Both mythologically and astrologically, Mercury is a celestial aberration and a peculiarly disruptive, problematic character. Mercury represents our thoughts, words, and writing in the natal chart. Mercury also represents how we use our cunning to skew the truth and avoid accountability. Mercury is controlling us whenever we take up a pen, make a case, or go from one place to another.
Mercury is not regarded as being either feminine or masculine, good or bad, or diurnal or nocturnal, unlike other planets. Instead, Mercury changes his shape in accordance with the planets he is in close proximity to. Mercury is regarded as weak in Sagittarius and Pisces and is the ruling planet of both Gemini and Virgo. Mercury is thought to be exalted, or at its strongest, in Virgo. Mercury’s home of joy, which is traditionally the first house, allows him to dance both above and below the horizon like the liminal traveller that he is (coincidentally, Mercury was said to have been born at dawn, which would place him in the first house).
Due to Mercury’s extremely close orbit to the sun, it is rarely visible in the sky. Since Mercury can never be farther than 20.8 degrees from the sun, it is frequently obscured by the sun’s brilliant rays. The only possible aspect Mercury may have with the sun is a conjunction, hence sun-Mercury conjunctions in the natal chart are extremely frequent for the same reason.
In astronomy, this phenomenon is known as “apparent retrograde motion,” but in astrological jargon, it is simply referred to as “retrograde.” All planets, with the exception of the sun and moon, appear to reverse direction in the sky at various periods.
Although the word “retrograde” comes from the Latin “to go backward,” it’s vital to remember that planets do not actually go backward; our Earth-bound perspective causes them to appear to. When a planet is retrograde, it appears to be stationary before visually moving backward and tracing curly-cues in the sky; when a planet is stationing direct, it appears to be stationary once more before gently gaining speed and moving forward.
It shares its time in the heavens between morning star, rising before the sun at dawn, and evening star, setting after the sun at twilight. Planet Mercury spends around 80% of its cycle in direct motion. To the dismay of millions around the world, Mercury is retrograde for the final 20% of its cycle.
Mercury experiences departure from and return to the sun on a synodic cycle, which gets its name from the Greek word synod, which means “meeting.” This serves to broaden our awareness of Mercury beyond the simple binary phases of retrograde hell and salvation and produces a cyclical experience of Mercury similar to the moon and its cycles of birth, fullness, death, and rebirth.
Mercury goes into retrograde for around twenty-two days every four months, or three to four times a year. In this cycle, Mercury makes four significant moves.
Mercury makes its first retrograde station. It then makes its inferior conjunction with the sun. Then Mercury stations once more while advancing into the sky. At its superior conjunction, Mercury finally makes contact with the sun once more.
Mercury first appears as an evening star in the western sky at sunset, when it is closest to the sun, and before a retrograde begins. Then, every night, Mercury appears to move closer to the horizon until it completely vanishes from view; to ancient sky-watchers, this meant Mercury had made his ethereal ascent into the underworld.
Schedules and relationships are muddled for the duration of Mercury retrograde; we tend to say thee wrong thing at the wrong time and can have our most essential plans derailed by misunderstandings. Mercury, in his trickster mode, uses all of his cunning resources to get our attention and nudges us out of our never-ending forward motion so he may point out where rewrites are most necessary.
Mercury makes what is referred to as a “inferior” conjunction with the sun halfway through its retrograde motion, resetting Mercury’s synodic cycle. The inferior conjunction can also be thought of as Mercury’s equivalent of a new moon: having been cleansed and refilled by the sun’s rays, Mercury is now prepared for a brand-new cycle of learning that will take place over the course of the following 116 days.
The most significant work is revealed when we conduct in-depth internal reviews, even when the most evident effects of Mercury in retrograde occur externally.
Mercury’s retrograde cycles allow us to become more objective in a particular area of life, despite how disruptive they might be at times. We have allowed ourselves very little time for introspection in our everyday waking consciousness and in our increasingly overscheduled, distracted society. If we look with Mercury retrograde in the proper way, it can be a time to reexamine significant areas of our lives with fresh eyes. For many people, once we are on a certain path, we can end up myopically devoted to it and lose all perspective.