’ll never have or be. But it’s deeper than that. Your Saturn placement is not the place where you can just waive off your failure. It’s a failure that you are repeatedly confronted with, obviously and painfully, so that you can develop a strength there — a wisdom that is more advanced than someone who was born with a gift in that area. Saturn gives us flaws and weaknesses as incentive to develop our “work ethic” in this part of our life. Basically, Saturn in a birth chart is like a strict parent who pushes you to achieve with less. Some people handle this energy better than others, which is why so many people panic during rough Saturn transits.
However, Saturn repeatedly provides for us windows of opportunity in which we can grow and improve. Every few years or so, Saturn transits into a new sign, bringing in fresh energy that interacts with the cosmic landscape in a new dynamic, not to be repeated again throughout our lifetime in quite the same way. Depending on our personal chart and the other transits occurring at the time, each of these transits is a unique opportunity to shape, evolve, and upgrade the parts of ourselves that Saturn is influencing.
Saturn takes about 29 years to move through the entire zodiac, so we experience each of these windows only a few times at most in each of our lives. The god Saturn, in the ancient Greek and Roman traditions, was associated with time, which is where some of his aspects of cruelty and destruction comes from. We only have so much time. Saturn the planet understands this and believes we should use it in as disciplined and focused a way as possible. It pushes us to do so by raising the stakes and cultivating our talents through work.
In future posts, we’ll be going over what Saturn specifically means in your chart’s configuration, as well as how it matters in transit through your chart, and specifically what is going on with Saturn at this moment in time.
(Image Credits: I made a little Saturn moodboard. Images in this spread feature the art, work, or image of Rowan Mersh, Velwyn Yossy, Yiqing Yin, Dolce & Gabbana, Meadham Kirchoff, Donyale Luna, Adut Akech, and KTZ. Other images were found while browsing unattributed, let me know where they came from.)
Mine was stressful. I don’t recommend scheduling large-scale product fulfillment during good ol’ Mercury Gatorade, and in fact, I did not, but Mercury did anyway. It’s cool though, except your new moon ~ insights ~ are a little late this week. Sometimes I think I need a Gemini moon to write.
But the fact that they’re late is totally fine, because for some reason, everyone loves to talk about the moon on the day that she’s doing something exciting, but then forgets that her influence lingers for a lot longer than that.
You probably know already that the moon takes almost exactly a month to complete an orbit around month. The length of time it does in fact take is called a “lunar month” — it’s 29.5ish days. (There are slightly different figures for it depending on whether or not you’re using a sidereal system of astronomy / astrology or a tropical system. I’ll tell you about them in a later post because an explanation of them is necessary to understand why Ophicius is a scam and a lie. For now, think of them like the Celsius and Fahrenheit of figuring out where in the heck we are in relation to the other stuff in our neck of the galaxy.)
Throughout its lunar month, the moon passes through different “phases” depending on how much we can see of it. The amount we can see of it is directly related to where it is in relation to both the Sun and Earth. The moon just reflects the light of the Sun. The less of it that’s facing the Sun, the less we can see. You’ve probably incorrectly been told that the new moon is caused by Earth’s shadow; it’s actually the exact opposite. It occurs when the moon is between Earth and the Sun. The side of the moon that’s facing the Sun is getting all of the sunlight, and the side facing us isn’t getting any, so we don’t see a moon at all.
This is reflected pretty directly in astrology, too. At the new moon, from Earth’s point of view, the Sun and moon are lined right up — and so they’re in the same region of the zodiac, the same sign. We call this a conjunction. (As you might imagine, the full moon is when the opposite happens, and the moon is on the other side, directly opposite the Sun. That one is called an opposition.)
Anyway. The energy of the new moon and full moon are very different, which is why in astrology they’re said to “set” for different time periods. At the new moon, the Sun and moon are in the same sign, and working through the same kinds of energy. Since the Sun represents our will, and the moon represents our emotions, this loosely means that the new moon is the best time for us to act upon an intention to try and set it in motion — our desires and energy are lined up with our hopes and feelings, and we can set a goal more easily. The full moon, instead, is a time when things feel pulled apart or amped up by the oppositional activity, and is a time more prone to conflict (or passion, or elevation, or conviction.)
The new moon is the setting of the scene, and the events of the full moon usually come from and relate to it. So its themes have more a longer life than the period of opposition and conclusion that follow it. In this way, most astrologers will tell you that a typical new moon usually sets the tone of an entire month, where a full moon defines the following two weeks. Both have a tendency to completely “conclude” one month later during the next lunar cycle. (Eclipses are the same thing but longer.)
So, why am I telling you all this moon stuff now?
Because every lunation is impacted by the aspects it makes with the rest of its chart, and this one was really beautiful and special — it doesn’t have any.
The rest of the zodiac is doing all kinds of weird stuff, and on this month’s New Moon, the Sun and moon just kind of sat there quietly together, alone, ignoring everything, in lush and restful Taurus.
Sometimes we are completely honest that the things we have been through affect us emotionally. We can be really on top of unpacking and feeling it through just sensing the wear-and-tear the world puts on our hearts daily. We move into a period where pain feels pressing and understanding it intimately is necessary to survival, and analyzing where it came from is so clear as to be almost subconscious — because it’s obvious. We can feel exactly where it hurts.
But sometimes, even if we have gotten really articulate about how the history of ourselves has written us into being, and even if we have identified the places in ourselves where trauma has snagged and loosened our weaknesses, we still fail to trace the thread through to how we allow us to hurt ourselves through it. We can be unable to see how those emotional blockages, tensions and traumas that we have gotten so used to impact our ability to recognize what we deserve. We don’t slow down enough to feel the way the stress carries on. It’s through connecting with other people that we can often identify parts of ourselves that need attention and work, but actually unwinding it often requires real isolation, even though that’s the time when it’s sometimes the hardest to feel. Like a chronic condition or a mark on the body, we become so acclimated to its existence that we might almost forget that it is there. This might make our emotional states more manageable on a day-to-day basis, but it can also make us forget the injustice of the cause of our stress and distress in the first place. If you can’t remember that it shouldn’t have been done to you, you forget that you need to treat yourself with kindness and softness, and think of yourself as someone who is deserving, because you need it, right now and always from now on.
This New Moon falls in Taurus, a sign that always wants us to acknowledge what we materially need in every sector of our life, and even asks us to spoil ourselves a little, with any experience that stimulates and soothes our bodies. Since it does have the luxury of occurring unaspected by other planets, the whole month is about a part of you that is only for you. Every other planet can retrograde. Everyone in your life can be going through something you can’t fix or handle. Every step of the process can hit a roadblock. Everything else can go wrong, but there is one place in yourself that you trust enough to just be there. Accordingly, the new moon this month wants to let you know that no matter what else is going on, you can create a part of your life that feels good, and you can use it to treat yourself to space, solace, and rest. I hope you do.
Hello friends. Welcome to another MERCURY RETROGRADE.
Now, I understand that in the past few years, “Mercury retrograde” has become a sort of mainstream buzzword for terror, calamity, and general life falling apart. I’ve noticed a lot of amateur astrologers and clickbait writers making panicked “brace yourself!!!!!” posts about Mercury retrograde on social media and people always message me being like “Lohla — is my life about to fall apart???” and I have to be like “no bb, just play it cool.”
I don’t know where the retrograde hysteria about little Mercury being single-handedly able to ruin lives comes from. In astrology, that’s not actually what it means, and “preparing yourself” by getting anxious, overzealous and fidgety is pretty much the OPPOSITE of what you should do.
Let’s talk about retrogrades in general, and then I’ll get on with the significance of this particular retrograde and how to handle it like a champ.
What is retrograde even I literally don’t understand how this is relevant like sun signs are cool I guess but what does this even mean
A retrograde is a common, regular occurrence in astrology — so regular, in fact, that the planets don’t deviate from their “retrograde and direct stationing schedules” — aka how often they do it. Astrology is all about cycles, and retrogrades are part of how those cycles always, always play out.
Just as planets take a certain amount of time to complete their orbits around the sun, they take a specific amount of time to complete their circuit of the geocentric zodiac map used in western astrology. Without boring you to tears, astrologers use some pretty basic math and scientific observances to determine how the planets move along the little map we use — it’s not a surprise when a planet retrogrades and it’s never for a weird amount of time. This is stuff we’ve noticed since ancient times, and we’ve been mapping the same little patterns for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Our calendar, the Gregorian calendar, is a simple measure of the 365 (point whatever) days it takes Earth to complete its orbit around the sun. Another way to describe that is “how long it takes the sun to make a complete cycle through what we can see of the sky from our point on earth” — that’s how we look at it in astrology. It’s a little more complex than that, and there are specific reasons why a geocentric map is used and how astrologers “set” it consistently to the scientifically-descriptive heliocentric model, but that’s a bone I have to pick with Bill Nye at a different time.
Each planet has its own length of time it takes to orbit around the sun. Translating that to the zodiac, each planet takes a different amount of time to move through the zodiac wheel as observed from our point on earth. Since we are also orbiting the sun, sometimes, from our point of view, it appears as though each planet is going “backwards” through the zodiac or slowing down.
“But Lohla, the planets aren’t actually moving any differently. Astrology’s not real, because the ancients didn’t account for earth’s orbit,” you might say. Hang on, Agent Scully, I’m not finished explaining. We got that accounted for.
Have you ever sat in a train station and watched through the window at the train on the next platform? As your train pulls out and speeds up, for a second, you might swear that the other train is pulling backwards in the other direction, even though it’s standing still. In New York, if you’re on the express, you might also notice this when keeping an eye on the local train one track over — as your train overtakes the speed of the other, the local may appear to stop or slide back, even though it’s also moving forward, just at a different rate than you are. Once you get far enough away, it’s easier to see that it’s moving in the same direction as you, just slowly.
That’s the basic optical illusion behind apparent retrograde motion. It’s a little different mechanically, but the same “trick” is happening.
Essentially, when this happens astrologically, all that’s going on is Earth is passing by another planet while they’re all going about their little orbits. Just lapping each other. So while Mercury usually looks like it’s moving east in our night sky, it suddenly looks like it’s going west from our point of view.
Slap the zodiac wheel on top of this diagram, and you see why this is astrologically relevant. Planets usually look like they’re proceeding through the zodiac in forward motion (Aries to Taurus, Taurus to Gemini, and so on). But when they’re going through apparent retrograde motion in relation to earth, they move “backwards” in the zodiac as we see it.
This has significance in astrology, but it’s not some kind of tragic saga — it’s a completely normal, routine occurrence with some easily predictable effects, and other effects that will be significant for individuals that vary from person to person.
Before I continue, let’s get a few things down and debunk a little more:
1) “Mercury is especially awful and bad and Mercury retrograde is the worst of them all./ Mercury retrograde is the only one that matters.”
Every single planet retrogrades in astrology.
Poor Mercury is not some uniquely mischief-making entity — he’s just a speedy little guy, so he retrogrades more often compared to everybody else. That’s why you always hear, like, your mom and your best friend and Katy Perry wailing about Mercury retro — it literally happens 3-4 times a year every single calendar year, where Mars and Venus retrograde more like every 18 months or so. There is nothing especially treacherous about Mercury retrograde — in fact, you should be less scared of it, since it’s retrograde for like /25-30% of the year/ every single year. If you hid under a blanket every single time it happened, you would be wasting over a quarter of your life!!
PLEASE stop blaming baby Mercury. It’s mean. He does great stuff for you in your chart and transiting your chart like 75% of the time. Thank him.
2) “Yeah but you should notice when planets are retrograding and avoid those time periods to do anything important.”
My sweet astrology amateur: there is always, always a planet in retrograde. Often multiple. And life isn’t awful the entire time, so we can’t just blame retrograde motion for times when it sucks and when it doesn’t. The outer planets, because they’re such slowpokes? They spend MONTHS AT A TIME in retrograde. Months. You can’t cross off half of your calendar because a planet looks weebly in the sky. You would only have, like, one productive week every year.
3) “Then what’s the point of paying attention?”
Because it’s more specific than that. Don’t be a nerd. Each specific planet’s specific attributes translate a bit differently than usual every time they do their little moonwalk in the sky. How they do it and how it affects your life, for astrologers, depends on:
A) where in the zodiac this is going down — just like the rest of the year, Mercury skedoodling around in Gemini is going to have super different vibes from when it’s hanging out in Capricorn
B) what other planetary aspects it might make during that time
C) how it ping pongs with your personal natal chart
All that being said, each retrograde period is going to have a ~general feel~ based on all these factors, so there’s a couple things we can make an educated guess about. Let’s get to it.
Okay, so it doesn’t ruin lives. What does it do then?
In astrology, each planet “rules” activity in certain aspects of our lives. Mercury is, most simply put, the ruler of communication. The house where it falls in our chart describes the things that get us talking, and our Mercury sign gives us the gift and tendencies of our own unique voice.
The reason why people go wild over Mercury retrograde is because, of course, communication rules everything. But this is also a kind of blessing. Things themselves are less apt to actually go completely wrong during Mercury retrograde than they are during other hard transits. However, our perception of them is skewed, which means our reactions can make a situation feel much worse. Words between friends can sour due to a simple misunderstanding. You sent a screenshot of a text conversation to the person you’re talking to. You state something clumsily, and the snippet gets taken out of context. Since Mercury rules our intellect, we can often feel like our intellect is weaker — like we aren’t as sharp, and we aren’t as quick or rational in our responses to emotional events. This can lead to sloppy mistakes in, mainly, work and friendship. But very often, Mercury stations direct, and the clouds of brain fog begin to clear, and we see that the initial horror of the situation wasn’t what we thought it was. We see that we behaved more “mercurially” than we intended and may have jumped the gun.
Mercury rules a couple of other things too, like our relationships to our immediate surroundings, short-distance travel, relationships with siblings, commutes, and our aptitude at choosing between many options. It will also pick up some more “flavor” depending on the element of the sign that the retrograde takes place in. When it retrogrades in an air sign, we see more errors in specifically online communication and technological fritzes and mishaps. In a fire sign, we might see we made decisions too quickly and didn’t work out details well, or that we started something we don’t truly have the energy to sustain. In a water sign, we tend to misread the gauges of our own emotional loads and overcommit or show up too little in our relationships, or lose touch with our feelings. And in an earth sign, we often misjudge our own values, and how other people value us, and the ways in which they do.
Sometimes, when we make unwise decisions regarding one of these things that Mercury guards in our lives, things do go haywire. You bought tickets for the wrong flight. The cat spilled wine on your new laptop. You sign a contract or a lease that’s missing an important clause. You get halfway through launching a new project and you lose steam when you realize you made a serious error right at the start of your work.
However, there are many upsides to the brevity of Mercury’s backwardness. Often, these problems are surface-level, and they’re alleviated quickly with sheer time and patience. The slowness of the world during Mercury’s restful period also affords us a great opportunity: to double back and reflect. If you need to negotiate the terms of a contract you’ve already made, it’s a brilliant time. If you want to change something that has already been established, there’s a window to break the old agreement without really “breaking” anything. If you invite something from the past into your life, or you edit your old notes and files, you can often recover things you had assumed were lost. It’s a time to retrain your habits and tidy up what you have and repurpose it, whether it’s material belongings or relationships to people and places. Mercury still affords plenty of opportunity while retrograde. It’s just often not the ones you had planned to look for at the time.