We are arriving at the new Moon of Pisces, which will arrive with Ash Wednesday on March 6th, the day after Fat Tuesday and the day after Mercury enters Retrograde. As you know, I’ve been keeping my eye on this little cluster of astrological events, and I think I can already feel the effects of the coming Retrograde as Mercury slips through the shadow zone.
We read a lot about how Mercury Retrograde affects our communications and technology. Those of us who tune in can feel a subtle and familiar energy shift Mercury Retrograde. This subtle shift can be the little breath of west wind that causes a rain drop to fall on the east side of the continental divide, and end up in the Atlantic instead of the Pacific. A subtle shift with a big effect!
But we seldom spend much time talking about what a Mercury Retrograde means in Astronomical Terms, and of course my dear Angelique, that’s exactly what kind of nerd I am.
So first of all, here is a little video produced by a very brilliant young woman on YouTube that explains the mechanics of Mercury Retrograde better than I can. As so often happens with smart science types, she takes a little dig at the prospect that the planets can have any affect on our lives, but that’s ok. We are accustomed to that view of material reductionists that nothing they can’t explain with their brains could possibly exist. Nonetheless, her very intelligent explanation of what actually happens in the sky when Mercury goes retrograde is pretty helpful, so here is the LINK
I have heard a lot of this story many times, and I have seen many graphics of little loops that show the shape of a Mercury Retrograde, but these never really sink into my bones in a way that I can understand it in my body. The basic gist of it, however, goes something like this…
Earth and Mercury are both revolving around the sun, and about once every four months, Mercury “laps” Earth. This is, of course, because Mercury’s year is so much shorter than Earth’s year. Mercury is an interior planet, which means it is closer to the sun than the earth. This makes Mercury a little difficult to observe because it spends so much time either between us and the sun, or on the other side of the sun from us. We can really only see it a couple times a year when it is “square” to the earth relative to the Sun, meaning, it’s sticking out to the side.
I finally came up with a little thought experiment that helps me feel the retrograde motion in my body. Imagine that the Earth is not moving at all. Imagine it is a fixed point and we are watching Mercury in the distance as it makes its elliptical orbit around the sun. Now imagine we remove the Sun, so now the Earth is still, and Mercury is making a circle about 50 million miles away from us. From this distance, we can’t really see that it’s making a circle, it simply looks like a bright dot moving back and forth across the field of stars.
For half of the circle, it will appear to go from our left to our right, until it gets way out to the right side, and then it would appear to turn and go from right to left as it goes around the back side of the circle. This is exactly the same motion the Sun makes relative to my view from the Balcony. Remember Sunrise moves back north after solstice when I was taking pictures of the Sun around the winter Solstice as it rose in its farthest point to the south? This effectively is the same motion as the hypothetical mercury retrograde. We do not see the Sun making a circle relative to our view, we simply see it rising a little more to the right on the horizon each day from the summer solstice to the winter solstice, and then back to the left from the winter solstice to the summer solstice.
In the case of the sun, the period of this movement is the Earth year, because from our perspective the Earth is not moving and the Sun goes around in an annual pattern. In the case of Mercury Retrograde, in our hypothetical, Earth is stationary, and so it is Mercury’s year the would control the period of the right to left, then left to right motion.
And so the retrograde is a little more complex when both planets are moving. This is simply because it takes a little longer for Mercury to lap a moving target.
Angelique, I realize that might be a bit hard to grasp. I know it took me a while. So if you want to make it even more real, go and get your pendulum out of your sock drawer. Hang it from a spot where you can spin it in a circle and step away from it, and then look at it with your eye level with the circle it traces as it revolves. If you move across the room, it will simply appear to move right to left, and then left to right, just as if it were simply swinging back and forth. This is because, at a distance, the circular motion appears two dimensional right?
And so it is. The background of stars, even though it’s billions and billions of light years deep, appears as a two dimensional backdrop to us, and the planets look like dots moving across a fixed background. This is why it seems like they are moving in lines across a blackboard, and this is why the dots sometimes go forwards and sometimes go backwards. I hope that helps.
And there is something else that it was helpful for me to learn. I did not understand what the “Shadow” was. This sounded like a kind of creepy way of saying that Mercury Retrograde would be here soon. But it’s actually a lot cooler than that. The planets normally move from the western horizon, along the zodiac, to the eastern horizon. Each day the planets visible in the evening sky appear a little closer to the eastern horizon at a given time of evening. When they go retrograde, then they appear each evening to be a little farther west.
So when a planet switches it’s motion from going east to going west, the point at which it changes direction is known as the “Retrograde Station.” Then it goes backwards for a while until it turns around again to go forward. This second turning point is the “Direct Station.” The point of the Direct Station is to the WEST of the Retrograde Station. This makes sense because during the Retrograde period, the planet moved a little west each day against the backdrop of stars.
So imagine these two station points were fixed in the sky and that you could mark them with a magic pen. Like imagine there was a little dot in the sky marking each point. The planet making it’s normal journey would first pass the Direct Point, and then it would make it’s way to the Retrograde point, and then it would turn around and go back all the way to the Direct Point, and then it would turn around again and continue heading east, and it would again pass the Retrograde Point.
The planet crosses the space between the points three times. The first in it’s ordinary direct motion, then it goes back in retrograde, and then retraces again in direct motion. So the first time it goes from the WEST/Direct station point to the Retrograde Point is the PRE RETROGRADE SHADOW. Then when it moves backwards, it is in retrograde, until it stations DIRECT, and once again crosses the portion of the sky where it was going backwards, and this period is known as the Post-Shadow.
The key is in the Shadow periods, the planet is actually moving in the normal, DIRECT motion across the region of space where it moves in Retrograde.
I would also like to point out, that the reason that this may sound a little confusing, is that Mercury Retrograde is upon us, and so communications are a little difficult. There is so much said on the web about Mercury Retrograde from an Astrological perspective that I don’t have much to add about the generalities of it. Maybe you can write something eloquent about it.
But from my personal experience, I have already seen a lot of miscommunications. I’ve had a couple of minor glitches with financial transactions trying to send some money electronically, that did not work out so well. I had someone send me an important and urgent message that they could only send by secure email because of their company policy, which I was not able to open, because of the security. Lots of little things like that are happening.
I have also felt a rush of things to finish coming before the retrograde starts. It seems like this is the last little bit of time to finish up loose ends before we get into a long period of introspection.
So this is my post about the Astronomy of Mercury Retrograde. Next week I will write one about Lent, the Dieta, and a 40 day period of reflection that I will be undertaking from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday.
With all love,
Peace Love Forgiveness