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What's a Mercury Retrograde?

It's like hopping in your ride only to have someone protest loudly in the backseat that they forgot something very important and we have to go back–now.
What's a Mercury Retrograde?

A Quick Word on the Retrogrades of Mercury

This post is something both old and new: actually brief! Like blog posts used to be.

Typically, I try to write articles with a bit more depth and dare I say some kind of lyricism. But frankly, that's not likely to be clear and helpful at this particular moment... because Mercury is going to stand still and about face this coming Wednesday, December 13th.

What's a Mercury Retrograde?

Most folks have heard the phrase “Mercury retrograde” before. But apparently understanding what it actually means isn’t quite so common. This morning I was chatting with my mom and she mentioned that she had looked it up over the weekend. What she relayed having read made me realize that: 1) at least one person on the internet wrote a post that makes it seem as though Mercury is some kind of celestial Dennis the Menace, or Problem Child, waiting to fuck us over for the sheer pleasure of it; and, 2) that I haven’t written a bare bones explanation about the thrice-annual phenomenon.

 So let me... revisit the topic and revise that history.

Retrogrades, generally

Planets never move backwards. But they do look like it from our perspective down here on Earth from time to time. Astrologers call it "a retrograde" while astronomers call it a planet's "apparent retrograde motion." And we know when the -logers and -nomers of the stars are on the same page there's usually something cool going down.

When the planet in question appears to be stationary or retrograde in the sky, the parts of life related to–or under the "dominion of"–that planet seem to stop operating smoothly. It’s as if someone turned off the faucet on their powers, or changed the pressure on your garden hose.

GIF of a firefighter riding a high pressure water hose which causes them to hover and spin above the ground from the force.

Mercury's retrogrades, specifically

Mercury is the planet that rules over the intelligence of the mind—words, numbers, geometry, calculations and all the things we do with those abilities. Mercury is also associated with transportation and tools, too. So, when Mercury “goes retrograde” it’s like reaching for a pencil that we realize needs to be re-sharpened; getting in a car for a journey and realizing you forgot the road atlas (in the days before MapQuest, et al).

Or, to keep it relatable for folks born after the nineteenhundreds: it's like reaching for your pocket computer only realize the battery is at 2% and needs to be charged before you can show your friend that song. It's like hopping in your ride only to have someone protest loudly in the backseat that they forgot something very important and we have to go back–now. Literally not a big deal, unless you end up "making mountains of handkerchiefs..."

Dispelling the Doomsday Takes

We've covered what a retrograde is, painted a few pictures of what it can look like. Now it's time for a little compare and contrast.

What a Mercury Retrograde Isn’t

A comic prank.
A terrible disaster.
A celestial sanction against doing things, signing contracts, making decisions, taking trips, so on and etc.

What a Mercury Retrograde Is

A time to do your “re’s” as in: review, revise, revisit, re-read, reconsider, resume (whatever thing was paused previously), etc.
A time when our thinking is likely to be different than usual – which can actually be a great thing.
Something that happens three times a year, every year.

It’s hardly a major astroweather event. Not like Jupiter and Saturn meeting up in the sky once every 20 years. Though, it’s certainly noticeable. Possibly much more so now that we live in a hyper-connected digital world where most of our interactions (outside of close IRL friends, and family) are part of someone’s literal business enterprise and probably relies heavily on at least one (if not a veritable daisy chain) of interdependent pieces of technology.

 Point being: Mercury retrogrades happen every 3-4 months, and not all of them are going to be particularly noticeable in your life. They could be for your boss, and that’ll effect you. Or for your friend, and so plans have to get changed last minute, and that has an effect on you. Or, Mercury could be quite active for you in this particular month, or this year of your life, and so as you read this you find yourself already a couple of weeks into noticing hiccups with your tech, with your communication, with organizing the logistics of day-to-day living, as if the retrograde started early for you or something.

Famous Last Words

Mercury retrogrades can be fruitful, promote (or provoke) insights and brilliant ideas, and be downright friggin’ magical. Or they can be absurdly arduous, comedically convoluted, fiendishly frantic, irritatingly impish, maddeningly mischievous. Worst-case-scenario, they can be a downright demoralizing nightmare to navigate. Worst case. Not the average, not the median, not typically.

As with most things astrology it depends both on your natal chart, and on what’s “activated” for you based on revolutions, profections, and other timing techniques.

Learning a bit more about Mercury, and Capricorn, can help to make a bit more sense of what to expect.

Learn About Capricorn in Astrology
Solstice sign of the shrewd and sensual sea-goat.

But nothings as good as a one-on-one consultation where you can discuss which areas of life you’re likely to notice the need, or desire, to repeat, rethink, and revise your strategy.

From now until Mercury makes their way back to 8° of Capricorn next year you can book a mini Mercury Retrograde session to learn about what this one means for you—whether it’ll feel like magic or mayhem (or both!). Plus, you’ll get a couple of personally tailored strategies for navigating the weeks ahead.

Mini-Mercury Magic sessions are 30-minutes, and $33 (for thrice-great Hermes).

Photo credit:

Opening header image is Orange is the New Blue, a photo taken by NASA's Messenger probe, credit: Johns Hopkins University/APL. Image has been modified by me.

Bear Ryver is a professional astrologer helping his clients hone strategies for grounded growth and embodied empowerment by bringing them back to the BASICS. Winner of OPA’s Most Promising Astrologer in 2018, Bear has lectured at conferences like NORWAC and ISAR. He holds certifications in Hellenistic, Electional, and Horary astrology, and specializes in Intersectional Astrology. He was a teacher for the Portland School of Astrology, and has volunteered as a mentor for AFAN. When he’s not talking stars, or pulling cards, you can find him climbing rocks and playing guitar.