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As some of you may know, I previously wrote a post on Mercury Retrograde, which I am continuing to leave posted on here (check the spiritual astrology category if you want to see it). However, that was over a year ago, and at that point I had not heard that there was an entire book specifically on retrograde planets. And of course, I have more personal experience under my belt. In that article, I tried to lump many aspects of Mercury Retrograde together which don’t always fit together (I did not know any better). Hopefully this series of articles will be of benefit or at least clarify what Mercury Retrograde can mean – if nothing else, maybe you can get a good chuckle out it!
For those of us who have studied more than one book or taken a class in / about Western Astrology, we know it is a very complex subject. There are a few lucky people on the planet to whom it comes very easily, however for the most part, it requires some study, some application, and then further review of the theories formed – and then re-evaluation and further application. And to top it off, there is no ONE WAY to practice astrology – there may be as many methods as there are legitimate astrologers. And we each have our unique karma, our unique filters and conditioning, so of course we will experience it differently than the next person. And it is within this vast variety of Beingness that Mercury Retrograde cycles arise and dissolve, three times per year.
As I mentioned, there is an entire book on retrograde planets, and if you have any interest in mythology or astrology or timing cycles in general, then I highly recommend it. It is “Retrograde Planets” by Erin Sullivan. Most of the information in this post is from her ideas – which of course will be run through my personal filters, and then regurgitated for your reading pleasure. How do you like that? 🙂 I hope this counts as my citing (primarily paraphrasing) her work. So yes, this is basically a brief book review with a touch of my own knowledge and experience thrown in. Oh and in her book there are some exquisite sections on how former pagan religions worshiped Venus and how that plays into the present day myth and cycles. There are some fascinating tidbits about the Mayan cycles of time too – which oddly enough mirrored extremely accurate cycles of Venus.
First of all, Mercury (Mercurius), or Hermes, is a very complex mythological Messenger of the Gods. To the Egyptians, Hermes was associated with Thoth, who had strong fertility roots. Thoth also figured into the alchemical process, which may be apart of how Mercury is associated with Magical Transformations today (at least to some). According to some early Greek literature (Homer), Hermes was witty, sly, musically gifted, charming and mischievous – he stole Apollo’s cattle and somehow traded a lyre for them later on, all while his older brother, the great Sun god was happily deceived. Oh – and this was all to the amusement of Zeus who applauded Hermes’ gumption. Hermes brings up his very young age when questioned about the cattle, which is another aspect – Mercury (and especially Virgo and Gemini’s) youthful appearance, its pre-adolescent naivety and playfulness. Hermes the joker is a healing aspect, bringing humor and a change of pace to otherwise somber or dreadful situations.
There are some serious aspects to Mercury, although I’d say his trickster, youthful and mentally dexterous sides certainly are more to the fore, as in the Iliad, he is in charge of bringing the mourning Priam to Achilles – the slayer of the King’s son, Hector. Mercury guides the king through the enemy camp, protecting him and making his passage unknown. Due to Mercury’s association with the body / mind connection, which includes communication, assimilation and translation, his role in the birth chart (and reflected in the personality) is most crucial. Sullivan goes on to claim that Mercury, I’m assuming due to its multiple retrograde cycles, is the “guide through the retrograde process [of all the planets]” and therefore is especially pertinent to those who have numerous retrograde planets in their birth chart. Finally, one of Mercury’s (Hermes’) vital roles is as the patron of journeys – which is essentially different than travels. A journey is an adventure, and there is always a sense of unknown along the way, whereas traveling is from point A to point B. To journey is to step into not knowing. And Mercury will guide us along the way (hopefully).
Sullivan mentions a most intriguing point when she associates Mercury with creativity. I completely agree with her reasoning, but it requires a few connections to get there: Hermes is the only god who is able to travel to Hades (the underworld) at will, and to come back (at will). This may parallel Mercury’s descent into darkness when it is in the midst of its frequent retrograde cycle – the New Phase of Mercury, when it comes across the face of the Sun and we lose it for a couple weeks. But then, like mythological Hermes, it returns to sight, becoming Phosphorus, the Morning Star. This semi-annual journey into the darkness of the underworld could also parallel a descent into the unconscious, which is where some scholars believe our intuitive insights arise. And therefore, Hermes is associated with the creative process. Sullivan likens the shift from the rational / linear left hemisphere to the spontaneously intuitive right as an alchemical transformation, again, associated with Hermes.
Hermes is a pure mediator, a guide for lost souls and a neutral party in many myths. I think this function is most clarifying, as Mercurial types can be very objective and empirical – sometimes erring on the side of dry, logical, non-emotionality. Mercury is only the messenger of the gods, nothing more (besides trickster extraordinaire), it is often the role of the message receiver to become reactive or emotional. Zeus can be having a bad day, but Mercury just maintains his pre-adolescent (naive) happiness as he goes about his job. And it is Mercury’s job to guide us through the retrograde cycles, as we dip into our unconscious, perhaps taking a few weeks to chew on what we find, and then one day our way forward is clear as daylight – the alchemical transformation is complete once again. I appreciate Sullivan’s words as the retrograde process is “two steps forward and one back.”
It is obvious that Mercury is quite a complex character and I applaud Sullivan as she navigates her readers through mythological Hermes and the technical aspects of Mercury in the birth chart (which will come in the my next post). Thanks for reading! Oh and by the way, the picture above is of Manjushri, the Buddha of Gnosis (Wisdom). I worry that my practice of Tibetan Buddhism is seeping through to this otherwise non-secular article but obviously not enough to remove the Buddhist “God” of Wisdom. Have a good day 🙂