User's Guide: Mercury In RetrogradeS

Apparently, it is (though not for too much longer). And apparently, that's supposed to explain a lot. But what, exactly, does it mean? And should it carry more or less weight than any astrological happening?

I've heard the phrase for years, tossed around with various degrees of earnestness by different friends to explain periods of chaos, lateness to appointments, and general bad luck. A planet is "in retrograde" when it moves backwards. But beyond that, what does Mercury's movement mean, and why is it such a big deal?

Initial inquiries were not illuminating. Says Astrologycom,

At 20:00 UT (Universal Time) Friday, August 20th, 2010, Mercury the wise communicator-and universal trickster-turns retrograde at 19°01' Virgo, in the sign of the Virgin, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarlup! The retro period begins some days before the actual turning point (as Mercury slows) and lasts for three weeks or so, until September 12, 2010, when the Winged Messenger reaches his direct station. At this time he halts and begins his return to direct motion through the zodiac. Everything finally straightens out on September 27, as he passes the point where he first turned retrograde.

About.com was more direct.

[Mercury Retrograde] happens three to four times per year, when the planet Mercury slows down, and appears to stop (station) and move backward (retrograde). It's an optical illusion, since there is forward movement, like speeding by a slow-moving train — as it recedes, it appears to go backward.

The reason it's a big deal, astrologically-speaking, is that Mercury (the messenger, after all) is in charge of communication. Hence, when he's leaping around backwards, communication gets screwed up too. And it's not just direct communication! Summarizes Wikipedia,

Astrologically, Mercury represents the principles of communication, mentality, thinking patterns, rationality and reasoning, and adaptability and variability. Mercury governs schooling and education; the immediate environment of neighbors, siblings and cousins; transport over short distances; messages and forms of communication such as post, email and telephone; newspapers, journalism and writing, information gathering skills, and physical dexterity. The 1st-century poet Manilius described Mercury as an inconstant, vivacious, and curious planet. In medicine, Mercury is associated with the nervous system, the brain, the respiratory system, the thyroid, and the sense organs. It is traditionally held to be essentially cold and dry, but variable in temperament, according to its placement in the zodiac and in any aspects to other planets. It is linked to the animal spirits, alongside the Moon

. So, basically, all this stuff gets affected. One astrologer calls it "Murphy's Law in the Cosmos." Allegedly, emails and calls won't go through, phones and computers fall apart, and it's a generally bad idea to attempt anything, like cementing relationships or signing contracts.

One recommended page on Karmic Astrology gave the following list of things to be avoided until the 27th:

* If at all possible, avoid signing legal documents.
* If at all possible, finish projects which involve communication before the retrograde.
* If at all possible, avoid closing big deals during the retrograde
* If at all possible, avoid launching new projects during the retrograde
* If at all possible, avoid scheduling meetings to make a big decision
* Allow extra time when travelling
* Backup your hard drive before the retrograde
* If at all possible, avoid installing new computer software during the retrograde
* Do needed repairs on machinery before the retrograde
* Do not hold an election during the retrograde.

Mercury normally turns retrograde three times a year, but this year it's four. Assuming you're willing to give the astrology the benefit of the doubt or are eager to latch onto an excuse for general negligence, take heed: it's not all bad. Mercury Retrograde, as well as generating chaos, "provides the opportunity to adjust our thoughts, attitudes and decisions about our issues and adjust our new direction as we move through 2010." (This according to a site that comes highly recommended by a friend's astrologist mother.) In other words, take stock, tie up loose ends, be contemplative.

What any of this means for Fashion Week — let alone the Jewish High Holy Days — is an open question. For the superstitious - back up your files. The non-superstitious really should, too. After all, better safe than sorry. The biggest question, really, is what our excuse is the other nine months of the year.

Mercury Retrograde [Astrologycom]
Mercury Retrograde [About.com]
Mercury Retrograde [The Green Duck]