Mercury is the smallest planet of our solar system since Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet. Its location closest to the sun places it no more than 28 degrees of arc away from the sun in astrology. This means that in a horoscope, Mercury can only be in the same zodiac sign as the sun, or the sign on either side of the sun sign. (If you have Sun in Libra, then in your horoscope Mercury could only be in Virgo, Libra or Scorpio, e.g.) The planet is named after the ancient Roman messenger of the gods Mercury (aka Mercurius) and shares a similar mythology with his ancient Greek counterpart Hermes.
Mercury was known as the god of travel, financial wealth, trade and commerce, oration, communication and message delivery, (including forms of divination), boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves. He also guided souls to the underworld. His name may be derived from the Latin words merx meaning “merchandise” or mercari meaning “to trade”. Mercury is associated with the metal Mercury and has the distinction of being the only metal for which the alchemical planetary name became the common name.
Hermes, the ancient Greek version of Mercury, was considered a psychopomp, or a “shepherd of souls” to the afterlife as he could most easily travel between the mortal world, the divine world of the gods, and the underworld or hidden realms. He was worshipped as a protector of human travellers, heralds, merchants, speakers and thieves and usually depicted as a young man. His name is thought to be derived from the Greek word herma meaning “a pile of stones or boundary marker”.
As both Hermes and Mercury he was known as the “trickster of the gods” and was often depicted with winged sandals or a winged hat to represent his great speed. DC Comics’ earliest and more recent depictions of the Flash superhero used both the winged shoes and a winged version of a hat called petasos, a wide-brimmed head covering worn by farmers to shield from the sun.
Hermes and Mercury were both also portrayed holding a caduceus, an ancient symbol of two snakes entwined around a sceptre and used as a symbol for medicine and commerce at different times in history. At various times in ancient cultures the trickster god was envisioned with winged ears, hats, ankles, feet or sandals and shoes. Mercury was a very popular god in Roman life and appeared in many myths and legends. He also was merged or synchronized with many gods of the native lands conquered by Rome in France (Gaul), Germany and several others
Hermes/Mercury was a god of male fertility and was often depicted with an erect phallus. Icons of Mercury or phalluses were often hung around the archways of ancient Roman homes to attract fertility for the male head of the household. Because Mercury was the god of boundaries, road markers were placed along Roman roads called herma. These were usually carved heads of Hermes/Mercury on a rectangular stone pillar but with genitals also carved at the appropriate proportional height to the head. Sometimes just an erect phallus was used as a road marker.
Mercury’s primary role in mythology was as an intermediary between the gods and mortals which he performed in a variety of ways. He delivered goods and messages and was held in high regard as a benefactor to merchants and trade in general. He was thought to look after travellers and escort dead souls to the underworld; some believed he was a deliverer of dreams also. He was widely known as a trickster who pulled pranks, and admired for his cunning and intelligence, but also known for being deceitful.
Mercury is the planet of how we think and form ideas. It is what we learn and how we develop through experiencing the universe in communication within ourselves and with others. It is also what we do in the sense that our mind directs our physical body, most directly through the hands. The hands allow the mind to be most tactile with physical life, and they do much of the bidding of the mind.
What is intelligence? Generally it is the ability to be self-aware and cognizant, able to solve problems and learn, plan and create, share ideas and thoughts and apply our learned skills. There are many ways we all accomplish this. Our thoughts create ideas, ideas create planning, activity creates form and this is how we all create life, by first thinking it up.
Mercury’s relationship to intelligence in all its forms is historic and includes emotional intelligence as well as intellectual. Intelligence has also come to mean a form of secret communication. Mercury’s trick on us perhaps? Mercury’s long association with quickness includes a quicksilver mind followed by rapid activity usually to deliver messages. Mercury rules the brain in the body as well as the senses and the voluntary nervous system. These all help us develop our intelligence and how we respond to others and life in general. Sometimes intelligence is replaced by stupidity; also the domain of Mercury especially when afflicted by some planets.
Life is not just what happens to us. It is also how we respond to the life experience. Mercury is a medium in a way between people as it is through our intellectual interactions that humanity has exchanged ideas and customs and grown. How we see and interpret the world is how we will think to respond to it. Mercury is our conscious mind at work, not ego (the Sun) not emotion (the Moon) but strictly our thinking mind, our intellectual response.
Mercury governs the voluntary nervous system which responds to outside stimulus and so our worldview is also shaped by actions in response to what we experience. Many of these become repetitive over time and illustrates how well we all naturally respond to common shared experience with one another. We find a common ground and communities are formed. Therefore Mercury is so much more than just mere intelligence, it is an initiating force or energy of original ideas and thought. Our primary communications out to the world and from it.
In general Mercury is a neutral form of energy as a planet although his form was male which is usually associated with being a masculine active force . He was a god of male fertility so the image of Mercury being neutral is again his trickery and sense of humour. He is all forms of sexuality and gender fluid when it comes to sex but Mercury prefers many more different forms of intercourse.
There are so many forms of communication today but Mercury is involved with all of them. He’s the original god of communication and in astrology he represents all forms of it. The planetary ruler of the brain, nervous system and through Gemini the arms and hands Mercury can be seen every day in how we communicate. With devices.
In early cultures sign language may have been as common as making sounds and today much of our interpersonal communications are expressed through our hands and posture or stance. Generally Mercury is thought to be the ruler of spoken and written communications as that is how we most often communicate with one another. He governs all communications and the way our smartphones and tablets allow us to stay in touch in full colour live video would probably thrill Mercury if he existed. The lightning speed at which we communicate in the digital age today is mind-boggling.
Communication is not without problems. Miscommunications are always Mercury’s domain too as are lies, tricks, outright thievery and misrepresentation. Mercury is a trickster indeed.
In general, we are all challenged to grow into becoming the very best version of our self as possible and to use communication to learn and grow. It is intended for us to share positive thoughts, values and interests along the journey with the rest of humanity for a greater good. That would be the highest expression of every Mercury placement in each person’s horoscope.
The lowest expression of Mercury is communicating negativity in any form; dishonesty, deceit, anger, hatred, prejudice, manipulation, narcissism, fascism, etc. We express the best parts of ourselves when communicating good thoughts and feelings with others which helps build relationship and community.
We are conscious beings that need to experience life with all our senses, and to communicate shared experience to lift ourselves and others up positively. Words are very powerful; they can uplift or they can destroy ourselves and others. We need to become more aware of the unconscious and conscious manner in which we communicate for the best success.
Wherever Mercury is in the horoscope may show what the person most likes to talk about. Aspects, sign and house placement all contribute to interests and how well communication is achieved. Mercury governs all languages and in that represents both the individual expression and the collective expression of language that brings humanity together. We need to correct any communication that hurts another and speak up or remain silent as appropriate.
Trade & Commerce
As a medium Mercury brings together many people and situations. The delivering of messages is a form of transaction and it makes sense that financial transaction would also be a part of Mercury’s symbology. Mercury connects people and business which is the everyday glue of our society. Business transactions sustain our livelihoods and includes the buying and selling of goods.
Mercury is associated with merchants, store keepers and commerce in general. The exchange of goods is as much a part of this planet as is the exchange of ideas. With Mercury the focus is on the transaction, the exchange and the basics of bartering, buying and selling. Mercury is also the marketing that creates and packages the brand but business and commerce aren’t always honest undertakings.
Business trade and commerce in general is ruled by Mercury and particularly where travel is concerned; the delivery of people and goods is a huge moneymaker for some companies. Mercury is greatly involved with education, another form of transaction, and education is both public and private commercial enterprise in most countries.
Arts and entertainment are also commercial enterprises and although ruled by Venus, Mercury is going to be involved with teaching, learning, speaking, writing, recording, entertaining, and any other media arts and the businesses associated with them.
The hands are the tools of the brain and through our ideas, education and activities we use our hands to develop many skills. Mercury in astrology often indicates what we like to use our hands to do or how we may use our hands and skills for hobbies and work. These skills will be indicated by house, sign and aspect relationships within the horoscope.
Mercury’s position can indicate our level of manual dexterity, our intelligence and level of education, our ability to communicate and learn, and other ideas or practices that contribute to skills development. Nearly anything that would involve the hands involves Mercury.
Mercury is often associated with skilled trades and the tools of the trade and when involved with Mars or a couple other planets machinery. Many people with Mercury prominent in their horoscope will work with tools, implements and simple small appliances and power tools to work or for avocations. Those who work specifically with their hands and tools are often highly regarded.
Mercury is so wide-reaching in its influence that just as everybody uses some form of communication to interact, nearly all of us also use tools or devices daily. It should be noted that the use of tools and manual dexterity by other animals in nature is considered to indicate high intelligence or reasoning ability. Also, while using tools and devices we must focus on the task at hand which takes our minds off personal troubles or other annoyances in life. Working with our hands is healthy for humans!
Fleet-footed Mercury was always on the move in mythological stories. As the god of travellers, roads, boundaries and the courier of goods and messages between humans and the immortal worlds Mercury didn’t sit still that often. We all can travel by foot, but most of us today travel in vehicles. Any implement, vehicle or form of travel is ruled by Mercury including planes, trains and automobiles, bicycles, skates, skis, horses, camels, etc. If it can move and we can sit on it or in it then humans will use it as a form of conveyance and it is ruled by Mercury in that case.
Travel by water may be indicated by water signs or Neptune, travel by air by air signs and Jupiter or Uranus, land travel by earth signs and fire signs are often involved where combustion engines are used. Short trips are indicated by the 3rd house which Mercury also rules; long trips are indicated by the 9th house but all travel is connected to Mercury generally.
A retrograde Mercury often indicates delays or problems dealing with travel but also afflictions to Mercury and the 3rd house by planets such as Mars, Uranus and Saturn can indicate accidents or injuries while travelling. Mercury in air and fire signs love to travel fast as a rule; Mercury in earth and water signs move a fair bit slower as a rule.
Jupiter aspecting Mercury increases the speed and the amount of travel; aspects to Saturn slow down Mercury and may limit travel whether in a natal horoscope or by transit or progression.
Mercury represents our brothers and sisters, our neighbours and our peers (3rd house is also the environment of our peers, early schooling and the neighbourhood in general). Information about siblings can often be obtained by sign, house and aspect relationships in a person’s horoscope. Our siblings and early school peers are some of the first people we interact with or are exposed to and these interactions help form our communication abilities.
Physiologically Mercury rules the brain the senses, and the voluntary nervous system. Through its rulership of Gemini, the lungs, shoulders, arms and hands may also be areas of the body influenced by Mercury. Afflictions to Mercury can indicate respiratory problems, injuries to the arms, hands or shoulders, mental health issues, cerebral and neurological disorders, and problems with the nervous system.
As the trickster of the zodiac Mercury governs all practical jokes and card games, especially intellectual games and games of chance and it is often prominent in sporting activities and athletics that use the hands. Mercury also is associated with forms of divination and mantic arts such as tarot cards, numerology, palmistry (chiromancy), dream symbols and interpretation, and astrology.
Mercury rules the 3rd house of early schooling and education, short trips and travel, our neighbourhood and local area, peers, siblings and lower communications such as newspapers, communication devices, emails and instant messaging. It is the ruler of Gemini and Virgo, the 3rd and 6th signs of the zodiac.
Mercury is a symbol of your communication abilities and often it is Mercury that we first experience in other people by how they communicate with us, sometimes before meeting in person (online or by phone, letter, email). It is our ability to collect our thoughts and ideas, to analyze information, and then reuse or redevelop the information as needed. It is what we say about ourselves, others, places and things.
Mercury appears to move backwards a few times a year during a period called Mercury Retrograde. Read more about that here.