Any retrograde is a slowing of the planetary motion relative to its average speed. Thus the retrograde process does not begin at the stationary points, but instead may be likened to a gradual in-breathing and out-breathing. The motion gradually decreases in speed to a point of maximum slowness, then gradually increases in speed again over time. The stationary points are where its speed is approximately equal to the Earth's, and show threshold points of significance. These points are pauses in the action, so to speak, frozen moments of seeing a forward vision (at the point of stationary retrograde), or taking one last look at a rapidly receding past (at the point of stationary direct).
The process is slow, and slowing, during the entry into the first part of the retrograde process. This is where one learns to adapt to new rhythms, and explores different ways of learning. The vision of what is yet to be has been seen in the span just before the stationary retrograde point. From that threshold, a revision of what has been seen or understood is experienced as Mercury continues to slow, and the Sun begins to catch up to Mercury's position. During the entire retrograde period, a different point of view and a new comprehension proceeds to unfold. The point at which Mercury's speed is slowest is actually the maximum retrogradation. From there, it begins to increase in speed until it approximately equals the Earth's motion, which is the point we call stationary direct. Then, after the stationary direct point, a third and final crossing of the retrograde span of experience is traversed. This is where we understand and synthesize what was observed, evaluated, re-thought, and revised.
A long-time astrological student has Mercury retrograde, and observed that the three phases work as follows: the first phase, up to the inferior conjunction, is the end of the old Mercury retrograde cycle. Things get really crazy and chaotic. It is an extreme phase where one is thrown off balance, precipitating a review of some sort. One cannot go forward with plans, and the current momentum of activity stops.
The second phase begins with the inferior conjunction, and lasts until Mercury begins to again pick up speed. This is the beginning of the new Mercury cycle, and one may notice that intuitive impulses and seed ideas start to come into view. One gets a vague sense of what is to come, but no clear picture as yet. By the end of this second phase, things begin to clear, becoming more concrete as one enters the third phase.
The third phase begins while Mercury is still retrograde, but is beginning to pick up speed, and lasts until it turns stationary direct. This is a time for planning and organizing. New activities, new projects, new ways of life are embraced and implemented. This is the time to follow through on what is already accomplished as idea. Here Mercury is speeding up rapidly, giving momentum to the new directions and ideas glimpsed during the second phase, or the projects put on hold during the first phase.
Things are seldom as they seem when presented within a Mercury retrograde context, whether it is a Mercury retrograde period or a Mercury retrograde person. It is a time when unconscious or subconscious motivations (individual or collective) affect what is seen, done, or communicated, or how it is understood. It is an influence of collective ideas from the past that reemerge in newer, regenerated forms. It is a mental-perceptual process preparing for a synthesized approach after information gathering, assimilating the new contents, and reconsidering the approach, the vision, the idea, or the perception.
During Mercury retrograde periods, the aroused images of the unconscious, collectively influenced and expressing some learned concept or perception, come to the fore. It often appears, in hindsight, as "much ado about nothing"; because the old image may not be relevant within a contemporary context. Here the idea, concept, or perception may best be seen as a symbol to be revived in some form relevant to the individual or society at a later date, after life conditions (symbolized by the Sun) have caught up to and surpassed the present uncertainty of perception (Mercury retrograde). After the inferior conjunction, this is presumed to have already happened.
Mercury retrograde periods are times when alternative approaches present themselves from the collective mind. These ideas may have their source in the past, or in the future-in-the-becoming. If space and time distinctions exist only in the minds and perceptual mechanisms of three-dimensional lifeforms, then Mercury retrograde may indicate when we are most open to ideas from the distant past -- or the distant future. Perhaps we are then more open to different understandings, interpretations, and applications of seed ideas originating in the universal mind.
These periods indicate when unconscious factors of being are aroused, when symbols are made alive to be understood by the conscious, linear, rational mind. The unconscious parts of being can, at this time, be repolarized relative to the conscious ego with its ideas of form and structure. This may even extend to the realm of Spirit, allowing a re-thinking of ideals of service and what constitutes spiritual truth.
A Mercury retrograde period is a time when we may review our understanding and approach to health, given Mercury's rulership of Virgo. Here I refer to health on all levels, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Any new information we receive regarding health is to be welcomed as an opportunity to grow beyond limitations and habits in thinking, feeling, and acting. A Mercury retrograde period is great for reconsidering static values and methods as a preparation for acting in new ways.
These are spans of time when the racing mind slows down, allowing the heart-knowing, the direct experience of a thing, person, or activity, to present itself freed from past perceptions and fast judgments. Then our body-wisdom, or our instincts, can supersede the "knowing" of the mind, with its evaluations and constructs and judgments based on comparing, analyzing, and compartmentalizing. It is a time when these compartments of the mind become blurred, and anything can be experienced apart from previous judgments and evaluations. Thus, it could be said that Mercury retrograde temporarily "alienates" you from old opinions, old judgments, old functions, and automatic behaviors from your past that are curiously out of step with the present situation.
Mercury retrograde periods are times when past "karmic" opportunities can be exteriorized in new forms to be concretized after an information gathering period. It represents a second chance to see things, experiences, and people in a different light from the first encounter, and to understand the value of slowing down in certain areas of life, or to see why a situation was originally delayed.
A New Look at Mercury Retrograde
by Robert Wilkinson. ©1997.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Red Wheel/Weiser, www.weiserbooks.com.
About the Author
Robert Wilkinson is a practicing professional astrologer with more than 25 years experience as a counselor, lecturer, author, and cultural philosopher. He has an active national and international practice, and is in demand as a speaker across North America. Robert invites you to send in your most unusual, outrageous, or improbable Mercury retrograde experience. If enough people respond, he thinks an interesting book could be assembled from the anecdotes. Write to him at Box 24A09, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1009.