I was talking with a woman at the gym the other day and she told me a story about trying to meet up with a friend coming in from out of town. It was a tale of missed calls, lost e-mails, and misunderstood words. When she was done, I commiserated, then asked her when this happened. Her reply matched with my suspicions, and I said, "Did you know you were doing all of that during Mercury retrograde?"
The basis of astrology (in extremely simple terms) is that a planet's energy influences matters here on Earth and that the different planets have energies that correspond with various gods and goddesses. So as a planet moves through its normal orbit, its energy changes and those changes are transmitted to us here on Earth. Three times a year, the planet Mercury goes retrograde for twenty-one to twenty-three days, and that "backwards" energy influences things on Earth in ways both subtle and gross. The planet isn't really moving backwards, but it appears to be because of the planetary motion created by the orbital rotation of Earth in relation to the other planets in our solar system. All the planets experience retrograde periods, but the one that gets the most attention is Mercury because its impact is the most noticeable in our modern world.
Mercury Mischief, Magic
The Roman god Mercury (Hermes to the Greeks) is the messenger of the gods—the link between spirit and matter, between soul and personality. Mercury symbolizes the power of communication, reasoning capacities, and the ability to perceive relationships and gather facts. Mercury narrates,talks, argues, debates, writes, analyzes, memorizes, studies, travels, sells, reflects, and expresses itself through the hands as well as the tongue. Mercury is the magician and the trickster, two sides of the same coin, both inclined to be hard teachers. As a master of the hidden realms, Mercury confounds us with unexpected information and events and challenges our habitual perceptions. He also surprises us with unexpected gifts and new possibilities. If we like the surprises, we call it magic; if we don't, we call it bad luck. Either way, the result is to jar us from the inertia of our routines and move us out of the mundane. So when the planet is retrograde, we can expect things "ruled" by Mercury to go haywire; it's just another way Mercury is providing lessons.
Mercury retrograde periods are plagued by indecision, bad timing, delays, communication errors, and mechanical problems. Although many of us particularly notice computer problems during this time frame, Uranus is the planet that rules electronic devices, including computers. But since so much of our communication is conducted via computer, Mercury's influence has expanded.
For many of us, knowing when Mercury goes retrograde can be a sanity saver. We can mark retrograde periods on our calendars so we won't throw parties, write letters, buy electronics (or pets), sign contracts, or take a new job. If nothing else, it's a time to take extra care that what you say is understood as you meant it to be. For years, it was a time when I battened down the hatches and rode out the messed up energies.
No longer. Now I use the retrograde energies of Mercury in ways that the work like a kind of cosmic aikido move. Doing so has transformed nine weeks of my year into positive, productive times and my frustration level has decreased dramatically.
The key is to remember that Mercury retrograde is a time for "re" doing things. So it is a wonderful time for anything based on research, planning, examination of resources, and completing projects. You don't want to start anything new during Mercury retrograde, but if there is a project hanging out there that you haven't gotten around to finishing, this is the perfect time to return to it. Here are specific ideas to use Mercury's backwards energy to your advantage.
Review Your Resolutions
Pull out that list of goals you made and spend some time contemplating their value to you. Are they still relevant? Perhaps you wanted to learn Chinese because of that cute guy in the cafeteria. Are they achievable? Losing one hundred pounds in three months is unhealthy. What has been blocking you from forward progress on them? What do you need to make the goals manifest? Perhaps you need more money, time, or privacy. This is a great time to examine whether these goals come from your truest desire, or whether you are trying to please someone else—which is often a major blockage to your success. You are not a fixed object, even if it feels like nothing changes in your life; the truth is that there are many things changing constantly.
Sticking with an outdated resolution, or one made in the heat of the moment, is just a waste of your time and attention. Use the three weeks of Mercury retrograde to dig in to your list of resolutions and make the changes you need to succeed.
Reorganize It (Closet, Junk Drawer, Basement, or ... )
Been meaning to clean out your hall closet, the one you just cram things in and force the door closed? Or perhaps your "junk" drawer has gone beyond being useful. Or maybe you have a garage or basement that holds boxes of things, and you're not sure what? This is a great period to set aside time and clean it out. Take it in stages, especially if it's a really big job. You don't need to do it all at once. Get good music playing, make sure you've had a healthy meal (low sugar, lots of complex carbohydrates), and have a plan. (Personally, I like to have three piles: toss, recycle/sell, keep. The recycle/sell pile is the one I try to make the largest, I hate adding to landfill, and I don’t want to keep everything I pull out.) Use labels and markers on the boxes you pack up and return to storage—you want to know what is in there in the future! If the task is really huge, spend thirty minutes right at the beginning planning how you'll tackle the space and where your stopping point is, then take a break and do something else. Thereafter take breaks every fifteen minutes so you don't burn out.
Mercury retrograde is a truly bad time to schedule a surgery because of the high probability of misunderstandings and poor communication—not what you want when you're unconscious! It is, however, a fantastic time to get diagnostic work taken care of. Have an odd crick in your neck for a while now? See the chiropractor or masseuse and ask them to look into it. Been meaning to have blood work done? Now is the time. Mercury's energies at this time trend toward introspection, so honor yourself by making sure you are as healthy as you can be.
Mercury retrograde is a great time to do anything related to cleaning and organizing. If you've been putting off getting rid of something, perhaps now is a good time to pass it along. I travel a lot, so I always bring home those mini-toiletries. One set goes in the guest room just in case someone forgot something, but the others go to a local domestic violence shelter. If it's clean and functional, or can be with a little work, join your local Freecycle, post it on Craigslist, or make a run to your local donation store. Getting rid of the clutter in your life is very good for clearing out any stagnant energies—and it's a joy to have clean space where there once was a mess!
Check your subscriptions and spend a little time thinking about whether you really want to keep each one. I find myself signing up for a lot of magazines when I am flush with cash and I can get crazy discounts for buying several years at a time. Some publications are still great after a year, but others just start feeling repetitive or boring. This is also a great time to check the expiration date on all of your legal and social documentation. These are things like your driver's license, passport, memberships (social and political), and credit cards. If it has an expiration date on it, check it and decide whether you want to renew or drop it.
I have a basket in my closet where I put clothes that need to be fixed—a missing button, a rip in the seam, a hem that needs lifting. These aren't big tasks, and not terribly difficult, but we usually don't make time. Mercury retrograde is a perfect time to take care of these small fixes. Other small fixes might be touching up the paint on your car (dealers sell small bottles of paint for just this task), fixing that broken headlight, straightening the wobbly table, mending the hole in the wall, or replacing the washer in that dripping faucet.
Revive It (Declutter Your Desk)
If you do nothing else during Mercury retrograde, clean your desk or workspace. My desk is where I spend easily as much time as I do at my day job. It's where I write, edit, talk, and play. I'm a pretty neat person, but I still make a point of clearing it all off and putting it back during Mercury retrograde. Taking everything off (and out) lets you re-imagine the space and perhaps make changes that improve your habits. I'm a big fan of re-purposing shoeboxes (labeled, of course) to hold my office supplies. It takes just a moment to pull out the stapler or tape, and I don't use them all of the time. My desk normally holds just the piles of things I am working on, a notepad for making lists, and a pen (aside from my computer, that is). Everything I might need is stored in a bookcase behind me.
Review Your Links
I've been online since the mid-1990s and had collected literally thousands of links in my "favorites" folders. Most of them were sorted into fifty different subcategories, it's true, but there were so many I wasn't really using them—it was faster to just do another Web search. Then I was given a gift: during a reformatting of my hard drive, my favorites folder was accidentally wiped. It was gone. I could have restored it from a backup, but I decided to put that off and see if I'd need it. It's been a year, and I haven't restored them. Mercury retrograde is a great time to take a look at your saved information. Do you actually use those links? If you had them as part of a research project, maybe it's time to pull the data and put it into documents you can use? Do you really want to keep all of those broken links?
Re-up Your Warranties (or not)
This is a fun one. It seems like everything we buy comes with an instruction manual/warranty and if you're like me you just toss it in a drawer "just in case." Now is the time to pull all of them out and sort through them. Keep the ones that might still be useful and recycle the rest. (Do you really need a manual on how to use your toaster?) For the ones you keep, try to find them online to download to your computer, then recycle the paper. (I have a folder called "warranties" just for these.)
A great use of Mercury's retrograde energy is to spend time thinking about how you want your life to be and what you want to do going forward. Ask yourself if there is something missing that you'd like to manifest in your life or a change you think would be positive. This is a great time to review those decisions and look for hidden flaws and problems. Wait until Mercury goes direct to actually start any new projects or directions.
Reconcile It (Expect Miscommunication)
My husband and I spend a lot of extra time during Mercury retrograde checking in with each other and making sure that we understood what the other said. We've had plenty of times when one said yes and the other heard no, so we check, double-check, and sometimes triple-check. We also completely forgive the other's mistake before an apology is proffered—it's not our fault. One way to cope with this aspect (which can be the most frustrating) is to slow down and really listen when people talk to you. You may want to take the time to repeat back the gist of what they said. Mostly, be patient and prepared to correct others' misunderstandings of what you said.
This is an excellent time to catch up on your reading, especially the recreational reading. Above all, try to relax! Don't let the haywire energies cause you stress. Keep breathing, calmly and deeply, and give everything more time so you can correct mistakes before they become problems.
Mercury retrograde is not my favorite time of the year, but I'm a lot less stressed about it now that I've learned some strategies for using the backwards energy to my advantage.
This article was originally printed in Llewellyn's 2013 Magical Almanac. For more current-year calendars, almanacs, and datebooks, click here.