A longer post on Mercury RX:
Inevitably, around three times per year, I get a flood of questions about Mercury retrogrades, retrogrades in general, and the meaning of the particular retrograde we are experiencing.
It's natural that people should want answers since if you spend even just 10 - 20 minutes per day on social media these days you will notice that a) everyone is now an astrologer, b) during mercury retrogrades everyone is posting about it c) weird things happen during mercury retrogrades that make even "non-believers" take up the lingo as a temporary superstition, part of the gossip around the water cooler.
So, here are some things to know about Mercury retrograde or any retrograde, but especially this particular Mercury retrograde in Pisces:
* There are two motions in the sky that ancient mystics, philosophers, and astrologers paid attention to. The primary motion, and the secondary motion.
* The primary motion brings all the planets, and all the stars along the ecliptic (the zodiac) from rising to culminating to setting, to anti-culminating and rising again, in 24 hours.
* For ancient philosophers and mystics this primary motion of the sky, sometimes called the "diurnal motion," was related to that which is eternal, the realm of the ideas or forms, God, etc.
* The other motion we see in the sky is related to the planets. Each of the planets moves against the grain of this motion, comparatively very slowly, from west toward the east, slowly moving through the zodiac and the backdrop of "fixed" stars.
* Planets in this sense appear to move in the opposite direction as the primary motion. We call this the "secondary motion" of the planets.
* Planets in general, as the agents of karma, or indicators of the laws of karma in the material universe, are related to the realm of "coming to be and passing away," or the realm of temporary material forms. This material realm is thought to be a reflection of the divine realm, but just as the word "planet" meant "wanderer," and or "graha" in Indian astrology, as in "grabber," if we focus on the material realm of the planets, then, just as the planets and material universe itself cycles endlessly through repeated cycles of death and rebirth, so too will we find ourselves helplessly swept along by the forces of material nature, forgetting, or simply not recognizing, or even forcefully denying, the existence of that which is eternal, of the soul who partakes in eternality.
* So retrogrades are interesting because a planet, like our current Mercury who is retrograde in Pisces, is going along against the flow of the primary motion, a wanderer, following its own separative whims and ambitions, much as we souls who incarnate here do, but then it slows down, stops, and starts moving backward, falling back into a kind of alignment with the primary motion...seeming to be captured by the greater, swifter, eternality of the primary motion.
* We translate this to mean that a planet loses something of its agency, perhaps something of its ability to be the controller, and in this sense, it is "debilitated." A planet stopping, and then falling back into the primary motion, so to speak, moving backward, may indicate reversals of fortune, delays, revisions, revisiting the past, loss of control, a turn or twist of plot, giving back what has been gained, etc.
* However difficult all of this may sound, there is also a distinct sense during retrogrades that something bigger, sometimes benefic, or helpful is entering the picture or taking the wheel; the spiritual is intervening in the normal material flow. Sometimes disruptions are divine. Sometimes letting go or being made to let go, we remember what matters. Sometimes giving up the illusion of control, we remember to stay curious; awe and mystery return, and we open our hearts again. So, even when there are serious reversals or delays, we can only call a mercury retrograde "bad" or "good" in a material sense. The value of a retrograde from a spiritual standpoint depends on whether or not we are cultivating our spiritual consciousness.
* It's harder without a spiritual practice, and astrology is a kind of spiritual practice, to go beyond the good or bad of a transit, and we also still need the language of good and bad because we aren't out to deny the reality of the material world and its dualities, either.
* Some people will ask, "why was this retrograde easy for me, and why was this other one so rough?" Similarly, you will see people really berating Mercury retrogrades, while you will see others praise them as highly productive periods. There is no one size fits all description of mundane planetary transits. Planetary transits are as numerous in their significations, and as flexible, as a deck of Tarot cards in terms of the different range of people and situations they can address. So while we can say general things based upon the archetypal dynamics of a transit in question, like a Mercury retrograde in Pisces, we can't say exactly what each retrograde means because it has the signifying power over countless beings who each have individual karmic trajectories.
* In the same way that we can say it will rain and rain generally feels like this, we can't say exactly how the rain will affect each individual because context is everything.
* This is one of the reasons that the study of Karma in astrology cannot be easily jammed into an empirical study. Context is its own highly objective factor in astrology. Without context, the planets are highly subjective. Once you have the objective parameters of personal context, things get more specific and able to be more accurately predicted.
* For this reason, you will see many astrologers trying to tell one, big, grand narrative about each transit, trying to imagine that we are all collectively going through one big spiritual experience together, and usually this kind of story expresses itself in terms of positivism, progress, the future, evolution, etc. Everything is about waking up or progressing toward a higher state, etc. And most of the time this "higher state" is also intimately tied to a somewhat narcissistic view of ourselves, our life dramas, the importance of whatever daily or weekly events are happening to us, which we can now see as part of a mass spiritual evolution, etc.
* Let's be clear, it's not that there isn't a collective or public dimension to these transits. Often enough transits can be seen in the news and throughout history, but this doesn't change the fact that each retrograde is different because each person's karmic clock is unique. In order to see how a retrograde may affect a person, we typically need to look at things like profections, time lords, and transits in relation to the natal chart. For this reason, it's not smart to preach either the goodness or the badness of retrogrades. They will be both for different people at different times.
* It also doesn't help to preach that all retrogrades are GOOD because they can be spiritually valuable to us. While it's true that they can be good for us, ask yourself this question, if someone had just lost a beloved pet, or a friend, or even a family member, would you say, "This is good for you!" No. Maybe in time. But we can't pretend to be more evolved than we are. We are still human, and the subjective realm of human dualities has a reality of its own that we need to respect. For this reason, when clients ask me if a retrograde is going to be good or bad, I try to give it to them straight based on a careful study of their individual karma. I don't recommend we treat retrogrades any differently when considering them in social media forums.
* Also, just because something good happens during a Mercury retrograde, like the sale or purchase of a computer goes smoothly, doesn't mean that Mercury retrograde gave you a pass. Just because a computer sale didn't go well, or you got a virus, doesn't mean Mercury retrograde messed you up. The significations of Mercury are unique to each individual and they change during different seasons of our lives. Sometimes Mercury may have something to do with travel or technology, but often enough it has more to do with your health, a friend, a sibling, a lover, or something else. Mercury is not limited to communication, the mind, travel, and technology. Those are some of Mercury's natural significations, but planets often signify very specific things that are not limited to their natural significations. When a retrograde comes up, you will seldom understand its message if you ONLY look at the planet's natural significations. We also need the specificity or context of a chart or a personal inquiry to the stars.
* Okay, so Mercury retrogrades can bring up the usual reversals, delays, challenges, etc., related to Mercury's natural significations. But the other thing we always need to take into account is Mercury's current sign situation. Right now, Mercury is in Jupiter's feminine home sign of Pisces, where it is both in its detriment and fall.
* Mercury is therefore in a place that marks its decrease or decline. However, being in Jupiter's home, Jupiter brings benefits. So a simple formula is that through Mercury's current misfortunes there are benefits.
* For example, if a person's rational control breaks down, they might find faith, or they might find their intuition again. Or if some kind of delay or misfortune occurs, something good may come out of it, some subjectively tangible benefit.
* On the other hand, with Jupiter in a superior square to Mercury, Jupiter definitely has the upper hand. If Mercury insists upon something right now, or tries to assert its will too strongly it's likely to feel nothing but a loss of control or power and eventual misfortune as a result of not being humble.
* On a deeper level, we should ask ourselves why this phenomenon about retrogrades, itself, keeps coming back. Mercury spends about 1/3 of the year in its retrograde phases. It is the quintessential planet of retrogrades. So what can we learn from it?
* Yesterday in my series on the Hermetica, I read a brief excerpt called “The Circle of Time,” wherein Hermes, who we now call Mercury says “In a sense, the Cosmos is changeless, because its motions are determined by unalterable laws which cause it to revolve eternally without beginning and end. Its parts manifest, disappear and are created anew, again and again in the undulating pulse of time…The present issues from the past, and the future from the present. Everything is made one by this continuity. Time is like a circle, where all the points are so linked that you cannot say where it begins or ends, for all points both precede and follow one another forever.”
* So I like to come back to the simplest image. The planets move forward, like pioneers, eager for the future, eager for progress, eager for the big story taking us forward, eager to desire and explore their own separative desires, live their own stories…but then, again and again, endlessly, they fall back. No matter how hard they might try to move forward without end, the end comes, and they fall back. Something about this simple image relieves me.
Prayer: Relieve us of our cycling and circling without end. Show us the way home, through the forests of our back and forth.
Mercury is retrograde for the next week, and Uranus will be slowing down to station over the course of this month, turning direct again in the new year.
A few things to remember about retrogrades:
* When a planet is retrograde it starts moving along with the primary motion of the sky, rather than moving against the grain of the primary motion, as it usually does. The primary motion of the sky was symbolically related to the "one," by Plato, whereas the secondary motions of the planets were related to materiality or duality. So when a planet is retrograde we might say that it is swept up in the primary motion of the sky and therefore is swept up by the one. The planet becomes somewhat powerless to move against the grain of the one. It loses something of its own volition, power, autonomy, or "choice" in the matter and becomes somewhat helpless...in the same way we are swept along somewhat helplessly by fate when we find ourselves stuck overnight in an airport during a mercury retrograde!
* You can also think about retrograde planets like Pacman barfing out the little pellets after consuming them (haha). As each planet goes along through the zodiac it consumes zodiacal degrees, one after another, and so when it moves backward it is giving back what has been gained. Retrogrades are often talked about in association with revision, redoing something, or someone from the past coming back, but we can also say that they signify giving back, losing, or surrendering what has been gained.
* Finally, we can't forget the stations. When studying retrogrades in the birth chart one of the most important periods to watch for is the station to turn direct that comes just before a slower moving planet will finally move in direct motion to make an aspect to a planet in your birth chart. For example, let's say that you have a planet at the first degree of Taurus in your birth chart. This Uranus stationing period is a really big deal because as the tide of this period turns and Uranus starts moving forward again it will now move in direct motion straight through the last degrees of Aries and right into a conjunction with any planets in the first degrees of Taurus between now and the springtime. Although we rightly pay attention to the exact moment when Uranus would enter Taurus and conjoin some planet in those early degrees of Taurus, it's also hugely important to pay attention to the stationing period prior to the direct motion that takes Uranus to perfect its first conjunction to a planet in early Taurus. Why? Because we're talking about a turning of the tide that is setting in motion a series of events or changes that will lead to whatever Uranus conjoining a planet in those early degrees of Taurus might signify. For example, let's say you have the Moon in early Taurus and it's the ruler of your seventh house. This month as Uranus slows down, stops, and then finally turns direct, the tide may be turning in your relationship, leading to inevitable and powerful changes by springtime when Uranus enters Taurus. OR, your spouse might be going through personal changes RIGHT NOW that become a pivotal turning point for a career change this spring when Uranus enters Taurus.
* Simple point, pay attention to station periods, and especially when the planet stationing to turn direct or retrograde will move after the station swiftly to make an aspect of some kind in your natal chart.
* Right now, Mercury is heading for its next station in a week and will make its station in a square to Neptune. We'll talk about that in days to come. While Uranus is stationing and after it turns direct will be on a straight path to changing signs after seven or so years of being in Aries. We will also talk about this a whole lot in weeks to come!
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Prayer: Teach us to see your work moving in and through the rivers of time. Teach us to recognize each season and to live according to the intelligence of each season.
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Adam Elenbaas is a professional astrologer and the founder of the Nightlight Astrology School. Adam holds an MA and MFA in English and Creative Writing and is one of the founding writers at RealitySandwich. To learn more about Adam, click here.