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Mercury Retrograde 101: What This Transit Means & How To Navigate It

mbg Contributors By The AstroTwins
mbg Contributors
Ophira and Tali Edut, known as the AstroTwins, are professional astrologers based out of New York and Seattle. Their work has been featured in The New York Times, Elle Magazine, Vogue and Good Morning America and they are the authors AstroStyle, Love Zodiac, Shoestrology, and Momstrology.
Mercury Retrograde 101

Even if you don't know much about astrology, you've probably heard "Mercury retrograde" mentioned in a hushed, worried tone before. As one of the most hyped-up astrological transits—up there with new moons, full moons, and eclipses—Mercury retrograde often gets a bad rap.

Mercury retrograde cycles can foil all the areas of life under this planet's astrological jurisdiction: technology, communication, transportation, and travel. Let's dive into the truth about Mercury retrograde so we can move away from fear and embrace the opportunity of this cosmic cycle.

What does it mean when Mercury is retrograde—and why do people freak out about it?

In astrology, each planet governs a different area of our lives. In mythology, Mercury was the winged messenger—so Mercury rules communication, information, logic, and transportation. When Mercury goes retrograde, it's actually passing the Earth in its journey around the Sun. From our vantage point, Mercury appears to be moving in a different direction in the sky (i.e., retrograde). It's important to note that the planet Mercury isn't actually moving backward during its retrograde. It just appears that way from our perspective.

As a result, technology, travel plans, and communication can feel slowed down or scrambled. During this period, astrologers advise against buying new computers, electronic devices, appliances, and cars. Instead, use this time to research your options and comparison-shop. Signing contracts is also tricky during Mercury retrograde, as you may miss an important detail. If you have to ink your name, be sure to review the fine print (preferably with an attorney). Back up your important data (photos, files) before the retrograde to avoid losses. Travel plans can be affected, so leave for the airport early, pack a spare tire for your road trips, and make sure passports and IDs are all up to date! 

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Is there anything positive about Mercury retrograde?

Approached correctly, Mercury retrogrades can actually be fruitful times. Consider the prefix re-, which means "to go backward." When we turn to the past—re-connect with old friends, re-vise our plans, re-model our homes and so on—we can get through unscathed. In our busy lives, we rarely slow down and correct course. Think of Mercury retrograde as a quarterly review period, and use it to pause and reassess, research and revise. Then, when Mercury turns "direct" (forward), you can move ahead on a firmer foundation.

What about the "shadow period" of Mercury retrograde?

In the world of retrogrades, it ain't over till it's over! Mercury retrograde has a "shadow" phase that starts a few weeks before the actual retrograde and ends a few weeks after. It's like the lingering fumes of a bus or car after it's driven away. In astro-speak we call this phase "stationing"—though we coined the term "retroshade" a few years back to help people understand the lingering effects and ease back into normal life slowly.

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Do other planets ever go retrograde?

Yes—all of the planets have retrograde phases. Mercury's retrogrades are just more frequent than the others' because of its speed and proximity to the Sun. The "inner planets" (Mercury, Venus, and Mars) have shorter retrogrades that last for a few weeks. The "outer planets" (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) turn retrograde every year for about four to five months at a time. Every planetary retrograde has a unique meaning and affects us on Earth in different ways. (Read up on the other planet's retrogrades here.)

How often does Mercury retrograde happen, and when is it happening next?

Mercury takes approximately 88 days to make a full orbit around the Sun—and through the entire zodiac. So it goes retrograde three to four times every year, and each cycle lasts for about 3.5 weeks.

During a retrograde, Mercury will backtrack through one (sometimes two) zodiac signs. We'll feel Mercury's mayhem in the areas ruled by that specific sign. For example, in 2009, when Mercury was retrograde in Sagittarius (the sign of global travel), an unexpected monster snowstorm left thousands of international passengers stranded at airports as hundreds of flights were canceled.

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Mercury retrograde dates:

2020:

Feb 17 to March 10

June 18 to July 12

October 14 to November 3

2021:

January 30 to February 20

May 29 to June 22

September 27 to October 18

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2022:

January 15 to February 5

May 11 to June 2

September 9 to October 2

2023:

December 29, 2022, to January 18, 2023

April 22 to May 15

August 23 to September 14

December 14, 2023, to January 2, 2024

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2024:

April 3 to 25

August 4 to 28

November 25 to December 15

2025:

March 14 to April 7

July 17 to August 11

November 9 to 29

What to do when Mercury is in retrograde.

This planet's retrograde cycle reminds us that our minds need rest and relaxation. We move at lightning-quick speeds these days, and Mercury Rx is an excellent time to slow down, review what you've been up to, take a breather, catch up on your emails, stay flexible, and reflect on how you've been communicating. As Mercury appears to move backward, we can look back at our past actions, too. It's generally a stellar time for an of the re- words: reflect, review, revisit, redo.

What NOT to do when Mercury is in retrograde.

1. Sign something without thinking it through.

You've probably heard that signing any binding documents during Mercury's retrograde cycle is a no-no since communication can be so frazzled during this time. But life happens. Sometimes you have to sign an important business contract during Mercury retrograde. No worries; just be sure to double- (or triple-) check that everything is aboveboard and that it's something you definitely want to move forward with. The key to working with Mercury Rx is to go slow and stay calm.

2. Act impulsively.

Example: If you get the urge to call your ex or someone else from your past contacts, you'll want to think long and hard about why you want to make that move. In general: Think before you speak, text, email, or act!

3. Start something new that doesn't feel 100% right.

The energy of Mercury Rx is all about reviewing and learning from what we've done in the past. If new opportunities present themselves, great. Just make sure you're up for them before jumping in.

4. Panic.

Instead, stay calm, catch up with old friends, and rest. Treat Mercury Rx like the nice little gift it is: an opportunity to revisit and review what's been going on in our minds, text chains, and inboxes.

The AstroTwins
The AstroTwins
Ophira and Tali Edut, known as the AstroTwins, are professional astrologers based out of New York...
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The AstroTwins
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