Mixed Signals, Bright Ideas: Mercury Retrograde in Gemini

Originally published in 2008

Dear Friend and Reader:

WE ALL KNOW how weird Mercury retrograde can be. On a mundane level, it’s usually simpler than the psychological level; i.e., it’s easy enough to back up your disk drives early and often. It’s also wise to avoid doing anything of the kind during the few days close to the stations, and all it takes is a little planning.

Identical Twins: Roselle, N.J. 1967. By Diane Arbus.

With some negotiation, you can avoid signing contracts or making major commitments during the retrograde phase or during those days when Mercury’s direction is changing. Conserve your cash and you’ll be ready if something goes amiss. All of this becomes common sense after a while, though it’s worth repeating.

Mercury is retrograde for three weeks about three times a year, and we’re about to experience one between May 25 and June 19. There is a phase of about three weeks on either side of the actual retrograde wherein the effect is noticeable; this is called the echo or shadow phase. During this phase, Mercury is moving through the degrees where it’s about to be retrograde, or was just retrograde. When the echo phase ends, Mercury takes new territory and continues to do so for about nine weeks before entering a new echo phase. The rhythm of this dance is meaningful to follow and you can learn a lot about astrology and life if you do so.

The retrogrades make interesting patterns; for example, focusing on one particular element each year. We are currently in a year of Mercury retrogrades in the air signs. Over the winter, Mercury was retrograde in Aquarius. It will soon be retrograde in Gemini, and later in the year, in Libra.

The pattern is not evenly distributed through the signs. For example, Mercury is retrograde least of all in the water signs Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces. I’ve noticed that, for most people, these are the most emotionally challenging retrogrades.

Note that all planets (except the Sun and Moon, which are not actually planets) spend part of their orbit retrograde. The patterns are different between the inner planets (Mercury, Venus and Mars) and the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn and anything beyond). The outer planets are retrograde part of every year, usually for about four to five months. Venus is retrograde every 18 months and spends the least time retrograde of all the planets. Mars is retrograde every two years. Mercury, which moves quickly, is retrograde three times a year.

They all have one thing in common — when a planet is retrograde, the Earth is closer to that planet.

The Unique Psychological Trip

While the issues with communication devices, mechanical objects and agreements are what make Mercury retrograde famous, what makes each retrograde unique and interesting is the psychological and emotional material that surrounds the process. Many have noticed that retrogrades can be creatively potent, deeply introspective and reveal a lot about who we are — to ourselves, and at times to others. Conspiracies can come unmasked. Gossip can be revealed.

Mercury retrograde may make you want to do this to your cell phone. Image, courtesy of Ian Saxon.

We can notice things we would have missed otherwise; odd or long-concealed facts have a way of bubbling to the surface. When this happens, Mercury works a little like Chiron, revealing the weaknesses in a system in a way that helps us fix them. Mercury retrograde is particularly hazardous to those who deceive or make a habit of deceiving themselves: it is a great time for gossip to backfire. All these changes can put stress on relationships, and when you add to that the undeniable factor of miscommunication, things can get hairy.

If there is still anybody out there who judges a person’s character based on one unreturned email, or even two, I suggest you reconsider your policy. If you send an important email during this phase, perhaps make a phone call to say you did so.

People who like Mercury retrograde tend to be the ones who enjoy having their ideas about themselves shaken up, and welcome the experience of new ideas being shaken loose from their minds. They tend to be artists, writers and system-busters of various stripes.

In addition to being associated with money and communication devices, Mercury is about the living spirit of our minds, the spark of consciousness that represents self-awareness and conscious intelligence. It is an androgynous god, and appears in many cultures as the archetype of the trickster. The trickster effect is particularly potent during retrogrades, and as annoying as it can be, you can also have a lot of fun playing with ideas, investigating yourself and surfing the threads of synchronicity.

In traditional astrology, Mercury rules two signs — Gemini and Virgo. Both of these signs are mentally oriented, dualistic, and associated with language and intelligence. Of the two, Gemini is more associated with quick wits, skill with language, talent for commerce and multitasking. Virgo is associated with analysis, systematic thinking and service. It is the most self-critical sign, often taking this to excess.

In Alice Bailey‘s system described in the book Esoteric Astrology, Mercury is the ruler of Aries, which if you think about it makes sense. Mercury is a planet associated with ideas, and ideas represent an initiation.

Looking at Gemini

Since this retrograde is in Gemini, let’s briefly review that sign. Gemini is part of the mutable cross. Mutable means changeable, and what it changes between are cardinal (initiative or impulsiveness: to wit, Aries) and fixed (steady or hunkered down: to wit, Taurus). Bailey associates the mutable cross (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces) specifically with the awakening of the Christ mind, which I will translate as a unifying spiritual principle. Even if you look at ordinary interpretations of the signs out of Dell Horoscope, you might get this idea.

The Inner Twin. Catalina from the Book of Blue. Photo by Eric Francis.

Many of the zodiac signs infer a reference to dualism. For example, Aries and Taurus are both represented by animals with two horns. Gemini is the first sign to depict a human being, a distinction reserved exclusively for the air signs and for Virgo. The other eight signs depict animals.

In the first sign depicting humanity, we have two people shown — and they are twins! I appreciate this bit of cosmic wit, Gemini styled. Yes, people tend to arrive in pairs (but they do a lot of triangulating).

The twin metaphor suggests that within every individual is a kind of inner double with whom we are in a relationship, be it conscious or not. Think of this any way you like — the dark and light sides of our nature; male and female (Mercury is androgynous); the physical versus the psychic nature; or the dual sense of mortality (ego) and immortality (soul) that follows from the myth of Castor and Pollux.

Another Gemini theme reminds us that it’s impossible to name anything without also implying its opposite; any concept, like “me,” also implicitly contains the concept that everything else is not that (everything else is “not me”). This is the original “fall” or separation; dividing the One into manageable little chunks and slices using mental concepts and taking these to be real, when they are all only ever ideas, imaginary dividing lines between me, you, the tree and the dog. This is perhaps the oldest reason why Mercury rules Gemini: because the mind (initially ruled by Gemini) was traditionally said to divide everything into opposites, and be the cause of separation. The first separation always being into “me” and “everything else,” which instantly causes insecurity and fear that was not present before that concept. You can always see when babies develop their self-concept because they immediately become insecure and clingy.

The twins of Gemini also suggest that many human relationships are typically played out on the level of siblings: not particularly mature, operating by their own rules and — most significantly — subject to parental authority (which begins to take hold in the next sign, Cancer: the sign of the mother). Note the paradox: the kids come in the third sign, mom comes in the fourth. Alice Bailey suggests we run the zodiac wheel in reverse and see how well it works (it works pretty good).

One of my favorite facts about twins is that they sometimes develop a secret language, called an ideoglossia. Here is an interesting case study. This can be an elaborate, complex language understood only by two individuals. (If there is a linguist in the house who has studied this phenomenon, I would love to hear from you.) People who speak to one another in jargon or coded words are invoking one of the infrequently acknowledged powers of Gemini, which is to exclude others from the private partnerships that are so often formed in the world. Jargon frequently appears among people who buy and sell things with one another, and commerce is a distinct quality of Gemini.

A Rich Moment: Retrograde in Gemini

Considering all of this, Mercury retrograde in Gemini promises to be pretty interesting. Retrogrades turn inward and they allow us to reflect on the past. I think this will be an exciting phase for people who are introspective, reflective and who value their relationship to themselves on a conscious level. For others, it may feel like being led through a confusing maze.

Eric’s mom, Camille Cacciatore Savitz,is a Gemini with Virgo rising. One of her hobbies is putting on cabaret performances in her hometown, New York City — a very Gemini kind of thing to do. Photo by Eric Francis.

Looking at the charts, two themes come to mind: mixed signals and brilliant ideas. Humans are famous for their mixed signals. How often do we say one thing and mean another, fully aware of what we’re doing (or not)? One might dress a certain way, which seems to be a message to the world, then not appreciate what people think you’re expressing. You might play a game of approach-avoid, which sends one of the most mixed signals of all. Hypocrisy is a mixed signal, where people say one thing and do another thing, or hold the world to one set of rules and themselves to another.

Mercury retrograde in Gemini can help us see these patterns for what they are, learn from them and, then if necessary, help us rectify them. They are confusing to ourselves and others, and they waste a lot of time.

Second: brilliant ideas. The retrograde takes place square Uranus in Pisces. It’s dancing around in opposition to the Great Attractor; it makes repeated aspects to Chiron, Nessus and is loosely trine Neptune. This is a lot of flow.

The beginning of the retrograde phase teases a perfect square to Uranus; at the very end, the square resolves and, after a long and complex inner journey with many little, big and bigger discoveries along the way, something shifts.

I thought I would put a microscope to this unusual transit and see what we discover, looking at Mercury’s aspects to the more than 100 minor planets we track, as well as other interesting events that occur during the retrograde. For example, on the day that Mercury stations retrograde, Neptune also stations retrograde, with Chiron close by. So there is a triple station retrograde within about 24 hours, and all three planets are in the air signs. If you are one of those people who is looking for ways to shift your thinking, or searching for new experiences of inspiration, this is a rich moment.

We don’t have delineations of all the minor planets that are referenced in the sequence of aspects below, but the ones we do have are linked each time. We are planning 16 more delineations for the next annual edition. Aspects listed below that are marked “near miss” are not the closest pass ever of the aspect, but are the closest pass occurring during this time frame. They are usually exact to one degree. This sequence covers from the beginning of the first echo phase through the end of the second one; from May 11 through Saturday, July 5. I won’t interpret every aspect, though I’ll leave them all in for the sake of the akashic record. It will be interesting to go through the process and take notes on events or thoughts of each day and see how they align with the aspects or not.

Note that most (not all) of the aspects repeat a total of three times on this list. This happens each time Mercury is retrograde, because it covers the same 11 or so degrees of the zodiac three times, repeating its aspects to the slow-movers.

The aspects below were calculated by Serennu.


Sunday 11 May 2008

Mercury (13+ Gemini) sextile Elatus (13+ Leo). Elatus is a centaur planet that I associate with leading people on in situations that they don’t understand; or don’t understand the potential outcome of. It has a touch of Pholus, “small cause, big effect” (which you could easily enough apply to all of astrology).

Monday 12 May 2008

Mercury (14+ Gemini) opposite Ixion (14+ Sagittarius Rx). Ixion is a study in amorality. I attribute the key phrase, “anyone is capable of anything,” in the best and worst expressions of that potential. In the postmodern era, we know the difference between right and wrong quite well. But we tend to concern ourselves with petty matters and skip over the big ones. It is easier that way.

Mercury (14+ Gemini) opposite Great Attractor (14+ Sagittarius). This is an aspect with a polarizing effect on the mind. Things that are not a big deal can become a very big deal, in one’s own mind, but there seems to be a faux quality to the controversy. The Great Attractor is a curiously Sagittarian point, vaster than anything known, bigger than millions of galaxies, and which nobody really understands. Therefore, it can represent our relationship to, and how we relate to, who and what we don’t understand — typically, we make up stories. If you make up stories, take them apart and see what they mean before somebody else does it to you.

Mercury (14+ Gemini) trine Atlantis (14+ Libra Rx). Atlantis is an asteroid about the use and abuse of technological power, and how we handle that quality. It is also associated with doomsday-type thinking, such as the notion that the end is near. Remember, on the collective level, this is an idea. But we might want to ponder our use of technology as individuals and as a society. Forget right and wrong; do we do anything productive, really? Do we make beauty, or do we mostly chatter?

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Mercury (14+ Gemini) trine Nessus (14+ Aquarius). Nessus takes the abuse of power on an exceedingly personal level. Nessus can point to the causes and the effects of karma. A trine opens up a mental window and an easy dialog.

Mercury (14+ Gemini) trine Rhadamanthus (14+ Libra Rx).

Thursday 15 May 2008

Mercury (16+ Gemini) opposite Crantor (16+ Sagittarius Rx).

Saturday 17 May 2008

Nessus stations retrograde (14+ Aquarius)

Mercury (18+ Gemini) opposite Quaoar (18+ Sagittarius Rx). Quaoar is a really interesting point just beyond the orbit of Pluto. I believe it’s associated with the power of our personal creation mythologies (everything from how we were created, to how we ‘create ourselves’ in the process of life) and family patterns that we enter unconsciously from birth. Mercury opposite this point is like a dialog with these ideas.

Monday 19 May 2008

Mercury (19+ Gemini) square Logos (19+ Virgo Rx). I consider Logos a kind of super Mercury. I think it’s one of the most interesting of the objects beyond Pluto. Preliminary research indicates a connection to computer programming (among other things), and I associate it with the phrase, “the search for the soul of technology.”