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Mercury Retrograde and What it Means for You

You may have heard friends say, "Oh, no - Mercury is about to retrograde again!" If you don't know astrology, you may have wondered what they were talking about. Of all planetary aspects, this one seems to garner the most attention from readers, and it certainly generates the most mail.

The reason for their interest is clear - this phenomenon is one of the few that affects everyone in a fairly uniform way, and its effects are always obvious. Once you begin to pay attention to how events in your life change during these phases, you will soon see how important it is to take note of them.

Keeping track of Mercury retrograde periods can allow you to increase your productivity and avoid at least some of the frustration they can bring about. Let's look closely at Mercury retrograde and what it means to you.

The Periods When Mercury Will Retrograde from 2015 to 2020

2015
January 21 - February 11, 2015 in air Aquarius
May 18 - June 11, 2015 in air Gemini
September 17 - October 9, 2015 in air Libra

2016
January 5 - January 25, 2016 starts in Aquarius, ends in earth Capricorn
April 28 - May 22, 2016 in earth sign Taurus
August 30 - September 22, 2016 in earth sign Virgo
December 19 2016 - January 8, 2017 in earth Capricorn to late degree fire Sagittarius

2017
December 19, 2016 to January 8, 2017 earth Capricorn, ends in late fire Sagittarius
April 9 - May 3, 2017 earth sign Taurus, ends in late degree fire Aries
August 12 - September 5, 2017 fire sign Leo - early earth Virgo, ends in late degree fire Leo
December 3 - December 22, 2017 in fire Sagittarius

2018
March 22 - April 15, 2018 in fire sign Aries
July 26 - August 18, 2018 in fire sign Leo
November 16 - December 6, 2018 in fire Sagittarius, ends in late degree water Scorpio

2019
March 5 - 28, 2019 in water Pisces
July 7 - 31, 2019 starts in fire Leo, ends in water Cancer
October 31 - November 20, 2019 in water Scorpio

2020
February 18 - March 9, 2020 in water Pisces, ends in late air Aquarius
June 17 - July 12, 2020 in water Cancer
October 13 - November 3, 2020 in water Scorpio, ending in late air Libra

Does Mercury Really Move Backward?

Mercury doesn't actually move backward. If you do a bit of stargazing, you will see that Mercury appears to move backward, just as the ancient astrologers perceived thousands of years ago. After a while - in Mercury's case, a three-and-a-half-week period - the planet will reverse itself and move "forward" again.

Because Mercury is the planet situated closest to the Sun, its orbit is much shorter than Earth's. About three or four times a year, Mercury speeds past Earth, and that is when we experience a Mercury retrograde period. If you were in a car and another car passed you, you could tell it was going faster than you. But if it slowed down and you then passed it, it would appear that that car was actually going backward. Then when the other car speeds up and passes you again, it kicks up all of the dust in the road. As Mercury speeds by, it is like a train flying past, creating a powerful, turbulent gust of "wind" in its wake. The turbulence and disruption Mercury creates when it retrogrades can affect what we feel on Earth in our everyday lives.

In astrology, we always believe the following rule is true: "As above, so too below." By that we mean there is a fractal relationship between the orbits in the heavens and human activity down here on Earth. This idea pervades all of astrology and is a very good concept to keep in mind.

Areas of Life Mercury Rules

Mercury rules all types of communication, including listening, speaking, learning, reading, editing, researching, negotiating, selling, and buying. Mercury also rules all formal contracts and agreements, as well as important documents such as book manuscripts or term papers, agreements, deeds, contracts, leases, wills, and so forth.

Included under this planet's domain are all types of code, including computer codes, as well as transportation, shipping, and travel. When this planet retrogrades, these areas tend to get scrambled or spin out of control.

Why does this happen? When a planet retrogrades, astrologically it is in a resting or sleeping state. Therefore, while Mercury naps, the activities that it governs don't have the benefit of a well-functioning, wide-awake planet to supervise them. Expect a certain degree of pandemonium to ensue!

What You Should - and Should Not - Do During a Mercury Retrograde Phase

Don't make any important moves when Mercury is retrograde. Nothing will be settled successfully for the future during these periods anyway - you will find it nearly impossible to nail down a plan. During a retrograde period, it is hard to get decisions from others. Even if a decision is made, it will be subject to change, either just after Mercury turns to direct motion or much later.

Mercury retrograde periods would not be good times to do anything involving communications, such as launch a magazine, website, or an advertising or publicity campaign.

These phases are also considered poor times to launch any new endeavors, even if they are not related to the communications industries.

Similarly, a retrograde period is not a good time to sign any contracts or even to shake hands on any new agreements. Do not close on a house during this time nor sign a lease. Verbal agreements are considered the same as written ones. The environment will be quite fluid and changeable, no matter what you are told or what you think.

It's not that the people you are dealing with are necessarily duplicitous. It's just that nobody can fully predict what conditions will be like later. If you start a new job, it won't necessarily be the position you thought it was when you accepted it. If you are a manager, you will have difficulty choosing the right candidate for the job, so, if you can, hold off hiring anyone. If you buy a house, problems could crop up later that were completely unanticipated.

Do Not Have Plastic Surgery or Other Elective Surgery When Mercury, Venus, and Mars Are Retrograde

Of course, if you have an emergency, you must have surgery. At other times in life, we do have a choice about when to schedule an operation or procedure. In those cases, such as having plastic surgery, it is best to avoid Mercury retrograde periods. These are periods where mistakes are more prone to happen than at other times, or when judgment is off. Your surgeon is under the same conditions as you, so I would suggest waiting.

I would also strongly suggest that you avoid plastic surgery when Venus retrogrades, because Venus rules beauty, and the whole purpose of the surgery is to improve your looks.

Mars rules the whole area of surgery, so you would ideally want Mars to be in the best possible form, too. It is said not to have an operation on the part of the body that the sign Mars is moving through rules. For example, if Mars happens to be in Capricorn, it would not be the best time for a knee operation because Capricorn rules the knees. It is said that Mars will increase pain and swelling. A full moon at the time of the surgery will increase bleeding. We do the best we can.

Again, let me reiterate, if you have an emergency, don't worry about any of these rules - have your surgery. I had to have very serious surgery, triggered by a new moon solar eclipse, on the wrong part of the body (because Mars was in the sign ruling the part of the body that was being affected by the surgery). Admittedly, it was a tough surgery, but it was highly successful. If you need surgery, have it!

Mars Will Retrograde

April 17, 2016 to June 29, 2016 in fire-sign Sagittarius
June 26 to August 27, 2018 in air-sign Aquarius to late degrees of earth-sign Capricorn
September 9 to November 13, 2020 in fire-sign Aries

Venus Will Retrograde

July 25 to September 6, 2015 in earth Virgo to fire Leo
March 4 to April 15, 2017 in fire Aries to late degree water Pisces
October 5 to November 16, 2018 from water Scorpio to late degree air-sign Libra
May 13 to June 25, 2020 in air-sign Gemini

What Other Specific Things Should You Watch Out For?

Since Mercury rules the mail and the conveyance of information, be extra careful when sending important documents. If you send faxes, be sure to call the people at the other end to let them know your documents are waiting for them. Otherwise, they may never see it. If you work in an office and have to photocopy an important document, be sure to retrieve the original. Be equally careful about whom you send email to - you don't want to send a private email to the wrong person or have a sensitive email forwarded to others.

Your client may suddenly change direction on a project you have been working on and give you new instructions, which may require you to discard some of the work you did. Miscommunications abound, so during these periods keep summarizing what you think the other person has just told you. Go the extra mile - you will be glad you did!

Mercury retrograde periods are notorious for causing computers to crash and for machines, appliances, and other electronic devices to show signs of wear, requiring urgent repair. Backup your computer in advance of any Mercury retrograde period. If you had planned to install new software on your personal computer (or, if you work in IT, on your network), wait until the retrograde period is over to do so. Weird things happen during these periods. For example, you may suddenly discover that you were sold a defective hard drive, even though it may never have given you problems in the past, at least not until you created that vital document and your whole system went down.

Mercury also rules trade and commerce, so don't buy or sell anything expensive during its retrograde phases. Often you will find that the item you want is out of stock. If you do buy something expensive, such as a car, computer, or jewelry, for example, you may regret your purchase later. If you are buying or selling a house, expect problems, errors, delays, and setbacks to arise. The only times you can buy something expensive during a retrograde period are if you are returning something you already bought.

Computers, high tech items, appliances, automobiles, and other machines and electronics are highly susceptible to Mercury in a retrograde period. Mercury rules moving parts, so that can be one reason. Yet, other things happen. You buy an air conditioner and 30 days later discover it has gone on sale for much less than what you paid. Or you by an expensive smartphone during a retrograde only to drop it (and crack its screen) or lose it soon afterward. It really does pay to wait to buy electronics.

In years past, Mercury always seemed to retrograde during the holiday shopping season. For example, in 2011, Mercury was retrograde from "Black Friday" (where retailers go into the black because everyone loves to shop on the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 25) until the end of the day on December 13.

If you are driving any significant distance during a period where Mercury is retrograde, bring extra maps (or make sure your GPS is up to date), make sure you have enough gas, and verify that you have the correct address and clear driving instructions. If your car is making strange sounds, have it inspected before you leave; you don't want a problem to emerge when you are on the road. If you are flying, check with your airline to make sure your flight is going to take off on time. Have your luggage well marked so that it won't get lost or sent to the wrong airport, and bring your iPod and a good book to the airport, as there could be lots of delays.

Some people do not travel when Mercury is retrograde, and perhaps that might be wise if your trip is business-oriented. However, if you are returning to see a former client you've worked with in the past, traveling during the retrograde is fine. Sales people know that business is always most likely from former clients. If you are in sales, earmark all your former clients for special attention during these phases.

You can take a trip for pleasure during these periods. Actually, this could be a perfect time to go, for you get away from it all, and everyone back at the office will "feel" the retrograde - they will miss your quick problem-solving ability and advice while you are away! During a retrograde phase, you might want to travel to a place from your childhood that you loved but haven't seen in a long time. It could be lots of fun because going back to places you knew is favored.

Forgetfulness can be a problem during these phases. You are more likely to leave your airline ticket or passport on your desk rather than put it in your pocket; leave your cell phone, sunglasses, or gloves in the back seat of a cab; or lock yourself out of your car or house. I always advise that you tape your business card on the back of your computer or smartphone case, and slip your card into your case holding your eyeglasses in case one of these treasures is lost.

I also suggest that if you buy a gift card for someone, you photocopy the card's serial number so that if you or your recipient loses the card, you can get it replaced quickly by the retailer. (Of course, keep your receipt stapled to the photocopy. Some retailers can give you a gift receipt with the serial number on the receipt, so you don't have to go through the trouble of having the card photocopied. Even so, keep a copy in your records too, for your recipient may lose everything!) Tell your recipient that you are taking precautions, in case they do lose your gift and are too shy to tell you that they did! Often there is a comedy of errors surrounding Mercury retrograde!

While we are on the topic of photocopying important documents, photocopy your passport and give your family members a copy, too. If you ever should lose your passport, you will have a copy to show the passport office, and it will make things much easier for you! Do that today, while you are thinking of it!

Romance tends to go haywire, too, during Mercury retrograde periods. Couples tend to create miscommunications that in turn can cause a domino effect of errors. Try not to jump to conclusions, and keep striving for clarity. Your sweetheart or spouse could also have a sudden change of mind. For example, if your boyfriend or girlfriend says, "I want to break up," he or she could say later, "No, let's not! I didn't really mean it!" That's because people aren't always thinking straight during these phases. Mercury retrograde is notorious for creating confusion.

Keep in mind that Mercury retrogrades in three different signs of the zodiac during the year. If it retrogrades in your sign, delays and frustrations will become even more pronounced than usual. In this case, try to be even more vigilant and double-check proposals, ideas, creative efforts, and other plans to root out flaws or incorrect assumptions. Always go the extra mile to find errors during a retrograde. These periods demand a slow and deliberate approach.

A Handy Truth About Mercury Retrograde: Things Are In Flux, But You Don't Know They Are - Yet

When Mercury retrogrades, think of it as an instant signal that the wind is changing direction. Something is in flux up on the road ahead, but the problem is, everything looks the same and unchanging. What makes these periods so difficult is that you cannot see yet that they are about to change, often radically.

Let's say you take a new position while Mercury is retrograde. After you start, the company starts extreme cost-cutting procedures, and you suddenly discover you will lose some of the people who report to you. On top of that, your title changes - not in a way you like. In this typical example, you had no idea these procedures were being planned, and had you known, you would have never taken the job. Things like this happen all the time when Mercury is out of phase. Do not take a job when Mercury is retrograde, and don't start one during a retrograde, either.

A Key to the Solution to Any Mercury Retrograde Problem Lies in the Element Mercury is Found In: Fire, Earth, Air, or Water

Each year, Mercury will favor one element over another. In 2012, Mercury will retrograde in fire signs, so that tells us we need to apply completely new, visionary, and innovative solutions to the problem that comes up. Fire signs are highly creative and also brave and pioneering - don't be shy about suggesting a very unusual solution. Fire signs also think on a big, broad scale, so you should think that way when attacking the problem, too.

If Mercury retrogrades in an earth sign, be very practical about finding a solution, and strictly adhere to limits of time or budget. Money often plays a big part of both the problem and the answer when Mercury is retrograde. You would probably do best by not suggesting a blue-sky idea, which would have worked with Mercury in a fire sign.

If Mercury retrogrades in an air sign, lots of discussion will need to take place, as air signs are highly communicative. Talk to a lot of people and poll their responses. Do a great deal of research, too. Air signs are analytical and modern - you may hear of a solution that is so new, you may not even have known it was possible. Use the answer that seems best for you after going through this process, and make sure you are objective and not emotional in choosing your answer.

If Mercury retrogrades in a water sign, use your intuition. Research can be driven by the way questions are asked, so if your research says to go a certain way, but your intuition tells you to reject the research, follow your gut. Intellect can only get us so far; often our emotional intelligence is more accurate. If Mercury retrogrades in a water sign, it's an instant signal to start listening to that small voice within.

What If You Can't Put Off a Decision Until a Later Date?

What if you can't wait a few weeks? In that case, you may have to proceed anyway. Do so knowing that the conditions around the situation will probably change, so plan to be flexible. For example, if you are looking at a great apartment, you may have to sign the lease or risk losing it. However, before you do, ask lots of questions.

If you are buying a house, hire a top engineer to check it out, or get two engineers' opinions. Be ready for something to come up. Do all you can to extend the process: Say your lawyer is out of town or in court. Say you will be in Paris during that time!

My own daughter re-signed her lease during the retrograde (she's Aries, and as a typical Aries, Diana doesn't like to hear about rules). Four months later, the landlord sold the building, and Diana was forced to move immediately. A year later, my little Aries bought a computer during the retrograde. ("It's a Mac, what could possibly go wrong?") Nothing went wrong, except her judgment. She later said she regrets not getting the more expensive model with a much bigger screen. She finally sold her new Mac laptop to a friend, bought a Mac desktop with the big screen she needed, and is happy now.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Rule: "Don't Plan Big Actions During a Retrograde"? Yes!

Indeed, despite what I have just said, there are situations where you can move forward, gingerly, during Mercury retrograde. The main time you can is if you are going back to the past, either to correct something or do more with a person you know and admire.

If your editor gives you an assignment that was put on the back burner a year ago, and it has jumped to life again, proceed!

Here is another example: Let's say you are out of work and looking for a new job. Your old boss (whom you enjoyed working with on a previous job) invites you to join the company he is at now, as a member of the team. In this case, you will be going back to a former professional relationship that you actually started a long time ago, and this is simply an ongoing situation. In this case, you CAN take the job.

Readers ask, "Well, I started interviewing for a new job before the retrograde, but the offer for the new job was made after Mercury retrograde. Technically, I knew the interviewer for a few weeks before the retrograde, so can't I take the job?" Actually no. In this case, you have had no real history with this interviewer or company. Sorry, this does not apply. However, if you are desperate and badly need to find a job, take it, but realize it will not be a long-term solution. You may be out looking again soon, possibly because you don't like anything about that new job. That may be fine with you, for at least you will have income for a short time, which is better than no income at all. Also, it is said to be easier to find a new job after you have one, so in that sense, it may be helpful to take a short-term, stopgap job.

What if you gave a bid on a house you loved and wanted but that was rejected. Can you go back and put in a new bid on that same house during the retrograde, even months later (assuming the house is not yet sold)? Yes. In this case, you have a history with the house, the people who live there, and your broker. This would actually be a good time to "redo" your bid and send it in again. When it comes to exceptions, if you have a history with the person or situation, you can proceed carefully during the Mercury retrograde period.

What If You Were Born Under Mercury Retrograde?

It has been said by some astrologers that people who were born under Mercury retrograde are immune from much of the mayhem of this phase, but I do not agree that this is true. (I was born while Mercury was in retrograde, and I always find these periods quite difficult, perhaps because I work in Mercury-ruled publishing!)

You can find out if you were born under these phases by checking your natal horoscope wheel. The planet Mercury's symbol will have a small "R" under it on the horoscope wheel.

People born under this phase are said to have philosophical and reflective natures that help them think through complex concepts quite creatively. Never worry about having a baby during one of these retrograde periods - it is always a good time to have a child!

Mercury's Impending Shadow Period

As Mercury approaches its "switch point" (the day it actually turns retrograde), it will progress along a path that it will later retrace in the sky over the next few weeks. The two- or three-week period prior to Mercury retrograde is called the "impending shadow period." If you initiate anything important during that shadow period - that is, in the time before Mercury begins to retrograde - you still may encounter problems.

If you have a choice whether to sign papers or initiate an action prior to Mercury retrograde or just after it is finished retrograding, there is no question that I suggest you wait and act afterward. Try to secure a little breathing space (a few days or even better, two weeks) from the date Mercury goes direct, for safety. It doesn't pay to rush to do things before Mercury retrogrades. Waiting is always the wiser option.

Here is another vital point to keep in mind: Mercury is more powerful on the onset and finish dates of its retrograde. I call them the "bookend" dates of the retrograde, and static and dust seem to fill the air more noticeably than any other time.

The presidential election date of 2000 (when President Bush was declared the winner) was on a day when Mercury was due to turn direct. This is a good example of the problems that can occur just as the planet is turning forward or backward. In that case, it was weeks until the winner of the election was chosen.

This point deserves reiteration: Always allow two days, minimum, after Mercury moves ahead to normal direct speed before you start initiating projects or making big purchases. The more time you can allow after this planet goes direct, the better. If you can wait two weeks, all the better.

Is Mercury Retrograde All Bad? Not at All!

Although these Mercury retrograde periods can be frustrating, they are often useful too, for they allow us to reassess, revisit, readdress, redo, and redesign our plans. Sometimes we rush along in life 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 closure to certain situations.

Reconnecting with old pals and relatives is very common during retrograde periods, and that can be one of the most positive and fun sides of this planet's retrograde orbit. If you hear from an old friend or colleague during Mercury retrograde, I feel there is a potent reason for it. It seems to me that there is something that the two of you are meant to do or plan together.

We can all benefit from taking a closer look at situations with greater depth, which happens when Mercury retrogrades. Mercury retrograde periods are like walking through glue, so they do tend to make us slow down, which at times can be a blessing.

Here are some examples of ways Mercury retrograde can help you:

  • Perhaps you have been working on a project that seems to have gone down the wrong path. When Mercury retrogrades, it could become evident that the project needs to be altered slightly or redirected. Even if you did not get your way originally, if you argue your case persuasively, things might go your way now.
  • You stall on accepting a job offer, and lo and behold, a better one comes your way in the meantime.
  • You refrain from buying a certain big-ticket item, and within a few weeks, the coveted item goes on sale and you will be glad you waited.
  • If a meeting is postponed or cancelled, you have more time to gather additional information that probably will come in quite handy.
  • If you are in sales, go back to old customers and clients. You may do better by asking for more business from people who have always trusted you than by trying to extend your reach into new sales territory. Former customers like being contacted, and under Mercury retrograde, you will have the time to do so.
  • Missing objects are likely to be found. That beautiful bracelet wasn't lost after all - it was on your bookshelf, behind your favorite book!

What Else Should You Do During Mercury Retrograde Periods?

It would be a great time to reorganize your files or closets. Pack up clothes you haven't worn in a while and give them to charity. Polish your shoes and decide which ones need repair, and while you are at it, decide which appliances need to be taken in for repair as well. Oddly, as busy as we are, during these phases we always seem to find more time to get things done. When you clean your closets, you will find treasures you thought you lost or had completely forgotten about, always a bonus of going through things you have not seen in a while.

Mercury rules anything that begins with "re": redo, reassess, repair, repeat, redesign, or revisit. It's always human nature to want to hear that new opportunities are coming our way, but we really do need to focus on the quality of our work and improve it to the best it can be. Often this is a better use of our time than continually chasing the newest idea. Mercury retrograde allows you to be thorough and to perfect your performance.

Don't assume everything goes wrong during Mercury retrograde - sometimes things work in your favor. If you are self-employed and turned down an assignment because the price the client was willing to pay was too low, this same client may come back after the retrograde (after he sees many others turning down his offer) - and you get the project after all, at the right price. People reconsider their stance when Mercury is retrograde, and in some cases, conditions turn out to be more favorable to you than they might have been before.

As you can see, Mercury retrograde is not all bad - you can count on it!

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