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All Your Mercury Retrograde Questions Answered

You may have heard about Mercury Retrograde, an astrological transit that occurs several times a year and can cause disruptions and chaos in our every day lives. 

Mercury Retrograde is also a time to review recent events and gives us an opportunity to choose our next steps. The key is to allow the period to revel itself to you, and not take action - which can be tough for some signs! 

What does Mercury Retrograde really mean and how can you navigate these periods? Read on for answers to all your Mercury Retrograde questions. 

What does it mean to be in Mercury Retrograde?

Mercury Retrograde is an approximately three-week period of time in which the planet Mercury moves backward through the zodiac. 

Mercury is the planet of communications, the mind, short travel and technology. In normal times - astrologicaly known as moving ‘direct’ - Mercury helps us share our ideas, expand technologically and experience fun and smooth travels. 

But when Mercury is retrograde, those things are decidedly not easy or smooth. As a result, Mercury Retrograde is a time for all things “Re” - reflection, reviews, redos. It’s not a great time to sign contracts, purchase new technology or book a vacation. The harsh aspect of Mercury will put a damper on these activities and you could find yourself rehashing the details for months to come. 

The one caveat during Mercury Retrograde is that if you are re-starting something that fell off your radar or re-considering something you thought was no longer an option, you may now be able to pick it back up. Be judicious and when in doubt, wait until Mercury Retrograde has passed if possible. 

Does Mercury Retrograde mean Mercury actually moves backward? 

Mercury Retrograde is an optical illusion. In actuality, Mercury only ever moves forward. However, from our position on Earth, it appears to move backward, because of the differences between the orbits of Mercury and Earth. Mercury moves extremely fast around the Sun, with a Mercury year lasting a mere 88 days. As a result, Mercury ‘bypasses’ us several times a year, creating the illusion. 

Think of it like two cars on a highway. As one car passes the another, it appears that the other car is almost standing still for a moment, then moving backward, until the two are far enough apart that they both appear to be moving forward again. This is the illusion Mercury creates for us during Mercury Retrograde. 

In astrology, however, we take this backward motion quite literally, as Mercury moves backward through the degrees of the zodiac wheel. 

How often does Mercury Retrograde? 

Mercury retrogrades three to four times each year. If Mercury retrogrades at the beginning of a calendar year, it will likely also retrograde at the end of the year, creating four periods of retrograde, including two mid-year. This occurs in 2022, as a mid-January retrograde period leads to an end-of-December one as well. 

How long does Mercury Retrograde last? 

Mercury Retrograde lasts approximately 21 days. 

Keep in mind that you may feel the ‘bookend’ dates more strongly. These are the dates when Mercury begins its retrograde and the dates when it ends it retrograde, or goes direct. This is because it Mercury will slow down before changing direction, and a slow Mercury is not easy to work with, especially in the tech age where we move lightening fast! 

Depending on how Mercury shows up in your birth chart, you may also be affected during the Mercury shadow phase, also called Retroshades. 

What is a Mercury Retrograde Shadow Phase, or Retroshade? 

Before and after a Mercury Retrograde period, Mercury traverses the same astrological degrees it retrogrades within. This means we cover the same astrological space three times: once before it retrogrades, once during the retrograde, and once it goes direct again. It covers the same ground over, and over, which is why we feel we must go back and redo certain things in our lives. 

These before and after periods are known as shadow phases, or Retroshades, because the retrograde is ‘casting a shadow’ over these degrees as it travels back and forth. Because the actual retrograde period is approximately three weeks, each of the shadow phases are as well. This means a three-week Mercury Retrograde period can be felt for up to nine weeks! 

While you’re unlikely to be affected by Mercury Retrograde for nine full weeks, it would be wise to give yourself some space and some grace for the shadow periods as well. These shadow phases can affect you just as much as Mercury Retrograde, depending on your personal birth chart. You may feel Mercury Retrograde before it even begins or long after it’s over, possibly with technical issues before others seem to have the same issue, or as projects regain momentum in a start-stop fashion in its aftermath. 

How does Mercury Retrograde affect you? 

Mercury Retrograde affects everyone differently, and no two retrograde periods will be the same! This is because all the other planets are constantly in motion as well, and the transit patterns of all planets must be taken into consideration. 

First and foremost, if Mercury is retrograding in your Sun, Rising/Ascendant or Moon sign, you will be affected more than usual. If it’s your Sun sign, Mercury is having a direct affect on you and your soul. You may question where you’re heading now and what is important to release and carry with you into the next phase. If Mercury is retrograding through your Rising sign, or Ascendant, the way you approach the world is up for reconsideration. And if it’s transiting your Moon sign, you may be reexamining your habits and emotional responses. 

There are two signs that are ruled by Mercury, and therefore may feel a stronger shift when Mercury retrogrades: Gemini and Virgo. Gemini is all about learning and communication, and Virgo is about the details and sharing gained knowledge. This is good time for people of both signs (including Sun, Rising/Ascendant and Moon) to retract a bit from the world, think before communicating, and revamp ideas. 

One other key transit to look for in your birth chart is a Mercury-Sun conjunction. The Sun and Mercury are never more than two signs from one another, joining up in the zodiac several times a year (six in 2022, seven in 2023, for instance). These periods create a ‘spotlight’ of sorts on Mercury, and individuals with this conjunction at their time of birth are strongly Mercurial, and may be more susceptible to the chaotic energies of Mercury Retrograde. The closer the two planets, the more strongly it will be felt. 

The best way to identify how you may be affected during a Mercury Retrograde period is to look at which house the retrograde occurs in in your birth chart. This way you’ll get a sense of what areas of life may be disrupted the most. For instance, in the first house, you could reconsider how you communicate outwardly to others and how you show up in the world. In the fifth house, you may find your children are more affected than you personally, or you could find the need to revisit a creative project. 

Does Mercury Retrograde affect emotions? 

The easy answer here is, ‘it depends.’ Mercury does not rule emotions (look to the Moon for emotional reactions). However, if Mercury occurs in a particularly emotional sign or meets up with certain planets during the retrograde period, this could cause emotional reactions. 

This is especially true if Mercury is transiting through your Moon sign. Not only may this cause more emotional turbulence, you may also want to rethink your emotions and how they affect you entirely. The Moon also rules our habits and cyclical events and patterns in our lives. 

The chaos of Mercury Retrograde can overwhelm even the most calm of zodiac signs. When things go wrong for seemingly no reason, it can be stressful. If you don’t respond well to shifts, changes and a little bit of chaos, it can certainly bring out emotional responses. 

What if Mercury is retrograde in my birth chart?

If you were born during a Mercury Retrograde period, Mercury will show up in your birth chart with this notation. This is about 18% of people, so know that you are not alone!

If you find yourself in the Mercury Retrograde club, don’t panic - this does not mean everything Mercurial will be screwed up for you. Retrograding planets turn the energy of the planet inward. You may find this energy makes you shy or awkward expressing Mercury’s energy.

You may find that you take in information in a different way than others. Your mental processes are unique and you may be slower to process information. This could impact your ability to learn and cause a constant review of thoughts and ideas before communicating them.

People with Mercury Retrograde in their charts often feel ‘right side up’ when Mercury is retrograde in the present. You may finally feel like things make sense, that you can be more free and things go right for you, while you watch others struggle with the energy. Your innate philosophical side may help others during Mercury Retrograde periods.

Why does Mercury Retrograde screw everything up? 

Mercury rules areas of our lives that we use on a constant, daily basis. Prior to the technological revolution, this was seen primarily in communication (everything from speaking to journalism). But these days, the internet is a primary function of life. 

Mercury rules the types of technology that help with communications - email, social media, chat apps, all of it - and these are so prevalent in our lives now that Mercury can really wreak havoc on the fundamental systems of our day-to-day living. If you make plans or need something from someone, face-to-face and double-checking is strongly advised. 

Even old-school travel issues (e.g. getting to the airport an hour after your flight leaves) are now embroiled in Mercurial technologies thanks to online reservations and ride-sharing apps. Mercury rules short-distance travel so be more careful when out and about. Label your belongings, throw a tracking device on your stuff, and leave in plenty of time to get to your destination. Triple-check appointment times and maybe even call to confirm before leaving the house. 

What are the upcoming dates for Mercury Retrograde? 

May 10 to June 3 in the signs of Gemini and Taurus

  • May 22 at 9:15 PM Mercury Rx enters Taurus

September 9 to October 2 in the signs of Libra and Virgo

  • Sep 23 at 8:04 AM Mercury Rx enters Virgo

December 29, 2022 to January 18, 2023, in the sign of Capricorn

Can any good come from Mercury Retrograde? 

Absolutely! While it may be frustrating not to be able to move things forward or deal with tech nightmares or reschedule all your plans, Mercury also gives us the opportunity to rethink our objectives, try different tactics and complete projects we thought we may never finish. 

To use this energy wisely, make plenty of space in your calendar and be a little spontaneous in how you show up in the world. Don’t try to force what’s not working; step back, reframe, and even though it may take some time, try to be patient as you work through the issues at hand. Mercury gives us the gift of being present. 

Mercury Retrograde can help us in the most surprising ways - even ones that didn’t seem helpful at first! When in doubt, know that everyone is going through this time collectively. Just laugh it off and blame Mercury Retrograde!  

About the Author

Dayna Schmidt-Johnson (Leo Sun, Scorpio Moon, Virgo Rising) is the resident astrologer for Writual Society. A writer by trade and a life-long learner, she has been studying astrology for nearly two decades and combines her passion for the stars with an easy understanding of what all that astro-speak really means. Dayna lives in Chicago with her husband and teenage daughter. Her Gemini Midheaven ensures she's never out of projects to work on and is currently a freelance writer for multicultural agency TEN35, reads astrology charts, and speaks publicly on the topics of salary negotiation and vocational astrology.
For more info on Mercury Retrograde and other planetary aspects this year, grab the 2022 Planetary Preview Workbook or the 2022 Planetary Preview Digital Download

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