After the hundredth or so bitter Facebook post directed at the planet Mercury this past week, I decided it was time to write something about Mercury to help clear its name.
I’m an astrologer and yoga studio co-owner; part of my spiritual practice and my teaching career involves attuning myself and my students to the planetary energies. Naturally, I feel inclined to stick up for the planets whenever people start blaming things on them.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, Mercury is currently in its “retrograde” phase in the sky right now. When Mercury is retrograde, which happens three times per year on average for approximately three-four weeks at a time, it appears as though the planet is moving backward through the zodiac out in space.
Mercury, like Venus, can be seen as either the evening star or morning star, and through its retrograde cycles it phases in and out of the two positions.
In fact, many ancient astronomers were befuddled because they would frequently mistake Venus for Mercury and vice versa. These retrogrades happen so frequently because of the relative speeds of the earth (which has an orbital speed of approximately 365 days) and Mercury (which has an orbital speed, in earth terms, of 88 days).
Before we go any further it’s important to clarify a few things.
First, for yoga people who aren’t up on astrology, it’s important to remember that astrology is one of the central pillars of the Hindu cosmology and one of the most fundamental components of all world religions. It’s therefore important (at least in my opinion) that we embrace an active relationship with the planetary energies in some form (even if we simply learn how to regulate our yoga practices by the Moon cycles or four seasons).
The fundamental belief of modern astrology is that the placement of the planets in the greater “cosmos” is a mirror image of the interior cosmos, or what we might call the individual “psyche.” This belief has its roots in Babylon, Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and the near east including India.
Natal astrology looks at the moment of our first breath, and the placement of the planets at the time, as a kind of blueprint of our karma and a roadmap for our evolutionary development in this lifetime.
The first thing to say about the planets is that each planet is representative of a particular dimension or energy structure within the psyche. Each planet, through its house and sign location, as well as by the angles being made to other planets, gives us a series of images and information that specifically map out an individual’s psyche in this lifetime. What any planet is doing at any given time (including Mercury retrogrades) will reflect the way in which our psyche is developing and experiencing its personal reality in relationship with the greater collective reality.
The next thing we can say is that the planet Mercury in particular represents the mind. In astrology, like Hindu cosmology, the mind is an infinitely self-reflective tool that we use in order to locate ourselves in time and space.
The mind helps us to process information and to separate ourselves from the environments in which we live, eat, move, breathe, etc. The mind helps us to symbolize and communicate with others. The mind is both linear and non-linear, both dualistic and non-dualistic. The mind is a tool of consciousness. The mind is also not just a personal thing but a global or collective thing.
The mind is our internet, our telephone wires, our highways and transportation systems.
Mercury governs the nervous system and it also governs all transit and information technology. Depending upon where/how Mercury is located in a person’s birth chart we will know more about how a person learns, thinks, communicates, and processes information. We will know more about the type of “mind” the person has and the karma associated with their mind and intellect.
When Mercury goes retrograde, and it appears to be moving backward through the zodiac, each one of us will have an atypical experience of Mercury.
Each planetary energy is what we call “archetypal” or “multivalent.” The effects or emanations of any planet are as complex as the patterns that emanate outward from the center jewel of a mandala. You might imagine that on the mental and nervous system levels (within ourselves and out in the world) information patterns are always moving like the musical parts of a symphony.
When Mercury goes retrograde, the patterns all switch to something very counter intuitive or “opposite” of what we’re normally doing. The patterns of our mind and our local environment during a Mercury retrograde are “played on” like Jazz musicians riffing off from classical structures.
This is where the Facebook hate comes in.
Mercury has a reputation for disrupting travel plans, crashing your computer, folding your new apartment lease, and otherwise wreaking mayhem on your normal linear lifestyle. The reason I feel inclined to stick up for Mercury, however, is that Mercury has a lot more to say than being “the planet that likes to jack up your travel plans.”
When things “go down” it’s not that they’re going down, it’s that the information flow is happening in a totally different fashion…which, again, we need to see in order to dislodge ourselves from over rationalizing or intellectualizing reality. It’s the tendency of our mind to want to operate in linear ways only (at least at this moment in history).
During a Mercury retrograde, the point of the retrograde is often to remind us that the mind can work in non-linear ways too. So people’s phones won’t work, the internet will go down, the plane will be late, and there will sometimes be ridiculous circumstances around these events that lets people know “something feels strange” (the feeling is emphasized because what’s happening is not linear/rational).
People connect to a different, non mental, mental reality…a strange “feeling” pervades the mind and reminds us that the mind is our tool…it has rules but those rules can be played on. It also reminds us that our “mind” is not the only mind.
Mercury retrogrades often help us see the larger “matrix of information” we are constantly streaming through. Sometimes the circumstances of a Mercury retrograde can be quite extreme depending on how attached or stuck or crystallized a person is within a particular linear block of the mind (which can also be part of a greater social mind block).
Hermes (another name for Mercury) in Greek myth was a trickster and the inventor of the Lyre, but we often forget that our mental reality is also a “musical” reality. Mercury retrogrades remind us that the mental plane is conducted by rhythms (both linear and non-linear) and the health of our mind depends upon our ability to “hear the music that we’re communicating or that’s being communicated.”
For example, earlier this week my professional website suddenly and mysteriously went down. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it and then about 24 hours later I figured it out: my domain name had expired. I sat back and said, “Okay Mercury, I’m here..what am I doing wrong?”
I was very calm and contained, trying to be a good yoga student and astrologer. Someone else had taken my domain name because I hadn’t renewed my bill for the year; I had completely overlooked the bill, and I figured there must be a deeper symbol at work to warrant this…what had I been doing wrong?
As the process of getting my domain name back unfolded over the next two days, I realized it hadn’t been my fault at all. It turned out through the process of getting my domain back that I had been overpaying for the wrong service for several years. The website was almost instantly back up and I was saved several hundred dollars per year in the process. A light went off in my head, and I could almost hear the voice of trickster Mercury singing to me:
“These retrogrades aren’t just about messing you up or about helping you see what you’re not doing in a negative sense…they are also about helping you see things you’re missing in a positive way….do more of this when you do astrology.”
And so, I feel inclined to stick up for Mercury; Mercury is not out to get us. Mercury is out to show us how any thought pattern, linear or non-linear, artsy and abstract, lofty and spiritual, or hyper analytical, can get stuck in the mud. Mercury will have a funny way of helping us dislodge the patterns of our mind that we are most unconsciously identified with and Mercury will tend to do so in highly bizarre and tricksterish ways.
For some of us, that might mean missing a flight so we can learn something or watching our computer crash or misplacing our cell phone so we can slow down and breathe.
For others, it could mean discovering something you lost or figuring out a way to save money.
The trick with Mercury is to stay calm, have a good sense of humor and remember that any planetary activity is not only happening “to us” it’s also happening “for us.”
All of this being said, I hope to see less Mercury bad mouthing and more Mercury laughter and self-reflection in the future!
Adam Elenbaas is an astrologer and the critically acclaimed author of “Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest.” Elenbaas is a founding writer and contributing editor at RealitySandwich.com. He is the co-owner of the Sky House Yoga Studio and Nightlight Astrology School in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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Assistant Ed: Lacy Ramunno/Ed: Bryonie Wise