Who’s Afraid of Mercury Retrograde?
All your astrology minded friends are sharing warnings and memes about Mercury retrograde, but what’s it really all about and how worried should you actually be? If you’re new to astrology, it might seem like the sky is falling - doom and gloom predictions abound, and although quite a few of the memes are now firmly tongue in cheek, the subject still seems ominous if not downright scary.
Well, fear not! I used to have massive anxiety spikes before and during a Mercury retrograde, mostly based on the content I was seeing on social media, until one day I decided that the only cure for that anxiety was to arm myself with information. I dove into the subject, and what I found was more reassuring than I had expected, so now it’s my turn to pay it forward. Let’s see what retrograde really means, why it matters so much when it affects Mercury, and what we can do to prepare ourselves spiritually and mentally, managing our expectations for the duration of the transit.
So, when a planet is said to be in “retrograde” you’ll hear a lot of people describing it as the planet moving “backwards”. This isn’t entirely correct, though; planetary orbits are gravitationally fixed, and trust me, there’s no way a planet is actually going to reverse gear like an old Honda and suddenly run the other way! So what is going on? In a very condensed nutshell, Mercury has “overtaken” us in our respective orbits of the Sun and so it appears to be moving backward - but only relative to us here on Earth when we look out at the planet. Retrogrades are more or less directly proportional to discrepancies between another planet's orbital period (that is to say, the time it takes a planet to complete one lap around the Sun) and our own on Earth*. That's part of why you hear so much about Mercury retrograde, by the way; Mercury takes 88 days to orbit our Sun, but we take ~364 days, so there are going to be relatively way more desynchronizations, if you will, than with the outer planets... although they can and do retrograde on occasion.
Mercury enters retrograde today, on Jan 30, per my trusty astrological day planner, and stations direct - that’s fancy astrologer talk for “acts like itself again” - on Feb 20. That's a pretty long time, and I wouldn't blame you if you felt anxious about what's to come. Everywhere you turn, someone's warning you: don't do any business during retrograde, don't buy anything major, don't sign any contracts or start a new job or work project, everything's going to be super chaotic.
If you've been following for a while, you'll know that my stance on a lot of this conventional wisdom is that it's certainly nice to be able to avoid all of those things during a Mercury retrograde, but not necessarily practical or possible. Just like with Moon Void of Course, which you'll be hearing about again very soon, I believe that the best thing to do is to understand what's going on with the Heavenly planets involved and prepare yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically for what's to come.
So, what is Mercury responsible for, exactly? In brief, Mercury is the celestial messenger, ruling over all communication - the ways we express ourselves and our ideas to the world, and the ways these concepts are received or understood by others. So when Mercury (from our perspective) goes backwards into a retrograde, this can mean that we are in for a tough time with matters of communication and making ourselves understood can feel pretty frustrating. Whether you have to reboot your laptop five times mid-dissertation (make a backup!!) or your friends misinterpret your texts, you’ll feel these altered energies at work.
Here’s the good news: Mercury retrograde is a relatively short period of time, and it will end. During this time, it’s a good idea to anticipate, but not to dread, communication difficulties and extend a little patience to yourself and to others; you can’t control how they act during retrograde, but you can control how you are acting and will respond. I also do a lot of chakra work, mostly with crystals, so I’m surrounding myself with a lot of lapis lazuli for my throat chakra, to help me make my meanings more clear, and green aventurine, for my heart chakra, to inform my compassion for others and remind me that they too are having a tough time with these next few weeks. Your way of getting through retrograde may look different; if you’re drawn to meditation, that’s a great way to ground yourself during this time, and of course I will almost always recommend journaling! Get the frustration out somewhere it won’t have any fallout for those around you, keep your head up, and remember: it’s pretty quick, and then it’s over!
* I am not an astronomer. I know it's way more complex than that to explain planetary motion, but then this article would be 3000 words long, and I wouldn’t be able to write it.