Mercury Retrograde 11/24-12/14

At 07:20 UT (Universal Time) Thursday, November 24th, 2011, Mercury the wise communicator—and universal trickster—turns retrograde at 20°06′ Sagittarius in the sign of the Archer, 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 December 14, 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 January 1st, 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 actuallyretrograde 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. This time Merc turns in Sagittarius while the Sun too is in Sagittarius and both of these celestials remain in Sagittarius till the end of the retro phase on Dec 14. However, by way of illustration, Mercury turned retrograde last time in Virgowhile the Sun was in Leo, then moved back to Leo on the 8th to join the Sun, but the solar orb moved into Virgo on August 23 (with Mercury by then back in Leo). Mercury turned direct in Leo on August 26 with the Sun still in Virgo, but Mercury remained in Leo till Sep 9, when he entered Virgo again. The Divine Messenger remained in Virgo until Sep 25.

 Fated Events

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 Virgo (analysis; critical ability) awakens quite different sets of circumstances from those generated when he retrogrades into Leo (dramatic; generous; egocentric).

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

  1. retrograde station near the start when Mercury first halts ready to hit reverse gear
  2. 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 November 5, 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 here is one of focus.

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