On each diagram, Mercury begins its cycle moving forward, entering the Mercury retrograde period in the few days before it makes the actual pivot, as shown by the red line. Mercury moves so slowly as it’s preparing to turn retrograde and after it turns direct, that those additional days might just as well be considered part of Mercury retrograde. By the end, Mercury is direct again, and moving fast.
What is Mercury Retrograde? How does it feel?
The Mercury retrograde period happens every 4 months and lasts about 3 weeks. It is usually marked by snarl-ups in communication and breakdowns of communications equipment and networks, and of office equipment of all kinds. During Mercury retrograde, there’s an excellent chance that letters and packages will be lost in the mail and information will be delayed, leaving projects and lives in disorder.
Mercury is the god of communication, which sometimes takes a less concrete and more metaphorical form: when it is retrograde, people will experience that their words are received in a way entirely different from how they were intended. Or we experience so many interruptions that our train of thought is entirely derailed and we cannot get anything done. It’s best to plan for this and pad your schedule thoroughly. Allow more time than you think you need for everything you have to do. If there are things you need to accomplish and deadlines you must meet, be prepared to have to do things twice, perhaps even three times, to achieve your normal efficiency rate.
This is often experienced as a frustrating time because our modern society has a bias that things should always progress forward without a halt. When Mercury is retrograde, it is moving backward (in apparent motion as viewed from the earth), reminding us that, regardless of our notions of how things should be, life is actually lived in cycles of work and rest. Rather than trying to get things done or finish current projects during a Mercury retrograde period, it is better to go back and pick up the pieces of something old. People frequently find to their surprise that some long-shelved project gets finished effortlessly during this time, and that it shoves more current things aside to do so.
Plan to meet your current deadlines and be as finished as possible with current projects before Mercury goes retrograde. Then use this time as a period of introspection and reflection. It is a great time to clean out closets, both physical and metaphorical. In fact, doing so physically can be very powerful, so go ahead and clean that desk, closet, garage, basement or attic. You might be surprised what you uncover and how much peace of mind results from the order you create.
Unfortunately, many people work in a business where it is simply impossible to contemplate your navel or avoid deadlines when Mercury goes retrograde. At work you may just have to deal with the fact that the business you are in goes against the tide and requires you to meet deadlines and to barrel ahead even though Mother Nature is saying “relax, people!” In that case you’ll deal with the usual Mercury retrograde annoyances: broken fax machine, lost messages, poor cell phone service and any of a hundred unexpected delays and miscommunications which will force you to slow down. If you go into it knowing that nature is forcing not only you, but also everyone, to slow down, then you don’t need to take it personally. It doesn’t mean you (or others around you) are inefficient or incompetent; it’s just that you’re all trying to have a picnic in a rainstorm. It makes no sense to complain that it’s raining—it just is. It’s better to stay inside, but if you can’t, the least you can do is bring an umbrella.
Paradoxically, a Mercury retrograde period is usually enjoyable to people who have Mercury retrograde in their natal chart to begin with. This is because such people already prefer a slower pace and have learned to field interruptions from their vast experience with them. If you are one of these, for once the rest of the world is on your wavelength and it can feel great.
Phases of the 4-Month Mercury Cycle:
1. Mercury Direct and moving fast: Efficiency is high
Mercury is moving forward at a swift pace. This helps us handle details smoothly and stay organized. It’s a great time for meeting deadlines, planning long-term projects and generally getting a lot done. You won’t find yourself facing the kinds of snags that come up when Mercury is retrograde. This condition continues until Mercury slows down, preparing to turn retrograde. In the meantime, enjoy the easy ride by getting as much done as you can, meeting every deadline as efficiently as possible and staying organized as you go.
Mercury direct usually lasts for about 2 to 2-and-a-half months—more than half of Mercury’s total cycle. No wonder we feel this is how it should be!
2. Greater Epiphany Day—A day of illumination
At the 2 on the diagram, Mercury’s headlong scamper causes it to catch up to and then pass the Sun. The day this happens is a day of illumination. It’s a day when breakthroughs are possible, new understandings emerge and mental clarity and focus are at their height. I call it Greater Epiphany Day, because the insights and clarity are bigger than during the other Mercury-Sun connection (“Lesser Epiphany Day” or 5 on the diagram).
This is like a natural peak on a wave. The weeks leading up to it are a great time to push into that day of natural epiphany. To surf this wave and take advantage of its rhythm, set up your current projects so that a peak in mental clarity that day would be advantageous and well-timed for you. Schedule your hardest, most detailed work for the weeks leading up to Epiphany Day and plan to spend the dropoff period after it responding to the events that happen around that peak.
3. After Epiphany Day, Mercury still direct: Post-peak and gearing down
Right after Epiphany Day is past, Mercury is still moving direct and fast. Efficiency will still be high. You can continue setting and meeting deadlines, requesting rush jobs and generally getting lots done. Finish projects here and celebrate your achievements.
But by a week before the retrograde day, Mercury begins to slow down—and you should too. Start winding things down to prepare for the fallow Mercury retrograde period that’s coming. Slow down, be more methodical and otherwise prepare for the introspective 3-week Mercury retrograde period. Expect less of yourself and others. Don’t take on more than you could handle if the lines got clogged (because rest assured, during the upcoming Mercury retrograde period, they will). Any loose ends you tie up here will not return to bite you when Mercury goes retrograde.
It’s ok to start thinking about future projects you might do after the current ones are complete, but don’t set goals yet. The Mercury retrograde period will be the perfect time for ruminating and meditating on those future projects, especially if you go into it with an already-clean slate.
4. Mercury turns retrograde: Look backward instead of forward; clear the old instead of initiating the new
The day Mercury turns retrograde is a day of “getting it,” getting that you need to slow down, that you’ve been moving too fast and skipping over important details. During the Mercury retrograde period you may find yourself wanting to clean out closets (actually or metaphorically) and resolve old issues rather than create new ones or make strict deadlines. Why not start early to prepare for this natural time of inner searching? It’s a great time to retreat into your shell. It’s a great time to reexamine yourself, your life and your values in any area that comes up for you at present. It’s also a great time to clear up old messy communications between yourself and others, so be prepared—because people in your life who need to do that with you may present themselves. Mercury retrograde happens only three times a year, so pull out some large garbage bags and get ready to move a mountain or two. Imagine how sleek and streamlined your life will be after this purge.
5. Lesser Epiphany Day–A Day of Insight
Every time Mercury goes retrograde it will also cross over the Sun, conjuncting it. The day this happens, of all the days during Mercury retrograde, will be a peak of epiphany. Let your mind build up to it slowly and intuitively and you may find that on this day you become possessed with an idea which solves the greater problem you’ve been ruminating on for weeks or it might even solve a problem that got you stuck months ago. Alternately, it may be a day when you connect with or meet exactly the right person to help you solve that problem. Look for this kind of epiphany or connection anytime in the 5 days surrounding Lesser Epiphany Day.
6. Mercury’s retrograde period ends, Mercury turns direct
Direct means “forward.” The day Mercury turns direct again—along with the few days leading up to it—may be characterized by a kind of urgency to finish up any clearing you haven’t done yet. That applies to your conversations as well as your closets. When Mercury turns direct, we leave the introspective period behind. It’s your last chance to get the most out of this retrograde period, so take advantage of it while it’s happening!
7. Mercury Direct, speed increasing: Back to business
It’s back to the workaday world for the human race as Mercury slowly and gradually puts back together all the pieces mixed up during the last Mercury retrograde period.
At the 7 on the Mercury diagram, Mercury is direct, but still moving slowly, so it’s a good idea to continue avoiding deadlines and contracts at this time. Once the Mercury retrograde period is well over, Mercury speeds up and it’s “back to business.” You can set deadlines and begin projects with expectation of finishing them on time (as long as the deadline isn’t during the next Mercury retrograde period). You can also feel good about signing contracts, as they are less likely to need revising while Mercury is direct.
Within two weeks after Mercury turns direct, it is already moving swiftly, which suggests that events, office work and communications should proceed swimmingly for the most part. Fewer obstacles apply at this point and you are free to move forward with speed and efficiency. It’s a ride with great momentum and I suggest you get on it. You’ll find others are doing it too and that meetings are easier to run than during Mercury retrograde.
Mercury’s increasing pace sets a wonderful tone for beginning new 3-month projects. Now is the time to initiate, brainstorm, get started on those new ideas you’ve got.
8. Mercury direct, conjuncts the Sun—Greater Epiphany Day again
Point 8 on the diagram is exactly like point 2—it marks the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. A peak in mental efficiency comes on the day Mercury crosses the Sun, so plan to expand on your projects until this peak and to begin trimming and contracting them after it, preparatory to Mercury’s next retrograde period. While this is happening, make your plans and enjoy the ride!
What can I expect from this particular Mercury Retrograde period?
Each Mercury retrograde period has a theme based on the sign or signs Mercury is moving through at the time. Within a given year, Mercury usually does all 3 of its retrograde stints in signs belonging to the same element. Continuing from last year, 2021’s elemental theme is Air, which is cerebral, rational, abstracted and linear. All of 2021’s Mercury retrograde periods are happening in Air signs.
How does this affect me and what should I do about it?
In Mercury retrograde there is purging. Cleanse your soul of all those things you’ve needed to say, wanted to say, dreamed of saying. Don’t forget that there are good things you’ve wanted to say! Be kind about how you do it, and you’ll find Mercury brings you closer to, not further from, others. Mercury’s cycle impacts each individual in a personal way, according to the house it’s traveling through in that person’s chart. This personalizes its effect on you, because while Mercury’s passage affects everyone, one person may have it activating the area of sexuality while another is experiencing it in the area of money or home.
What house is this Mercury retrograde period in?
If you find out exactly where Mercury is affecting you, you can target your purging and get much better results. The house Mercury is retrograding through in your chart provides the key and tells you where in your life to look for clearing that needs to be done. (Don’t know your chart’s house structure? Cast your own chart on astro.com with the help of this article I wrote showing you how.)
Mercury Retrograde by House:
First House: This one is personal. Look at your own behavior for changes that you need to make and ask others for mirroring about it. Listen to them.
Second House: Clean up your finances. Your disorganization or lack of awareness there is holding you back.
Third House: Your communications need some work. There are things unsaid or unheard. Ask those you speak with frequently.
Fourth House: Your home needs better organization. Cleaning closets, basement, attic or a visit to the container store will yield a better nest for you.
Fifth House: You’ve got a backlog of creative projects that need your attention. Trim, prune and finish. Make space for more future creativity.
Sixth House: Clean your desk. Your way of handling papers, capturing ideas and managing projects needs an update. Doing so will bring revelations.
Seventh House: Your relationships have gotten messy because of things unshared. You may need to revisit the original contract and remind yourself what it says.
Eighth House: Clean up and become aware of all the ways you intersect with others financially. Know what your stocks and IRA are doing. Know how your spouse is earning and spending. Oh, and talk about sex instead of just having/not having it.
Ninth House: Reexamine your ethics and what the things in your life mean to you. Reconsider your beliefs. Reread/revise the mission statement.
Tenth House: Clean up the message your reputation is communicating. Clean up relationships with business partner, boss, employee, contractor, agent, client.
Eleventh House: Clean up communications in your friendships. Which missed, unspoken or botched words have tangled your tribe’s web? Clear them up.
Twelfth House: Open up channels to listen to your conscience. Ask what you can do for your Greater Self, instead of what it can do for you.
Where are you having a communications
breakdown-and-cleanup Mercury cycle?
Get a look at this rogue’s dance through your chart this month
and helpful suggestions for making good use of it in your unique life.