Dear Friend and Reader:
Three or four times a year, everyone who knows something about astrology goes through a ritual called Mercury retrograde. Everyone who doesn’t know about astrology gets to have the experience, not sure what it is though perhaps suspecting that something weird is going on.
We are now approaching the first of four Mercury retrogrades spanning between early February 2014 and early February 2015. The upcoming retrograde begins Feb. 6 with Mercury in Pisces and ends on Feb. 28 with Mercury in Aquarius. What I call the echo phase and what other astrologers call the shadow phase began Jan. 22. The after-retrograde echo phase begins when Mercury stations direct and runs through March 20.
Typically the retrograde itself lasts three weeks, but the whole process — wherein Mercury is dancing around approximately the same 15 degrees of the zodiac, lasts for two months. Hence, while Mercury is retrograde just 19% of the time, the retrograde effect can be felt about half the time. It’s the most concentrated around the days when Mercury changes direction. These are called the stationary points, or stations retrograde and direct.
Associated with lost keys, late or lost payments, disk drive failures and communication mishaps, Mercury retrograde does not have a very good reputation. Yet some people love it — if you’re the creative type, or if you have a slightly tweaky mind, if you like the feeling of swimming against the current, you might be one of the people who looks forward to Mercury retrograde happening. If you’re very sensitive to it for whatever reason, you might take a more cautious approach. Other people seem impervious to it, like it’s not even happening or has no effects. By now you probably know where you stand with this.
Every Mercury retrograde has its own unique pattern, and little clusters of three retrograde events tend to have similar themes as well. Each will influence your personal chart in a distinctive way. In 2014, all of the retrogrades start early in water signs, then track back into air signs. That describes scenarios of having some kind of emotional or aesthetic response (the water sign) that is then understood or analyzed (the air sign).
Thanks to the Internet, more people than ever know about Mercury retrograde. The idea is now lodged in popular consciousness as what’s likely the most familiar technical astrological concept. I just searched Google and got 405,000 results for Mercury retrograde (with the term in quotation marks).
Personally, I didn’t hear about it online. In my first journalism job, I worked for The Echoes-Sentinel, a gritty weekly newspaper in New Jersey. Flo Higgins, my first editor as a professional writer, happened to be an astrologer. She was about 65 years old, with long white hair and a fiery point of view, who had probably read the chart of everyone for 100 miles around.
The paper was part of a newspaper chain, the Recorder Publishing Co. Nobody believed in astrology, but we knew better when it came to Mercury retrograde.
Flo could, and regularly did, terrify the entire company with this one, sending the vibrations throughout the central New Jersey countryside, even getting the stunned attention of nerdy newspaper reporters trained not to believe anything. Nothing ever got into print, of course. The newspapers were too serious for astrology.
Mercury retrograde meant everything was about to go wrong. Flo was so convincing that even Jim, who ran the production facility and could take apart and reassemble a printing press blindfolded, had a paragraph taped to his office door, copied from Debbi Kempton-Smith’s infamous Secret’s From a Stargazer’s Notebook, warning everyone who visited:
Don’t Sign, Don’t Buy: Mercury is Retrograde.This was my introduction to astrology. That was the first paragraph of an astrology book I ever read. Soon, newcomers to Echoland took it for granted that the Full Moon had something to do with how the mayor was acting, and when the production facility smelled like electrical smoke, it was clearly because Mercury was retrograde.
“Don’t sign, don’t buy” is the usual advice for the retrograde of Mercury. I’ll explain in a moment why that makes sense. It’s also associated with things getting lost, electronic devices going wonky, and being dissatisfied with what you purchase. Communication often comes under strain when Mercury is retrograde. For someone with a scientific or logical mind, the question is: what do all these things have in common?
Yet there are more humanistic approaches to the topic. “While delays and misunderstandings do seem to happen, I’ve noticed a magical trend — that people and ideas return, for integration, resolution and more,” writes Molly Hall on About.com.
People returning to our lives out of the mists of time is one potential effect of any inner planet retrograde, one of their more mysterious qualities.
But what is this event really about? And how might it work?
Let’s start with Mercury, the planet. This fleeting little world, the one closest to the Sun, is associated with the mind, with ideas and with communication. Mercury is the messenger of the gods, and also the trickster. It’s associated with, as in it’s the traditional ruler of, Gemini and Virgo, two mutable signs (mentally oriented, flexible, a bit nervous). Both of those signs have signs opposite them that are ruled by Jupiter (Sagittarius and Pisces).
In modern astrology, Mercury picks up many of its ancient associations — for example, the messenger function translates to mail and telegraph. It’s associated with communication of all kinds, communication devices, computing devices, commerce and the flow of money (rather than acquiring wealth — that seems to be more about Mars). Surrounded as we are by all of these devices, and nonstop messaging, and by financial instruments (such as debit cards) that are morphed with communication devices (such as the World Wide Web), we have given Mercury a lot of power in our lives.
Hence, Mercury retrograde is probably more powerful in our lives than it ever was. We swim in an ocean of things ruled by Mercury. Our consciousness is fully immersed in them; in many ways so is our identity. With the advent of handheld devices that go on the Internet, this seems to transcend economic barriers now more than ever.
In English the word mercurial means “sprightly, volatile, quick,” associated with the speed with which the planet Mercury moves, and how fast and how frequently it seems to change directions (that is the retrograde). It can have a sharp wit and seem smarter than you — Bob Dylan has been described as mercurial and he’s also a Gemini, one sign that Mercury rules.
Mercury is the Roman incarnation of the Greek god Hermes, and these figures show up throughout Western mythology.
In Norse mythology, he gets the role as presiding officer of the gods rather than as messenger — though of course that supposed role as messenger is a disguise for a much more significant function.
In Egyptian mythology he is the mighty Thoth, who was nobody’s messenger, or fool; he was responsible for the development of writing and science, maintaining the state of the universe and assisting with the judgment of the dead. Picking up on the ambivalence theme, Thoth was a mediator between good and evil, making sure that neither had a decisive victory in an ongoing struggle that continues to this day.
There’s also an association to the element mercury, or quicksilver, the only metal that is a liquid at room temperature. Mercury’s androgynous and liquid quality hints at a certain ambivalence. The old astrology books describe the planet’s nature as neither male nor female. Between metrosexuality and the LGBTQ movement, we have some clues that gender roles and relationships are coming under the increasing influence of Mercury.
It’s interesting that mercury the metal is a persistent environmental contaminant, and one that is known to interact with and disrupt the normal action of sex hormones. The element mercury is known to artificially induce androgyny.
Iron, Not Quicksilver: From Astronomy to Psychology
Mercury retrograde happens when the planet Mercury passes between the Earth and the Sun. Because Mercury’s orbit is about 84 days, this happens three times a year. While the retrogrades typically last about 22 days, there is a margin on either side of two to three weeks where the influences can be felt.
Mercury is not made of mercury. It has a huge core with a very high density, leading astronomers to believe that it’s made mostly of iron. In fact Mercury is believed to have the highest iron content of any planet in the Solar System.
This is all another way of saying Mercury retrograde means a huge magnet passes between the Earth and the Sun, making its closest pass to our planet at the same time. This may explain why devices act weird, but I think that it also helps explain why the mind gets wonky, such as the tendency to lose things, or to perceive problems as being worse than they are — the nervous system runs on electricity. The mind is a device that is, at least on the physical plane, rooted in electricity and magnetism.
In my view, the effects of the retrograde are evenly distributed between a perceptual event and one in the world outside the mind. The combined interaction is powerful, the more so for not being easily discernible as a reality or as an effect of the mind. A purely mental phenomenon seems to be associated with a Mercury retrograde effect, so notice how your mind is handling problems or puzzles when they arrive. I have observed that the approach to a problem really does suggest whether and how that problem will be solved.
With the space remaining I will pass along, in summary form, some of what I have learned about Mercury retrograde. I don’t mean what I have learned from books — I mean what I have observed tracking, experimenting with and doing consulting about every Mercury retrograde since 1994, and some going back to 1987.
I agree with “don’t sign, don’t buy.” That is, when you can avoid doing so. I have experimented with making purchases during or near Mercury retrogrades. Most of the time it turns out I don’t need or don’t use what I purchased. Sometimes it does not work, works strangely or does not do what I intended it to do. So I divide my life into times when I buy things and times when I don’t.
I will usually (as in 99% of the time) make major purchases only with Mercury direct and out of echo phase. There are rare exceptions, but not so many. If you buy something during a retrograde, try not to be too attached to it, or expect a break-in period, while you work out the bugs. Sometimes things work out just fine. Really, most things can wait a week or two or three. If they cannot wait, be extra conscious of all the factors involved in the sale, don’t rush the process, keep your paperwork and make sure there is a good return policy. Choose carefully and get a good one, whatever it is.
As for contracts, it’s not always possible to determine when you sign your lease or make the deposit, but I have been known to make landlords wait for weeks before even leaving a deposit. (Hi Stefan!)
Plan ahead and use what flexibility you have. It’s worth finagling this to your advantage when you can. The operative events are the first payment and the signature on the contract.
The problem if you sign with Mercury retrograde, or about to retrograde, is that something is likely to reverse itself — an elementary illustration of what it could mean that Mercury changes directions. Or, you will learn something you wish you had known sooner. Which leads to my second point.
There are legitimate questions of what to do when you have a house closing scheduled for during Mercury retrograde, if you have to start a new job, or you get the bug to have that new car. I plan to write more about this; there are some basic approaches that can be applied, one of which is to understand exactly what is in the contract or commitment and not make any promise that you cannot keep.
If the situation involves significant amounts of money, a real commitment or the potential for a real inconvenience, it might be a good idea to talk to an astrologer who truly knows what they are doing with Mercury retrograde. [I can usually handle this kind of consultation in-and-out much of the year.]
The truth comes out when Mercury stations, either retrograde or direct. Mercury has a way of shaking out information, especially right as it stations. You can count on this. If you’re working on a mystery, or a riddle, or an investigation, or research, or trying to solve any mental puzzle, keep it going till the next Mercury station retrograde. Just to be sure, wait for the second batch of information just as Mercury stations direct. This is one reason you want to wait before signing or buying.
If an item of communication is missed, don’t assume you’re being ignored. Many people shoot off one email and expect a reply. With spam filters, busy people processing hundreds of emails a day and odd errors like emails not arriving, it’s better to give people the benefit of the doubt. Give people a day or two to respond, and if they don’t, send over a friendly one-liner to the effect of, “Hey I emailed you, just want to make sure you saw it.”
If communication gets dicey, pick up the phone. We are getting better at communicating online, but still, it can be difficult to relay feelings or basic concepts, especially with Mercury retrograde. The moment things get weird, such as if there is a misunderstanding, pick up the phone and clarify — before things get out of control or real misunderstandings happen. It’s better not to conduct arguments by email. It has all the sensitivity of sniper fire. Err on the side of being human.
Resolve the past, plan the future. I have found that the best use for Mercury retrograde is to tidy up what you’ve left unresolved in the past. Clean your desk, organize your stuff, contact old friends, go through your email and see if you missed anything important. While you’re at it, collect your ideas and figure out what you’re going to do next. Plot and scheme. Use the various qualities of the retrograde to refine your plan over time, then plan a launch sometime after the station direct.
If it may not be broke — don’t fix it so fast. One phenomenon I’ve noticed during Mercury retrograde is that things seem broken or like they are malfunctioning but are not really. Or, the problem is one thing but you think it’s another. Or, the problem is not as bad as you think. Therefore, before tearing everything apart, or spending a lot of money, or sending anything back to the factory, troubleshoot carefully and try simple solutions. Break out pure logic and apply that as a tool. Look for temporary workarounds and see if the issue resolves on its own. I’m suggesting you avoid solving a problem that doesn’t exist, or worse, making a bigger problem than you thought you had.
Always remember that Mercury is the trickster.
That means he, she or it can be tricky, and you need to use your mind — not have your mind be tricked. Mercury is a kind of a game. Be a good sportsman and keep your sense of humor.
Planet Waves Monthly Horoscopes for February 2014, #984 | By Eric Francis
Aries (March 20-April 19) — Give partners and loved ones extra time and wiggle room to hesitate. Give them extra space to be self-centered. While you’re at it, give yourself that space as well; once you figure out you need these things, you’ll be more understanding of why others do as well. Over the next few weeks, you will gain a better understanding of where both you and partners are coming from. Remember that a partner or loved one’s lack of confidence may be associated with a memory that long predates your association. People will often allow their own past impressions to influence or even dictate what happens in a present-time situation. Ideally we would not do this, however, it’s more likely that the first step is learning to notice when it’s happening. This is the theme of the year for you — to know and understand the nature of projection, perhaps the most common psychological phenomenon. Projection is when you see something about yourself existing exclusively outside of yourself. As a clever writer recently pointed out, projection can only happen in the dark. So the first step is to gradually turn up the lights so you can see what is happening. The second step is to keep asking yourself what belongs to you and what belongs to someone else, and not to be satisfied with an answer till you have several points of documentation.
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — Venus will soon complete a rare retrograde (nothing of its kind has happened since 1803), which has taught you many things about the social conditioning that helped shape your character. One theme is the extent to which people who influenced you as a child were serving their own interests but tried to make it seem like they were doing you a favor. While this helped make you into the gritty and self-reliant person that you are, it’s taken a cost — and you seem determined to reclaim what you’ve given up. When the retrograde ends on Jan. 31, you may be left with the feeling that you’ve come close to some profound truth but could not break through to the core idea. The barrier between how far you’ve gone and what you actually want to possess is thin enough to push your hand through. It may not look that way, but it will feel that way if you use your tactile senses. In practical terms, when you encounter a belief about yourself or about the world, notice how you feel. Anything involving guilt can be considered suspect. Same for obligation you feel that does not have something productive in it for everyone, or where you come out on the short end of the deal. Question any form of any equation that includes, “You should dislike yourself because…”
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Current aspects may have you rethinking a career or business plan. That’s actually a great idea. You seem to have a good idea, though what you need to do is balance your idealistic concept of what is possible against a diversity of practical concerns. Give yourself time for this — you seem to be involved in a thought process that will take about six weeks. My first question is not ‘is this thing too idealistic’ but rather, are you reaching for what you know would be the very best goal? However, before you get there, I suggest you strip your plan down to its most basic elements — what you want and why, what you need and why, what you want to accomplish. Consider how you manage your reputation. To what extent is your strategy defensive (laying low, protecting your supposed image) and to what extent is your strategy proactive (carefully cultivating the reputation you want, and deserve, for what you’ve accomplished)? Gradually, your logical mind will take over, and I suggest you run all your ideas through this particular mental filter. Keep reducing your idea till you’ve arrived at the bare essence, and understand every element of your plan or idea. Then toward the end of the month, you’re likely to rethink it yet again, only this time with greater clarity. At that point you will find the missing piece, the creative gem, the love in the dream.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — I suggest you concern yourself less about how you are perceived by others and use that energy to focus on the substance of your goals. We live in a time when appearances are dangerously overtaking reality, and when glamour as a metric is prevailing over the quality of someone’s character. You could say this has been going on since the first motion picture was released, yet in truth it’s something that is happening from moment to moment. You continually get the choice which to feed, appearance or reality. Meanwhile, in a similar vein, you seem ready to question a belief that until now you’ve taken for granted. This belief is influencing a relationship. It’s not showing up as definitively helpful or unhelpful, but rather as something that you need to understand thoroughly. The belief is influencing the way you make your agreements with others, in a sense, biasing you. It will indeed be helpful if you know what that bias is, and you will soon have the clarity and mental tools to do so. This is a matter calling for careful analysis, of your own thought patterns as well as the specific elements of your commitments. What do you expect of others and what do they expect of you? How realistic are those expectations and what are they grounded in? You will have happier relationships for knowing these things.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — You seem to be seeking a compromise on a matter involving shared finances, or perhaps more accurately, a question about sexual values in an intimate relationship. The scenario seems to be going in the direction of someone’s fantasy of how things can be, though leaving out some of the more obvious practicalities. This is definitely a scenario that deserves to have logic, data or some form of science prevail, rather than any form of make-believe or let’s see what happens. And logic will indeed prevail, so I suggest you hold the line and be patient while the planets shuffle around in a pattern that describes the renegotiation of the relationship in a more holistic way. In other words, the discussion is likely to start on one topic, and then expand into other topics that are related on the level of shared values. This comes down to understanding the values you have in common, and those that you do not. I would remind you here that you’re in a somewhat vulnerable position when it comes to others overpowering you. It will not work so well to resist forcefully, so instead, I suggest you use persistence. Time is on your side. What is obvious to you will become obvious to others as the discussion moves along, and the result will be a new understanding of your relationship, built on level ground.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — If you’re hesitating about a relationship commitment, I would remind you that there is no rush. You may sense that you’re heading for deep water, or like you’re gradually being drawn into a situation that you don’t fully understand. When you are ready, this may be fully appropriate. Yet if you’re uncertain of yourself, slow down and observe your environment. The first thing to listen to is your intuition. If you suspect that you’re not being given full information, or if you have a hunch that you’re in any way being deceived, then pause and begin to look more deeply into the facts. You don’t need to do this in an accusatory way, but rather in a way that seeks grounding in objective information. Consciously seek the truth, and make sure that you actually understand what you learn. Address any denial factor that may be present; be mindful of what you ‘don’t want to know’ or ‘refuse to believe’. This process will take a bit of scrupulous honesty with yourself, though there may be clues that get you closer to the heart of the matter. I suggest you investigate with extra care any situation involving alcohol, or the influence of mood-altering drugs, be they prescription or otherwise. The question to ask is: how is this influencing your relationship to reality? How is it influencing intimacy? You want to know.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — The past five weeks of Venus retrograde seem to have been designed to help you understand the impact of your family history, and your complex emotions. The two are related; partly why your emotions are so complex is because you filter them through so many past impressions and memories. Yet many of those are not your own; they are habits and values you picked up from various people who influenced you. Take the time to sort out what belongs to you and what does not. Once you claim what is your own and let go of what belongs to others, you will feel a lot less lost, and be able to call yourself more fully present. This does not necessarily involve severing ties to anyone, though at times that is necessary. But it will help you immensely to know when someone else’s emotions became a point of orientation for you more important than your own feelings, and to see the distortion that created. That may go in two directions at once — being overly self-centered at times, and not being able to find your center at others. Understanding why you are the way you are is a theme that persists through most of the year. You’re likely to continue your review of the past, which is for the sole purpose of helping you know yourself better. That, in turn, will help you have clearer, more trusting relationships.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — It’s essential for your wellbeing to sort out what influences in your life are nourishing and which are depleting. This is not as easy as it seems in a society where it’s considered normal for people to eat unhealthy food for the sake of ating, to have relationships for the sake of relationships and to purchase many things that they don’t need and barely even want. Since that is the cultural standard, it’s necessary to take the time to figure out whether something you take in — be it food, entertainment, information, family influences or emotional contact — actually sustains you. It would be worthwhile to consider this question in the context of any sexual influence as well. I think the concept of ‘addiction’ is overused and misunderstood, but it begins to have meaning when there is the quality of some influence potentially controlling your life. If during the next few weeks you find yourself at a full stop, or feel like you can no longer effectively negotiate with yourself, that’s the time to take some time and inquire about the issue of control. There is often an associated question about whether you want the responsibility implied by self-determination. The most common reason I’ve seen people abandon their power is because it seems to offer liberation from the consequences of their own mistakes. That’s one form of liberation that will never serve you.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — You could have things be a lot easier than they currently are; you seem to have figured out that allowing yourself to be involved in complex situations is a way of learning about yourself. You seem to be in a scenario where your connection to someone else is like a personal development laboratory, or where you’re seeking self-actualization in the context of a relationship. You may have also figured out that such a thing does not work for you, and are resisting being so immersed in someone else, or anyone, with every cell in your being. There does seem to be a question lurking behind all of this, which is the extent to which you allow yourself to feel your feelings, and whether you need the assistance of someone else who resonates with you. This is a good question, with many implications — though the main theme is that of emotional independence. You would do well to ask, especially under your current astrology, whether that is possible, and if it is, what it means. At one extreme of the spectrum is the loner, with no emotional investments. At the other is someone codependent, whose emotional state is totally invested in what others think. The balancing point is healthy interdependence. That is built of mutual respect, self-reflection, communication and honoring for yourself and for everyone else what measure of freedom we have here on Earth.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — Something seems to have happened to you over the past couple of months, involving coming into deeper contact with your creative gifts and your sexuality. You probably know or can guess that I consider these elements of humanity to be closely related, stemming right from the same source. To develop one, it’s essential to develop the other. Venus retrograde in your sign beginning at the solstice, spanning through the end of January, has done something magnificent for you: you have embodied something that was previously abstract or that existed in potential. You have taken steps to reclaim gifts that may have previously made you nervous, that you took for granted or considered something that only had relevance when you were younger. Here is the ongoing challenge: Devotion to artistry and the arts of erotic love requires self-focus. Even in our narcissistic culture, that can be considered suspect, and it can certainly be an irritant (or threatening) to people who have never considered any such quest. You need courage to persist on this mission, and you need to be willing to wrap your whole life around what will seem like a form of over-focus. Yet the idea is not to get lost in yourself — in order for your work or your discovery to have relevance, it’s necessary to find yourself. You are well on the way. Keep going.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — Something is shifting for you on a deep inward level, which may feel like the healing of a kind of isolation or loneliness that has followed you around for a while. This has taken you a step closer to your soul, just when you were wondering if such a thing was even possible. Pay attention and you’ll notice that this keeps happening, with a slightly different feeling each time, though each time feeling like you’ve seated yourself in your own existence a little more firmly. It helps to make peace with the solitary nature of existence, or at least the compelling sensation of that effect. It’s the feeling of being alone in the universe that is a step in the awakening of every spiritually conscious person. That sensation of isolation does two things — it can come with the choice to give up looking outside yourself for what you can only find within; and it’s what opens the space to have the awakening of how alone you are not. That awakening is the dawn of authentic selflove. Nearly everyone who arrives there has earned it. They have faced their own darkness, to some real extent, and the mystery of their own existence. You are not done, but if your charts mean anything, you’re working with many more resources than you had just a few short months ago.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — You may feel like you’re dancing around the choice to immerse yourself totally in who you are — as if you’re playing a game of approach-avoid. Let’s assume that is true for a moment. When you feel any kind of approach-avoid, the first thing to check for is guilt. Fully soaking in your own reality implies that you will be yourself, and express yourself, without any reservations. Approach-avoid might show up as hesitancy with people knowing who you actually are, as if hiding it from yourself could in some way prevent them from finding out. That almost never works. People already recognize you and most are grateful for the example you provide. Some don’t seem that way, it’s true; you make some people nervous. I suggest, however, that you not underestimate the influence you have even on their lives. That said, it does not matter what anyone else thinks. Rather than avoiding anything, you actually seem to have come close to a discovery that you want to investigate, or have made an observation about yourself that you want to verify with some additional inner questing. I believe you’re about to discover how much sense you make; that is, that your seemingly most unworldly dreams, when subjected to logical analysis, actually make perfect sense. My saying this matters little, though — when you figure it out, it’ll rock your world and boost your confidence.