Mercury Retrograde

What are you talking about about when you have a sentence similar to the following: This week Mercury is in retrograde… Is there an opposite term as well?


A planet being in retrograde means that, to us here on Earth, it appears to be going backwards. The opposite of retrograde motion (or Rx for short) is direct motion.

Of course, the planets are not really going backwards. It is an optical illusion1. Take Mercury retrograde for example. He travels around the Sun faster than we do, and every 4 months, he passes us in his orbit. We here on earth witness Mercury appearing to go backwards for three weeks.

When you were a kid, did you ever go on long car trips, lie in the back seat and stick your feet out the window? If a big car or truck passed you, it felt like you were going backwards. Retrograde motion is kind of like that.

Mercury Retrograde

Astrologically, when a planet goes into retrograde, the conditions that the planet governs are altered and do not function as expected.

As the messenger of the gods, Mercury in astrology governs communications and travel. Mercury turns retrograde for three weeks, every four months. In general terms, this is Murphy’s Law time. Machines tend to go a bit screwy— cars, computers, phone, fax, printer, bulldozer, and the doctor’s machine that goes ping. Miscommunication is also a common byproduct of Mercury retrograde. Contracts signed and matters begun during Mercury retrograde tend to take unexpected twists and turns in the future.

Expect heavy traffic, delays, machinery malfunctions, computer problems, and typos. Mercury retrograde is typically not a huge deal unless having accurate information is of utmost importance. Surgeries and medical tests, for example. What might happen is the test, or gods forbid, the surgery, must be repeated at a later date2.

On the positive side, retrograde planets draw our attention inward and to the past. Mercury retrograde is a great time to review or finish up an old project, contact an old friend, or clean out the closet. It’s also a good period for introspection, dreaming, and deep thought.

1 See this article by Dr. C. McConnell of Cal State Fullerton for some great animated diagrams.

2 See E. Naumann’s The Planets and Operations for more information.

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