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What Is Mercury Retrograde and Why Does It Matter?

Stone in the sand

Blame it on Mercury retrograde. If you’ve ever read, heard, or uttered this phrase for yourself, you’re not alone. Mercury retrograde — and the havoc it tends to wreak — has become a familiar concept in modern society, and believing in the mystical power of the retrograde is now as accepted as, say, reading your horoscope in the back of Us Weekly. So you accept that Mercury retrograde happens, and you’re slightly scared of the consequences… but do you know what Mercury retrograde really is? If not, no worries — most people don’t. Consider this your guide to Retrograde 101.

What Is Mercury Retrograde?

“Retrograde” isn’t actually an astrology term — it’s borrowed from astronomy. (And FYI: Astrology is the study of “divining information about human affairs and terrestrial events” by analyzing planetary movements; astronomy is the scientific understanding of the planets and stars.) Retrograde refers to the phenomenon that occurs when a planet’s orbit appears to reverse its direction — this happens with planets that are closer to the sun (Mercury, Mars, Venus) since their orbits are shorter. Mercury specifically appears retrograde about every four months, and it’s not actually reversing its orbit — but because it’s moving faster than the Earth’s orbital speed, it creates the illusion of being sedentary or slowed down.

What Happens During Mercury Retrograde?

From a strictly scientific standpoint, this illusion of reversal shouldn’t affect the Earth at all. But according to astrology, the impact is deep. “In astrology, we always believe the following rule is true: ‘As above, so too below,’” Susan Miller, a world-renowned astrologer, writes on her site. “By that we mean there is a fractal relationship between the orbits in the heavens and human activity down here on Earth.”

Since Mercury is the planet of communication (think: speaking, emailing, listening, learning, negotiating), agreements (like contracts and wills), electronics of all kinds, and travel, these areas will be most affected when Mercury goes retrograde — and not in a good way. Why? Because “Astrologically [Mercury] is in a resting or sleeping state,” according to Miller. Essentially, the planet is “sleeping” on its duties. Chaos ensues.

Where Did This Belief Come From?

These beliefs about Mercury can be traced back to ancient Roman times. The god Mercury was believed to be the ruler of all of the above areas; and when the study of astrology was born, he was associated with the planet now known as Mercury (there was believed to be a correlation between the planet’s patterns in the sky and the god’s areas of rule).

How Should You Handle Mercury Retrograde?

If you’re on the fence about whether or not you believe in the adverse effects of Mercury going retrograde, pay attention to the world around you during the next retrograde period (from March 6th – March 29th, July 8th –  August 1st, and October 31st – November 21st in 2019). Chances are, you’ll notice a bunch of little things go wrong: Your phone will stop working, your car battery might die, your flight may be delayed for hours on end. Anyone who’s ever lost an important email, signed a problematic contract, or broken down on the freeway during Mercury retrograde immediately starts believing in its powers — it’s the perfect scapegoat!

To stay safe during the retrograde, astrologers recommend the following: Don’t sign contracts during a retrograde, and don’t book travel or embark on travel. Avoid scheduling major surgery while Mercury’s reversed, and be prepared for electronic failure (keep a phone charger with you at all times, backup your files on a hard drive, double-check that you’ve saved important documents). And whatever you do, don’t launch a new project — like revealing a new website or publishing a book — at this point in the planet’s orbit. You’re just asking for issues.

On the bright side, Mercury retrograde should only last a month at the most — and after that, you’ve only got yourself to blame if you forget to charge your phone.

Photo Credit: @flightoftheheart

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