Mercury Retrograde is approaching again, and the internet is alight with doom and gloom prophecies and people getting ready to jump into a Mercury Retrograde bunker and hide from life for the next 3 weeks. Perhaps it is because Mercury this time around is in Capricorn, a sign oriented towards order and realism, that I feel inclined to set the record straight about what’s really going on with Mercury retrograde. In this article I will explore the various layers of Mercury retrograde’s meaning and function, as well as talk about the upcoming retrograde in Aquarius/Capricorn. So first, a basic explanation of the term “retrograde” for those who do not know: The term retrograde refers to the backwards motion of a planet in the sky from our vantage here on earth. From an astrological perspective, all planets in the solar system apart from the Sun & Moon go through retrograde cycles. Since the Moon orbits us, and we orbit the Sun, we don’t perceive either of these bodies as going “retrograde.” However, in respect to the other planets, earth is just one of many bodies that revolve around the star we call our Sun. As such, due to the rotating nature of the solar system, there are times where our orbit, and the orbits of our neighbors will align in such a way that they appear to us as if they are “going backwards.” Basically, all that is really happening is that we are all moving different speeds, different distances, etc. and passing each other on the track. When we observe a planet moving retrograde, it is believed to cause a change in the flow of the energy of that planet from one that is direct, typical, and forward moving – to one that is more inward, atypical, and slow or even backwards moving.
Planets beyond the earth tend to have longer retrograde cycles. Slow movers like Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are retrograde for 6 months out of the year… That’s why when you experience a transit of Neptune or Pluto to your natal chart it can seem never ending. These planets can hover around the same degree for 2-3 years before completely moving on. Because outer planet retrogrades are much longer they are also more subtle and we tend to feel them most when the planet “stations” e.g. when it is changing direction. The energy of a stationing planet is amplified because it is giving the sense to us earthlings that it is “standing still” emitting its rays everywhere chaotically vs. the usual feeling of the energy in some kind of motion. For all planets we will feel stationing energy most strongly for 5 days before AND after the official day of “retrograde” or “direct.” So that is why the lead up to and exit of retrograde can often feel very strong.
Now, let’s focus on Mercury retrograde specifically – Mercury is the closest planet to the sun in our solar system and speeds through the zodiac at quite a clip. In the course of a year, Mercury goes retrograde 3 separate times. Its actual “retrograde motion” is only about 3 weeks but the total period of Mercury retrograde is technically about 2 months. Why? When you look at the motion of any retrograde planet whether in a chart or just visually, it is literally “retracing” a part of the sky. So the “revision process” actually starts when Mercury enters its “shadow” which is the degree of its later direct motion…
OK So – to explain: This month Mercury Retrograde will span the degrees of 14 Capricorn and 1 Aquarius. Mercury FIRST crossed 14 Capricorn on December 19. It will reach 1 Aquarius the day it goes retrograde, January 5. It returns to 14 Capricorn and moves direct again on January 26, and will finally pass 1 Aquarius again on February 14.
So understand that this patch of sky is where the work is happening. Mercury is about communication, information and mental processes. So think of it like this: Once Mercury enters its shadow we are receiving information about what will need review. Once Mercury is retrograde, we are in the process of doing the reviewing. And finally, when Mercury turns direct, we should be making our final edits and be ready to move forward with the revised plan. Recognize this process as something that is GOOD FOR US. It helps our brains declutter and reconfigure. Also recognize that 2 months x 3 times a year means we are doing these mental reviews frequently – 6 months out of the year… so none of this needs to be world destroying. It is just another cycle that we can become aware of, recognize, and learn to flow with.
Now there are two other important factors to understand with reference to Mercury Retrograde. I’ll start with the simplest first: The sign or signs that Mercury is retrograding in will explain a lot about what we are specifically working on. Since Mercury Retrograde this time is happening mostly in Capricorn and throughout this year will be occurring primarily in earth signs, I can say that this year’s mind-revision work is centered in practical matters. Specific to Capricorn, we are working with revising our relationship to work, business, authority, leadership, discipline, and the overall functionality and structure of our lives. This is a retrograde cycle that will be very centered around reorganizing, upgrading, and developing a new order for ourselves. We will likely feel very serious and focused during this phase, and it is a very important cycle of development for the coming year that we should all strive to work with as this month, with this Capricorn Mercury Retrograde, is a time for laying important groundwork for 2016 as a whole.
Now, we can expand this interpretation even further by looking to Capricorn’s natural ruler, Saturn, which is currently residing in Sagittarius. So in addition to all of the aforementioned qualities of Capricorn, we can see that this Mercury retrograde is also about the development of our Sagittarian quest & vision for the next two years. So in our rethinking and restructuring, the primary consideration is actually the hopes, dreams & visions that we’ve been cultivating in recent months -- as well as the overarching desire for more freedom, adventure and joy in our lives. Sagittarius energy is about a truth seeking, and we may find that our intuitive truth is more apparent to us as it is striving to be acknowledged and worked realistically into our lives. We know that Saturn can be our ally – but it makes us work for everything, even our happiness – so this month, too, can be a time when we really visit with ourselves and find out where we have an inner curmudgeon undermining all of our hopeful optimism, and find the way to work with our limitations so that we can experience more limitlessness in our perspectives. The mind is a powerful creator and with Mercury in Capricorn, we may experience this power more immediately.
If you wish to understand Mercury Retrograde even more personally, you can go to your own natal chart and see what house Mercury Retrograde is happening in for you, to understand what aspect of your own personal life is getting the attention (is it 1st house of self image? 2nd house of finances? 5th house of creative expression? Etc…) For even more depth, you can even look at the natal planet associated with the Mercury retrograde in question – in this case, Saturn (But it will vary depending on the sign Mercury is in). So wherever Saturn is in your chart, this area of your life is also being looked at and worked on from a Mercurial perspective.
The other factor that is of considerable relevance to understanding Mercury retrograde (or any retrograde really) are its actual aspects. The “aspects” in Astrology are basically the moments when one planet forms some kind of close relationship with another planet. For example, Mercury in this retrograde period is relating with Mars in Scorpio (both at 0 degrees of fixed signs currently, as I write), it will also be connecting with Pluto in Capricorn (15 degrees), Uranus in Aries (16 degrees, the Sun in Capricorn, Chiron in Pisces as well as the North Node & Jupiter in Virgo. So, in addition to Mercury by itself, we are looking at many of the major components of the current astrological map that Mercury is touching upon in his travels between 14 Capricorn and 1 Aquarius. Why is this important? Because we need to understand that Mercury is not a solo operator. His RELATIONSHIPS to these other planets are what really bring the juice to the party. Mercury is a MESSENGER. When he bumps into a planet like Pluto 3 times in a month, you know that Pluto is going to have something pretty important to say to us about how we need to evolve. Now add in the influence of any natal planets you have between the degrees of 14 and 1, and you can get a bit of a sense of how this experience may affect you, personally.
So here’s the part that makes it crazy.
For those of us who reside in the USA, we are an extremely intellectually oriented society – so when things concerning the mind turn inward, as is the energy of the retrograde – everyone basically goes nuts. All of these aspects that are already hanging out up there creating subtle tension suddenly become amplified because we can’t rationalize our way out of it. And on another level, Mercury might even be triggering some of these energies so that they become more conscious than usual, and show up in all kinds of crazy, funny, bizarre, and sometimes stressful ways in our lives.
You do NOT NEED to go crazy.
What you need to do is to just flow with the energy and understand what it is asking you to do – which is to review and make changes. To let yourself SLOW THAT BRAIN DOWN for a second and look into things more deeply. If something is popping up for you right now from the past – talk to it… why is it here? What is it saying to you about where you might need to change, let something go, or even revive something lost? If a misunderstanding occurs, how can we listen better? Find clarity about what we really mean to say? Understand our own perspectives from a deeper level and hear others intent beyond their words? Yes – it is helpful during Mercury Retrograde to check things over a few times, to make sure you heard right, understood well. There is a propensity for mistakes to be made, things to be missed, and plans that fall through. Yes, yes, these effects can be very real. But even these processes are a form of revision, and if you play your cards right, it may work out even better for you in the end than you planned for in the beginning – because now we had the opportunity to look at the offer on the table not just once, but a few times, before it passed our test. Mercury Retrograde is a fantastic time to negotiate and resolve difficult conflicts. Even if it might not be the best time to initiate certain arrangements, it can definitely be a good time to finally put a long-term irritation to rest.
Finally, you can’t “hide” from Mercury retrograde. It is not a “stay inside and all will be well” situation. This is an energetic influence that affects everybody. The situation of Mercury retrograde is mind-based, and so the problems of it RESIDE WITHIN OUR OWN MIND. If we carry a perspective that Mercury Retrograde is a doom time when we can’t trust anything we’re just creating resistance around the process of actually reshaping our mind to live from a clearer place. I’m not saying that there will not be moments during Mercury retrograde phases that are stressful, upsetting, confusing, etc… It does have a very specific vibe to it that can be pinpointed as, “Yes, that is definitely a Mercury Retro thing.” What I am saying is that living in fear of planetary cycles of any kind without seeking to understand them more deeply is not helpful for anyone.
Working with Astrology is ALCHEMICAL -- it is not a useful tool if it is wielded in the basis of fear. Astrology becomes USEFUL when we understand it as a LANGUAGE that allows us to have a structured concept of life and its ebb and flow. The purpose of Astrology is to provide DEEPER INSIGHT into who we are, what we feel, and why we feel it. It is a USEFUL tool when we recognize and utilize the different energetic influences for our personal growth and development. Honor and respect all cycles of life and you can reap the rewards. Like a good student to a wise elder, there are things we can only know through hard lessons and inner work. This is indeed a Capricorn notion.
When in Mercury retrograde, work on the mind. Look INWARD and see what’s really happening with you. Be WILLING to see the good & bad. Take the time to understand the messages that life situations are conveying to you and then implement changes according to your new understandings. Be willing to live a life in flow – stop holding on, and most of your problems will diminish considerably. Experience your life in its fullness – fantastic & wonderful, sad & dreary, Mercury Retrograde, and beyond. Don’t try to separate yourself from the things you don’t want to feel – for Mercury Retrograde just may be the time that we truly realize how much padding and resistance we’ve created through the very fact that our mind isn’t dominating everything for once. If that happens to you, take heed. Any separation from your emotions and experience is like a separation of mind from body. We can only ever be at peace when we experience our life completely – mind, body, and soul together.
This Capricorn Mercury Retrograde WILL be a bit of a feisty one. I can feel it already writing this article, since Mercury’s aspect to Mars today is really fueling the writing of this piece. This can create a really aggressive energy if not channeled correctly, and a tendency to be more snappish, irritable, etc. Or it can inspire you to write an impassioned astrology article borne out of Mercury Retrograde induced frustration (lol). Mercury’s other planetary aspects throughout the next month are really going to bring some intensity to the table and make us feel a strong impulse for change and DEEP evolution. We can use this productively. This is a VERY POWERFUL month -- Don’t run from it. Take some of that Capricorn confidence and zest and jump into it, because a LOT can be accomplished. And I mean that both literally and metaphysically – Capricorn is an EARTH sign so we’re really reshaping life in the real world, and at the same time we’re reworking our inner world. If I were to describe the energy in the simplest sense – I would say that this Capricorn Mercury Retro is about redefining our relationship to our ability to create & manifest… and also beginning to form the physical structures and practical outlines that we need in our lives to create & manifest those things that we are envisioning. This can mean a literal office overhaul, scheduling adjustments, mapping out new projects – or re-envisioning old ones to suit the new perspective -- and really finding that place of comfort and sovereignty – that YOU get to call the shots. It is YOUR life after all! Be proactive and you’ll also be productive. We all have the choice to either be dragged down by our fear of change, or direct these energies to their higher purposes of evolution and creation.
Since the Winter Solstice (which is also around the time Mercury moved into its shadow), I’ve been really feeling into Capricorn energy in a very different way than I ever have in the past. Over the winter holidays, I felt a deep recognition of Capricorn as the harbinger of tradition and past wisdom. During this season, this time, we are naturally drawn inward. If we allow it, this can be a time when we really take stock of our lives. Capricorn’s wisdom seems to me twofold – first, there is a deep honoring of the wisdom of our elders, and the knowledge that they have kept alive and passed down to us over the centuries. Second, there is the wisdom that we glean from our own lives – when we revisit the past and see it differently, maybe even with new eyes. It is so important to honor the past – to honor those who have taught us, provided for us, and granted us their wisdom because knowledge gives us richness – and without the work of those who came before us, our progress in life would be slow or non-existant. And also, to honor our own past by recognizing that everything we’ve ever been through has also taught us. And continues to teach us. For with each year, our perspective changes. The lessons we gain from the past, if we’re really willing to look at it, are continuous. It is the sobriety and maturity we develop as we age that allows us to really understand life and to see the persons we have been with increasing gentleness, forgiveness, and understanding. What we thought we knew, we know again but differently, more deeply. We can see, through our own experience, that even the most painful memories change with time. That one day, we look at it, and what was once the definition of how we saw life, is now a faded old book with yellowed pages. No longer does it move us.
We recognize what the past has offered us to see what the future may hold for us. Nothing in life is truly still, and we experience this clearly at holidays when we revisit the family and friends we’ve known and spent these holidays with since childhood. It’s different this year compared to ten years ago. And so, next year, too, will have its own surprises. Who will we be then? What changes await us?
The ancestors teach so that their knowledge can be passed on. We receive knowledge passed on in order to understand it, and then to take it to the next level. This is what we do as humans. I’d even pose, that this might possibly be one of the reasons we are alive. So why stay stuck? Anywhere? It is against the very nature of our existence!
Capricorn’s virtues are discipline, order, and humility. Capricorn is a Cardinal sign whose purpose is to initiate and create. When Capricorn creates with respect to the past, it can create something very solid and lasting. So what is it you want to build? How do you apply the knowledge of the past to build wise, intelligent structures for the future? How do you apply discipline to simplify your life and bring your dreams into greater focus?
Meditate on what this might mean for you. This coming year is one of major creation and mental manifestation… And so it is appropriate that we start it off working very practically with our approach to the coming changes – whether we are initiating them, receiving them, or simply living them. Clean the cobwebs of your mind, eliminate limiting beliefs around your ability to be in charge of your life’s direction, and take responsibility both for what you truly want, and for the parts of yourself that you have allowed to undermine that. Let yourself change without holding on to self-criticism over past mistakes. It’s cool. It’s about the future now… So be here now.
We’ve all come far. Positive outcomes await us, if we want them. Be glad for the way life provides us direction. When we listen, we become wise.