What Does Mercury Retrograde Mean? 4 Myths And Facts About This Astrological Shitshow

Your flight is delayed. The guy you’ve been dating said something that rubbed you the wrong way and now you’re not sure you want to fuck him again. Speaking of guys, what the hell did that text from your ex even mean? You’d read it again and try to decipher, but your iPhone charger broke and the battery is dead. Sigh. Mercury retrograde strikes again! Yesterday marked the start of the latest period of this regular astronomical/astrological phenomena and you’re sure to hear plenty about it for the next few weeks (it goes direct again on May 22), as Mercury retrograde wreaks havoc, or is perceived to wreak havoc, on travel plans, communication and the gadgets we depend on to get by. But thanks to a few pervasive myths and misunderstood truths, people needlessly panic when Mercury goes retrograde, missing out on its potential for guidance and wisdom.

NOTE: Hold your comments, folks who think astrology is stupid and are just waiting to type “MERCURY RETROGRADE IS A MYTH, YOU MORON” – this post isn’t for you. Please, go busy yourself retweeting Richard Dawkins or checking the sports scores for the millionth time, you’re boring me.


TRUTH: Mercury is in retrograde only about 19% of the time, but its effects can be felt half the time.

Some days, a series of things will go wrong that are straight out of the Mercury retrograde playbook, but the planet isn’t set to go retrograde until a week later. Sure, I might just be having bad luck, but astrologists also believe that the retrograde influence can be felt in the weeks prior to and after it ends, called the “shadow” phase. Mercury retrograde lasts for about three weeks, but thanks to the shadow phase, it can feel like Mercury is out of wack for up to two months. With Mercury going retrograde three times a year, that means it’s impact can be felt for up to six months out of the year. No wonder I visit IsMercuryInRetrograde.com so much.

MYTH: When Mercury is in retrograde it reverses its course around the sun.

Astrology naysayers love to point out that when Mercury goes retrograde it’s not ACTUALLY doing anything different than it usually does, it just looks like it. As an astrology enthusiast, I let them prattle on and then reply, “Yeah, duh, we know.” Astrologists spend a lot of time actually looking at planetary placements, so they are well-the-fuck-aware that Mercury doesn’t actually stop and go in reverse when it goes retrograde — but it does appear to do just that. Here, let’s allow NASA to explain:

Retrograde motion is an APPARENT change in the movement of the planet through the sky. It is not REAL in that the planet does not physically start moving backwards in its orbit. It just appears to do so because of the relative positions of the planet and Earth and how they are moving around the Sun.

Astrology has been around since, well, forever, and like anything that has been around for forever, our understand of it has evolved. So once upon a time, astrologists did believe Mercury was going in reverse and linked certain changes in that planet’s influence to this backward motion. Knowing now that this is just perception, not actual physical reality, doesn’t really change the astrological belief about Mercury retrograde, since astrology is about so much more than the physical world.


TRUTH: Mercury is believed to be made mostly of iron, making it a big ol’ planetary magnet.

Mercury is so special. It’s the tiniest planet in our universe, not to mention the fastest, orbiting the sun in about 88 Earth days. It’s core is believed to be made mostly of iron giving it a global magnetic field similar to Earth’s, only much more significant. Astrologists believe that when Mercury passes between the Earth and the Sun and is closest to our planet during the retrograde period, the planet’s magnetic influence is bound to trip up those things on Earth which are also made up of electricity. Astrologist Eric Francis Coppolino, who writes my absolute favorite horoscopes for the Hudson Valley magazine Chronogramput it thusly:

This may explain why devices act weird, but I think that it also helps explain why the mind gets wonky, such as the tendency to lose things, or to perceive problems as being worse than they are — the nervous system runs on electricity. The mind is a device that is, at least on the physical plane, rooted in electricity and magnetism.

Mercury’s role in astrology and other ancient mythologies is as a messenger: In Roman mythology, Mercury is the messenger of the Gods; in Indian astrology, Mercury represents communication; in Chinese astrology, it represents the fourth element, Water, and symbolizes communication; and in ancient medicine, echoing back to what Coppolino wrote, Mercury has been associated with the nervous system.

With so much of our modern communication and travel methods being dependent on electricity, there’s lots for Mercury to fuck with. With that being said…


MYTH: Mercury retrograde causes nothing but problems. 

Remember when I said that astrology is about more than the physical world and dismissed those naysayers who don’t think perception can impact reality? Well, as with anything in astrology, how bad Mercury retrograde lets you have it is, to a certain degree, a matter of perception and also somewhat in your control. Yes, shit goes WRONG during Mercury retrograde. Gadgets that were in perfect working order suddenly break. Fine print on important legal documents can be overlooked, with disastrous consequences. Foot in mouth syndrome sees a significant surge. YOUR KEYS ARE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. All of this is inconvenient, annoying and frustrating, and the best thing you can do is to plan ahead and be extra mindful of Mercury’s influence. Take that second to hang your keys by the door when you come in the house, read any important documents multiple times before signing your name, be a little more forgiving of your dumbass coworker when she says dumbass things and make an extra effort to have difficult conversations in person or over the phone, not through text or email.


But also, like Beyoncé says, these are also opportunities to turn lemons into lemonade. Mercury retrograde is great at bringing old issues to the surface, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Coppolino says this is a great time to resolve the past and plan for the future:

I have found that the best use for Mercury retrograde is to tidy up what you’ve left unresolved in the past. Clean your desk, organize your stuff, contact old friends, go through your email and see if you missed anything important. While you’re at it, collect your ideas and figure out what you’re going to do next. Plot and scheme. Use the various qualities of the retrograde to refine your plan over time, then plan a launch sometime after the station direct.

Spot your ex-boyfriend in line at your usual lunch spot? Don’t run in the other direction. Maybe you’ll have a conversation and it will be normal and nice and not as fraught as you feared. Suck it up and go through the pile of bills sitting on your desk, plowing through until each one is paid and you realize it wasn’t so bad after all. Be open to the new opportunities that may present themselves now, but don’t rush to judgement in either direction — Mercury retrograde may not be the best time to go full force gun ho into a new endeavor, but that doesn’t mean that every great offer that comes your way is bound to be too good to be true. Embrace potential now, pursue plans later. Mercury is, after all, a messenger, but the interpretation is up to you.