Although it sounds like the title of a Sci-Fi movie, Mercury retrograde is an astronomical term for when the planet Mercury appears to be moving backwards in the sky (but isn’t really). All planets may appear to be moving backwards or remain stationary temporarily but Mercury retrograde occurs most often in a single year. When it is retrograde a short period of confusion and unrest is often endured.
Planets do not actually stop and move backwards then stop and move forward again. But due to the geometry of the constantly orbiting sun, the moon and the planets our eyes perceive a retrograde motion when a faster moving planet nears another, such as Mercury nearing Neptune in the zodiac. Often, several planets may be retrograde at once and may even seem to trigger or diminish one or more planet’s apparent retrograde motion cycle.
Mercury may appear to be moving backwards 3 to 4 times each year, for about 3 to 4 weeks each cycle. Although a retrograde planet can be discounted as an astronomical optical illusion, in astrology the retrograde cycle appears to emphasize certain influences, differing with each planet and in each stage of the cycle.
What happens during Mercury retrograde?
As Mercury is the planet governing communication, media, electronics, travel and more, those are the areas of life more commonly affected by a sudden breakdown, loss, delay or confusing circumstances. During a Mercury retrograde some may notice an increase in impatience, arguments, misunderstandings, broken down phones, laptops, cars or other devices relying largely on electronics and which seem to contribute to larger conundrums.
Mercury was the “trickster god” in ancient mythology and sometimes it appears that Mercury is playing tricks on us when these electronic and relationship breakdowns occur during the retrograde, then seem to miraculously start working smoothly once Mercury moves “direct” or forward again. Just as often, devices and electronics will need repair, upgrade or replacement — and some relationships may reflect this breakdown in communication as well.
Mercury retrograde is rarely devastating to anyone but the little problems that manifest often snowball into larger problems. E.g. A flight is delayed or baggage is lost, causing one to miss a connection, thereby missing an important far away event. Or, a misplaced electronic file causes a meeting to go awry or lose a sale. The delay or loss is a small part of a larger and occasionally later negative result. The negative effect can occur occasionally later when something is initiated or purchased during a Mercury retrograde and then it fails soon down the road or at least before normally expected.
People familiar with the symptoms of a Mercury retrograde notice the tiny mishaps can be not just confounding but also at times costly. E.g. One decides to switch cellular service during a Mercury retrograde and finds the new service extremely lacking, but now they’re committed to a 2-year contract. Or someone buys a car or computerized appliance during a retrograde then later on it proves to be costly for ongoing problems and repairs.
Do these kinds of things occur when Mercury is not retrograde? Of course they do, and in the same way that bald tires are not the only cause of all car accidents, Mercury retrograde is not the sole cause of delays, confusion and electronic breakdowns. However, just as the roads are more slippery when wet or icy and driving on bald tires is foolish, problems involving communication, travel or electronics are more likely to occur when Mercury is retrograde and one should not be foolhardy during this cycle.
How should one handle a Mercury retrograde?
Ignore it if you think all this is just silly, but take note of how often petty problems occur during these times and you may find yourself acknowledging that something is going on even if science or common sense can’t explain it. The best way to handle Mercury retrograde is to approach it as one would an occasional, necessary auto warranty tune-up. As we know it’s better to choose to get your oil and filters changed instead of waiting until the engine seizes. Mercury retrograde time is a great time for a 3-point inspection just like your vehicle. Although problems occur the reason is to point out the areas of life to which you should be paying more attention.
Astrologers explain it this way: the more positive spin is that during the Mercury retrograde we may find ourselves forced to incur a minor breakdown or loss which has us retrace our steps about something and have to do it over again; likely, because it wasn’t right in the first place. Yet the opportunity to redo it may bring a more positive result or “clear the air”, improve relationships, the living space or work environment. Problems that occur during Mercury retrograde are often symptomatic of larger problems that now have an opportunity to be explored and fixed. Working with the retrograde by following best practices during a cycle can pay off later so it is not all doom and gloom.
In the course of a year or even a few months we all accumulate a lot of stuff, we lose track of things, we leave important communications buried (lost or misplaced?), we leave aside what we do not notice or we deem as less important. Then it all catches up with us during a Mercury retrograde demanding our attention, just like tax season appears to catch us unaware although it occurs at the same time every year. It’s a chore to dig up all the info needed to file taxes yet many people will receive a tax refund and get to buy some luxury item, add to investments, or take a trip. A later positive result is sometimes the reward for enduring the Mercury retrograde when it’s positively aspected natally or by transit.
What are the best practices during a Mercury retrograde?
- Clean out a closet, drawer, storage room, locker, garage, basement or attic. A purpose of the retrograde seems for helping one be more organized, or get caught up. Clear any clutter and donate items not needed any longer. You may discover a forgotten treasure.
- Dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s”. Then edit all communications twice more. The devil is in the details and that little devil Mercury retrograde can indicate a hell of problems if a communique has spelling/grammatical mistakes or is sent to the wrong person. In the old days before autosave for word processing programs many an author or student screamed in frustration as the computer suddenly shut off with a power failure causing hours of work to be lost. Click “save” more often while working during this time and take extra care that you’re understood by others.
- Get caught up on all communications and accounting. Get that work or school report done, pull your tax or budget info together, plan on starting new activities, and double-check all of these transactions before completion. Do the work but try not to turn in any new project until after the retrograde. Back up all electronic devices before the retrograde.
- Add extra time while travelling, ensure all documentation is in order and stored/carried in a safe place, and don’t expect usual timetables to run smoothly. Follow a set itinerary and have a backup plan to get to important meetings. Ensure vehicles receive proper maintenance and carry appropriate extra needs for seasonal weather conditions.
- Enter negotiations for anything but avoid any “final” agreements; browse windows or price shop but avoid buying; and decide if something needs repair or replacement but choose to delay final arrangements and payments for after the retrograde if possible. Mercury governs financial transactions and many of these get weird during a retrograde.
What not to do during a Mercury retrograde
- Although sales and purchases can be negotiated during this time, try not to sign off on the final sale until after the retrograde or you may find hidden or later troubles. Beware of fraudulent or lost funds or transactions now. Don’t lose sight of your finances, wallets, purses, credit cards and other valuables which are more often misplaced or stolen now.
- Do not sign contracts or new applications at this time if possible. Negotiate, provide and obtain info, fill out forms, but avoid a final signature or agreement until after the retrograde.
- Don’t be drawn into petty disagreements. Many people are on edge during a Mercury retrograde and what is normally a small comment or criticism at other times can be blown all out of proportion. Agree to disagree until after the retrograde when further discussion or fence-mending may bring a better resolution to conflicts.
- Don’t buy electronic devices if at all possible during this time. Some items can be repaired successfully and all works out fine. Others will find even a repair doesn’t fix the problem, and in that case, wait till after the retrograde to purchase a replacement if possible. It may help avoid a lot of future hassles. When one rushes to replace something, a lesser product is often purchased.
- Do not be careless while travelling — make plans but don’t book vacations during a Mercury retrograde, and drive more defensively at this time. Road rage is more common as are misjudgments such as impaired or reckless driving, ignoring warning signs or road weather conditions, driving while sleepy or ill, etc. Watch your own driving and keep more distance between you and others to give added reaction time. Delays and accidents are more common during a retrograde so add more travel time to daily commutes.
2021 Mercury Retrograde Dates
2022 Mercury Retrograde Dates
If Mercury retrograde occurs in your zodiac sign or the sign opposite, take extra care to avoid the “what not to do” possibilities given above.