Mercury Retrograde: Adjusting Perceptions


Even those who are uninitiated into Astrology have heard about a period known as “Mercury Retrograde”. Some people, beginners and advanced practitioners alike, panic when they hear Mercury is going retrograde because there is a LOT of misguided information out there. In fact, so much bad information that this delightfully helpful period has suffered from a pretty bad reputation. This article, written during Mercury Retrograde but posted when Mercury is direct, is an attempt to clarify the record and speak on behalf of this important, useful and hugely misunderstood period of time.


You’ve probably heard or read stories about computer crashes, travel plans gone awry, miscommunications at every turn and having to repeat things again and again in order to get them done; ALL, and more, have been blamed on Mercury being in its retrograde phase! But have you ever wondered why something always has to be blamed? Can’t some seemingly difficult things simply point to something we just need to see? As Mercury is the planet of perception, let’s adjust ours and try a little love and tenderness to understand this often confusing and seemingly frustrating time.


In Latin, “retro” means backwards and “gradi” means to walk, so technically when a planet is retrograde it appears to be walking backwards across the sky. Of course, this is merely an optical illusion as all the planets rotate around the Sun in a forward motion. However from our vantage point here on Earth all the planets, at some time or another, give the appearance of moving backwards along the ecliptic and therefore are referred to as “retrograde in motion”. They are said to go “direct”, or appear to be moving forward, when that illusion ceases. The amount of time retrograde periods last varies and is dependent on the planet involved. Mercury completes its orbit around the Sun in 88 days, so here on Earth it appears to go retrograde 3-4 times per calendar year, for about 3 weeks at a time, as a general rule. The outer planets retrograde periods are less often and last longer.


In Mythology, Mercury is named after the Roman messenger of the gods. Mercury’s winged feet allowed him to swiftly carry messages (communications) from the heavens into the underworld (travel) for delivery. It is said that Mercury was the only god who could traverse between the worlds as such and his attribute of quicksilver-like shape shifting comes from this, as well as his astrological associations with communication and travel.

In Astrology, Mercury is the planet that speaks to our Soul and influences how we perceive the world around us, based on where it lands in our natal chart by element, sign, house and aspect as well as its direct or retrograde status. We look to Mercury to get a glimpse of how we learn and how we speak. Mercury both receives information and sends it outward. It interprets our thoughts, words and messages, both internally, via our own perceptions, and outwardly, via our communications with others.  It has the distinction of being associated with all things communicative: speech, messages, writing, reading et cetera; it is also associated with short journeys and day-to-day travels.  

It is because of these associations that it is easy to see how Mercury gets blamed for communication breakdowns and travel errors in its retrograde period. However, with all that said, this is NOT how the planet Mercury actually influences our lives. Mercury as a planet is too far away from the Earth to influence it by gravitational orbit, it does NOT affect us that way. To best understand its influence, we must look symbolically at what Mercury has to offer, not literally.

While astrologers have documented these associations with the planet Mercury over the millennia, we ALL still have free will and choice!  We do have some control and ultimate responsibility over our own life and its unfolding. And it is this very important fact that allows one to work with the positions of the stars/planets but not give up our authority to them. “The stars incline us, they do not bind us” as the saying goes.


Putting this all together, when Mercury goes retrograde the heavens are signaling a time when we have an opportunity to SLOW down and go within, to contemplate, to reflect, to ponder, to entertain our thoughts, to disconnect from the quickened pace of lives outside ourselves and BREATHE. Occasionally we need to remember it is okay to double check things and reconfirm plans. It is okay to have setbacks and glitches; in fact, it is an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities based on our reactions to occasional bumps in the road. Are we taking life too seriously? Are we surrendering our power to forces outside our control? Are we pushing the envelope too much? Are we trying to spin too many plates at one time? Do our beliefs and perceptions need a once over?


Just as the change in seasons here on Earth herald a new way of relating to the day-to-day activities in our lives, so too do the planetary cycles. When planets appear to be going backwards we are being asked to take a moment to pause, look back, reflect, re-evaluate and reconsider. With respect to Mercury, that is being asked in the arena of communications/perceptions. 


So the next time Mercury goes retrograde, remember it is an opportune time to settle inside yourself, contemplate the direction you are heading and re-evaluate if that is indeed the direction you want to go. Create plans when Mercury is retrograde and act on them when it moves direct. It is okay to continue with plans made before Mercury went retrograde even during its retrograde period; but do try to avoid beginning things at a time when you would be better served planning things, if you can. This is the best use of the energy the universe sends us during retrograde periods.

Introspection, quieting our minds and calming the flurry of activity that can become our lives running amok is truly nothing to fear. It is an opportunity to rebalance and regain PERSPECTIVE! Use it wisely.





Mary Sutton