The Truth about Going Retrograde with Mercury
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September is a bit of a wild month, astrologically speaking. There is a solar eclipse with the new moon on September 1st and a lunar eclipse with the full moon on September 16th. In addition, as of August 30th, Mercury is retrograde—again.
At this point, you may have been warned about mercury retrograde: don’t sign any papers during this time, don’t start any new projects, and yes, you can definitely blame this planet for accidentally hitting “reply all” instead of “reply” on that sensitive email.
If that were all true, however, we’d never get anything done—Mercury goes retrograde for a full three weeks three or four times a year. The mythology and metaphor of Mercury retrograde, on the other hand, is much more interesting, and I think its story can give us something very helpful to think about during “eclipse season,” in astrologer Chani Nicholas’ words.
The planet Mercury is the closest planet to the sun in our solar system, and has an orbital period of about 88 days. Before it goes retrograde, the planet is a bright evening star. Then, as it continues its loop around the sun, it appears to stop moving briefly before changing directions, going apparently backwards, which is what we call retrograde. As it gets closer to the bright sun, it disappears—for weeks—only to return again as a bright morning star. What a magic trick this must have seemed to our ancestors!
Metaphorically, Mercury’s journey represents a descent into the underworld, a disappearing act to the place behind the sun. We, too, need to spend time in our own underworlds, going backwards to explore the past and all that is unresolved in our hearts. When Mercury goes retrograde, perhaps we should use it less as an excuse to show up late and rather as an excuse to slow down. Stay home and sit in meditation, practice yoga, or write a long letter to yourself. Consider where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you want to go next.
New moons, traditionally, are a time to slow down and consider how you feel, what your intentions are, and what you would like to grow with the light of the moon. Just like Mercury, the new moon in her cycle appears to stop in total darkness in the night sky before beginning a new cycle. The difference is that the new moon pauses for a matter of hours, and Mercury goes offline for three weeks.
There are times in our lives when we need to pause for longer than an evening, to dip down deep, to be in a season of contemplation. Considering the drama of Mercury retrograde in conjunction with the moon cycles and their eclipses this September, now may be an ideal time to do that.
We can’t always be moving forward, planning for the future, and getting things done. Sometimes we need to stop altogether so we can go retrograde. Sometimes we need to move backwards into the past and offer a ritual to honor our own grief, write down the lessons we’ve learned that we don’t want to forget, or simply have the space to feel our feelings.
Eventually, of course, Mercury stations direct, resuming its apparently forward motion. This month, that happens on September 22, right as the end of summer transitions to the beginning of fall. Mercury is reborn again in the morning just as the light inevitably comes back to the dark new moon. We will have our new beginnings, too, and they will be all the richer if we give ourselves a chance to acknowledge the past. This month, let’s take Mercury’s invitation and go retrograde.