The Electric Tide

Dear Friend and Client:

Here is the question everyone has asked at least once: how exactly do you not get your ass kicked by Mercury retrograde?

Cloud to ground lightning over Pentagon City in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: Wikipedia.

Here’s a better question: how do we use these phases, which come dependably three times a year, to spark our creativity, solve problems and improve communication with the people around us? In other words, having the benefit of honoring astrology, how do we get it to work for us??

The answer, if you can call it an answer, requires us to do what nearly every message in our society is telling us to avoid: slow down, use your senses, be more thoughtful, and put an emphasis on completing things rather than beginning them. Switch to decaf at 3.

If Mercury is the planet that speaks, Mercury retrograde is the planet that listens, and invites us to listen. If Mercury is the god who can fly, turning that retrograde is inviting us to come in for a landing.

Every Mercury retrograde is different; the one that’s coming up is impressively so, with Mercury passing through the long-standing Saturn-Uranus opposition, as well as making a series of aspects to Pluto in early Capricorn. The Aries Point is involved, which is an alert to pay attention to big news that affects us personally, and personal news that feels a tad bigger than life.

The coming retrograde is going to shift things, and shift them a lot. More than Mercury is involved in the process this time around. If we think of the experience as a dialog between Mercury and the other planets, we have a conversation with some of the biggest players of all: the gods of change. Mercury will also be dancing back and forth between Virgo and Libra, which tells us that the two most significant things we can be changing are our minds and our perceptions — particularly our perceptions of ourselves and our relationships.

Most people would say this is the most difficult thing of all you can try to do. People spend years in therapy attempting to make changes of this kind. They rarely work; but most people don’t stick with the process and most therapists have a lot to learn that few others seem to be teaching. Maybe this is why so many people find Mercury retrograde so difficult. It’s little wonder that we need it three times a year to make any progress at all.

What Actually Happens…

Mercury’s surface looks similar to our Moon’s. Each is heavily cratered and made of rock. Photo: APOD.

Astrology is based on astronomy. To start with, when Mercury is retrograde, a planet, namely Mercury (the one closest to the Sun), passes between the Earth and the Sun. Mercury’s orbit is shorter than the Earth’s — 88 days as opposed to 365-1/4 days. So three times a year, Mercury comes blowing by. Mercury is an enormous magnet, mostly composed of a huge iron core, so we get a surge of magnetic energy blowing by.

Though this has, to my knowledge, never been established by science, a huge magnet going by is going to affect the Earth’s magnetic field. Nothing has no effect. We’re not talking about nothing here. And it’s going to affect the magnetic field of a human being as well as a planet.

Magnetism and electricity are directly related; they are so close as to be the same thing. The human nervous system works on electrical impulses; literally, on electricity. Therefore, this is going to influence us, just like the Moon affects the Earth’s tides. Think of this as the electrical tide, which influences our thoughts, feelings, perception and memory — and all of these gadgets we take into our aura, from iPhones to regular phones to our computers and cars and, well, other people.

To my knowledge, never in the history of civilization have we lived immersed in so many electrical fields, covered by an electrical grid and soaked in radio waves, microwaves and light pollution. So there are really three players in this equation: us, gadget/radiation haze that surrounds us, and a hefty magnet that people thousands of years ago figured out was associated with communication.

The Echo Phase into the Turnaround Phase

Like nearly all things in astrology and in our lives, Mercury goes through a series of phases on the way into and out of being retrograde. The phases represent subtle or not so subtle shifts in awareness, circumstances or information coming to the surface. Usually they are obvious enough that you can actually feel them happen, and associated specific conditions with the aspects as they change. As of Monday, Aug. 17, we began what’s called the echo phase (sometimes referred to as shadow phase). Technically, this is when Mercury enters the part of the zodiac where it will be retrograde in a matter of weeks. This is the warm-up, when we need to be making preparations for what will inevitably (and somewhat unpredictably) follow.

Photo: Wikipedia.

The echo phase is the time to mend your fishing nets, back up your disk drives, maintain your equipment and work out disagreements with people before they blow out of proportion. To that end, make sure there’s a fresh battery in your Pocket Rocket. Virgo is the sign that rules doubt. Therefore, use the opportunity of Mercury in its home sign to uncover and resolve your doubts, or at least a few of the nagging ones. (And as Mercury moves into Libra in a few days, we will be able to translate them into relational terms more easily.)

The beginning of the echo phase coincided with a Mercury-Saturn conjunction in Virgo. And Mercury is about to oppose Uranus in Pisces. In other words, Mercury is passing through the slow-moving Saturn-Uranus opposition that we’ve covered extensively on Planet Waves. There will be two more of these passes, around Sept. 22 (during the retrograde) and again on Oct. 8 (on the way out). We might not notice the monumental changes associated with Saturn-Uranus if not for the planet of the mind getting right in there and telling us what’s going on.

The next phase is the turnaround, which is also called the storm phase. This is in effect between approximately Sept. 3 and Sept 10 — a week during which Mercury (from our viewpoint on Earth) slows down, stops, changes directions and picks up speed retrograde. Note, the turnaround (or station-retrograde) happens in Libra. It’s about finding balance in the midst of change — which is the story of our lives.

The Retrograde Phase

The actual retrograde spans from Sept. 7 through Sept 29. Those are the actual days that Mercury appears to be moving backwards. Treat this phase as if it’s a world apart; a bubble in the deeps of time. In a sense, what happens there stays there. That’s why you don’t want to initiate projects during this phase; it’s the time to complete things that you want to be settled and resolved.

From much experience, I can tell you that you can safely slow way down spending money, making commitments or starting projects. It is possible; obviously plenty of things begun during Mercury retrograde still exist. Yet there is plenty of frustration and failure in the world, and we often wonder why that is so.

Mercury takes a cup from Venus, a dance performance. Photo by 0xDE.

Consider the retrograde a review. This is going to be a pretty comprehensive review, given how many other planets Mercury makes contact with: again, Saturn, Uranus, Pluto and others. Mars is also in the mix.

Virgo doesn’t just see the details, it sees them in a critical way. And often that critical really means self-critical. We have a lot to learn about how to be self-critical in an effective way, not the obsessive, nitpicky verging-in-psychiatric way that we tend to do it.

With any retrograde, we emphasize the past, and issues and conversations that relate to Mercury’s current placement or indeed anything can come up; we need to work them out as gently as we humanly can.

Retrogrades emphasize introspection. This is about getting to know yourself. The Libra piece is about getting to know yourself in relationships. There is the relationship and there is how you respond to it; the circumstance. Astrology is less about circumstances. It’s more about self-knowledge. That comes along with circumstances; but the circumstances are secondary.

During this retrograde, Mercury is warming up the Virgo-Libra cusp where Saturn will soon arrive (on Oct. 29). Mercury is running vanguard for his great friend Saturn, helping us make some changes in our minds, and scope out the more permanent changes that will arrive in the next season.

Involved in this is Pluto. Mercury makes three squares from Libra to Pluto in Capricorn. Pluto together with Mercury is all about understanding your motives. There is something deeply psychological here. Pluto always is, and now we are adding the energy of consciousness. The relationship is a square, which is an internal question that precipitates outer events; it’s preparation for when Saturn shows up in the same spot in about two months from now and squares Pluto — the first Saturn to Pluto quadrature aspect (90-degree based) since the rather eventful summer of 2001.

The Retrograde Works Out

After the retrograde, Mercury covers in forward motion the same ground that it covered in reverse during the past 23 days. Note that when something happens three times in relationship to Mercury retrograde, it happens once during the first echo, once during the retrograde and again during the second echo. This is Mercury covering the same degrees of the zodiac three times. All planets do this when they’re retrograde, but to my knowledge none covers as many degrees as Mercury, and none changes speed as quickly as Mercury.

Element mercury (Hg), liquid form. The element Mercury is associated with things that are difficult to grasp, fast, slippery, or have odd properties (such as being a liquid metal). Photo: Wikipedia.

Just as Mercury reaches the end of the retrograde, it slows down, stops and turns around. This is another special moment of its own, the second ‘storm’ phase. These turnaround or storm phases surround the station direct or retrograde, and they are clearly the most sensitive times to watch; the times to be on high Mercury alert. Particularly during the storm phases, don’t make assumptions. If someone does not answer an email, don’t assume they hate you; write to them again, or pick up the phone. Relationships lived by text message can be stressful and there is a wide margin of error.

Once the station-direct happens on Sept. 29, we are in the second echo phase until Oct. 14, when Mercury enters new territory for the first time since the first echo phase began. This is like a third chance to work out the same issues, address the same themes and explore the same ideas. It’s like the last layer in the process; perhaps the bottom layer, perhaps the top layer.

A Few Ideas to Remember

We are in a moment before the precipitation of fast events. During the retrograde, the Libra ingress of the Sun happens (that is, the equinox, or beginning of Northern Hemisphere autumn), and it makes a square to Pluto. Saturn is getting ready to change signs and change Pluto. Many other events can be described as precipitating or causing a cascade. It’s important to keep your thought process positive.

If you set aside the future and focus on the healing process, you will make a lot more progress than if you push an agenda.

Work for closure, in small things and big ones.

Part of this process is about untangling the difficulties in advance of the big transits that come in October and November.

It’s crucial to understand the difference between sensitive versus obsessive. One way or the other — Pluto versus Mercury. With this kind of astrology, it’s necessary or at least very helpful to cultivate patience with yourself and with others.

This is happening in a time when everything else is happening really quickly, that is to say, when we are surrounded and confronted by constant change. The question is, what exactly is happening? What exactly is changing??

Yours & truly,
Eric Francis

Ramadan: Fasting, Feasting, and Prayer

This is the year 1430 of the Islamic calendar, and this weekend marks the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan for followers of that faith.

Ramadan lanterns from below, Road 9, Maadi, Cairo, Egypt. Photo by B. Simpson/Cairocamels.

According to the Fiqh Council of North America, Ramadan will officially begin on Saturday, Aug. 22, and last until Sunday, Sept. 20.

To cultures familiar with the Julian calendar, it may seem that the month of Ramadan doesn’t have a set time frame. For example, in 2008 Ramadan ran concurrently with the month of September, while in 2007 it ran from Oct. 12 to Sept. 12.

This is because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. Each of its 12 months runs from New Moon to New Moon. Ramadan is the ninth month in that calendar (and actually predates Islam, being the ninth month of the Arabic lunar calendar before then), and is the month that the Qur-an, Islam’s holy text, was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

Fasting is perhaps the most familiar component of Ramadan to western cultures. Between the hours of sunrise and sunset, observant Muslims will not eat, drink (water is allowable), engage in sexual activity, smoke, or partake in “ill-natured or excess” activities. Typically, they will rise before dawn to share a meal, and another after sunset. Exceptions to the fast are made for pregnant and nursing women, children, and others.

Another key element of Ramadan is prayer, with daily readings from the Qur’an. The end of the month is celebrated with the feast of Eid ul-Fitr.

The timing of the start and end of Ramadan are crucial, and traditionally were based upon lunar observations made by religious officials in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Today, some Muslim groups accept astronomical calculations of the arrival of the New Moon as sufficient.

Noteworthy this year is the fact that the New Moon actually arrived Thursday, Aug. 20. However, Shari’a law mandates that the Sun must set before the Moon in order for Ramadan to begin the next day; on Thursday, the Moon set one minute before the Sun. Therefore, Friday was the first New Moon to set after the Sun, making Saturday the start of Ramadan.

Looking for

It’s called the Devil’s Claw, a sprawling, ground-hugging plant native to Southern Africa, primarily the Kalahari Desert. And it is revered as a medicinal herb, especially for the anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for treating arthritis, among other ailments. Natives of Southern Africa have been using it for medicinal purposes for centuries.

Harpagophytum procumbens. Photo: Wikipedia.

However, it’s also rare. And in modern times, the fate of rare plants that hold medicinal value is often not a happy one.

The Devil’s Claw is in luck, though. Scientists who have recognized both its value to medicine and its precarious situation have begun establishing “biofactories” where they are developing techniques they hope will allow them to produce the same rare extracts contained in the plants in large quantities without depleting them in nature.

That was the gist of a report delivered by Milen I. Georgiev, Ph.D., to the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, according to an article at

One group of scientists reported a major advance toward that goal at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). They described the first successful method of producing the active ingredients in Devil’s Claw — ingredients that have made the Devil’s Claw a sensation in alternative medicine in Europe. Their technique may eventually lead to the development of “biofactories” that could produce huge quantities of rare plant extracts quickly and at little cost.

Milen I. Georgiev, Ph.D., who delivered the report, pointed out that for thousands of years native populations in Southern Africa have used the Devil’s Claw as a remedy for a huge number of ailments, including fever, diarrhea and blood diseases. Today, there are dozens of medicinal and herbal products around the world that are based on chemicals derived from the Devil’s Claw.

In particular, studies suggest that two chemicals — the so-called iridoid glycosides harpagoside and harpagide — may have beneficial effects in the treatment of degenerative rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and other conditions, Georgiev said.

“In Germany, 57 pharmaceutical products based on Devil’s Claw, marketed by 46 different companies, have cumulative sales volumes alone worth more than $40 million,” Georgiev was quoted in the article. went on to report: “In the United States, Devil’s Claw extracts are in Phase II clinical trials for the treatment of hip and knee arthritis. Other promising uses are not far behind. But while the demand for these beneficial compounds is increasing, the supply of natural Devil’s Claw is dwindling.”

If the researchers are successful and their methods can be applied to other compounds found in medicinal plants, it could mean a reduction — and possibly an end — to the poaching of rare plants in many areas around the globe.

Here’s Looking At You, Kid

This week was the 10th anniversary of the first deep space pictures taken by NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the space agency celebrated by … well, taking another picture.

Cat’s Eye Nebula. Photo: NASA.

Actually, what NASA did was take two pictures — one with Chandra, and one with the Hubble Space Telescope — and merge them together to create this stunning image of the Cat’s Eye Nebula.

Chandra’s claim to fame is that its mirrors are 100 times more sensitive to X-ray emissions than previous telescopes. That’s opened up the galaxy in a whole new way to scientists pursuing X-ray astronomy, which isn’t effective from Earth’s surface because the planet’s atmosphere absorbs most X-rays.

For example, according to NASA, in this image of the Cat’s Eye Nebula, “[t]he intensity of the X-ray emission is correlated to the brightness of the orange coloring. The intensity of X-rays from the central star was unexpected, and this is the first time astronomers have seen such emissions from the central star of a planetary nebula.”

Chandra has already beaten original estimates of its useful life, which were initially 5 years, then 10, and now stand at 15. The next major X-ray observatory, a joint effort of NASA and the European and Japanese space agencies, won’t be launched until 2020.




Weekly Horoscope for Friday, August 21, 2009, #780 – BY PRIYA KALE

Aries (March 20-April 19)
This is a ‘homecoming’ week for you, but look at how things are different the last time you were here. Indeed you are a different person. If your quest is to find greater security, ask yourself what stops you. No matter who or what you think has power over you, it is what makes you feel safe that counts. You’ve recently come across opportunities that offer you the freedom you yearn for, but you will need to confront your own fears about a professional situation. A partner for their part seems ready to take a risk within a creative or sexual situation. What may be needed now for everyone to feel heard is simple, good old-fashioned communication. Be bold and speak from the heart.

Taurus (April 19- May 20)
No doubt you can feel the changes taking place in your life. But no matter what you fear, you are moving toward a place of greater safety and comfort. A partner is going through massive emotional changes and may be feeling just a little raw and uprooted from their recent struggle. Recognize the leap of faith that needs to be taken here if you want healing. You will have to be bold if you want to find the true inner warmth you seek. An important conversation will require that you rise above your insecurities to speak for what is true. Resentment never resolved anything. See what you can do to bring objectivity to a situation and recognize what is truly important. It involves love and love never came without its risks.

Gemini (May 20- June 21)
It may seem like life is asking you to take a huge risk. It is scary no doubt; you’ve been burned in the past and you may wonder if you will survive this. But no investment, emotional or financial, ever comes without its risks. This an important turning point for you. You have a lot to offer and it’s been a while since you’ve felt this depth of passion coursing through your veins. Whether you channel this energy through creative communication or passionate declarations of love — be bold, confident and use your imagination. You can have more co-operation, companionship, as well as the sense of adventure you’re thirsting for. Incidentally this is also likely to bring you more of the inner security you’ve long been searching for.

Cancer (June 21- July 22)
You reach a turning point now, bringing your deepest fears regarding a partnership situation to the surface. It may feel like too much is changing too fast but you are moving toward a place of deeper, more meaningful communication. Over the next few weeks, as you rediscover your inner truth, let go of the pain that stops you from moving forward and making peace with your past. Be honest now about your most intimate needs and resolve any sense of mistrust without projection. There is no sense in allowing pride and ego to stand in the way of what is precious. Remember, how you feel about yourself will ultimately be what reflects back into your life. So, take the time to love yourself better, brighter and bolder.

Leo (July 22- Aug. 23)
You have begun a new cycle but on a deeper level you may still be confronting insecurities regarding your mission. Take a pause to recognize what and who you truly value in your life. You are radiating a glow that is very attractive to many people but until you begin to heal, you will not see what is so plainly obvious to others. Over the coming weeks, communicate your fears rather than bottling them up. Holding on to the past never did anything for anyone and there is a way forward where everyone feels heard. If you can ask for what you need now, you just might end up getting it. This is not about your ego, but about recognizing your integrity and opening up to a more soulful passion awakening within.

Virgo (Aug. 23- Sep. 22)
The Sun moves into your sign this week and your ruler is in a powerful grand cross in the cardinal signs. Work now on confronting your deepest fears surrounding a creative or sexual partnership. This is more of an internal resolution for you to find your own power in a situation rather than feel pressured into doing something you don’t want to do. You have the power to turn this all around if you can find what is truly important to you and be willing to communicate it. Indeed you might find yourself saying the same things over and over, in the coming weeks. But keep a level head, be fair, honest and truthful and you will make great strides in readdressing a crucial balance within yourself.

Libra (Sep. 22 – Oct. 23)
Now comes a great moment of liberation from the past that requires you to boldly own your vision. This need not be a power struggle. You’ve come a long way in recognizing your true worth in this world and people are taking notice. Over the next few weeks comes a phase of redefining yourself. Be playful, creative and find the courage to speak for truth. But remember truth without compassion can do more harm than good. You’ve been introspective lately with all the changes taking place. But consider yourself a leader now who can be the calm voice of reason within a sensitive situation, setting important wheels in motion. This is taking you toward a blazing dream of freedom you’ve yearned for. No fear.

Scorpio (Oct. 23- Nov. 22)
It may feel like you’ve survived a brush with death and just about made it to the other side. Indeed you have come a long way from battling dark thoughts that threaten to pull you back into the abyss. There is less for you to fear as long as you keep your highest perspective. You are soon to make contact with a greater mission you’ve been working toward and a partner who can help you along your journey to the top. This is someone whose reputation can only enhance your ambitions. There is gold to be mined here, but it will require you to rise above pride and suspicion. This is not about reclaiming lost glory but rather going past your fears to find your true depth and worth.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 22)
A lot may be weighing on a partnership decision. You have a lot invested in this situation but you have come a long way in confronting your financial and emotional insecurities. It may take a little while to iron out all the details but you can trust this person to be fair. You don’t have to fight for what is rightfully yours. Your integrity is a deeply respected, rare virtue that is due to get the recognition it deserves. Learn to let go just a little and trust there are greater gifts making their way into your world. Be humble, but now is not a time to shy away from the spotlight. Your creative vision and love for the creator herself are about to pay off in spades.

Capricorn (Dec. 22- Jan. 20)
A partnership situation is heating up, asking you to boldly go where you have not gone before. When it comes to intimacy, sex and finances you are known to be ferocious but you are now being asked to step further out of your comfort zone. You may fear that depth of your own feelings or desire will get the better of you. It can’t unless you feel the need to control everything — and everyone. No one has tasted ecstasy without the thrill of a passionate surrender. Be patient in your communication over the coming weeks. You can be the calm voice of reason while forming partnerships that can set your heart and pocketbook racing in the right direction.

Aquarius (Jan. 20- Feb. 19)
There’s love and passion making its way into your world, but to experience this you have to take a brave step into the unknown. Be prepared to negotiate the terms of a partnership over the coming weeks. You’ve always been the voice for truth but sometimes you can let your own desires get in the way of your higher self. Whatever it is that you feel you lack in your life, be it intimacy or greater financial support, there can be a true sense of healing now. But first you have to consciously let go of fears that make you second-guess your wisdom. You are evolving to a higher perspective, which can soothe your soul if you are able to let go just a little and listen.

Pisces (Feb. 19- March 20)
You may have been pondering the cost of success lately, what it means to you and whether it is even worth it. Someone or something now is inviting you to dive into the deep end. This may feel like a risk, but you have already vowed to live a life ‘creating’ fearlessly and now comes the time to act. Over the coming weeks a partner seems to be ready to go deeper within a relationship. Be patient as you work toward ironing out the details, but don’t let another’s doubts hold you back. It will have to be a daily process of love, nurturing and pouring your energy into something you feel passionately about. But if what you seek is healing, isn’t that priceless in its reward?

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