Rob Tillett has been an astrologer for more than three decades. In previous incarnations a poet, musician, magician, healer, dramatist & composer, he is the editor and publisher of Astrology on the Web and has written many articles on this website.
Rob lives in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, on the east coast of Australia.
At 20:50 UT (Universal Time) Wednesday, March 30th, 2011, Mercury the wise communicator—and universal trickster—turns retrograde at 24░19' Aries in the sign of the Ram, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarlup! The retro period begins some days before the actual turning point (as Mercury slows) and lasts for three weeks or so, until April 23, 2011, 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 May 11th, as he passes the point where he first turned retrograde. Mercury normally turns retrograde three times a year, but last year he turned tail four times, which is unusual, and his shadow phase was still active in early January 2011. The effects of each period differ, according to the sign in which it happens (see box for Retrograde Periods in 2011).
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. It's a bit like travelling on the road watching another car beside you: when the other car slows down, or you speed up, it looks as though the other car is moving backwards. Planets are never actually retrograde or stationary, they just seem that way due to this cosmic shadow-play. Click here for some neat graphics and more on the science of retrograde planetary motion.
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, Mercury is not always in the same sign as the Sun. Mercury turns retrograde this time in Aries while the Sun is in Aries, but the solar orb moves into Taurus on April 20 (with Mercury still in Aries). Mercury turns direct in Aries on April 23 with the Sun still in Taurus, but Mercury remains in Aries till May 15, when he enters Taurus at the same time as Venus also does.
As a rule, the planets are more emphatic during their retrograde phases, marking periods of seemingly inevitable or fated events that relate to their spheres of influence. By fated events I mean those that circumstances thrust upon us, rather than matters we have consciously decided to implement or resolve. In particular, unresolved issues from the past tend to rear their heads and demand to be dealt with.
Retro phases present us with a series of events over which we seem to have little or no conscious control, relating especially to the sign in which the retrogradation occurs—although this need not mean that our responses are outside our control! By way of example, Mercury retrograde in Capricorn (ambition; loyalty) awakens quite different sets of circumstances from those generated when he retrogrades into Sagittarius (freedom; independence).
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 it returns to the point where it first paused. However, during the cycle, a planet's energy is at its most powerful—and more likely to generate critical events of universal importance—when it is travelling slowly, and particularly when it makes a station: appearing motionless in the sky.
How conscious are you? Mercury's stations reveal much! Stations occur twice during the cycle, beginning with the
retrograde station near the start when Mercury first halts ready to hit reverse gear
and then again midway through the cycle at the direct station, when the retrograde planet slows to a stop before moving forward again.
The direct station is the most powerful and can be used for maximum benefit. It is often thought of as the psychological peak of the retro phase, rather than the end, thanks to the shadow phase.
Mercury Shadow Phases
Many astrologers consider that the "Mercury Shadow" begins between two and three weeks before the actual retro station; so the shadow phase begins this time on March 17, when Mercury passes the point of direct station for the first time in this cycle (see the date for the beginning of each shadow period in the table). Weird things often start to happen then, but the really noticeable peculiarities begin when Mercury slows significantly, a few days before the retro station.
The Mercury Shadow extends to the return date, something under 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.
What does Mercury affect?
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 those who work with their minds or their wits: writers and orators, consultants, commentators and critics, gossips and spin doctors, salespeople, teachers, travellers, tricksters and thieves. Mercury also has an occult side, so healing, astrology and the transmission of spiritual knowledge are also in his area.
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 not exactly wise to make important decisions while Mercury is retrograde, since it is likely that such 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
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. Unresolved issues from the past tend to push themselves forward. Moreover, these experiences reveal flaws in our internal organisation as well as our external planning, which can make us feel foolish and inadequate. Keep your eyes peeled; Mercury's retro period gives us the chance to find out just what has been missed!
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. Some people even excel in the way they play roulette under a retrograde Mercury! 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.
Click your sign to see how Mercury Retrograde affects you!
Mercury Retrograde in Aries
When Mercury is retrograde, everyone's thinking is more introspective; we tend to think about issues and concerns that relate to the sign involved. With Mercury retrograde this time in dynamic Aries, people with this sign prominent in their charts will be especially prone to such introspection. Aries is a Cardinal Sign, so the other cardinal signs, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn are also likely to experience more than their fair share of disruption, given that we are all under the powerful Cardinal Cross aspect that has been turning the world inside out for some months already.
Mercury turns retro at 24░19' Aries on March 30, in the shadow of the mighty opposition between the two Great Chronocrators, or Time Lords, Saturn and Jupiter. This opposition marks a great turning point for the world, as we have seen in recent weeks with the political upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East and the horrendous weather patterns and geophysical events that have plagued us. Jupiter Pluvius indeed! The Vernal Point has been under a lot of pressure lately, and there's more to come yet! [See Rearranging the Cosmic Deckchairs, where we discuss the implications of the Moon's Nodes changing sign in the midst of this Cosmic Cross.] The first degree of Aries, the most sensitive point in the tropical zodiac, is known as the Vernal Point, because it signals the beginning of Spring each year in the Northern Hemisphere. It also marks the beginning of the tropical zodiac, which is why it is often called the Aries Point. This critical zone has been stimulated and restimulated in recent months by the inexorable movement of the outer planets: extravagant Jupiter (by conjunction), restrictive Saturn (by opposition), disruptive Uranus (by conjunction) and obstructive Pluto (by square). It's phenomenally massive in its effect.
As late as March 12, 2011, just after the colossal earthquake and tsunami that is crippling Japan as we write, disruptive Uranus again conjoined this sensitive degree and indeed remains in conjunction with it as Mercury turns retrograde this time around. It is particularly notable that the malefic Fixed Star, Scheat, has also activated the Aries Point by precession, forming an exact conjunction with this cosmic baddie in the middle of 2010 for the first time in tens of thousands of years!
Mercury has already crossed this point (on March 9 in forward motion), further weakening the cosmic fabric, but the Divine Messenger is effectively in conjunction with Jupiter throughout this period: partile (exact) on March 16 in forward motion, April 12 in retro motion and again on May 11 in forward motion once more. This stimulates a great deal of mental activity, associated with flurries of communication, manifestos and declarations, and would normally be fortunate, but how much long term use they'll be is a moot point, for Mercury is also opposing retro Saturn for much of this phase, as well as square Pluto, which turns retrograde on April 9. It's a Grand Cross, after all.
Luck of the Splendid One
Mercury turns while setting in conjunction with Sadalbari ("Luck of the Splendid One"), a fortunate star on the chest of Pegasus, the Winged Horse. According to George Noonan, it portends events concerning ships and the ocean, and also changes in the weather. Well, we've had our share of this lately! In mediŠval times it was said to indicate vain individuals with a great deal of ambition, but with very poor judgment. And that! Pegasus governs knowledge of healing herbs, so the current hoohah in Europe and other parts over the "need" for "scientific" testing of natural, traditional remedies, may be thrown into disarray. Overcome by common sense I mean. In any case, let's hope it's not the wise women, the wild and witchy ones, who suffer.
Warrior Mars, a subliminal drive that stimulates action and passion, but also stark anger, violence and warfare, is the planetary ruler of Aries. Interestingly, in the UT chart, Scorpio is rising, and Mars is the traditional planetary lord of Scorpio too. Mars therefore is of particular significance here, placed at the end of Pisces in exact zodiacal conjunction with the Fixed Star Azalfafage (though they are far apart in declination, thus weakening the connection). This star in the tail of Cygnus, the Swan, has a dreamy imaginative nature, and it gives a love of water and the arts. No doubt we'll need to learn to swim if the rain, flooding and tsunami's keep up! This energy is reinforced by a sextile from Mercury to the partile conjunction of the Moon and Neptune, which is quite creative, even spiritual, and stimulates our instincts and intuition to a remarkable degree. However, it is disorganised, so maintaining the routine business of life will be a difficult struggle. New spiritual directions may become confused by information that turns out to be misleading, especially regarding home and country. Self-pity, guilt, and deception can become pervasive. Joy and luck may be undermined by physical indulgence and addictions. Notwithstanding, if you are trying to sell your home, this could be a good time, so long as you get the details clear and the paperwork in order. Mars is inconjunct by semisextile to this conjunction, energising it, and is also conjunct Uranus (and so Scheat!). The conjunction is warlike and disruptive, but because it is dissociate (out-of-sign) the mayhem will be less than might otherwise be the case.
Purple Dragon, by Deligaris
Mars is in a tight T-square aspect to the Moon's Nodes, having been in the partile aspect the day before Merc turns, just as Jupiter and Saturn punch it out! This is very, um, stress-inducing. The nodes are the prime markers of fate in the horoscope, and when receiving a difficult aspect (especially from Mars, while Saturn is also receiving a king hit) we can expect violence and destruction on a global scale, as well as aggression, sexual conflict and angry outbursts on a personal level. The transiting South Node, the Dragon's Tail, is receiving the harsh square aspect from Mars and is also conjunct the ominously red star Betelgeuse, the harbinger of death by lightning, fire, explosions, firearms and the like. Elsbeth Ebertin recorded that in June and July of 1927, when the Lunar Node was in conjunction with this star, groups of people died by lightning, or were victims of explosions or assassination. Mind you, this star also promises massive fame and glory in military matters, so let's hope the martial types keep their cool and resist the urge to blow everyone to bits, especially in Libya, the Middle East, and even Christmas Island, the Australian colony where the imprisoned asylum seekers have been rioting all week.
Mars is also on the warpath against the North Node, the Dragon's Head, which is itself conjunct Etamin, the eye of Draco the Dragon. Etamin was revered in ancient Egypt as the goddess Isis, and was widely worshipped. In 3500 BCE the central passages of the temple of Hathor at Denderah and of Mut at Thebes were set up to align with Etamin. Scholars have discovered that centuries later this star had become the orientation point of the great Karnak temples of Rameses and Khons at Thebes, and that at least seven different temples were oriented toward it. This is one of the reasons we can know that the Egyptians were aware of the phenomenon of precession in times of great antiquity, though it is widely thought to have been discovered as late as the Hellenic period by Hipparchus of Rhodes.
It's curious and possibly significant that NASA scientists have just discovered (March 28, 2011) a supermassive explosion of pulsating radiation sourcing from a distant galaxy in Draco. It is surmised that this is the death of a mighty star. Robson declares that Draco is associated by the Kabalists with the Hebrew letter Mem and the 13th Tarot Trump Death. How promising. Well, we should point out here that Death need not mean one's actual demise, but can mean the death of an old way and the birth of a new one. Rather like the emblematic journey of the archetypal solar hero to Hades at the Equinox to achieve the birth of a new and higher consciousness through the symbolic death of the "old body" and the rebirth of the new spiritual knowledge (through the passage of Initiation). It is the mystical key to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter, too.
The North Node in the figure is also conjunct the Galactic Centre in warlike Sagittarius, and some other deep space beauties—too many to mention, but including Aculeus and Acumen near the tail of the Scorpion. Located between them lies the Galactic Centre, a vast Black Hole at the centre of our galaxy, discovered 1932—though there is evidence that astrologers and occultists have been aware of its power long centuries before this date. It is a potent source of energy, motivation, and aspiration, but is also associated with alien consciousness; a crisis of faith; travel; education; philosophy; spiritual urges and single-minded dedication. Interesting research by Susan Seymour Hedke shows that the conjunction of the nodes with the GC has historically presented geophysical problems of major proportions. She does argue that it could also reveal the path to enlightenment, but that is just a bit harder to demonstrate.
Colonel Gaddafi's Amazon Guard
Mars acting against the GC produces a great deal of inner turmoil and, with the nebulous clusters Aculeus (M6) and Acumen (M7) also at work, blind faith and religious extremism. Because the nodal axis is transiting the 2nd and 8th houses in the UT chart, the likelihood of financial turmoil is also strong. This is reinforced by the fact that Mercury turns retrograde on the Moon/Saturn conjunction in the 8th house of the Wall Street chart. News does not look good for the dollar, especially considering that Mars, Uranus and Scheat are right on top of Wall Street's South Node! Mars actually crosses this point on April 2, thus entering Aries and magnifying his power. Transiting Saturn opposes Wall Street's Moon too, so we the people must be expected to tighten our belts...
Not only are Saturn and Mars playing with Wall Street, they are also having a good go at the USA itself. Saturn in the figure is retrograde and right on the US natal Saturn, so the US is right at the peak of its current Saturn Return. This is a sad and sorrowful phase, full of self-doubt and recriminations over past mistakes. Even Glenn Beck has been having a say about it recently! The negativity, not the Saturn Return. Saturn (restriction; sorrow) in addition to being on the US Saturn, is opposed to Jupiter (expansion; extravagance), the Sun and square Pluto (obstruction). Ugh. But what's interesting also is the fact that Saturn is conjunct the fiendish Fixed Star, Algorab, as indeed is the US natal Saturn in the Silby chart. Algorab stimulates scavenging, destructiveness, repulsiveness, malevolence, fiendishness and lying, suicide, greed, and other injuries. Not one you'd like to bring home to Mama.
Deception and Delusion
Transiting Neptune (confusion; deception) increased in power by conjunction with the Moon in the figure is also conjunct the US Moon (the people; the homeland), which is in the nodal degree of the figure, showing that karma is coming home to roost. The real reasons will remain hidden, and deception and delusion will be rife. The US Neptune is opposed by Mars in the figure, showing again that the reasons for action, particularly warlike action are very unclear and confusing to the public, and indeed the government itself, as Jupiter in the figure opposes this point also.
Now Mercury turns retrograde in a stressful partile square aspect to the US natal Mercury, showing that no matter what happens, nobody in America is likely to believe the truth, even if they are lucky enough to actually hear it. A lot of time and misinformation will be wasted, using a complacent and ill-informed media in particular. Lines of communication tend to get crossed or break down. Equipment will fail just when it's needed the most—and the delays! The US Government should read the fine print in all contracts—and count their change in all transactions. Hmmm. Travel and transportation will run into snags, especially if you happen to live under the no-fly zone in Libya. However, success is not impossible to attain. The idea is to keep moving.
One of the nastiest flies in the ointment is the conjunction of transiting Pluto with the vicious Fixed Star, Facies. Pluto is a power of deep transformation, but its prime function in this chart is one of obstruction and deadly assault. Facies is noted for awakening blindness, violent death, sickness, accidents; leadership, war, coldness and detachment. So a meeting with Pluto is not likely to stimulate wealth, except for the military-industrial complex and the hidden powers that profit from oppression. Facies also awakens earthquakes; it is the stellar pin-up for pure combative energies, risk-taking and glamour. Not only that, but perfectionism is another of its talents. One imagines that the UN is seeking to impose a perfect world by its current declaration of war on Libya, as it is having a counter-nodal return right now, and needs to recover its perceived lost ground in the hearts and minds of the people. Let's hope it succeeds, as the UN's Scorpio Sun is in a beneficial aspect with the Security Council Declaration Moon in its ninth house of foreign affairs and spiritual activities, but also exactly inconjunct by quincunx Declaration Uranus (catastrophe) on Scheat (extreme misfortune). Virgo rules the military, and the Virgo Moon of the Declaration leads right to the Full Moon in Virgo just before the Equinox.
Severe Trials... and the Transformation of Society
As Mercury turns retrograde, the Sun is in Aries, conjunct Algenib, a white star in the wing of Pegasus, so the Winged Horse (and hence the Death Card) is doubly activated. Since the Sun in the figure is square Pluto, severe trials may be expected over the period, which will eventually lead to the transformation of society as we know it. The square is waning, so its power is too, but the effect is still that circumstances demand a show of willpower, stamina and a willingness to investigate and get to the bottom of things. Direct confrontation, deliberate action and keen observation are our best strategies. Do not reveal plans, or betray a confidence. Areas of life where we have gained the most control may be challenged, or invaded by others. A self-defeating attitude now can cause us to become our own worst enemy. A debt of honour may be due.
The Sun is also conjunct Jupiter—and so opposed to Saturn. This might not sound too bad, as Jupiter is empowering, but given that Saturn is himself empowered in Libra, the sign of his exaltation, and the Sun is too close to Jupiter for Jupiter to shine his best light, Saturn wins. And both of them are still square to Pluto, with Uranus moving into the picture again. This is the nature of the cosmic stress we are talking about, with Mercury turning tail simply compounding the problem and bringing unfinished business from the past up to the surface. If we are willing to put aside our own goals and individuality, perhaps even our pride, we may not fare too badly during this period. If we have failed to live up to our promises, or to accept responsibilities in the past, this is a time when those actions may come back to haunt us.
Gordon Gecko: Greed is Good
Difficulties in business, partnerships, marriage, or professional losses from misfortune or missed opportunities may lead to depression and melancholy, if not dishonesty. Authorities and older people are likely to prevent us from achieving what we want, as willpower overall is low and stretched, especially if we were born in Aries or early in any of the Cardinal Signs. Expect to encounter discouragement through rules and regulations, endless delays, and other frustrations. Bad timing, past failures, Powers That Be, or simply a lack of generosity somewhere along the line frustrate our personal growth, economic prosperity, spiritual fulfilment, and intellectual endeavours during this period. Everyone will feel the pressure to conform, and we will all be expected to give back some of the prosperity or success we have gained, to help others get ahead.
Mercury in Mars-ruled Aries empowers mental alertness, resourcefulness and intuition, yet makes us impulsive and fiery; quick to speak, we can be contentious and antagonistic. A tendency to be unduly wordy and often to exaggerate—though unconsciously—is emphasized. Some might accuse this article of just that! Hahaha. Mercury here endows clever lines of thought, but under the retro phase, especially with the unpleasant accompanying aspects already outlined, mental order should be cultivated. The natural tendency to be broad-minded and tolerant of the opinions of others is reversed and intolerance of opposition is indicated. Those affected will be inclined to leap before they look, as their vacillating mental states will be inclined to avoid responsibility. Mercury in Aries gives a nervous disposition that frequently reveals a very quick temper, which is exacerbated under current warlike conditions.
This position produces nervous or hypertensive headaches from strain due to an overactive mind and overworked brain. Those affected would benefit from regular massage and foot reflexology. Insomnia, astigmatism, vertigo, facial neuralgia, lumbago and renal pains; uterine complaints, disorders; Bell's palsy, all are prone to appear.
Mercury remains retrograde in Aries until April 23, when he reaches his direct station. This is a day of considerable tension and potential for misunderstanding, thanks to the plethora of difficult aspects. Mercury turns direct at 12░54' of Aries, conjunct the Fixed Star Alderamin in the right shoulder of the King (Cepheus, mythological ruler of Ethiopia, father of Andromeda). Cepheus along with Pegasus is heavily activated during this phase, and according to Ptolemy it is like Saturn and Jupiter (quite appropriate seeing Saturn and Jupiter are in opposition and highly strung by the other aspects) and said to give authority and a sober mind, sometimes making its natives judges or arbitrators, but exposing them to cruel and severe trials. By the Kabalists this constellation is associated with the Hebrew letter Shin and the 22nd Tarot Trump The Fool. The Fool marks folly, mania, extravagance, intoxication, delirium, frenzy, betrayal. All there. Negligence, absence, carelessness, apathy, and vanity remain for us to deal with during this phase, but the key occult meaning to The Fool is that a man (or a woman) becomes a fool in the eyes of the world thanks to his rejection of the aims and goals of the world, in pursuit of the higher wisdom which is only found through the descent into Hades, the followed by rebirth into the higher consciousness of the spiritual domain.
Venus enters Aries on the 21st of April, as the Sun enters Taurus and just before Mercury reaches his direct station on the 23rd. Mars leaves Aries for Taurus on May 11, the day that Mercury's shadow phase is released. Mercury, however, stays in Aries until May 15, by which date he has returned to full speed. This is the day that Mercury and Venus leave the trouble zone together, joining the Sun and Mars in Taurus, making life easier for most of us! Jupiter remains in Aries until June 4 before heading into Taurus, but Uranus will lock horns with the Ram for many years to come.
The prognostications this month may seem a little gloomy, but the cosmic factors at work are pretty disturbing. For a cheerier outlook, read Marguerite Manning's article linked at the bottom of the page! Naturally not everyone will suffer, nor will those who are affected all be affected in the same way, as it depends where the aspects fall in their personal charts. Nevertheless, all areas of governance and control are affected by this phase, especially in matters connected with ambition, high finance, strong leaders, warfare, violence, jealousy and passion; spiritual and ideological battles will be rife—particularly the communications, routines and organizational issues connected with these. This period brings travel snafus, mail mishaps and missed appointments of all kinds. Documents can go astray. Be sure to carry a diary and refer to it often.
NOTE: The fixed stars form patterns in the heavens that are called constellations. Constellations are not the same as Signs of the Zodiac, though some of them bear the same names, because in times gone long by, the signs coincided with the constellations of the same name. This is because of the phenomenon known as the precession of the equinoxes, whereby the Vernal Point, which is always the first degree of the sign Aries in the Tropical Zodiac, moves slowly backwards with regard to the stars and constellations in the Sidereal Zodiac (thanks to the Earth's top-like "wobble" in its orbit). Signs are geometric divisions of the Zodiac; constellations are groups of stars in the heavens. Pegasus, Cepheus, and Cygnus mentioned here—and others such as Orion, Corvus, Ophiuchus, Andromeda etc.—are important constellations, but not signs of the Zodiac.