What's Mercury Retrograde All About?

Steven Forrest

September 20, 2023

Beware! Beware! Mercury is retrograde? Sign nothing! Don't expect your check to arrive! I've found that Mercury doesn't even have to be retrograde for it to be blamed for every minor misfortune and misunderstanding that arises.

For some reason, this piece of technical astrology has entered the popular imagination. It is just as common as knowing that you are a Gemini or Taurus. To people who only know a bit about astrology, Mercury retrograde always spells trouble.

Mercury rules over communication in general, so quite fundamental to the "standard model" of Mercury retrograde is the idea that misunderstandings - that is errors of communication - abound. "Let's eat, grandma!" gets heard as "Let's eat grandma" - and you wonder why everyone is giving you a hard look. We hear about letters being lost in the mail or inexplicably delayed. Sent emails fail to arrive. Epic spellcheck fails abound.

Anything electronic seems particularly susceptible. It is best not to buy a new computer or a new cell phone at such a time, if you can possible avoid it - although it's a bit of a Catch-22 in that the reason that your old computer or cell phone just crashed can be laid at Mercury's doorstep as well.

The described effects of Mercury retrograde in all those categories are real and demonstrable - it's just that its influence is so often hyped; there is nothing reliably negative about it on a case-by-case basis.

A March 14, 2019 article in The New York Times told us that "according to figures from the Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the percentage of late flights into and out of La Guardia Airport during the past three summers rose to 24.6 during retrograde periods from 22.8 during non-retrograde periods." Those numbers really give us the bottom line - the effects of Mercury retrograde are real, but not really that alarming.

Here's what LILA thinks. What astrology really does - and what its true purpose is - is about our soul's journey more than about lost luggage, crashing digital devices, or anyone misunderstanding us and putting poor grandma on the barbecue.

  • When any planet is in retrograde motion, it is going back over places it has already been.
  • Mercury correlates with information in general, and there is a word for information which you already have: memory.
  • 1 +1 + 1 = 3; so the real purpose of Mercury retrograde periods is going back and reviewing your memories.

A nostalgic trip down memory lane? It could be just that, and no harm done. But say a woman has fought a losing battle against her tendency toward alcoholism. Meanwhile, her psychotherapist happens to ask her about any happy memories about growing up. She remembers her mother pouring both of them glasses of wine. The girl was ten years old at the time. She can now almost hear her mother saying, "Take, drink. This is my love for you." Therapist's eyes and client's eyes meet. Their unspoken Oh my God hangs in the air. Suddenly everything is as clear as a bell - even though it was not clear at all to the child who just thought that she was having a special moment with her dysfunctional mother.

That is a dramatic, life-changing story. Common sense tells us that equivalently powerful experiences probably will not happen to each one of us three times each year. At a simpler level, here are some illustrations of people using a Mercury Retrograde period in wise and conscious ways:

  • The accountant decides to act on an uneasy feeling that has been niggling at him. He goes over some work he did on the company books a few weeks ago - and discovers a misplaced decimal point.
  • The chef notices that the cream has passed its expiry date. There was a nagging sense that something was not quite right with that creme brûlée.
  • The lawyer notices that the contract is missing one signature. She's lucky - that could have undone the deal.

Mercury retrograde is all about sending our present-tense mind back into the dizzy, distorted world of memory - one that we all tend to mistake for reality until we take a second look at it.

Lost bags? Computer crashes? Garbled communication? Sure - they can all happen under Mercury retrograde. Many of those problems can be avoided with just a little patience - if you don't really have to do it right now, why not wait a week or two until Mercury straightens itself out? There is a good chance that you would be fine anyway even if you ignored Mercury retrograde, but why walk out on thin ice just because it is "probably" thick enough to support your weight?

LILA's bottom line: Mercury retrograde is something to use, not something to fear.


If the current passage of Mercury retrograde is in your . . .

First House: Go through any big decisions you've made in the past few weeks. There's a good chance that one of them was wrong.

Second House: You've either got more money than you think, or less. Check your pockets, your stack of bills, and your online accounts.

Third House: Something you said was misunderstood. Maybe you forgot the word "not" in a sentence. Maybe you used a big word with someone who only knows small ones.

Fourth House: There's a misunderstanding brewing either in your family or among your near and dear. Listen carefully to the people you love.

Fifth House: We all need some fun. Did you have a little too much of it sometime in the past few weeks? Someone's feathers are ruffled.

Sixth House: You forgot to do something at work. It's petty and boring, but it'll come back and haunt you if you don't suss out what it is.

Seventh House: Make time to sit with the people closest to you. Invite them to give you an emotional weather report. The seed of a misunderstanding has just begun to sprout. You can fit it a lot more easily now than later.

Eighth House: You mis-remember a recent little drama. Think back honestly and carefully - what really happened and what was your part in it?

Ninth House: There's nothing wrong with you that a little re-education can't fix. There is more than one way to connect the dots of life - and a way that opens doors for you is pressing at you.

Tenth House: There is something "off" about how the people you work with are thinking about you. It's as if you put on the wrong hat, but you haven't figured that out yet.

Eleventh House: You've come up with a plan in the past few weeks. It's a good one too - except for one little detail that's been flying under your radar.

Twelfth House: You'll soon be taking off in a new direction. What you need now is some quiet time so that new direction can take shape in your mind. Otherwise you "new" direction will only be your old direction with a new paint job.

Want to learn more about your own Mercury - what house it's in, what sign, and how to turn up the volume on its wisdom? Just download the LILA app.