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Mercury Retrograde: Above The Hype and Beyond The Spin

This article was written by Marguerite Manning
posted under Astrology


Call me crazy, but Mercury retrograde doesn’t scare me. In fact, I may be one of the few astrologers I know who actually looks forward to those three weeks in every Mercury orbit when we here on this planet end up with a ringside seat to the most famous of cosmic optical illusions. Yes, illusion, because, as most of us already know, that’s what Mercury retrograde is. A three-week celestial “psych” in which Mercury, the astrological planet of the mind, cleverly messes with ours by appearing to travel backward in the sky.

How is that possible? Well, when it comes to Mercury, just about anything is. After all, this is the planet our ancient astronomers named after the winged messenger of the Gods. The planet so blindingly fast and incredibly agile that they professionally acknowledged it as the universal influence responsible for connecting us to each other, which is how it officially became the astrological poster planet for language, information, people, and ideas. Then again, even by today’s standards, what could personify speed and networking better than Mercury? As the closest planet to the Sun, it has the shortest orbit in the solar system and takes only 88 days to make one complete trip around the Sun. If that isn’t impressive enough, it somehow manages to pass the earth twice every time that it does: first, when it whizzes by us on the same side of the solar system where we can see it, and then a few weeks later, when it loops around and zooms past us again on the opposite side of the Sun where we can’t. No wonder the ancients believed this planet was “quicker than the eye.” In fact, the retrograde fun and games only take place because once every 88 days, Mercury actually is.

It all begins when almost immediately after passing us on that first Mercury “drive-by” this very small planet comes to the end of that very short orbit, and almost just as immediately (instead of continuing on the same angle in the sky), “swings” into that loop on its way to the other side of the solar system. Now here’s the reality-buster for us: we never see that happen. Why? Because even though we never lose sight of Mercury after it zips ahead of us in the solar system, we’re never at an angle where we can actually see Mercury “loop” to the other side of it. So when it does, we don’t realize it has. That is the stuff that cosmic illusions are made of, because once Mercury gets there and starts heading for the other side of the Sun, to all of us here on this planet, it “appears” to start drifting backwards against the stars.

Now don’t be fooled, perspective is everything in astrology. So while it’s true that Mercury’s backward motion is not an actual celestial occurrence, that doesn’t mean Mercury retrograde is not a powerful astrological influence. We all know it is. What I think many of us don’t realize, however, is that it’s not a negative one. But then, I have always believed we practice astrology backwards (you know, by focusing more on the effects of certain astrological influences in our lives, rather than the universal purpose for them). Ironically (when it comes to Mercury retrograde), I’m convinced our perspective couldn’t be more backward, because when it comes to this particular heavenly happening, the hype couldn’t be more negative. I mean really. We’re told not to buy, not to sign, not to fly, not to call, but most of all during these three weeks, we’re told not to expect anything other than frustrating setbacks and irritating snafus. So we don’t. What’s more, we go out of our way to make sure we stay out of Mercury’s way while never once wondering why it spends 21 days “pretending” to go out of its way for us. We count the days until it goes direct, believing that when it does, having dodged the “retrograde bullet,” our lives (and Internet access) will return to normal, and we’ll be back at the top of our intellectual game once again. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, as a practicing astrologer who is no stranger to the astrological whims and antics of Mercury (Gemini Sun, rising Virgo), it’s both my professional opinion and my personal experience that Mercury retrograde gets an incredibly overblown and equally undeserved rap, mostly because after years of being on the receiving end of it (and anything else this planet has to offer), I now know better. This is one universal influence that is not only highly misunderstood, but thanks to the astrological “Chicken Little effect,” sadly underused. Then again, with half the population hiding under their beds every 88 days, how could it not be?

So how do we move past the “run for cover” rhetoric of Mercury retrograde and make it work for us? By fighting fire with astrological fire and changing our perspective on what this influence does to us. In fact, if there’s one way to turn the universal tables on Mercury retrograde, it would have to be by looking beyond the dropped calls and lost baggage we’re convinced it creates, and instead focusing on it’s primary purpose for being at the universal table to begin with. So what would that be? What universal purpose could this astrological planet of communications and networking possibly serve by “appearing” to travel backwards in the heavens for 21 days out of every 88-day orbit? Good question, but the way I see it, only one answer: Mercury retrograde is the astrological influence that “cosmically” revisits, retrieves, and reveals everything that managed to elude our conscious awareness in the preceding 88 days, because its one universal purpose is to provide us with an opportunity to discover anything that actually did. Think about that for a minute, because once you do Mercury retrograde becomes more than just an astrological excuse for all the less than perfect data, communications, and merchandise that we can’t help but encounter during that dreaded three-week period. A lot more. It becomes what I believe it has always been since the beginning of time: a universal instrument for bringing them to our attention. In short, that intellectual “second chance” we all yearn for to go back and find the facts, after the fact.

That being the case, is it any wonder then that unforeseen delays, unknown defects, and unlimited do-overs are part of the Mercury retrograde big picture? It shouldn’t be. Not when we look at the entire picture from the right perspective, because once we do, we can’t help but see these things for what they really are: annoying inconveniences. The kind that always comes with unexpected findings. So when the new toaster has to be returned or the flight home has to be cancelled, wouldn’t it make more sense to pay more attention to the actual data, words, thoughts, or individuals that suddenly emerged and caused those things to happen? Or better yet, to what could have happened if they hadn’t emerged when they did? Besides, when anything unknown finally makes its way to the 11th hour surface of our 10th hour conscious awareness, how could that not be a good thing? It can’t. Even if we’re not prepared for it.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should be signing major contracts or getting married when Mercury goes retrograde. Come on, if you've been paying attention you know by now that this particular influence is our universal “recall,” the one that provokes anything hidden to rear its ugly head. So until it passes and Mercury goes direct, there’s bound to be fallout. But here’s the thing: whatever that ugly “head” is, you really do want to know about it. You just don’t want to be committed to it before you do, which is exactly why the “hiding under the bed” solution to Mercury retrograde is really no solution at all. It’s also why I believe this is not just a great time to go looking for the perfect partner, but the perfect time to actually find the right one. In fact, I personally encourage everyone in general, and women in particular, to use the powers of Mercury retrograde for just such a purpose. Why? Because if you’re out there actively looking for “Mr. Right” during these 21 days, one thing’s for sure: he can run, but he can’t hide. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, neither can “Mr. Nobody,” “Mr. Wrong,” and “Mr. Loser.” This is really a whole lot better than it sounds, because while it does mean you might have to deal with every Tom, Dick, and Harry stumbling across your radar screen during a retrograde happy hour, it also means you’ll never have to worry about any Moe, Larry, or Curly sneaking under it. It just can’t happen when this little planet is out there leaving no stone unturned and no punch un-pulled. Mostly because when it is, we can’t help but find, learn, and see something that we might have missed before. Or, for that matter, already did. Which makes the truth of the Mercury retrograde matter really quite simple: the trivial frustrations we’re forced to deal with when concealed information comes to our attention always pale in comparison to the intellectual power that becomes available to us whenever it does. Always.

I don’t know about you, but I can live with that. In fact, because I do, I’ve learned to work with it as well, and quite effectively. What's more, based on that personal experience, in my humble opinion, there is really no better time to uncover elusive information, find lost articles, or learn what you absolutely need to know than when this little planet is doing it’s dreaded "backstroke" through the universe. Really. In fact, for that very reason I now use those three weeks for that very purpose: uncovering information that’s been eluding me, understanding concepts that have been escaping me, or discovering hidden sources that were unknown to me. Not to mention the even more critical ones, like finding that perfect kitchen wallpaper, locating that lost set of keys, or “accidentally” running into those otherwise normally tight-lipped individuals who at this particular time (through no fault of their own) just can’t, don’t, or won’t keep a secret (pay dirt). After all, it goes without saying that during this particular three-week period, nothing goes without saying. Nothing. However, by just being aware of that, I have found that you’re a lot more likely to get the scoop you’re looking for and a lot less likely to spill your own guilty guts while you’re looking for it. Still, you’d be wise to always keep a few well-polished apologies handy during this period and even wiser to never hit the “send” button without verifying exactly whom you’re sending what to (it happens). As far as I’m concerned, a small price to pay for all the power that’s up for grabs. The power that comes with being “in the know.”

So how can we harness it? For starters, we can put this untapped celestial search engine to good use. If Mercury’s primary universal purpose is to teach us that knowledge is power, doesn’t it make sense that it only goes retrograde to remind us that ignorance is not bliss? It does to me, which is why I make a checklist of "Things-I-Absolutely-Need-To-Know” for each Mercury “rewind.” Trust me, you should too. It’s as effective as it is empowering. In fact, the next time Mercury goes retrograde, why not throw a little cosmic caution to the wind and get out from under that bed and start looking for something. Anything. In fact, start looking for everything you’ve never been able to find on those seemingly perfect “direct days.” You’ve got nothing to lose. Literally. Not only will you find what you’re looking for, I’m willing to bet you’ll find what you didn’t know you lost. Or better yet, what you didn’t know you even wanted (real pay dirt!). Sound crazy? Possibly. I may be the only Gemini Sun with a rising Virgo who actually sees Mercury retrograde as a period of empowering enlightenment, not debilitating disaster. Then again, I may be the only one out there looking for wallpaper.

Marguerite ManningMarguerite Manning
Marguerite Manning is a freelance author, professional astrologer, and founder of Cosmic Connections, a personal enlightenment and astrological counseling service in the Washington, DC Metro area. Over the past 15 years, her...  Read more

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