Mercury Retrograde in Aries
Journeying through the cosmic sea of celestial conditions, what Plotinus called the cosmic circuit, some periods will be felt as more volatile and challenging than others. Mercury retrograde periods have a bad reputation as signifying doom, a misguided notion as all Mercury retrograde periods are not equal and in actuality are variable in experience. Having said that (insert Larry David smirk here), the forthcoming Mercury retrograde in Aries time period is littered with numerous difficult aspects that mark it as a period in which to be especially mindful. The wise will remain steadfastly watchful for those moments in which the smoothly wound threads of life begin to become undone and in need of mending. It’s not that it will be impossible to make plans and determined choices that will lead to success, but that it will be important to be ready to respond to challenges as the transits portend more disruption than normal for a Mercury retrograde phase.
It’s worth remembering the symbolism of the caduceus carried by Hermes that both heals as well as provokes slumber to make the cunning arts of the Angelic Messenger easier to manifest. Mercury rules the art of astrology for many reasons, my favorite being the manner in which its cherished caduceus contains the core themes of astrology: Daimon/Spirit, Fortune, Eros/Love, and Necessity. Dorian Greenbaum in her marvelous thesis on the daimon in Hellenistic astrology integrated the symbolic analysis of the caduceus given by fifth century philosopher Macrobius in his text Saturnalia, including that the two serpents of the staff represent the intermingling forms of Daimon (Sun/Spirit) and Fortune (Moon/Matter). At the top of the staff they arc toward one another for a kiss (Eros), while lower down they are bound in a knot (Necessity).
From ancient thinkers like Plotinus to modern ones such as Carl Jung, endless spans of time have been spent contemplating the intersections between fate and free will. As astrology developed in the Hellenistic era, forces of Eros and Necessity were seen as ruling over souls such as ourselves bound to human bodies. Eros was named as the binding force of love, sourced from nous, that creates connections and order; in contrast, Necessity was linked with the strife of fate we must face during existence in a world of temporal forms ceaselessly passing away and coming into being. Astrology mediated through the caduceus of Mercury helps us bring our personal volition into a kiss with the coming tides of matter we meet in the moment. This includes both the aspect of life we can change, and those we must accept and surrender to no matter how much wishful thinking we project.
Mercury is further associated with the Lot of Necessity according to Paulus Alexandrinus (citing text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus). It’s exaltation in Virgo in the northern hemisphere involves the symbolism of the Sun’s time in its peak period of light coming to an end and approaching the Libra equinox of balanced day and night turning toward increasing darkness. When Mercury shifts into retrograde movement, its orbit comes in between our Earth and our Sun and in correspondence we face the necessity of changes in our material circumstances. As Mercury disappears from view at twilight as an Evening Star at the beginning of its retrograde phase, its descent into invisibility has been connected to its mythic role of psychopomp by Demetra George and other astrologers. We must inspect and attend to earthly matters during Mercury retrograde, witnessing what is growing, what is falling apart, what needs tending. Mercury also asks us to descend into the darkness of our unconscious and allow for a breakdown of habitual thought patterns to bring about the space needed for regeneration of thought and expression.
This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond –
Invisible, as Music –
But positive, as Sound –
It beckons, and it baffles –
Philosophy, dont know –
And through a Riddle, at the last –
Sagacity, must go –
To guess it, puzzles scholars –
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown –
Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies –
Blushes, if any see –
Plucks at a twig of Evidence –
And asks a Vane, the way –
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit –
Strong Hallelujahs roll –
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul –
» Emily Dickinson «
Consciously, it’s difficult to know exactly what a Mercury retrograde period will be bringing us. It’s a liminal space in which we have changed in sometimes obvious, other times mysterious, ways on the other side of it. The confounding nature of Mercury retrograde is both its beauty as well as why it can feel frustrating. The very nature of change and regeneration demands that we shed what was once comfortable and familiar, embracing something unknown and uncomfortably foreign. This is where Hermes enters with his caduceus and sleight of hand, facilitating our capacity to meet disruption while discerning how to effectively remediate and respond, often shifting our life in a new direction in the process.
The ability of Mercury to mediate opposing forces, interweaving between conflicts, will be important to keep in mind with Mercury retrograde in Aries, the fiery home of Mars. Mars is in its exaltation of Capricorn during the retrograde, a sign that forms a catalytic square aspect with Aries, provoking dynamic change. It also means that Mars will be receiving Mercury, bringing the resources of its exalted Capricorn location into relationship with Mercury. Furthermore, Mars will be approaching union with Saturn in Capricorn at the same time Mercury will be uniting with the Sun at the heart of its retrograde. Mars and Saturn will be conjoined in two of their strongest positions while forming a square to Mercury uniting with the Sun in its exaltation of Aries. These are extremely powerful forces at work through the cardinal, or moveable, modality of initiation and engaging in profound changes of circumstance.
Mercury in Aries is direct, quick moving and cuts to the core of perceptions. As Mercury stations retrograde the Moon will be in the curious sign of Gemini, creating harmonious reception with Mercury that portends a retrograde phase of wide ranging exploration. As Mercury stands still in Aries and begins to slowly shift into backward movement, the impulse of its fiery placement becomes highly concentrated with a volatility that is capable of penetrating focus. Since Mercury is in the home of Mars, its notable that not only will Mars be in its exaltation of Capricorn, it will also be out of bounds in declination. Mars out of bounds and ruling Mercury creates wildness that can be best directed into areas you can freely express untethered curiosity.
In addition to Mercury shifting retrograde in Aries, Venus will also be moving direct in Aries while engaging both Pluto and Uranus. Mercury and Venus spent an extended period of time conjoining as Evening Stars leading into the stationing of Mercury, drawing attention to something primed for birth. As they separate and Mercury descends toward subterranean depths, Venus will continue to become brighter at sunset while forming a tumultuous square aspect with the archetypal lord of the underworld, Pluto. After Venus moves through its square with Pluto, it will eventually reach an exact union with Uranus in Aries on March 28 with a Moon waxing in light near fullness. The interplay of Venus with Pluto and Uranus adds increased turbulence as well as liberating impulses to the already intense aspects formed by Mercury. Its a fertile environment for soul tending and letting the seemingly irrational sway of psyche become more conscious; as a result an opening of awareness for new routes of expression and paths of purpose may ensue.
Altogether, the intense ingredients of the beginning movement of Mercury retrograde in Aries is ideal for engagement with pioneering research, work, and expression. We need to keep in mind that during this opening division of Mercury’s backward loop, both Mars and Mercury will be getting closer to Saturn in Capricorn each day. This means we have a powerful accompanist directing us toward how to build effective structures, yet Saturn demands patience and thorough persistence. Saturn simultaneously signifies what could appear to be immovable obstacles and blockages to plans. The fluidity of Mercury retrograde channeled through the fires of Aries may give impulse to burn down the walls we come up against, yet a wiser move will be to utilize the skillset Capricorn brings to Mars for strategic plans of action. The combination of Mercury retrograde in Aries with Mars out of bounds in Capricorn will be optimal for those types of “out of the box” ideas that enable one to successfully work around limitations.
Mercury projects involve creating with both the hands and the mind and so a diversity of work can be done in the weeks ahead, yet the fiery initiative of its Aries location will need to take account of the wide variance of potential hurdles before leaping into action. With both the Sun and Mars in their exaltation engaged with Saturn in its home, there is potential to combine hard work with effective planning to dig the trenches needed for increased irrigation throughout whatever system we focus on. Capricorn is a cardinal sign of nocturnal and inward earth, while Aries is a cardinal sign of diurnal and outer fire. The common ground is in the moveable modality of initiating plans of action, with Mercury retrograde needing to mediate the polarities of day and night, inner and outer, assertion and reception. Fire does thrive on the fuel of felled earthly trees, and so we can keep in mind the image of Mercury serving as a deft fire tender who expertly tempers the balance of keeping the fire going without allowing it to turn into a wildfire.
Temperamentally, fire and earth share the dry quality of making distinctions, having clear boundaries, and making the tough decisions of ending what is no longer working in order to productively engage with whatever holds greater promise. Within personal spheres we will have greater capacity to utilize the protective capacities of Mars, but still need to keep in mind the fact Mars and Saturn coming together can signify conflicts we will need to mediate. In collective events, there are likely to be more conflicts erupting out of the themes of information warfare and vying interests using data networks in strategic conflict, as well as economic warfare involving trade and other mercurial significations. The more we can stop ourselves from getting drawn into surrounding conflicts, the more energy we will have to instead engage with the dynamic aspects that are also available for developing plans with an eye for what looks to be working and what instead needs to be modified.
Into the Sun
The heart of the Mercury retrograde period occurs when Mercury aligns by zodiac degree in between the orbits of our Earth and Sun, becoming regenerated within its union with our solar light. Mercury retrograde goes into the heart of the Sun on April 1, a day after a Full Moon in Libra and a day before the exact union of Mars and Saturn in Capricorn. While the inferior conjunction of Mercury occurs at 12º Aries, the conjunction of Mars and Saturn will occur at 9º Capricorn, bringing Mercury and Mars into applying engagement. Since Aries is the exaltation of the Sun, symbolically we can derive an added dose of enlivening empowerment to the purification and rebirth process for Mercury. This is a day for envisioning new ways of approaching longterm goals, as well as taking care of mercurial tasks. Mercury’s significations are strengthened while it aligns closely with the Sun, and so all manner of expression, research, negotiation, and work requiring dexterous skill gets an extra boost.
Moreover, as the Sun-Mercury union occurs in a Full Moon phase with the Moon in Libra applying to an opposition with Uranus in Aries, there is amplified illumination available. The liberating lunar atmosphere will create heightened emotions and excitement that will make the aspects between Sun-Mercury and Mars-Saturn more dramatic. We can receive far reaching awareness not only regarding recent events, but also deep unconscious material due to the Moon forming a polarity with Uranus. Fortunately, Venus will have entered its inner home of Taurus by the time Mercury unites with the Sun, bringing greater stability and full access to the pleasures of Venus. Venus in Taurus will begin to form a trine with Saturn and Mars and can help ground within bodily senses to find the calmness necessary to receive the full scope of lucidity available. If the coming together of Mars and Saturn has left you overwhelmed or exhausted at this point, making space for Venus will bring relief.
The sabian symbol for 12 degrees of Aries is “a triangularly shaped flight of wild geese,” with Dane Rudhyar giving it the keynote of “an idealistic reliance upon a mental image of universal order.” Rudhyar viewed the flight of geese forming a harmonious pattern as reflecting a synchronous attuning to both “planetary rhythms” as well as an underlying “cosmic order.” Rudhyar further pointed out that the type of celestial order revealed by the flight of earthly birds contrasts “with the social-political order within a nation which is represented by its ruler.” As a result Rudhyar saw this symbol pointing toward the polarizing conflict provoked by cosmic order when one has been overly relying upon societal order. The “Soul-consciousness” embedded within this image puts the emphasis on taking individual responsibility in development of one’s life rather than giving power over to external authorities. It also highlights the likelihood that the soulful insights arising from within may be at odds with our societal conditioning, and so we will need to keep an open mind rather than restrict how we interpret the messages we receive.
Gary Caton in his book Hermetica Triptycha: The Mercury Elemental Year explained how the inferior conjunctions of Mercury each year occur in the same element. This year we are experiencing the fire element, the first one of the series occurring on 12 December 2017 at 22º Sagittarius, the next one occurring on 8 August 2018 at 17º Leo. Caton gave guidelines into how to grasp the bigger picture of mercurial shifts by looking at the triangle of houses containing the fires signs in your natal chart (for example, they could be occurring in your third, seventh, and eleventh houses). In this way you can see how the isolated meaning of this Mercury rebirth in Aries connects with its previous regeneration in Sagittarius and forthcoming one in Leo in your natal chart. Caton wrote that in fire years “we need to find new sources of creative fuel and inspiration and learn to use this fire to burn off any accumulated detritus in our lives and to purge falsity in ourselves” (p. 142).
In the Morning
Mercury stations direct on April 15 at 4º46′ Aries during a Dark Moon in Aries, in range of a square to Saturn. The day after Mercury stations direct we will experience a New Moon in Aries conjoining Uranus, another sign that Uranus looms over the entire retrograde phase in less obvious ways. Mercury direct as a Morning Star is eager for new growth and endeavors, hungry for new information and connection. The New Moon conjoining Uranus following the stationing direct of Mercury signifies an emancipatory shift of the winds we can catch and ride. All the work of preparation and modification put in during the retrograde can fuel a leap forward at this time.
Other signs of monumental shift coming as Mercury stations direct involve Chiron and Saturn. Chiron will be at the final minutes of its time in Pisces when Mercury stations direct, and will ingress into Aries two days later on April 17. In addition, Saturn is stationing retrograde around the same time, bringing the influence of Saturn to the forefront. Mercury moving forward again while Saturn turns backwards means that these two once again begin to apply to another square aspect. Mercury will perfect its final square with Saturn on April 25, and later on this same day Mars will finally reach its exact conjunction with Pluto in Capricorn. As a result the week and a half following Mercury moving direct again is saturated with potent astrology which can bring about full realization of whatever creations we work on during the time of Mercury retrograde.
Mercury reaches maximum elongation as a Morning Star on April 29 at 13º of Aries as the Moon waxes full in Scorpio. Gary Caton in his book Hermetica Triptycha illuminated the significance of Mercury aligning three times in the same range of zodiacal degrees before its retrograde at maximum Evening Star elongation (March 15 at 14º Aries), in the middle of its retrograde at its Inferior Conjunction (April 1 at 12º Aries), and after completion of its retrograde at maximum Morning Star elongation (April 29 at 13º). This creates a link between these dates and an alchemical process to work with between March 15 and April 29, 2018. Caution may be applied to what promises to be a tumultuous Mercury retrograde in Aries, but fear will do us no good. In the volatility of change we can discover luminous meaning and persevere with diligence and resilient thoroughness to create and contribute to the greater good.
Caton, Gary. (2017). Hermetica Triptycha: The Mercury Elemental Year. Rubedo Press.
Greenbaum, Dorian. (2009). The Daimon in Hellenistic Astrology: Origins and Influence. A dissertation submitted in fulfillment for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Combined Studies at The Warburg Institute of the University of London.
Rudhyar, Dane. (1973). An Astrological Mandala. Random House.