Mercury goes retrograde around every three months. That’s at least three times a year, so you’d have thought we’d be used to him by now, but somehow he always manages to catch us out. Well, me, at least. Cars break down, wires get crossed, trains fail to connect and telephone and broadband connections inexplicably go up the spout. 2009 is a busy year for Mercury, which goes backwards and forwards no fewer than four times. This time, Mercury started travelling backwards on May 7th, and you’ll be pleased to know, he turns direct again on May 30th / 31st, depending where you are in the world. All will be well until September 7th, when he’s back to his old tricks again for the best part of that month.
Mercury is possibly my favourite planet (well, I would say that – I’m a Virgo. Well, I’ve got a Virgo ascendant, which means I pretend to be a Virgo because everyone's always so afraid of Scorpio – oops, did I really say Scorpio?). Apart from when he goes retrograde, that is. He’s the fastest guy on the track – the winged messenger – and when he’s doing his fleet-footed thing, he can outrun the sun on a good day. He rules connections, communications, messages and journeys; the only god who can travel down to Hades, come back and live to tell the tale. He’s also the trickster, the silvertongued charmer who’ll slip through your fingers just as you think you’ve finally pinned him down...
He never strays far from the sun on his travels – it’s hard to see him through the sun’s glare, even harder to pin him down. People get worried about retrograde planets, but there’s nothing heavy about Mercury. He’ll duck and dive, outwit and outclass you, but at the end of the day he was only having a bit of a laugh. Don’t believe you can outwit him, though – he’s still a god after all. He's fastest in air – think of all those Gemini characters who just love to argue the toss and talk the hind leg off a donkey. He rules Virgo, too – I think it's the mutability of the sign – and don't be fooled by the quiet, demure front, when they're not being complete control freaks, Virgos can be surprisingly – well, surprising. The only element he's not always comfortable in is water – not a great swimmer, you see. In water signs, he's said to be mute – I'm not convinced that's totally true. Brown Dog has his Mercury in Pisces, and he is tragically far from mute.
When Mercury’s on his backward track, he’s quite a different character from the sunny, shiny chatterbox Mercury that skips and runs ahead of the Sun with his pin-sharp observations and bright ideas. Every three months or so, though, he needs to travel back down to the underworld, to revisit the darker realms where his quicksilver words will be lost in the deep, cool darkness – a profoundly different sort of place, but somewhere, nevertheless, where he needs to go to recharge those Duracell batteries. On his sunshine travels, he lives among writers, communicators, publishers and dreamers – Bob Dylan has the most powerful Mercury I think I’ve ever seen in a chart – but on his backward travels, wires get crossed, journeys interrupted and things fall apart. But it’s important to recognise that Mercury retrograde (just like almost everything else that’s irksome or annoying in astrology) is just another way of making us realise we can’t control everything – the only way to deal with a retrograde Mercury is to go with the flow; accept and take note. Retrograde Mercury is often about stepping back, recuperating, revisiting. Unfinished business is sometimes brought to the fore with a Mercury Retrograde. Sometimes something from the past will unexpectedly catch you on the back foot; unfinished business that has to be dealt with.
I had a retrograde Mercury moment this weekend. I ran into a friend of a friend in the village who was staying here for the bank holiday weekend – coincidentally, a Gemini, it was his birthday the following day – and for some reason we got onto the subject of school days (not a favourite subject – I hated mine). It turned out this person had been at school with my brother. I haven’t spoken to my brother for several years. I’m not actually that freaked any more by these odd coincidences – as a Mercury person, they seem to always be happening to me. I once worked in an office where no fewer than four people had some kind of connection to my past (a bit spooky, as I turned out to be kind of related to one of them).
Geminis and Virgos are particularly affected by the moods of Mercury. You’ll also feel it if Mercury’s station* touches a sensitive point on your own natal chart. The only way to deal with tricky or troublesome planets like a retrograde Mercury is to step back and try to tune in to what they have to say. Sometimes it’s hard when Mercury retrograde coincides with a communication breakdown, a broken promise or an interrupted journey, but trite as it sounds, it’s usually something that’s happened for a reason – unfortunately, that reason is often buried in the murky underworld and sometimes seems almost impossible to locate. Believe me, though, a Mercury message is much easier to tune into than a Saturn one – after all, he is the god of communication.
Mercury retrograde do’s and don’ts
Make any important, life-changing decisions
Apply for that job
Start a new diet
Embark on an important journey
Buy a new computer, telephone system, radio or tv
Put your house on the market
Start anything new – a job, a relationship, a house purchase
Schedule a book launch, go live with your new website, make an important speech
Book your car in for a service
(If you have inadvertently embarked on any of the above, not realising Mercury was retrograde, don't fret. Any annoying difficulties and hold-ups should probably be just that, and all will sort itself out once Mercury goes direct.)
Have a good clear out – that long lost photograph, letter or document will probably turn up
Tackle that humungous pile of filing
Return to unfinished projects
Rekindle old friendships
Repair, reassess, rethink, research…
Basically, anything that feels like delving into the underworld.
Unless you’re Barack Obama, of course, who seems to be an exception to just about every Mercury rule…
I was going to talk about why you should never start anything under a new moon, but in typical Mercury fashion I’ve gone on too long and run out of time. Just take it from me – don’t.
* When a planet is retrograde, before it can go direct it slows down and sits on its station for a while before turning. This ‘station’ point can often be a powerful trigger.