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Rules of Mercury Retrograde

What Mercury Retrograde looks like, including its shadows.
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The Three Phases of the Mercury Retrograde

Pre-shadow Retrograde Direct/Post-shadow

Mercury Retrograde is like a chess game. The opposition is planning an attack, then launches an attack, and can win the game unless you have a fallback position. The important thing to remember is that you can't turn to an offensive strategy when only defense will help you survive the attack. The opportunities for offense are on the side of the opponent, you have no choice but to hold the line and wait until your turn comes. This is the wisest course of action in the game, and your only option, so embrace this time of retreat. In chess, as in life, an organized retreat can be just as strong as an offense if you don't panic and accept some losses of territory and non-essential pieces with aplomb. The pendulum will swing back and you'll have your turn to push ahead when the opponent's attack has gained all the ground that you allow it.

Pre-Shadow

Surprise!

The Pre-Shadow can catch us unawares. Many astrologers see it as the most dangerous phase. We may feel like we haven't a care in the world, and suddenly, BAM! we are knocked to the ground. It's as if some essential plug has been pulled on our expectations, and our lives are under pressures we didn't expect to have to face. The dropoff can be severe, sudden and shocking. Many people will have to face the end of illusion, however painful it may be. The surprise is the most dangerous characteristic of the pre-shadow.

In short, here are the strategies to employ in the pre-shadow:

* Watch your back. Are you vulnerable to attack, or some kind of emotional shock? Try to look behind you to see if you have let things build up.

* Don't spend money. Try to conserve your funds--you may need them later in the retrograde. Right now, every manner of huckster and sales pitch is waiting to ensnare you. Don't go for it.

* Take care of your own business. Try to simplify things and stick to what you need. For the next two months, you'll be dealing with drained resources and general wear and tear. Watch your health and build up your immune system.


Retrograde

You knew that was going to happen

Retrograde Mercury is where angels fear to tread. Anything you do is subject to review. You're probably not thinking this thing through! Even though there may not be any evidence of disaster the most reasonable thing to do is stop and think twice about doing something you haven't planned all the way through.

By the time Mercury actually goes retrograde, it may be already too late to avoid blunders. The pressure from previous crises in our personal lives and relationships, anxiety about outside events, financial shocks and cutbacks, will tend to tempt us into a form of false optimism, and we'll be hoping that things will go back to "normal".

By this stage people are desperate for a quick fix, a miracle, or willing to throw good money after bad.

* Don't enter into any new contracts, engagements, or binding situation. Don't sign anything. Don't start a new job (unless it's temporary) Everything can wait until Mercury comes out of its shadow.

* There's no safe way to move forward. You'll have to restore and rebuild yourself, if you're lucky enough to still have this option. Into each life some rain must fall, so don't thrash around looking for an instant reprieve. Find shelter.

* Repair personal relations. Square things with family and friends. Keep the channels of communication open. We all need each other, so reach out to others.

* Forgive yourself. This is low tide, you're just exposed, but the tide well turn. Don't isolate yourself.

* Help and share. Embrace those in worse shape than you.

In the larger social realm, a lot of people will be stretched to the breaking point, tensions will be high and retrograde always claims its victims; those who pushed forward against the grain. As the receding waters expose the underlying wreckage of our lives and communities, the beginnings of a new consciousness will emerge.

It's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and feel isolated and alienated. Morality and compassion are difficult to find and seem to be outdated, quaint notions. However, trying to clean yourself up from unhealthy entanglements is the best way to weather the retrograde storm.


Direct/Post-shadow

It's not over till you cross the finish line

The time it takes Mercury to get back to speed and back at its original starting position is called the Post-Shadow, and this period can be as shaky as the retrograde period itself. Even worse if we've let our guard down. Even though Mercury goes direct, it is still a phase of its retrograde motion, until it returns to its starting point, where it was at the beginning of the pre-shadow.

Rather than plunge ahead at this point, see if you can stall an important decision. Spend the Post Shadow period looking into the details, considering what you have done, and take smaller, cautious steps forward. There will likely still be problems unless you have thought of everything. Keep your eyes and ears open; things can knock you out just as you are crossing the finish line. It's a good time to study your failures and learn from your enemies. Look for what can still break down; it could still happen now. Don’t go looking for the grand slam or a big breakthrough, be satisfied with fixing what has been broken or spoiled; be humble. Nothing is perfect, but improvements are possible.

* Don't subject yourself to tyranny. A lot of people will have to make hard choices, and for short term survival, may fall into the hands of tyrants and cheaters. If it looks too good to be true, it is. Don't jump out of the pan into the fire. Accept the lesser evils, at least in the short run, but do not get trapped by evil. Hold on to your basic principles but do not act on them until you are in a stronger position.

* Don't forget the forest for the trees. Don't loose sight of the bigger picture, even though you'll be centered on your own emotional struggle. No one is an island, and stay focused on events which though out of your control, directly effect you.

The Post Shadow warns us to stay cautious, don't take the bait even though it seems like you MUST make a decision. Rushing into things now would be like the Zen parable of the young fox jumping over the stream--he gets his tail wet and is humiliated. The rules of the direct/post-shadow are: if you aren't all in, or are not willing and able to confront whatever problems you encounter down the line--then don't sign up to something you might regret later. It's always more complicated than you imagine during the direct/post shadow. You're not home free--yet.

This is a time for reflection, regeneration and regrouping. Your ego may have already taken a beating, let it heal and don't lead with your chin again for a while! Learn from previous broken dreams and schemes.


Out of Shadow: It's Over!


Why worry about Mercury Retrograde?

The Mercury Conundrum

Sometimes you just have to take it slow

Of all the concepts in astrology, retrograde has got to be the most intellectually shaky. Really, how could an optical illusion, mostly unseen by most of the world's population, lead to any personal or societal consequences? Even accepting our ancestors' abject fear of retrograde, how could that filter down to us in modern times, when we spend way more time staring at our phones than the skies?

The only possible explanation to the validity and history of retrograde is that the planets themselves, while pushing forward in inexorable orbit, project a predictable impulse into our Solar system that changes according to their relative motion to us.

It's as if Mercury, for example, casts its curious eye directly on humankind for a brief interlude, peering at us through our own mind-set like gods, their only purpose of which is to manipulate our confidence in ourselves. Retrograde is the Universe's way of saying that we are all connected, flesh and blood to Earth, and Earth to the planets and stars. We shouldn't think our needs are the only motivating forces of our lives. It may be that we'll find retrograde is even more accessible to us than our signs, aspects or other transits. The view of the Universe twisted by retrograde signals to us how we are bound to the laws of physics and nature. When we move ahead of the pack, we are pulled back into sync with it by an optical illusion--but it's our optics that need correction. Retrograde is our opportunity to make that correction and regain balance, or to fall off our wire.

So what can you say about Mercury retrograde? Watch out? Slow down? Stand in place? Be humble? Don’t take anything for granted? Check your oil? Take your vitamins? It's more than a cautionary advice; it's a chance to look back and see the problem. As Tchiya Amet reminds us, "Rx" is not only the astrological symbol of retrograde, but also, not coincidentally, the modern symbol of medicine and healing.

Any retrograde occurrence gives us a chance to acknowledge exactly how connected we are to the ambient forces of the Universe. It's a pause, a breather, a warning, a break in the action. We are supposed to take stock of the situation and wait until a better moment to proceed, and correct what is wrong. If our lives are like walking a tightrope, then stopping and regaining our composure in this retrograde is a better strategy than pushing forward when we are off balance.

Retrograde planets are not unusual. The outer, gas giant planets go retrograde once every year, as does the Pluto conundrum of two dwarf planets and their moons. Mercury has retrograde periods three and sometimes four times a year. Venus and Mars go retrograde less often, Venus once every 19 months, and Mars, every two years.

Table credit: Gregory Rozek

The idea that a Mercurial illusion can drop the bomb on our day-to-day activities is controversial. It's always hard to assign a cause to our troubles, and this seems like a longshot. However, something as old, revered and feared is still part of our human consciousness and can't be ignored.

Of course, Mercury doesn't really move backward; it just appears that way from Earth. This occurs two or three times a year, according to the differences in the orbital speed of the planets. This optical trick fooled our ancestors for eons, until the first astrologers, who would become our astronomers, figured out that our own eyes could lie to us! The meaning of this anomaly has been debated for thousands of years of astrological lore and human observation.

Mercury Retrograde isn't really a thing. Nothing is really happening in the real world, the planets go about their business as usual. This is strictly an earth-bound mind-fuck. The Mercury Retrograde problem is literally only going on in our own heads.

Then why is such a non-event so difficult to get through? Only us humans are accountable to these mental hiccups, it seems. The retrograde dance of Mercury is a trick where the eye deceives the brain. Mercury is advancing normally, systematically, but what we view in the sky is Mercury slowing to a crawl, stopping, moving backward, and stopping again to restart a forward motion. Ancient humans were by turns terrified and confused by this, and passed the feelings down through the generations.

The sense of confusion seems to still exist in spite of the fact we know that it's because Earth's orbit is moving us faster than Mercury, at least for a few weeks, 3 or 4 times a year. It's as simple as the famous example of two trains side by side going at different speeds, causing the slower one to appear to move backwards.

The apparent motion of Mercury disoriented our ancestors. We still retain that sting of vulnerability. The visceral reaction to Mercury retrograde carries over to modern generations the same way any long-held belief does, as a collectively held suspicion, some might say superstition, around unexplained phenomena.

The Mercury Retrograde experience teaches us caution and fear of the unknown. When we have blind faith in success, the less prepared we are for any delays or other obstacles which could prevent it.

The long-held notion that Mercury is already the ruler of tricks and quick transactions makes its retrograde a time when we would notice our weaknesses to overconfidence the most. Such as when we try something that we haven't fully vetted, trust in someone we don't really know, or fall for a slick sales pitch or Ponzi scheme. Mercury retrograde isn't as much about Mercury as it is about us and out assumptions. The skies are merely a backdrop for all the drama we cause for ourselves on our Earthy stage.


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