Mercury Retrograde—Myth or Truth?

Monday Oct 7 | BY |
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Mercury Retrograde

Astrologists believe that when mercury appears to be moving backwards,
areas of communication and travel are compromised.

Are we affected by the motion of the planets? Those who subscribe to astrology—the study of the influence of cosmic objects on human lives—definitely think so. Others say it’s utter nonsense.

We’ve been hearing quite a bit about “Mercury retrograde” recently, however, and it peaked our curiosity. The next one is scheduled to occur between October 21, 2013 and November 10, 2013. Could the movements of this close neighbor of ours have anything to do with breakdowns in communications, increased traffic accidents, derailed business agreements, and even some global crises, as some astrologists believe?

What is Mercury Retrograde?

The period named as mercury retrograde is that few weeks of time when it appears to us here on Earth that the planet Mercury has slown down and is actually moving backwards. Of course, the planet is doing no such thing—it just looks like it is.

Here’s why: Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, and thus has a smaller orbit around the sun than we do. That means that it goes around the sun and then passes us by to go around again before we have even finished our first rotation.

You can imagine the planets as Indy 500 race cars, with Mercury on the inside flying by at top speed and our little planet Earth, which is more in the middle of the track, traveling more slowly.

Each time Mercury goes by on another lap, it appears to us that it’s actually going backwards. We usually observe the planets (Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, etc.) going from west to east throughout the night. During Mercury Retrograde, however, Mercury appears to put on the brakes, change direction, and go east to west. It does this for a few weeks, then resumes its normal west to east direction.

Why do we see Mercury’s passing as a backwards movement? It’s an optical illusion. The good folks at The StarChild website, which is a service of NASA, have this illustration to explain it:

Imagine standing side-by-side with your friend, Dave. You ask Dave to go ahead and walk forward slowly. He does so. After a few steps, you start walking too, but at a faster pace. Watch Dave as you pass by. At first, he’s moving away from you, but as you pass by, he “appears” to be moving backwards relative to your movement—even though he is still walking forward.

Because Mercury is the closest to the sun and has the smallest orbit, it appears to reverse its direction three to four times a year.

What Astrologists Believe

In the world of astrology, Mercury Retrograde can be a very difficult time. It’s often blamed for all sorts of mishaps, from global economic problems to the reason why your computer crashed. An astrologist will likely advise you to avoid entering into any new agreements, starting any new businesses, or taking potentially risky trips during the few weeks Mercury appears to be traveling backwards.

In the realm of astrology, Mercury rules communication, electronics, mental processing, business, written and spoken word, documents, and transporation, so it is these areas that are best treated with caution during times of Mercury Retrograde. You may experience problems with cell phones, computers, make more mistakes with your math or writing projects, and experience delayed flights.

The signs of Gemini and Virgo are thought to be more affected than the others because Mercury is their ruling planet. These people may experience the effects even slightly before the retrograde actually begins, according to astrologers—a period referred to as “the shadow.” This may begin roughly two weeks before and extend about two weeks after the actual retrograde period.

It’s not all bad, though—some will advise you to use the time to your advantage, and tie up loose ends, pay closer attention to how you communicate, and basically shore up your systems to withstand any potential difficulties. Other suggestions are to back up your computer systems and do some needed introspection.

Is There Any Truth To It?

Astrologists will offer up as evidence the fact that the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, 1970 Kent State protestor massacre, and JFK Jr.’s plane crash all happened in periods of Mercury Retrograde. The 2000 election, in which there was so much confusion over “hanging chads,” also took place during a period where Mercury appeared to be moving backwards. (You can see a number of other events that happened during Mercury retrograde here.)

So far, however, we have no scientific evidence supporting the idea that this optical illusion results in havoc here on Earth. Though there may be a number of unfortunate events that have happened during these periods, we haven’t any studies that actually compare these to the list of problems that occur when Mercury appears to be moving forward.

Science has said the same thing about astrology as a whole for decades, but there is still a large section of the population that believes a Cancer will get along better with a Capricorn than an Aries. Some say it is comforting to believe there is some sort of order in the universe, and that the space around us can help guide us in our day-to-day decisions.

In the end, it may not matter what we believe, but more how we use those beliefs to influence our daily lives. Rather than seeing Mercury Retrograde as a time to hunker down with our hands over our heads, we may benefit more by using it as some astrologers would suggest—as a time to step up our organization, back up our systems, repair what’s broken, pay close attention to our communications, update our emergency preparedness, prepare for travel delays, and make sure we’re traveling the speed limit.

Have you experienced communication, travel, or electrical problems during Mercury Retrograde? Please share your thoughts on the issue!

Kev’s Note: While I used to have a very science based approach to astrology, I’ve seriously changed this belief. I now strongly believe in the power of using an astrologer to look at your charts and listen to what they have to say. I can’t say that I’m always on board when someone says Mercury Retrograde is causing my electric tea kettle to malfunction, but—through personal experience—I’ve had great astrologers guide me through tough and challenging situations with ease.  

If you’re looking for a great one, these are the two that I’ve used and recommend (I’m sure they’d love to hear from you):

Caroline Casey

Bill Levacy 

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“StarChild Question of the Month for June 2002,”,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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