by Robert Wilkinson
Most people have heard of Mercury retrograde, but little is known about how to make best use of these misunderstood recurring periods. Since we have another of these retrogrades approaching in the near future, I thought I'd offer you some insights now so that you can get yourself positioned to take advantage of the coming retrograde period. Of course I'll also do my usual 3-part series in the next two weeks on what it means in general, what it means for each sign specifically, and how it relates to past Mercury retrograde themes.
There are a lot of myths, supposition, and confusion about Mercury retrograde, yet there are many things one can achieve during these periods that occur three times a year. It's a great time to examine the Cosmic Magician and figure out some things not evident when Mercury is direct in motion. I offer many insights into how we can use these times productively in my ground-breaking book, "A New Look At Mercury Retrograde," now out of print but soon to be republished on this site as an ebook.
Many want to act productively during these times but don’t know how, usually due to paralysis induced by indecision, ambivalence, or second-guessing. Actually, despite the superstition and fluff of most commercial astrological explanations about how to approach these times, they're really not so bad! Again, if you can find a copy of my book (there are a few out there) you can investigate more about this oft-recurring phenomenon and get major insights how best to use these times. Since it's so hard to find, I'll try to post some relevant sections over the next few weeks that will help you understand what's up when Mercury, or Hermes, "the guide of Souls," is slow in motion, which is really the meaning of a retrograde.
Briefly, it's a time to take a new look at information, insights, and perceptions, and rework interpretations to prepare for the four month period that follows a Mercury retrograde. Mercury goes back over ground it's just traversed, but during the retrograde there is an entirely new angle of view that presents itself so that some things previously unknown or unnoticed can be factored in for the future. There are curious returns that allow us to re-think some things, and find a new rhythm of coordinating our life affairs.
A little explanation here. All the planets go retrograde due to the way perception works from our angle of vision here on Earth. Planets obviously do not go backwards, but they do slow down and speed up in their orbits relative to the Sun, and this creates interesting perspectives here on Earth. A retrograde only appears to be going backwards, much like a slow train appears to be going backwards relative to an express train. Now the fact that motion changes is not what’s important here, unless you’re an astrophysicist. What is important to explore is how best to use these recurring periods for maximum effectiveness without being deflected or hindered by the superstition and mythology surrounding "Mercury retrograde." As I noted in the book,
"… retrograde periods offer us a chance to slow down certain parts of our life for closer examination, preparing for a change that inevitably occurs. This is part of a larger cyclic process of unfoldment when the planet speeds up again in forward motion. Life always speeds up again after a time of reflection, contemplation, and transitional change. One of the benefits of Mercury retrograde is that it provides the time for reflection, which can lead to revitalization after a symbolic fallow period….
Periods of reflection, meditation, and contemplation allow us to take a needed break from routine or inertia. Retrogrades are the natural time to do this. When we turn inward, our Soul connection assists our growth by allowing us to focus on that which we would not address if we were preoccupied with mundane affairs….
When a planet goes retrograde, the areas of life that it symbolizes need to be re-examined. It is metaphorically an in-breathing or dreaming, a retracing and reexamining of steps already traversed, digesting and assimilating previous experience…. This is a time when we can examine the effect that our personal subconscious and the Collective Unconscious has upon us…"
While it seems as though Mercury retrograde causes many things to malfunction and brings miscommunications and delays in its wake, actually no planet or its influence is good or bad unto itself. We are the ones who determine our "destiny," based on our choices, which shape our character. In that sense, "character is destiny," and so we have the responsibility to determine whether we will be active or passive in responding to life’s challenges. We have free will and no planet or star "makes" anything happen. They merely indicate the larger patterns we live within, and so by understanding these patterns and what they symbolize, we are in a position to be in harmony or disharmony with inner and outer "reality." This is the power of our individuality to rise above inertia, superstition, and belief systems that are obsolete, inadequate, or fear-based.
In any case, Mercury retrograde has been with us and will be with us for a long, long, time, as long as the planets have their present orbits around the Sun. So the more we learn about this recurring phenomenon, the more able we will be to take advantage of our ability not to get lost or bogged down by "Mercury retrograde." As one great astrologer once wrote, "Action speaks louder than suffering." By learning how to use Mercury retrograde periods wisely and consciously, even if our affairs are momentarily diverted in strange directions, coordinated in some unusual ways, or take some peculiar twists and turns, they will usually turn out for the best, whether you knew you were doing that or not. Often we get useful information and insights we overlooked before the retrograde, and these times help us factor in different pieces of our life's puzzles so we can operate more effectively after the retrograde period ends.
Sometimes it may seem like it's two steps forward, one to the side, one back, two to the side, and three forward. It's all okay, since it's showing you a different way to be guided to your truth and more effective way of being in the world. Often things don't turn out the way we suspect, but that can be as good as it can be difficult. Still, due to the different rhythm of events and perspectives that send things off on strange or unexpected tangents, it is always useful to get your affairs in order before the retrograde. Then while in the three week period and things are slowed down or seemingly moving in a different direction or even backwards, turn to whatever has been neglected and needs attention, finishing them up so that you can get on with new business when the retrograde ends.
(Originally published 12 May 2004)