The Truth About Mercury Retrograde and the Imagination
On August 23 Mercury shifts gears into reverse. Here's a new way to consider this exciting cycle.
“Where do I get my ideas? That I cannot say. They come uncalled, directly and indirectly.” —Ludwig Beethoven
THE PURPOSE OF THIS ESSAY isn't going to be about what you think it's going to be about.
Yes, you read the word imagination in the title, but I'm going to talk about the word differently.
And so this exchange will be a good example of how the mind works when Mercury is retrograde. Or rather what we see about the nature of our conditioned mind and how it works. Which is usually predictable and reactive—thinking but not really seeing and understanding.
Mercury retrogrades can be a fortuitous time to foster understanding. The brain's capacity to ‘interconnect’ data is heightened, is more engaged, and possibly—with a little effort—more present. In fact, compared to its normal rhythm, the mind is liable to feel charged with Mercurial quicksilver.
During a Mercury retrograde phase, it isn’t unusual to read a word that triggers an association that is the wrong association. The thought impulse travels along a groove, but it’s not the right groove. You end up where you didn’t expect to end up.
And this is why when clients talk to me about how to best align with Mercury retrograde, I advise: “Pay attention. Things won’t be what you think they are going to be.” Meaning your old way of seeing everything in the familiar way is unplugged through the retrograde phase.
And that’s a good thing.
The Mercury retrograde is a great time to appreciate the power of attention. We all take attention for granted, but really it deserves a second thought. Attention is a fascinating function of consciousness that allows the unseen and the unconsidered to be revealed.
Think about that for a minute. The simple act of focusing your attention brings the potential for illumination to whatever it happens to focus upon.
Said another way: Attention fosters understanding. We can’t have understanding without attention. It’s impossible.
Also note: Attention is never ‘free.’
This is why payment is usually mentioned: Pay attention.
You simply can’t do things habitually (which we all do freely, all the time when a thought just runs along the same old slot it’s always moved along)—you need to make an effort with attention. You pay, and then the aftereffect gives you something: Understanding.
The Greeks understood this, and it’s why Mercury—as psychopomp—was always paid before a journey was undertaken. When the god would guide dead people’s souls to the next world—they had to pay Mercury some coin before Mercury engaged. Attention was called into play—and made to work.
So, when I use the word ‘imagination’ in this essay's title (and really, this is all just a long-winded way of demonstrating a simple example), I meant the term as it’s used to describe something that doesn’t exist—on a material level. Which is what imagination can do to help us imagine what could be.
But in this example—(please pay attention to this point)—I’m talking about how astrologers literalize the word “retrograde” in their interpretations and use it in an imaginary, made-up way—imagination versus reality.
So where’s the rub?
Somehow the prefix to the word retrograde became an idée fixe for astrologers. And to be honest, it’s a kind of goofy, retrograde conflation.
So we’re told that Mercury retrograde means we should redo, reevaluate, rethink, restructure, and replay. And so it goes.
But none of those concepts accurately describe what Mercury being retrograde is about. At least not to me. In fact, those terms are the exact opposite of what a Mercury retrograde phase is about. We are revisiting, rethinking, and re-overthinking all of the time. Our mind is constantly operating from an eddy of past associations and images.