Ripe Awareness and Cool Reflection

Mercury’s Virgo Retrograde, August 30 to September 22

Oh, Mercury retrograde…attitudes in response to this regular phenomenon range wide: worry-bead clicking, cautious planning, liberal scapegoating of this wily god for what goes wrong, and then there’s the annoyance all these views incite, which leads to writing-off and ignoring the retrograde altogether. Now this is not to say that things don’t go wonky when Mercury goes retrograde, they certainly do, but literalism and causal thinking have done a number to the way we think about this aspect of Mercury’s cycle. I therefore want to bring some reconsidered reflection to Mercury’s retrograde.

In astrology Mercury has to do with the inflow of our perceptions and outflow of expression. This is about how we take in the world and then share our observations through language and words, or skill-craft, or creative expression. Mercury, the Greek Hermes, is the messenger of the gods, so he is interested in communication (different languages), reception, exchange (currencies). And he delights in change, movement, connection. 

He has the ability to move between realms (multiple levels) connecting the gods with one another, and the mortals to the gods. That is, he has to do with how we read and make sense of the messages of our lives and psyche. He carries the god’s messages - the myths and metaphors - into our lives. These divine messages can come from above (inspiration, the Muses!) but also from below. The only sanctioned traveler who could enter Hades and return, it was natural for him to take the role of soul guide, psychopompos. It is sacred work to be able to travel from above to below, and this is key to understanding the Mercury retrograde cycle.

Persephone returning from the Underworld with Hermes as guide. Hecate carries the torches, lighting her way. Demeter stands back holding a staff.    Attic red figure krater, classical period. 

Persephone returning from the Underworld with Hermes as guide. Hecate carries the torches, lighting her way. Demeter stands back holding a staff.  

Attic red figure krater, classical period. 

In her excellent book Retrograde Planets, Erin Sullivan writes about our need for both divine and profane states of being and she describes this through the perceptual modes of attention and awareness. Attention is an active state of focus where we consciously participate with others, the world, our projects, engaging in our profane day to day being. This is the direct or forward moving phase of Mercury’s cycle. Awareness is part of the sacred phase, where there is a holistic connection to the environment and a moment that is not directive, but rather, diffuse and whole-picture oriented. As he moves into the underworld (metaphor for the unconscious) he brings messages of sacred import. “In particular, when Mercury is retrograde”, Sullivan writes, “then something important is calling for awareness, and that particular ‘something’ will emerge from the unconscious through the agency of Mercury. In the retrograde phase of Mercury’s cycle we discover that life, like art, is discovery not design”[1].  I love that idea because it balances our moving and shaking mentality, our compulsion to always be doing.  

So Mercury in the underworld provides a very different perspective to our upperworld, day-to-day orientation. During this period it is as if we are processing information on another level, one that is below our consciousness ken. In this way, “Mercury acts as an agent of recollection – anamnesis – and of the curing of the soul through illumination[2]”.

This is a natural and cyclical period of reflection, retrospection, return, review. Turning back, going over things, looking for insight so that the next steps forward will be based on solid ground. Hence incubation (of an idea or plan of action) and active waiting is usually fine counsel during this time.

A fascinating fact about Mercury is that he retrogrades in consecutive zodiacal order of an element. This year it is in the earth signs: Taurus April 28th to May 22nd, now Virgo from August 30th to September 22nd, and at the end of the year it will be Capricorn from December 19th to January 8th of the new year.

We can bring this earth Mercury retrogression into personal focus by seeing where in our chart it is moving, where sacred awareness and a more diffuse sensitivity to the rhythm of our life are needed. With Mercury in ‘earth’ our thoughts are influenced by sensible needs, earthy things, ideas that are applicable in a practical way. In Virgo, which is an air/earth sign ruled by Mercury, ideas and the creative power of manifestation are key. It’s the sign of the craftsperson, one that has the vision and skill to bring an idea into form - making it matter. Matter as meaningful, and matter as of the earth, and something you can get your hands around, then act in service to a larger vision.

My feeling is that we can profit most from this incubation period by cultivating a Mercurial cool sense. That means reflecting on things, sitting with ideas and approaching them from different angles. Not rushing, and keeping a sharp eye on Virgo shadow behaviors like getting lost (and anxious) in the details, or holding back in search of perfection, over-analyzing or being too critical. Take the ideas above and make some time to ask Mercury-Hermes what he wants of you. What is ripe for harvesting? What needs more incubation? What idea is it time to begin working on?

Want to go deeper? Contact me for a chart reading and we can explore the gods in your chart. Astrology is a soul practice, reflection is good.


[1] Erin Sullivan, Retrograde Planets. Samuel Weiser: York Beach, ME. 2000. p. 53.

[2] Ibid, p. 54.