20. 7. 2022

English Version | What the f*** is Mercury Retrograde?

by Ana Murcho


Once upon a time, there was an inconspicuous planet that became one of the biggest villains in the Milky Way - namely on Earth, where at least three times a year it "does its thing." This is the story of Mercury, the renegade.

“When Mercury is in retrograde, basically that means that everything is going to be completely wrong and messed up and miscommunicated.” This is how, in January 2015, Taylor Swift explained the astrological phenomenon, which happens at least three times a year, a major culprit for delayed flights, crashed computers, and pointless arguments, in a video shared by MTV precisely one day after the beginning of this dark period, which would last until February 11. “Your phone will break, or you’ll send a text message and it won’t get to the person it’s supposed to go to, or your flight gets delayed… And so, you can’t blame yourself, you just have to blame mercury cause it’s just hella in retrograde.” The expression used by the singer, “hella in retrograde”, became part of the slang of millions of internet users discovering the dark side of this little planet. In October 2014, Swift had already shown her irritation with Mercury retrograde, when she vented on Twitter: #mercuryGETOUTOFRETROGRADE (the post has since been deleted). From then on, fans of the singer-songwriter joined the many curious people around the world who began to realize that “something was going on” with Mercury. Among them was Bethenny Frankel, one of the contestants on the reality show The Real Housewives of New York City. In February 2013, she wrote on Twitter, “Is Mercury in retrograde or something? Bc I am having a shit day.” Immediately, dozens of followers replied that yes, Mercury was indeed in retrograde, and would be until March 17. “It always causes so much confusion!”, said one cybernaut, not imagining that in no time the hashtag #MercuryRetrograde would be one of the most shared, just like the memes and GIFs where Mercury, always Mercury, is mocked as if it were a public enemy.

But where does this obsession with Mercury retrograde come from anyway? This was the first question we asked Telma Gonçalves, known on Instagram as @astrologiadegrey, who has been studying Astrology, Tarot and Esotericism since 2014. “We have lived, and will live, moments of profound changes in both our personal and collective lives. Astrology has proven to be a unique tool to decipher the times, the World out there (and the inner one too). It is an ancient tool that guides us and connects us with our true essence. [...] Mercury is the planet that rules the mind, communication, travel, agreements and negotiations, technological gadgets. It goes retrograde at least three times a year, and it is at those times that matters governed by Mercury tend to slow down, slow down, and ask us for revisions." It's as if we were invited to "rethink the past and the choices and decisions made so far - and, as Mercury rules technology, there tend to be breakdowns, mistakes...", Telma explains. Speaking of which, a note: Mercury will be retrograde from September 9, and will remain so until October 2. If you want to sign a contract, buy a house, ask someone to marry you... do it before or after. During those days, it's a no-no. "When Mercury is retrograde, these matters [communication, moving, sales] don't develop as we are normally used to, that is, it's really a time to pay extra attention. […] It is better to wait until Mercury is 'direct' to make a decision or to make a purchase, for example, since when it is retrograde we are looking and reasoning with the eyes and thoughts of the past, and we must reevaluate and return to matters to see them from another angle." Throughout the year, there is always a planet that is retrograde. Why do we care so much about Mercury? "All planets go retrograde except the Sun and Moon, all the others go retrograde and ask for different reviews, but since Mercury affects our usual functioning and happens more often throughout the year, we tend to focus only on it." Moral of the story: don't blame the messenger.

Spoiler alert: Mercury does not go backward. When we talk about "retrograde" (which the dictionary defines as "that goes backward"; "that moves backward"; "that retro- cedes to progress") this is just an optical illusion - or would it be more correct to say spelling? "Mercury doesn't actually go backward, it even gets closer. The Earth ends up moving faster, giving the illusion that the planet [Mercury] has gone backward. But basically, it's the Earth that accelerates and gives us the perception of Mercury moving backward." In mythology, for example, Mercury is the messenger that connects the two worlds [Mercury was the son of Jupiter and Maia, one of the Pleiades; he was the messenger of the gods, especially of Jupiter, who put wings on his head and heels so he could execute his orders faster]. Perhaps it is not strange that in astrology Mercury is the "bridge" between the good and not so good phases of each human being. Practically speaking, its retrograde phase is similar to a nap or a state of rest. But how does it affect us? "It affects us in different ways, depending on Mercury's positioning and importance in our birth chart, but few escape the vicissitudes of Mercury retrograde. [There are, for example] mistakes and delays in travel, blockages, and breakdowns in our technologies, we sometimes discover things we hadn't noticed, we run into old friends and relationships again, and we have the opportunity to change the direction of thoughts and choices if we so choose." Are some signs more affected than others? "Yes! The planet Mercury is very important because it represents everyday matters and therefore affects everyone, but those who have Mercury's influence, aka important planets or angles in the signs ruled by Mercury - Gemini and Virgo - are surely more affected."

Common sense tells us that there are a number of things we can't do during Mercury retrograde (launch new projects, have surgery, buy a house). But what if we can only do some of these things during that period? "The ideal is to take advantage of the moments of Mercury retrograde to reevaluate these contracts, to improve new projects, to rethink our choices, but if we can only do some of these things during Mercury retrograde, which often happens even because a Mercury retrograde can represent the return of an opportunity that we thought we had lost, we should take into account that things may not be exactly as we thought they would be, that there are situations that may change, and we should be attentive and open to this possibility. For big decisions, if we can wait, all the better! Mercury passes three times on the same path, and every time it does we understand things better and better and more clearly." Susan Miller, one of the most respected astrologers in the universe (pun intended), presents a long and detailed explanation of the Mercury Retrograde phenomenon on her official website. One of the details she highlights is, precisely, the fact that the planet is a mirror of everything else: "In astrology, we always believe that the following rule is true: 'What happens above, happens below.' By this, we mean that there is a fractal relationship between orbits in the heavens and human activity down here on Earth. This idea is present throughout astrology and is a very good concept to keep in mind." And she corroborates Telma Gonçalves' idea: "While these Mercury retrograde periods can be frustrating, they are also often useful, as they allow us to reassess, revisit, rethink, redo, and redesign our plans. Sometimes we rush into things without fully considering our basic assumptions or actions. Mercury retrograde allows us to stop, look, listen, and redirect our energies more productively. Mercury also helps us find an end to certain situations. [...] Mercury rules anything that starts with 're': redo, reevaluate, repair, repeat, redesign, or revisit. It's part of human nature to want to know that new opportunities are coming our way, but we need to focus on the quality of our work and improve it as much as possible."

Sometimes people drop their phones into the toilet. Until recently these people were divided into two groups: the clumsy and the unlucky. Now, if a smartphone slides down the toilet, Mercury is to blame. "Mercury is in retrograde, that's for sure," will say the woman, or the man, who sees the object slip through his fingers into swampy waters. There are also those who make mistakes with dates, times, deadlines... with everything that may fall into the "Blame it on Mercury" category, a miracle sponsored by the Internet, where souvenirs of the theme - t-shirts, mugs, cushions, pins and other stuff with the phrase "Not while Mercury is in retrograde" - are piled up, turning Mercury, once known for being the planet closest to the sun, into a kind of astrological celebrity of the 21st century. We are not advocating what skeptics call confirmation bias - when you have a belief, you are likely to believe the things that confirm it, even if they are not true, and ignore the evidence that would disprove it. None of that. We are merely alerting you to possible alternatives to something that is very difficult to prove. In November 2006, The New York Times published an article entitled Yes, Mercury Is In Retrograde. So What?, which attempts to demonstrate that the planet's actions have no effect on everyday events. "Perhaps the most cited Mercury effect of the modern era is the computer crash. 'I hear it all the time,' said David Cook, manager of Tekserve in Chelsea, which claims to be the largest independent Apple computer service provider in the country. He did some math. The result: a paltry 0.6 percent increase in repair requests when Mercury is retrograde. [...] Cook, who describes himself as a skeptical astrology enthusiast, assured that he would continue to share his own theory with his customers. 'My excuse is: this is Earth, and 5 to 10 percent of everything on Earth is broken,' he said, 'whether it's a sewing machine, a computer, or a relationship.'" Maybe. Or, as happened twenty years earlier with an article in the same newspaper, signed by Edward Rothstein, there is indeed collateral damage caused by Mercury retrograde that cannot be ignored.
In October 1996, an erratum announced a lapse in the September 30 Business Day column - a column which began, ironically, with a warning: "If this column actually finds its way into this morning's paper and these words are being read, consider it a triumph of will over fate. It is being worked on during the waning days of Mercury's retrograde motion, and since Mercury is the planetary representative of the Greek god of communications, and computers now fall under his rule, even the high-tech world is not free from his influence, at least according to generally accepted astrological principles." The erratum had an ironic tone, befitting its author's possible disbelief in the influence of Mercury retrograde: "The September 30 Business Day technology column about astrology enthusiasts who attribute technological mishaps to the movements of the planet Mercury misspelled the name of an ancient Roman architect who described planetary orbits by comparing them to ants crawling on a potter's wheel. His name was Vitruvius, not Visuvius." Plot twist: Edward Rothstein wrote the text during Mercury retrograde. Hella in retrograde.

Translated from the original on The Sunny Vibes Issue, from Vogue Portugal, published July 2022.
Full stories and credits on the print issue.