If you know anything about Astrology, you’re probably familiar with the concept of “Mercury Retrograde” and you probably also know we’re smack dab in the middle of it. According to Astrology, Mercury influences (broadly) the area of communication. By extension, Mercury influences any field where communication is key; travel, technology, diplomacy, really almost everything.
Astrology websites usually feature a list of ‘don’ts’ or ‘avoids’ for Mercury Retrograde period. Don’t travel. Don’t make detailed plans. Don’t implement technology releases (actually, that one is just from my boss 🙂 ). I’ve even seen some caution against going out at all. There’s a perspective out there (not all, but certainly a few) that if you can hide in your house until it all blows over, more the better.
I used to be one of the doom-and-gloomers. Certainly, I’ve personally experienced the effects of a Mercury Retrograde from time to time. Recently, though, under this new Trickster paradigm, I’ve started thinking about this period a little differently. Before we get into that, though, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Mercury Retrograde, let me explain a little first.
What is Mercury Retrograde?
“Retrograde” is a term used by Astrologers, primarily, to describe when it looks like a planet is going “backwards” in the sky. All of the planets appear to go Retrograde at some point or another. Do any of the planets actually ‘move’ backwards in their orbits? No. However, most websites that champion science (like the NASA one) will explain this phenomenon in a way that’s mildly unfulfilling.
These websites often use the (very helpful, I think) example of people running around a track to explain Retrograde motion. They explain that, when a planet with a faster orbit laps a planet with a slower orbit, the planet with the slower orbit will appear to be moving backwards to the planet with the faster one. This makes total sense for the outer planets, but not at all for Mercury.
Mercury has a tighter and faster orbit than Earth’s, revolving around the sun in just 88 – 116 days (depending on the source). This is why Mercury retrogrades three times a year. The above race example doesn’t work for Mercury’s retrograde motion. Although when Mercury laps us, we will appear to be moving backwards to Mercury, Mercury will still appear to be moving forward to us.
So when would Mercury appear to be moving backwards in Earth’s night sky?
If we continue to use the example of people running around a track, the runner on the inside track would appear to be moving in the opposite direction of a slower runner on an outer track when they are in fact moving in the opposite direction.
They’re far enough ahead in the curve of their orbit that they’re ‘looping back around.’ This doesn’t mean they’re moving backwards, they’re moving forward for them, but in the opposite direction of us.
So, unlike the outer planets, where at least some of the retrograde motion is truly an illusion, Mercury’s “Retrograde” period does reflect an actual change in the energy of motion for the planet in relation to us. The planet is not moving backwards, but it IS true that Earth & Mercury are moving in opposite directions which might be why the energy around this period feels so “oppositional.”
But Wait, Who Actually Believes in Astrology These Days?
Astrology is often the victim of the centuries old belief; if we don’t understand how it could happen, it must not be possible. But consider this, the gravitational pull of the Sun is so strong it keeps our planet in orbit. The moon dramatically affects the oceans on this planet via the tides, and the gravitational pull of Venus and Mars help keep our planet in it’s orbit.
Considering the observable impacts our space neighbors have on our planet at a macro level, it’s certainly possible that there are impacts at a micro level that we just haven’t studied closely enough to see.
So what does all this mean for me?
As noted earlier, Astrologers tend to strike a cautionary note around Mercury Retrograde period. This is warranted. It hardly feels like a blessing to be on the receiving end of delays, mix-ups, and miscommunications. However, if we approach this period from the perspective that we ‘learn more from failure than success’ it can be a time of incredible personal (and communal) growth.
Mercury (Retrograde) unearths the weaknesses in our systems and helps expose the areas where we aren’t paying attention. As a result, we are presented with opportunities to improve the way we do things.
As I write this, I’m also recalling a line from the Dao de Jing that advises us to be like the reed that bends in the wind, rather than the tree that stands against it. I can’t think of better advice for a Mercury Retrograde period. It’s a good time to work on our flexibility, adaptability, and (as featured in last week’s post) resiliency.
When things grind to a halt, how quickly can we get them started again? Do we get stuck or are we able to adapt, change perspective, troubleshoot, and move on? Remember that Mercury is a Trickster and one of the lessons the Trickster can teach us is to find value in disruption and uncertainty because of what they teach us about ourselves.
If you’re getting bogged down by the crazy issues that a Mercury Retrograde can throw your way, remember that, whatever the culture, Trickster stories are often funny, and the ability to laugh – especially at the self – is in itself a type of flexibility. If we can find the spirit to laugh during this time, we’ll weather it much better.