Most people, even those not interested in the study of astrology, have some awareness of Mercury retrograde. Awareness does not equal understanding, however. Indeed, Mercury retrograde is generally misunderstood only as a time when things go wrong, when we shouldn’t travel, when we should decide anything or when our computer or car breaks down. It has become a scapegoat, something to blame when things don’t go right. Of course, in reality this is an overly simplistic and therefore incomplete understanding. Mercury retrograde is best viewed as part of a broader Mercury cycle. There are eight stages to that cycle and each one of them (including the time Mercury is retrograde) represents an important stage in the development of ideas and other Mercury-related matters in our lives. We’ll look at each of the eight stages in upcoming articles, but initially, let’s take a closer look at Mercury itself.
Even though Mercury rules two modern astrological signs, and therefore is the chart ruler of about one-sixth of the planet’s population, it is easy for astrologers (and those interested in astrology) to overlook the significance of Mercury in a person’s chart. Perhaps it’s because Mercury is in the shadow of the Sun, literally and figuratively. Because Mercury and the Sun are never very far apart from each other, they are often located in the same sign, and Mercury may suffer from a lack of attention for that reason. In the sky, Mercury is the hardest inner planet to see with the naked eye, as it’s often so close to the Sun that it can only be seen either right before sunrise or after sunset, depending on where it is in its cycle. Or perhaps rather it is because astrologers are often more intrigued by the effects of what they consider the deeper, more intense, more transformative, and more emotionally and spiritually-charged outer planets. In contrast, Mercury is often regarded as shallow, simple, and straightforward.
But Mercury should neither be overlooked nor taken lightly. Few things are more fundamental in a person’s life than the areas Mercury influences – how they think and communicate. It is as basic to our existence as breathing, which it of course also rules. Mercury provides the language needed to define our perceptions, so that we can understand ourselves and our world. Mercury can transform us through self-knowledge and understanding, and where it is placed in our chart tells us about our ability to make sense of our perceptions, to make sense of our world, and to communicate that both to ourselves and to others. In short, Mercury rules understanding on all levels, and to understand how Mercury influences us can unlock our ability to understand not just the other planets in our charts, but everything else.
In mythology, Mercury (Hermes) was a “messenger god,” and he is often portrayed communicating the proclamations and orders of Zeus, his father. It is he, for example, who is credited with giving the ultimatum of Zeus to Prometheus. Hermes mediated between worlds, bridging easily the world of the gods, the world of mortals, and the underworld. In our modern lives, we can also look at Mercury as a bridge. How an idea comes into our consciousness is a mysterious and amazing process, and Mercury is the bridge along which ideas, or the seeds of ideas, travel from the unconscious to the conscious mind. We commonly think of “having” ideas, but we don’t often delve into the origin of those ideas, how they came about. For example, think for a moment about how you decided to get married, or not, change careers, move to a new city or state, and you will realize that the idea was connected to an internal process, and not entirely a conscious one, at least not initially.
Moreover, this fundamental influence regarding the manner in which we think and communicate is unique to us. By way of example, imagine a group of people at a wedding. Now imagine what some of the individuals are thinking about as they wait for the ceremony to begin. One person is admiring the flowers, and likes how they are arranged. One person is thinking about their failed marriage. One person is eyeing the crowd for someone to flirt with later. One person is thinking about the things they need to do at work. One person is just listening to the humming in their head. One person is whispering loudly to someone across the aisle, unaware that everyone in the room can hear her. And so on. This example, although a bit superficial, highlights that people experiencing the same event can perceive it, or react to it, very differently. This is due to Mercury, as it rules our perceptions. By becoming aware of how Mercury acts in us, we can begin the process of awareness in all other aspects of our lives. Mercury is easy to watch in action for it is a quick moving planet with a reliable eight-stage cycle over each 4-month period in relation to the Sun. Look for more discussion of Mercury in action over the coming weeks as we watch Mercury through its upcoming retrograde cycle in Virgo/Libra.