Why is Mercury Always Fucking Retrograde?!

Wait, again? Didn’t we just have a goddamn Mercury retrograde? You remember, that week when your trackpad shorted out in the middle of a project and you couldn’t send that email in time and the whole thing fell through? And you went home and fought with your girlfriend about some miscommunication and you couldn’t express yourself properly so you made it even worse? And the whole car fell apart?

You mean this shit is happening again? Yes, but don’t panic. There’s some method to the madness, and if you know how retrograde works, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. Here’s why Mercury keeps inflicting this upon us poor helpless mortals.

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The Mechanics of Retrograde

Imagine you’re holding a string with a ball tied to the end. You hold out your arm and swing the ball around, so it makes a circle parallel to the ground. If you close one eye, you can create an optical illusion where instead of a circle, you see the ball moving back and forth in a line, in front of your hand and then behind it. Back and forth, back and forth, ticking and tocking like a metronome. This is how Mercury looks from the Earth as it goes around the sun.

When the ball is going forwards, to the left, it is traveling direct. Going backwards, to the right, is retrograde motion.

Wait a minute, you might be thinking, so that means Mercury is retrograde like half of the time? Not quite. You might notice that the ball appears to stall a moment at either end of the arc. The retrograde period is really the backwards motion between the two stalling points, or “stations”, so it’s less than half of the orbit. There are a few other factors, too. Mercury is way closer to the sun than we are, so it’s orbit takes 88 days, compared to our 365. Add to this that we are moving, too, which affects our view of Mercury’s motion, and that Mercury has a unique oval shaped orbit, and we end up with about a month of retrograde for every three months of direct motion. So you can expect a Mercury retrograde experience about one month per season.

Astrologers also describe a shadow period before and after each station. We may feel retrograde effects in these shadow periods for a couple weeks leading up to and away from retrograde proper.

Why Does Mercury Hate Us So Much?

Think of it as the time when Mercury is sleeping. The gods need a break too, you know! Mercury is a messenger god. He connects us. He governs our subway connections, our email connections, our conversational connections, our electronic connections, and anything in life that has that Mercurial zip to it. That’s why they named quicksilver after him! All of these things work well when Mercury is working for us. When he goes to sleep, they become a little unmanaged. It’s not a punishment, there’s just no one at the switchboard.

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Mercury keeping the trains connected in New York City. Transportation, 1918, by Jules-Felix Coutan

How to Deal

Like most things spiritual, a dash of awareness is more powerful than trying to change it. We can’t stop the Merc truck from backing up, but we can anticipate it and step out of the way. Plan for delays by leaving fifteen minutes earlier. Expect your laptop or your phone to have some problems, and have a backup plan. Don’t get into arguments with your lover. You probably can’t find your voice, and you’re misunderstanding what she’s saying, too. So save the heavy topics for when Mercury comes back.

When Other Planets Go Retrograde

All planets have a retrograde period. Mercury’s is the shortest and most frequent, so it gets a lot of popular attention. You can read up on the different retrograde periods, and by familiarizing yourself with the themes of the different planets, you can anticipate their effects. That way when Pluto goes retrograde (which it just did!) you can hunker down for six months of trudging through the inner-underworld and hashing things out with your dark side. Have fun with that! Buy some tissues.

A retrograde planet is not the end of the world. It’s just like the weather. If you’re fighting it, you’re in for some misery. But if you plan intelligently, you can be prepared. A little willingness to go with the flow goes a long way. So the next time Mercury is retrograde, you can take control instead of feeling the need to blame him for everything!

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