Every now and then go away, have a little rest and relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer; since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment…Go some distance away because the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and a lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen.
~Leonardo Da Vinci
Astrologically speaking, there is a particular cycle, which while not always comfortable, has the result of great benefit: the apparent backwards motion of a very mischievous planet. Many of us wouldn’t normally consider a period of Mercury Retrograde a blessing, yet in nature, there is rule: two steps forward, one step back. Without this rule, we’d all experience burn-out, fatigue, frustration and end up relinquishing our health. We must have a period of rest and reflection to maintain balance, and that is precisely what is offered during any Mercury Retrograde cycle.
Traditionally, the 3 week period of Mercury Retrograde (which is the appearance from Earth that Mercury is traveling backwards) that occurs approximately once every four months is that awful time when our cars breakdown, our computers crash, we miss our flight by seconds, our presentations flop, we’re accident prone, we can’t write or think clearly, and when we open our mouths to speak we say the wrong thing or nobody is listening. We are not meant to make any major purchases like houses, cars, boats, insurance, etc., and we are never ever to enter into any contract, (including marriage and mortgage refinances) during this time. People await Mercury’s back peddling atremble with trepidation and fear. From here, it doesn’t sound like much to be grateful for…
Certainly the above is a blatant exaggeration. I pity the poor Soul who could actually have all of these communication and transportation problems during one three week period of time. Yet, this cyclical period didn’t get its bad reputation without reason. So what is it then, really? Why does Mercury Retrograde affect communication and transportation? Why do we lose our minds temporarily? Let’s look briefly at the mythological Mercury so that we can begin to make sense of, and feel gratitude for, this recurring phenomenon.
Mythologically, Mercury (Hermes in Greek) represents several archetypes: the Trickster; the Messenger; the Guide and Companion; the Psychopompos (the deliverer of the newly dead to Hades); the Puer Eternis (the forever young and charming fool); the Thief; the Teacher; and the Magician, to name more than a few. You may well ask how one God can wear so many different hats? The answer is that of all the Gods, Mercury alone has the power to mimic and portray the attributes of all the other Gods. His cleverness allows him to be a virtual chameleon, and because of this virtue he was favored by his father, Jupiter (Zeus), and was constantly sent on missions to rescue other Divine children, or to lead inept mortals currently in favor out of trouble.
Mercury is witty, confident, competent, and utterly without conscience. He is constantly on the move, gathering information, analyzing it and either acting upon it, or stowing it away to be dealt with later. He is pure mental process, the governor of the Mind. He is easily bored and often up to mischief. Because he achieved such elevated status as messenger of the Gods, he became the patron of all communication. Because he is so clever and forward thinking his influence is over all devices of communication, even as they are being invented. Because he journeyed via many modes between Olympus and Earth, and to and from Hades so often, and because he led so many, mortal and immortal alike, on their journeys (whether on an adventure, out of a misadventure, or to lead the spirits of the dead to the underworld forever), Mercury has become the patron of travel and all modes of transportation. Hence the breakdown in communication, transportation, and travel when Mercury decides to move backwards, rather than forward!
I believe it highly unlikely that the Universe has come up with a 3-week period of time 3 times a year simply to annoy and frustrate us in our attempts to get smoothly through our lives. Undoubtedly there is a deeper meaning underlying the mishaps and miscommunications that occur during Mercury’s retrogression. Consider this. The natural order of things produces periods of wakefulness and attention, and in balance, periods of rest and simple awareness. The pattern of waking and sleeping created by the rising and setting of the Sun is the most obvious example that comes to mind. The turning of the Seasons also mirrors the need for active attention (Fall) followed by a period of restful awareness and recharging through being still and tuning inward (Winter). So it is with Mercury who represents the energy and archetype that resonates with our inherent need and desire to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and artistry out into the world around us. The period of Mercury Retrograde, then, is an opportunity for restful awareness provided by Universal Law. It’s a time to turn away from full-tilt active attention to our forward driving lives. It’s the time to rest and refresh the Spirit; to re-evaluate where we are, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re doing life. All of the planets, not only Mercury, have their own periods of retrogression. Mercury, because it is closest to the Sun and has the smallest orbit, simply retrogresses more frequently than the other planets, hence the greater common knowledge of this particular planet’s patterns and its apparent “effects” upon us.
Now knowing what we know about Mercury, his mythology, and the natural need for times of rest and inner rediscovery, the question becomes “How do we best utilize this time to our greatest benefit, and to the purpose for which it exists?” The beginning of the answer to this question comes in the form of understanding that during our typical forward motion, we don’t process much of the information waiting in our unconscious minds. Information is there steeping, awaiting a moment to enter the consciousness in order to provide the thrust toward transformation that is appropriate for the time. Mercury Retrograde periods are when we should take the opportunity to rest and restore ourselves through self-evaluation. During this rest, Mercury will surprise us by dipping down into our unconsciousness returning upward with the most timely and incredible material. We receive a gift that we would have otherwise missed without this period of re-connecting with our internal selves. If we use this time wisely, we will consciously process this gift, alchemically transforming our current paradigm for the new and more relevant one. This process is extraordinarily healing, especially if in the months prior to the current retrogression, we have been experiencing a time of personal transition.
Another incredible gift of the Mercury Retrograde period is that we can place our current projects on hold, or put them on the back burner, so that they can in their turn steep and develop into what is needed toward our best interests. We may feel, however, that we cannot let go of, re-direct, or re-schedule a project or other imminent event. There are deadlines and responsibilities, and we can’t possibly base our modern lives on some ancient form of calendaring like Astrology! However, if we do not, if we resist the natural cycle of moving from forward attention to simple resting awareness, of the two-steps-forward and one-step back nature of all things, THEN we pay the price by experiencing many of the things listed at the beginning of this article. Erin Sullivan, who wrote the preeminent volume on retrogression available today, titled Retrograde Planets, states “The essence of Mercury Retrograde cannot be controlled by the will and when we think we are smugly in control we are most likely to experience the Trickster in all his magnificent glory.” When we can accept this retrogression as the teaching and healing device that it is intended to be we can stop anticipating it with dread and anxiety. We can, instead, receive the gift graciously, recharge and realign ourselves with our true nature and purpose, and then pause to give thanks for the opportunity to do so!
We have, as many consciously understand, through socialization and the raising of technology to such godlike degrees (while leaving the beauty, wisdom, and lucidity of Nature behind) almost entirely removed the numinous and sacred out of our experience of life. We are in the throes of healing an incredible separation from the Divine in our culture. In moving more toward the natural timing of cycles and events in our lives, with respect to informing and reflecting the macrocosm that is symbolized by Astrology, we can begin to reclaim our natural state of being and evolving. We can drive forward with our mission and our intention, and then take a moment to reevaluate and redeem ourselves during the process of achieving. Give thanks then that your computer crashes, or your brakes need replacing! It means you might need to take a break, reflect, restore and enjoy this small moment to replenish your Spirit. This is the hope of Astrology, and the lesson, and true gift, of Mercury Retrograde.