Home Astrology What is Retrograde and Why is Mercury Always in It? Astrology 101

What is Retrograde and Why is Mercury Always in It? Astrology 101


Those who have never dabbled in astrology may associate ‘mercury retrograde’ with bad luck from passing comments. Learn what is retrograde and its true meaning.

Imagine blaming an entire planet for your recent misfortunes. Most people already do this, and the planet held responsible for it all is little old Mercury.

The term Mercury in retrograde seems to scare a lot of people who believe in its power to mess up your entire life. It’s even blamed for spilled lattes, fights between friends, and getting stuck in traffic. Mercury in retrograde affects us all, it seems, and even the non-believers find it to be a good scapegoat for their mishaps and poor decisions.

But what is retrograde, and why is Mercury the only culprit? Well, for one thing, this little planet isn’t actually out to get you. Keep reading to learn more about Mercury in retrograde, the science behind it, and more.

Mercury Retrograde Throughout History

The earliest mention of Mercury Retrograde as an astrological nuisance was the mid-1700s in British agricultural almanacs. Farmers who read these almanacs believed that this retrograde phenomenon was responsible for affecting the panting seasons.

Much later in the 20th century, Henry A Wallace—a farmer, almanac publisher, and secretary of agriculture and second vice president to Franklin Roosevelt—felt that astronomy was greatly linked to scientific agriculture. In other words, he believed that the rotating zodiac signs could clue us in as to what the best seasons were for planting certain crops. Even today, farmer’s almanacs are published with a basis in zodiacal charts.

Interestingly enough, publications in the 19th century made a connection between the planet Mercury, it’s retrograde cycle and heavy rainfall. With the Victorian era being a time of spiritual infatuation would characterize such things as heavy rainfall as a bad omen. 

In addition to this era of spirituality came the inclusion of gods and goddesses, such as the Roman god Mercury. Mercury was believed to be the god of travel, finance, wealth, commerce, and communication—therefore the planet Mercury in its time of retrograde becomes one with the god of all things that can go wrong.

Since the 1970s people have been wary of this astrological phenomenon, it is common to hear that you shouldn’t begin anything when Mercury is in retrograde. Since then, everything from a simple stomach ache to Texas electricity rates is blamed on the planet’s movement.   

What Is Retrograde?

The simplest definition of retrograde is a “step backward”. In terms os astronomy it’s when a planet appears to be moving backward in its orbit when being viewed from Earth. That’s right—it’s an illusion.

This apparent retrograde phase happens three to four times a year. All planets move from east to west around the sun, including Mercury. However, during these phases, Mercury seems to take a turn to go from west to east. In reality, the planet has just reached a parallel orbit to Earth’s, creating the illusion that it’s moving backward. It’s kind of like when you’re driving near a train. The train looks as if it’s running backward but really you’re just moving at a much higher speed. 

Regardless of this illusion, astrologers and other believers are convinced that Mercury in retrograde has some serious effects on our lives here on earth. And so the planet gets blamed for computer glitches, botched business deals, delayed and missed flights, mechanical issues, etc.   

Why Mercury?

You’re probably wondering—why don’t any of the other planets do this? The truth is, all planets do this. The reason being that Earth doesn’t follow the same orbital path as the other planets within our solar system. Therefore, at some point in time, all planets will enter a retrograde mode.

Unlike Mercury, the other planets may only enter the retrograde phase once per year, or not at all. When the other planets go into retrograde, you can bet that things will go awry—so why all the negative hype with just one planet?

Mercury gets the blame mainly because of its association with the god and everything he’s responsible for. It also has a lot to do with the planet’s closeness to both the earth and the sun. Mercury’s proximity to earth is what makes it so visible to us. Couple that with its frequent visits to the retrograde phase and you have your scapegoat. 

Separating the Facts From Fiction

People say a lot of things about Mercury retrograde, like don’t do business deals or buy a car during this time. They also say not to make any crucial decisions like buying or selling a house or starting a relationship until retrograde is no longer in effect. Even astrologers feel that you should be extra careful to protect your valuables and double-check your flight times—which is actually sound advice year-round.   

So, how does this fast little planet affect you and me four times a year?

Some people believe that Mercury has a special gravitational pull that can influence the water levels in our bodies, kind of like how the moon governs the tides. Of course, science will tell you that this is just not true. However, scientists do agree that it’s both a real and a superstitious phenomenon.

The real part about it has more to do with perspective than a gravitational pull or a planet gone mad. Mercury is much closer to the sun than the earth is, and it orbits at a much faster rate. Therefore it will complete a full rotation in less time. The phases of retrograde happen when Mercury’s orbit catches up to that of Earth’s, which is when this illusion becomes realized. 

Once the illusion is realized by all of us here on Earth, our perspective changes and everything feels out of sorts. 

How to Handle Mercury in Retrograde

Whether you’re a believer or not, there is a way to prepare yourself—and embrace—Mercury in retrograde. As mentioned before, during this time it’s important to take extra care and pay attention to the little details. Here are a few tips to get you through it:

  • Remember to breathe—it won’t last forever
  • Don’t rush ANYTHING
  • Don’t force problematic conversations in your relationships
  • Don’t begin new romantic relationships, if you can help it
  • Pay attention—you may not be able to avoid signing a contract or sealing a business deal, so make sure that you read the fine print on everything
  • Triple check all of your emails, texts, travel itineraries, etc. 
  • Reevaluate yourself and your life—this is the time to figure out what you need to heal from or revisit. 
  • Don’t fight it

Not everything during this phase has to be negative. Try to think of it as a time of reorganization. Many astrologers believe that Mercury retrograde, due to its proximity of the Earth and the illusion of taking a step backward, is trying to tell us something or offer us a “cosmic do-over”. In other words, it’s a time for second chances.

That means rather than fearing Mercury and all of its power in retrograde, we should embrace it as something positive. It is suggested that during this time, it’s a good idea to pick up an old project or revisit an old goal that you may have started working towards, but then lost track of. 

It’s also a good time to reach out to old friends or maybe even rekindle an old flame. It sounds counterintuitive to everything we know so far about Mercury retrograde, however, while it’s not the time to start something new, it is the time to focus on the old

The reasoning behind all this is that it’s believed to be a time of reevaluation—a time to slow down and really examine your life. In doing so, you may realize a new perspective or creative inspiration on an old project or a goal you thought you couldn’t reach before. New communication may be disrupted, but that’s only so communication from unsettled relationships can be mended. 

Remember, It’s Just an Illusion

So, what is retrograde?

While it may be defined as a step backward, but scientifically, it’s just an illusion. At least now you understand the science behind it and you have a new perspective to take on when Mercury enters into the retrograde phase once again. Or at the very least, you have a scapegoat four times a year when things just aren’t going your way.

For more interesting articles for your curious mind, you can browse through our website as we cover everything from planets that mess with us to health, relationships, and so much more.