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.
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.
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.