Felix-Hilaire Buhot (1860-98) The Seascape Painter
Mercury Stations Retrograde in Pisces
We paused amid the pines that stood / The giants of the waste, / Tortured by storms to shapes as rude / As serpents interlaced, / And soothed by every azure breath / That under Heaven is blown / To harmonies and hues beneath, / As tender as its own; / Now all the tree-tops lay asleep / Like green waves on the sea, / As still as in the silent deep / The Ocean woods may be.
— from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s To Jane. The Recollection
Mercury is at home in the liminal, in between thought and expression, in threshold experiences of leaving one state to enter another. Mercury is the only planet that defies definitions fixing it to a singular category, as it can be benefic or malefic, nocturnal or diurnal, masculine or feminine, depending upon whatever surrounding influences it is mixing with. Mercury delights in transitions within storylines, the unexpected twist or turn, and the loss that catches you off guard and brings awareness to a necessary lesson. Just as Mercury corresponds with stones of many colors, so does it rejoice in the changing hues of sunrise and sunset where it fleetingly shares its light with us. It’s thus ironic that so many hold a rigidly negative judgment against Mercury when retrograde.
When Mercury stations retrograde on February 16, it will twinkle in the sky one last time as the sun sets. After Mercury follows the sun into the darkness of night it will enter its invisible retrograde phase, taking on the role of psychopomp guiding us into the underworld of our unconscious. Mercury shifting retrograde is not an abhorrent aberration, but rather a natural phase of dissolution, purification, and regeneration that is essential to the meaning and function of Mercury. Perhaps it is the cultural emphasis on progress, future goals, and linear processes that leads people to complain about the nonlinear, magical reality Mercury activates when retrograde.
Mercury when retrograde possesses the logic of symbols and poetry more so than instruction manuals, especially when in its fall in Pisces. Mercury retrograde in its fall will compel awareness into incubatory darkness and places of low lying depth rather than exalted heights, especially since it is also under rulership of Jupiter in its fall in Capricorn. Mercury is ready to take us on a deep dive into boundless oceanic depths where we may excavate long lost fragments of ancient secrets harbored in sunken treasure. Mercury stations retrograde on February 16 at 12º53′ Pisces near Neptune at 17º37′ Pisces, with Jupiter at 17º02′ Capricorn and applying to a harmonious sextile with Neptune.
The visible, evening star phase of Mercury that will end after it stations retrograde was seeded on January 10 during a Lunar Eclipse in Cancer and a new cycle beginning between Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn. The retrograde movement of Mercury will test and temper aspirations that arose in correspondence with the potent Capricorn seeding in January, loosening our control so as to reveal any unstable elements in need of shedding or shoring up. Furthermore, since Jupiter in Capricorn is receiving Neptune through a waning sextile aspect, we will be called to reorient our beliefs and perspective with the deep, underlying changes that have started to take shape. The disintegration and breakdowns brought forth by Mercury retrograde will incite a shedding of illusions that have accumulated, purging and purifying understanding.
As Jupiter will complete its sextile with Neptune on February 20 and then eventually move within three degrees of its first conjunction with Pluto by the end of Mercury’s retrograde passage, the amorphous perception of Mercury retrograde in Pisces can dissolve the culturally conditioned boundaries that will become volatilized through the catharsis of Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto coming together. If we can fluidly engage with Mercury’s capacity for dislodging stuck, habitual patterns we can gain increased flexibility in responding to the wider societal changes that will be happening. Yet since Pisces is the inwardly directed home of Jupiter, Mercury’s sleight of hand within its watery landscape can blur distinctions and cause confusion through focusing on larger visions rather than practical details.
Mercury’s retrograde journey will not take place entirely within the ocean of Pisces, however, as Mercury will backtrack into Aquarius on March 4, station direct in Aquarius on March 9, and remain inside the fixed sign of air until March 16 when it returns to Pisces. Since Aquarius is the intellectually oriented, airy home of Saturn, the creative chaos stirred up by Mercury in its first seventeen days of being retrograde will give rise to clarifying insight once Mercury climbs out of the waves of Pisces in order to contemplate and distill wisdom within the sign of the Water Bearer. Until then, Mercury will need to utilize the extrasensory perception of Pisces and the divinatory tools at its disposal to chart our course along a deep sea expedition.
Baro Urbigerus (1705)
“Mercury . . . has such power over the animal spirit that he is said both to put minds to sleep and to wake them up with his caduceus, that is to say, by any aspect of his, disposed this way or that, he can miraculously either blunt the wits or sharpen them, weaken or strengthen them, agitate or calm them.”
–Marsilio Ficino, Book III, Chapter XI of Three Books on Life
Our astrological ancestors such as Marsilio Ficino and William Lilly viewed Mercury as ruling the animal spirit, a term we can connect in modern terminology with the interplay between our nervous system responses and our emotional sensations. Although the planet Mercury is not classically viewed as having dignity in the astrological element of water, William Lilly linked Mercury with the element of water through its watery role in alchemy in which it is the fluid mediator between spirit and matter. As Mercury pauses in stillness to shift retrograde, it signals that we are crossing a threshold into a passage of putrefaction and dissolution in which matters will need to be broken apart in order to bring about a process of purifying reassembly.
Mercury retrograde in the water triplicity will be one of the key astrological themes of 2020, for the next two subsequent Mercury retrograde periods this year will also be in water signs. Mercury will be retrograde in Cancer from June 17 through July 12, and then will be retrograde in Scorpio from October 13 until October 27 when it will move backwards into Libra, stationing direct in Libra on November 3. The water signs are traditionally known as being mute, places where Mercury’s caduceus transmits feelings, the deeper meaning behind language, and the indescribable significance of visual images and symbols. Pay attention to the three houses of your natal chart ruled by water signs and the sequence of topical significations that will unfold as Mercury moves retrograde through each one this year. Although the astrology of 2020 has a lot of emphasis on the elements of earth, wind, and fire, Mercury through its retrograde motion in water signs will be calling for us to purify and regenerate our emotional presence and ability to share and receive feelings with others.
Mercury is known for its dissolving and blending capacities which mediate polarities such as between conscious and unconscious, day and night, solar and lunar, the sacred and mundane, and so on. Yet Pisces is known to be challenging terrain for Mercury where emotional receptivity and extrasensory perceptions are accentuated more so than skill in clear articulation of ideas through linear language and logic. Being a mutable sign ruled by Jupiter where Venus is exalted, Pisces is a watery landscape of fishponds, rivers, and springs that inspires us to daydream, unifying elements of thought through synthesis and harmony. Due to its exceptional sensitivity, however, Mercury in Pisces is at risk when emotional flooding disrupts its capacity for discernment and clarity.
Thus when the trickster role of Mercury retrograde rears its head to pull the proverbial rug out from under you, find ways to recover and restore your nerves such as through a hot bath soaked in calming herbs and salts. Rather than cursing the fate of being gripped by the cunning Hermes, it is advisable to keep an open and curious mind regarding whatever unplanned changes occur, as Mercury retrograde is known for making changes in plot that will lead to unforeseen fruit in the future. It’s also wise to use Mercury retrograde in Pisces for what it is good for: being receptive to omens within nature, listening to and exploring the meaning of your dreams, and utilizing whatever forms of divination you can access for guidance.
William Lilly in Christian Astrology, Book Three declared that Mercury in Pisces “makes [wo]men given to Magic, either in hope or dissemblingly.” There is a compelling asteroid connection with not only the capacity of Mercury in Pisces for magic, but also Neptune’s co-presence in Pisces looming over the retrograde journey of Mercury: the Circe asteroid is applying within one and a half degrees to a conjunction with Mercury as it stations retrograde in Pisces, forming an exact conjunction on February 19. We can therefore integrate the mythopoetic meaning of Circe into the opening phase of Mercury retrograde in Pisces.
Circe is a magical solar goddess who is the daughter of Helios and plays a pivotal role in the ancient tale of the mercurial hero Odysseus enduring the retribution of Poseidon/Neptune. In fact, Hermes mediates the enchantment of Odysseus by Circe through precise instruction for how Odysseus may successfully navigate through this rather retrograde episode of his journey. Crucially, Circe ultimately advises Odysseus regarding his destiny, similar to the ancient tradition across numerous cultures in which a hero descends into the underworld in order for the destiny they need to claim to be illuminated by the Goddess. Indeed, Circe not only tells Odysseus that he needs to descend into the underworld, she tells him how to do so as well as how to successfully reascend. Similarly, there will be a deeper layer of our destiny to discover, claim, and embody during the underworld journey of Mercury moving retrograde.
Felix-Hilaire Buhot (1865-98) The Night Prowlers
Into the Black
“Wisdom’s beginning is to give up on the endless fuss of looking hopefully into the future for some final solution to our ignorance, some perfect correction to the mess we’ve made so far.
It starts the same way it ends– with looking back, exactly as Jung recommended, and into oneself. Instead of stepping forwards we have to walk backwards into the place inside us all where the answers already lie and have always been waiting.”
— Peter Kingsley, Catafalque
There will be a jolt of inspiration when Mercury stations retrograde on February 16, as the Moon will be at 11º38′ Sagittarius and applying to a superior square aspect with Mercury as well as Neptune, signifying that the irrational side of rationality may take prominence. From sunset on February 16 when Mercury disappears from view until February 25 when Mercury is regenerated through its conjunction with the Pisces Sun, you can align with Mercury’s solar phase by letting go and breaking things down, releasing old patterns and storylines ready to be composted. Since the Moon will be waning in light until forming a New Moon in Pisces on February 23, the lunar cycle during the first week of Mercury retrograde will accentuate the putrefaction of Mercury getting closer each day to being burned up in the Sun.
Mars will enter its exaltation in Capricorn on the same day that Mercury stations retrograde in Pisces, demarcating February 16 as a critical turning point in the year. Mars will generate an intense, catalytic force as it transits through Capricorn at the same time as the South Node of the Moon, Jupiter, Pluto, and Saturn are co-present in the sign of the Sea Goat. Mars in Capricorn will immediately begin applying toward a flowing trine with Uranus in Taurus followed by a conjunction with the South Node of the Moon, amplifying the volatility already being stirred up by Mercury stationing retrograde. While an exalted Mars in Capricorn brings increased drive in working hard to achieve aspirations, as it approaches its union with the South Node of the Moon while Mercury simultaneously deepens into its retrograde, we will be invited to peel back the surface layers of our ambitions to explore the undersoil feeding the roots of our striving.
The days between February 18 through February 20 will be particularly potent as the waning Moon in Capricorn will pass through conjunctions with Mars, its own South Node, Jupiter, Pluto and Saturn as well as forming sextile aspects with Mercury retrograde and Neptune in Pisces. Pay attention to whatever emotions become activated by your experiences on these days, as key insight may be received regarding what you have been desiring to achieve, why you have been desiring it, and whether or not the way you have been using your time and energy has been serving your higher purpose.
The New Moon on February 23 will occur at 4°28′ Pisces, two days before Mercury will be reseeded through its conjunction with the Sun. Within the darkness of the Pisces New Moon, Mercury retrograde will be in close proximity with the Sun and therefore will be embodying solar qualities that can burn off whatever is ready to be purged. Since Venus in Aries will be forming a square aspect with Jupiter in Capricorn during the Pisces New Moon, making space to explore our own inner darkness can lead to the realization of old relationship patterns we are ready to release, while regenerating our desires for creating what we want to receive in relationship.
Felix-Hilaire Buhot Midnight Revel
Gie me ae spark o’ Nature’s fire, / That’s a’ the learning I desire; / Then, tho’ I drudge thro’ dub an’ mire / At pleugh or cart, / My Muse, tho’ hamely in attire, / May touch the heart.
— Robert Burns (from Epistle to J. Lapraik: an Old Scottish Bard, April 1, 1785
On February 25, Mercury retrograde will unite with the Sun at 6°55′ Pisces during its inferior conjunction. This is an ending and beginning, a rebirth moment for Mercury that deserves time set aside for contemplation and consideration, as Mercury will align in between our orbit with the Sun as close to our Earth as it is possible for Mercury to be. Astrologers have named the union between Sol with the wandering planets cazimi, or being in the heart of the Sun: the moment in which Mercury is revitalized with the creative potency of our solar light. During its solar re-seeding, Mercury will be regenerated and purified within a place Demetra George has described as the “protected space at the heart of the Sun . . . the innermost holy chamber of the mystery initiations.” We can imagine Mercury reverent in ritual, enclosed in a grotto moistened by sweet spring water, ready to cleanse us with the holy water of Pisces.
Fascinatingly, Mercury will unite with the Sun on February 25 during roughly the same time that Mars in Capricorn will be forming a conjunction with the South Node of the Moon in Capricorn. Furthermore, the inferior conjunction of Mercury will form an exact sextile aspect with Mars and the South Node of the Moon in Capricorn, as well as a sextile aspect with Uranus in Taurus. There is deep potency here for descent into inner realms of shadow and exploring our relationship with the ideals we use to generate our force of will in the external world. Turning away from the force exerted on the present by the future, turning toward the light in the darkness of the living dead, abandoning ambition to lay down low, within our incubation a healing insight may emerge from our subconscious.
There is resonant living symbolism for this sacred opportunity being offered by the star of Hermes that can be found in the ancient tale of Odysseus. As previously mentioned, Mercury stations retrograde while conjoining the asteroid Circe, the solar goddess who directed Odysseus to descend into the underworld. Thus it is fitting that in the greatest depths of its underworld journey, in between life and death as it melts into the fires of the Sun, Mercury retrograde will be mutually applying to a conjunction with the Odysseus asteroid at 2º08′ Pisces. After the mercurial hero Odysseus follows the advice of the Goddess and descends into the living underworld, he encounters not only blood ancestors such as his mother but also the collective realm of mythic heroes and heroines in the forms of Heracles, Orion, Minos, Sisyphus, Tantalus, Agamemnon, Leda, Ariadne, and Achilles among others. While Odysseus also learns from a blind prophet the degree to which he has been subject to treachery from Poseidon, a plot line within astrology we could connect to our present relationship with Neptune, the great mystery of what he received from the collective realm of ancestors was the deeper wisdom.
We know that astrology has its roots in philosophies that bind our inner nature with the outer radiance of the stars that shine above us. That we wish upon stars, search to know and realize our guiding star or guardian angel, and that most commonly this deeper process is reflected in the way we use celebrities from the present and heroic figures from the past to serve as our role models and sources of inspiration. The days surrounding the chthonic cazimi of Mercury retrograde in Pisces will be fruitful for exploring the ideals and values under sourcing the role models we have been mentored and guided by. As we deepen into our relationship with the ideals we have clung to in the past, so may we better regenerate a sense of meaning to guide us into the unknown future.
Alexei Savrasov (1875) Monastery Gates
Mercury Stations Direct in Aquarius
Under the self same bough, and heard as there / The birds, the fountains and the Ocean hold / Sweet talk in music through the enamored air. / And then a Vision on my brain was rolled . . .
— from Percy Bysshe Shelly’s The Triumph of Life
After passing through its purifying conjunction with the Sun on February 25, Mercury will continue to move retrograde through Pisces until it enters Aquarius on March 4. Mercury’s backward movement into Aquarius also marks its return to visibility as a Morning Star heralding the rise of the Sun each morning. Pay close attention to the days following March 4 for important messages, signs, and omens as the re-emergence of Mercury into visibility is an oracular moment in which Mercury delivers significant messages as well as insight into the meaning we can gather from its recent underworld phase of invisibility.
Amazingly, Mercury will station direct on March 9 at 28°12′ Aquarius during a Full Moon in Virgo in which the Sun will be conjoining Neptune in Pisces. Making the surrounding lunation even more catalytic, Venus will also be conjoining Uranus in Taurus while Chiron in Aries will be forming a square to the transiting lunar nodes. This means that Mercury stationing direct as well as the Virgo Full Moon will occur one day after Neptune’s solar cycle will be regenerated through a conjunction with the Pisces Sun. To say that Neptune’s influence in astrology is multivalent is an understatement, and it’s influence over the stationing of Mercury direct will be seen in many ways. Most simply, it is likely that the full light of the lunation combined with Mercury stationing will simultaneously coalesce imaginal insight that can be directed into creative expression as well as will reveal illusions that have been clouding our perception.
Following the Full Moon in Virgo, Mercury will slowly begin moving forward and will remain in Aquarius until March 16. Pay attention to what whole sign houses in your natal chart are signified by Pisces and Aquarius in order to reflect upon the associated life topics and how they may become activated and then reactivated as Mercury moves back and forth in between Pisces and Aquarius in the first couple of weeks in March.
Maximum Morning Star in Pisces
After Mercury returns to Pisces on March 16, Mercury will reach maximum elongation as a Morning Star on March 23 at seven degrees of Pisces. This demarcates the point in which Mercury will have picked up enough speed to match the steady course of the Sun again. From this day forward, Mercury will move increasingly faster as it proceeds through its Morning Star phase. Gary Caton described this solar phase of Mercury as being similar to the rubedo phase within alchemy in his book Hermetica Tryptycha. As we work to integrate the insights and changes in perspective realized during Mercury’s retrograde journey, Caton noted that we should expect to endure a phase of chaotic volatility as we make a commitment to embody a new presence of being.
Just days before Mercury will reach its maximum elongation as a Morning Star, there will be an incredibly powerful Aries equinox (on March 19 or 20, depending upon time zone) seeding themes for the year ahead. As the Sun ingresses into its exaltation of Aries, Mars will be forming an exact conjunction with Jupiter and applying toward a conjunction with Pluto in Capricorn. Meanwhile, Saturn will be at the very end of Capricorn preparing to make its grand entrance into its airy home of Aquarius two days later on March 21 or 22, depending upon your time zone. Mars exalted in Capricorn mixing it up with Jupiter and Pluto will inject the full force of Spring erupting from the underworld into Mercury reaching maximum elongation as a Morning Star. Combining this with the enormity of Saturn entering a new sign for the first time will create an atmosphere of immense change for Mercury to mediate.
Mercury will finally return to the same place it originally stationed retrograde at on March 29 at the same time that Jupiter and Pluto are on the cusp of finally completing their first exact conjunction of the year in Capricorn, while Mars is simultaneously applying toward an exact conjunction with Saturn in Aquarius. At this point the magnitude of immense change promised by the astrology of 2020 will be fully set in motion, with Mercury fully activated as a Morning Star and lending us its light in the liminal shade before sunrise. The more we work with the internal processes Mercury seeks to guide us toward during its retrograde motion, the more fully awake we will be to creatively engage with the great collective changes taking shape at the end of March.
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Burns, Robert. (1897). The Complete Poetical Works. Houghton, Mifflin, & Co.
Caton, Gary. (2017). Hermetica Triptycha: The Mercury Elemental Year. Rubedo Press.
Ficino, Marsilio. (1998 edition). Three Books on Life. A Critical Edition and Translation with Introduction and Notes by Carol V. Kaske and John R. Clark. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies.
George, Demetra. (2019). Ancient Astrology in Theory and Practice: a Manual of Traditional Techniques. Rubedo Press.
Lilly, William. (2004 edition). Christian Astrology. Astrology Classics.
Kingsley, Peter. (2018). Catafalque. Catafalque Press.
Shelley, P.B. (2002). Shelley’s Poetry and Prose. WW Norton & Company.