Mercury in retrograde: astronomers vs. astrologists

If you aren’t into astrology the way I am, you may not quite understand why you hear someone scream “oh no, Mercury is in retrograde again!” - looking as though they fear for their own existence.

We have been in retrograde since April 9th and will be until May 3rd, this isn’t the first time we’ll have a Mercury in retrograde period this year either.

A lot of people understand Mercury as being a planet in our orbit. Mercury passing through it’s ‘retrograde’ period, around three to four times a year, is where astronomers define the planet as moving backwards in an opposite direction to the Earth’s orbit.

The planet is not actually moving backwards, of course, but it appears to be. It’s an illusion from our perception on Earth caused by Mercury slowing down and appearing to station. As Earth continues to orbit, and Mercury slows down, it appears to recede from our stargazer’s view.

This was first noticed by ancient astronomers, when the Earth was once believed to be the centre of our solar system. It confused stargazers of the time, as they wondered why some planets would orbit in opposite directions to Earth if it was their centre.

It wasn’t until Nicolaus Copernicus, Polish mathematician and astronomer, discovered his Sun-centred idea of the solar system that is our key model, even in our Western society. That was when it began to make sense, the appearance of Mercury’s retrograde was due to our different positions in orbit of the Sun.

During the time of retrograde astrologers, who seek a deeper meaning from our planets and stars, believe the area of life that the planet represents can become ‘backwards’ – similarly to how it appears to be moving in our sky.

In Roman mythology, the planet Mercury was ruled by the Greek god Hermes - the ‘messenger of the Gods’. In Western Astrology, the planet is seen similarly as one that represents communication, travel and more recently, technology.

Astrologers believe that retrograde periods in Mercury mean that people will experience issues with their communication – both electronically, in person and with travel disruptions. Such as you’ll miss your bus or your flight will be delayed. You’ll break your phone or lose mail. This is why the period is so feared by astrology-believers.

But since Mercury being in retrograde is a disillusion, many astronomy-focused sceptics consider the effects of the retrograde period to be an illusion to astrologists, also. It’s up to you whether you’re an astronomer or an astrologist in your beliefs. I rule out neither of the two, but I can assure you I’ll be treading carefully throughout this retrograde.

As Mcgregor wrote in his book Star Power:

“Just as adept tarot readers can find patterns and meaning in the seemingly random draw of cards, an astrologer reads the cosmic language of the stars. In the interpretation, the stars reflect our lives. So even though the planets don’t reverse directions, the appearance that they do reflects us in subtle ways.”