WTF is Mercury Retrograde?!?!
In Which I Do A Ton of Research and Distill It Down For You
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Mercury entered retrograde early this morning.
You may have heard something about it and how people approach it with dread or apprehension.
But what does it mean? Will it affect you? How?
Let me spare you a few days worth of research and investigation.
Part 1: Science
It is well-established that the earth is round and, along with a cohort of other round planets, orbits the sun. Two of those planets, Mercury and Venus, are closer to the sun than us, so their orbit is smaller and faster.
Here on Earth, it takes us 365.3 days to make a full orbit around the sun. Speedy Mercury can do it in 88 days.
Mercury keeps a low profile—literally. It hangs out super close to the horizon, it’s not easy to spot. Early sky watchers thought it might be two different celestial bodies.
As part of its 88-day cycle, from our vantage point on earth, Mercury plays an optical illusion and appears to be going backwards. This phenomenon is known as a retrograde.
Retrograde is not specific to Mercury, but as the closest planet to the sun with the smallest orbit, it retrogrades more frequently—four times a year, so you hear about it a lot.
Part 2: More science
Humans are programmed to look for patterns.
Think of our primitive forebears scanning the horizon for predators or prey (to lunch or be lunched). Any change in the pattern of grass on the savanna could indicate danger. Or dinner. In the search for water, it’s important to look for a pattern of trees and shrubs.
Our understanding of weather came from an examination of patterns in clouds and wind. What we know about medicine comes from watching patterns within the human body.
For millennia, we humans have been looking to the mysteries of the sky to explain our presence here on earth. Ancient Mayans marked the passage of time between Mars retrogrades (a pattern which emerges once every two years). Over 5000 years ago, Mesopotamian sky watchers observed the changing patterns of the stars and codified the heavens into 12 distinct seasons, what we now know as zodiacal signs. Imagine that level of observation--with no telescopes, no photo equipment, not even a Trapper Keeper for organizing your notes.
Information didn’t move at 5G speeds back then. It took centuries for that knowledge to make its way to the Greeks, then the Romans, who took that cast of astronomical characters and fleshed them out with godly (and goddessly) attributes.
Science is, after all, the strict art of codifying patterns.
Part 3: Astrology
It was only very recently that astrology and astronomy parted ways—a few hundred years. Before that, they were inseparable. The Mesopotamians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Indians, among others, studied the stars for insight into life on earth. Ptolemy, ye olde astro-observer, was so into getting the most precise birth charts for people he spearheaded the first ever world map and lo, geography was born.
Around about the 17th century, when this new understanding of our world as heliocentric took hold, astrology, who had introduced everyone to astronomy, got voted off the island for being pseudoscience. Along the way, Christianity smack talked the heck out of astrology as SINFUL, keeping it out of popular and public discourse.
Then comes Jung and his deep thoughts. He found a correlation between personalities and sun signs. That writing resurfaced a few decades later in the cultural revolution of the 1970’s and personality horoscopes became a thing.
Science and Christianity1, two factions who generally don’t agree, united in their belief that astrology—the ability to discern information about terrestrial matters through celestial observation— is bullshit.
Except, don’t we know that tides are always higher during full moons?
Are we not literally made of stardust?
And, also, what about the concept known as “entanglement” in quantum physics, or what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance?”
It’s easy to knock astrologers as hucksters or frauds since there exists no formal acknowledgement and codification of the meaning and influence of celestial movement on terrestrial events. It’s easy to pick on that which one does not understand. That hasn’t stopped the popularity of astrology.
In 2002, the Sophia Centre came into being as the only academic entity dedicated to the study of cosmology. After all, science is only considered science when a body of information undergoes rigorous scrutiny and examination.
In the past ten years, astrology has experienced another renaissance. Modern astrologers study the stars like poetry and dive deeper into the patterns of the sky. Their gleanings go far beyond paltry newspaper daily horoscopes, but rather these insights can be catapulted into a vehicle for a more meaningful life.
Part 4: Mythology
So, who is Mercury anyway?
OG Mercury (née Hermes) is the winged Roman messenger. Fleet of foot, this son of mega-god Jupiter (Greek Zeus) and lesser-goddess Maia (Maia) was known for being a bit of a prankster. His main gig was ruling over communication, translation, commerce (merchants), business, and good fortune. On nights and weekends, he escorted souls to the underworld, dreams to the sleeping, and delivered messages from gods to other gods or mortals. He side hustled in corn and thievery.
Part 5: Where I pull it all together for you.
For millennia, Mercury, the god, has been buffeted by the winds and ebbs of cultural evolution and syncretism. For example, what started out as his signature accessory of a wand with ribbons somehow morphed into a caduceus intertwined with two snakes. That’s nothing compared with his current glow-up as the vibe of an entire planet (albeit a tiny one).
In ye olden days of yore, communication systems were not as speedy as contemporary methods. Actual messengers were necessary to carry and supply information—it could take months. Today, we carry multiple faster-than-the-speed-of-light messaging devices. While sophisticated and mostly reliable, they’re subject to glitches and failure—either in their hardware, software, or human operators. Or all three. A malfunction in any of those departments could have disastrous results.
So, picture if you will, this powerful trickster of a god/planet/vibe/entity/diety moonwalking backwards and carrying all his hectic energy with him. Picture him smiling, laughing, shaking his wand or his caduceus gleefully, impishly. He’s playing. That’s his bit. Also, he’s tiny so he has a lot to prove.
The pattern finders known as modern astrologers have observed that during periods of Mercury retrograde things can get a bit wacky—specifically: plans, communications, and anything at all involving communications, i.e. technology. Technology is kind of a big deal, encompassing everything from remote controls2 to ginormous servers. There is a lot to go haywire.
Do you need to believe this for it to be true?
No, you absolutely do not need to believe that Mercury retrograde has an impact on life here on earth. You do not need to espouse the idea that during the time that Mercury appears to be dancing backwards he might wreak some havoc here, in your tiny little life3.
But would it hurt to take a few precautions?
Triple check your math
Triple check your texts, emails, DMs, contracts, tickets
Avoid rushing into anything
Re-assess what’s working and what isn’t (in every phase of your life)
Update your systems
Prioritize calm (meditate)
Create strong/solid daily practices (ahem)
And remember, it only lasts 3 weeks.
I’ll share lots of juicy links with my paid subscribers on Thursday for your cake break. In the mean time, I’d like to leave you with this to chew on from the Sophia Centre:
The words astronomy and astrology have distinct meanings in modern English. Astronomy is the scientific study of the physical universe. Astrology is more akin to a study of the psychic universe. The split between the two, though, is a feature of the modern west. Both words are of Greek origin; astronomy means the ‘law’ of the stars, while astrology is best translated as the ‘word’, or ‘reason’, of the stars. In the classical world, their meanings overlapped. To the Greek scholar Claudius Ptolemy, writing in the 2nd century, there were two forms of astronomy, one which dealt with the movement of the stars, the other (which we would call astrology) with their effects or significance.
Um, so yeah, about that star that led people to the newborn king?
Henceforth known as “flickers.”
No disrespect, but in comparison to the movement of planets, your messed up train ticket isn’t that big of a deal.