At 07:18 UT (Universal Time), on Wednesday, September 24th, 2008, Mercury the cosmic trickster turns retrograde in Libra, the sign of the Scales, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarlup! This awkward period begins a few days before the actual turning point (as Mercury slows) and lasts for three weeks or so, until October 15, just after the Full Moon in Aries, 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 October 31, as he passes the point where he first turned retrograde. Mercury turns retrograde three times a year, as a rule, but the effects of each period differ, according to the sign in which it happens (see box for Retrograde Periods in 2008).
A planet is described as retrograde when it appears to be moving backwards through the zodiac. According to modern science, this traditional concept arises in the illusory planetary motion created by the orbital rotation of the earth with relation to other planets in our solar system. Planets are never actually retrograde or stationary, they just seem that way due to this cosmic shadow-play.
Retrograde periods, although often problematic for us earthlings, are not particularly uncommon. Each planet retrogrades, except the Sun and Moon. Although a powerful astrological influence, Mercury is quite a small planet that travels at a relatively fast speed through the zodiac. Despite being the closest planet in our solar system to the Sun, it is not always in the same sign as the Sun (for example, although this time Mercury turns retrograde in Libra, the same sign as the Sun, last year Mercury turned in Scorpio while the Sun was in Libra, but headed back into Libra just as the Sun strode into Scorpio).
As a rule, retrograde planets presage a period of seemingly inevitable or fated events that relate to their sphere of influence. They present us with a series of events over which we seem to have little or no control, relating especially to the sign in which the retrogradation occurs. For example, Mercury retrograde in Scorpio (intensity; sexuality) presents quite different sets of circumstances from those generated when it retrogrades into Libra (relationships; harmony; æsthetics).
A retrograde period is best seen as a cycle, beginning when the planet begins to slow to a halt before travelling backwards through the zodiac and ending when the planet returns to the point where it first paused. However, during the cycle, the planet's energy is most powerful (and more likely to generate critical events of universal importance) when the planet makes a station: appearing motionless in the sky.
These stationary periods occur near the beginning of the cycle (when the planet first halts as it prepares to move backwards) and midway through the cycle when the retrograde planet slows to a stop before moving forward again. The "direct station" (when the planet halts before moving forward again) is the most powerful and can be used for maximum benefit.
Many astrologers consider that the "Mercury Shadow" begins some three weeks before the actual retro station (when Mercury passes the point of direct station for the first time). This has some justification, but I am more inclined to think that the really noticeable peculiarities begin when Mercury slows significantly, a few days before the retro station. This period of "Mercury Shadow" extends to the Return date, some three weeks after the direct station. Bear this in mind, because experience shows that the effects of the retro period are still marked during the "shadow" phase. Some of the most characteristic annoyances often occur just after Mercury makes the direct station, while he is crawling forward before picking up speed.
In general, Mercury rules thinking and perception, processing and disseminating information and all means of communication, commerce, education and transportation. By extension, Mercury rules people who work in these areas, especially people who work with their minds or their wits: writers and orators, commentators and critics, gossips and spin doctors, teachers, travellers, tricksters and thieves.
Mercury retrograde gives rise to personal misunderstandings; flawed, disrupted, or delayed communications, negotiations and trade; glitches and breakdowns with phones, computers, cars, buses, and trains. And all of these problems usually arise because some crucial piece of information, or component, has gone astray or awry.
It is therefore not wise to make important decisions while Mercury is retrograde, since it is very likely that these decisions will be clouded by misinformation, poor communication and careless thinking. Mercury is all about mental clarity and the power of the mind, so when Mercury is retrograde these intellectual characteristics tend to be less acute than usual, as the critical faculties are dimmed. Make sure you pay attention to the small print!
The key issue here is one of focus. Mercury's retro phase tends to bring unforeseen changes and blockages, but the aggravation and frustration that many of us experience during these periods is often due to our own inability to roll with the punches. Is this due to our ego-fixation? Mercury sets out to restructure our thinking processes and for many of us this is painful and frustrating. Moreover, these experiences reveal flaws in our internal organisation as well as our external planning, which can make us feel foolish and inadequate.
Mercury retrograde, like any cosmic aspect, affects people differently, depending on where it hits their personal charts. Some people actually prosper under a retro Mercury, especially if Mercury is retrograde but otherwise well-aspected in their birth charts. It is also a time when matters begun under a previous retro period will come to fruition, or completion as the case may be. Firm decisions that have been previously made when Mercury is travelling normally through the zodiac may be implemented or finalised while Mercury is retrograde without too much worry, for experience shows that this can be done without undue problems arising.
When Mercury is retrograde, everyone's thinking is more introspective and we tend to think about issues and concerns which relate to the sign involved. With Mercury retrograde in Libra, people with this sign prominent in their charts will be especially prone to such introspection. Libra is a Cardinal Sign, so the other Cardinal Signs, Aries, Cancer and Capricorn will also receive a touch of the lash!
Venus, the planetary ruler of pleasure-loving Libra, enters sexy, mysterious Scorpio at the same time (Sep. 24) and remains there until leaving Scorpio to enter Sagittarius on Oct. 18. This stimulates jealousy and intense, passionate emotions, combined with a love of sensation, luxury and pleasures. Excesses of sex and passion, especially among the young, will prove more than usually chaotic over this phase. Religious feeling tends to be intense. Misdirected communications can create jealous marital relations, impulsive behaviour and the need to control relationships.
Mercury retro in Libra can disturb the mental balance, making us more than usually indecisive. Virtue and morality will be under pressure from both sides, combining jealousy and possessiveness with the agonies of doubt and indecision! Sharing ideas, especially those connected with moneymaking and other tangible will present a higher risk. Attempts to maintain objectivity and an unbiased approach are likely to be thwarted and coloured by emotion. Trouble through lawsuits affecting partnerships or an unfaithful marriage partner will afflict those who may be in the relevant situations.
Gossip about celebrities, the arts and salacious topics in general will be rife. Rumours regarding partners, spouses and collaborators in business and joint ventures should be discounted, or at least taken with a dose of salt, especially if sex or money are involved, as the atmosphere will be thick with misinformation and innuendo, particularly leading up to the Full Moon on the 14th of October.
All areas of communication are affected, especially in matters related to the law, partnerships, marriage or the arts. This period brings travel snafus and missed appointments of all kinds. Documents can go astray. Be sure to carry a diary and refer to it often.