Light in Heavy (1929) by Wassily Kandinsky
Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius
Every person is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.
— from “The Half-Finished Heaven” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly
Mercury is a friend to humanity, albeit a tricky guide who enjoys sleight of hand and cunning words that catch us off guard. In astrology, when Mercury pauses in motion to change direction it’s necessary to be mindful with focused curiosity that can intuit the emerging issues that need our attention. The airy terrain of Aquarius will provide contrasting wind currents for Mercury to ride, sometimes forcing us in certain directions out of necessity, at other times opening an expansive vision that simultaneously draws from our well of memory while seeing new pathways to follow into the future.
Mercury is the most changeable planet, and when stationing retrograde shifts from its fleet footed pace when direct into intensifying stillness that calls for introspection. As Mercury begins its slow, churning backward motion it pulls us into a quality of time aligned with dissolution, purification, and regeneration. Rather than insisting on controlling outcomes to push forward, we need to surrender to the changes in storylines and meaning delivered by Mercury when retrograde. Although we may at times become disoriented by destabilizing dynamics, if we listen closely we will hear the guidance we need from Hermes and discover a gleaming gem of realization left where only we may find it.
Following the stationing of Mercury on January 30 at 26°29’ Aquarius, the star of Hermes will spend twenty-two days backtracking through the sign of the Water Bearer until stationing direct at 11°01’ Aquarius on February 20. As Mercury retraces the zodiacal terrain from eleven to twenty-seven degrees of Aquarius, it will excavate material that we need to deepen our engagement with, returning our perception to issues we need to release, rework, or reintegrate. After passing through a phase of putrefaction and purification, we may gain a rejuvenated presence and felt sense of renewal on the other side. Mercury first crossed 11°01’ Aquarius on January 15 and will not move beyond 26°29’ Aquarius until March 12, creating two months of mercurial focus in this range of your natal chart.
In addition to changing speed and direction while retrograde, Mercury also transitions from being visible as an evening star in twilight into an invisible phase during which it comes closest to us in orbit and amplifies its impact in our life. In between the descent of Mercury into darkness and its eventual re-emergence into light as a morning star heralding sunrise, Mercury’s underworld journey demarcates a threshold we must cross into our own liminal passage of descent and internal processing. While we always need to attune and adjust to changes emerging from internal and external sources during the three weeks Mercury is retrograde, the period of Mercury retrograde in Aquarius in 2021 will be taking place during a collective time of immeasurably immense transition and liminality in global events.
During Mercury’s retrograde movement the Sun, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn will all be gathered together with Mercury in Aquarius like a grouping of clouds whose shaping and reshaping brings new realizations of our past and new inspiration for our way forward. We are still coming to terms collectively with the systemic shifts emanating from the great conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius, with disruption and volatility continuing to increase in correlation with the first exact square aspect formed between Saturn in Aquarius and Uranus in Taurus on February 17. Since Aquarius is a zodiacal sign that connects the known with the unknown, as Mercury moves back to reconnect with Jupiter and Saturn we will be given the opportunity to realign and recalibrate with the rapidly developing movements, accelerated growth, and sudden collapses within societal systems that have been taking place.
Explorador Piloto (1960) by Remedios Varo
Through a backdoor in the landscape
the magpie arrives,
black and white, bird of the death-goddess.
A blackbird flies back and forth
until the whole scene becomes a charcoal drawing,
except for the white clothes on the line:
a Palestrina choir.
The whole universe is full!
— from “Morning Bird Songs” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly
The significance of Mercury, Venus, the Sun, and Jupiter all joining Saturn in its home of Aquarius cannot be overstated. Since this great gathering of wandering stars in Aquarius will also be forming a sign-based square aspect with Mars and Uranus in Taurus, we can expect it to be an especially disruptive and unstable period of Mercury retrograde. Especially during the first two weeks when Mars and Mercury will be more intensely engaged in a square aspect, we will need to navigate the stereotypical breakdowns in technology and communication emphasized in popular astrology. Yet due to Saturn being rooted in its airy home of Aquarius the entire time, we will be able to lean on the endurance, slowly pondering analysis, and special skills in deconstruction and reconstruction possessed by the ringed star of Cronus.
It’s further notable that Mercury is the nocturnal ruler of air signs and shares an affinity with the air element in being mobile, flexible, versatile, and facile in communication. The slow, intensified nature of Mercury when retrograde can be excellent for in-depth research, and so it can be a fruitful time for poring over reading material or penetrating deeper into learning within fields of interest. The flexibility of consciousness that Mercury brings to the potent contemplation of Saturn in Aquarius will also be beneficial in critically examining media sources as well as separating true revelation from false conspiracy on social media and elsewhere. In particular, it will be a powerful time for shedding outdated mental frameworks and thought patterns that no longer align with the changing wind of the time.
The fixed nature of Aquarius means that the changes brought into our life through the deluge of planets in Aquarius may slowly take shape in some cases but will create long lasting impact. Since Aquarius is a human sign connected with the relationship between humans with one another in our vast network of intersecting societal constructions, humanitarian concerns will take precedence. The numerous crises impacting people around the world in relation to the global pandemic as well as the collapse of formerly reliable structures means that it’s simply going to take a long time to find the needed solutions and work through the difficulties involved in reform and repair. Bring patience and willingness to persist in problem solving into the passage of Mercury retrograde, and by the end of it you will likely find new insights to apply to issues and new pathways to follow forward.
As we continue to orient with the new era of air initiated by the recent conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn, we can utilize the three weeks of Mercury retrograde to notice synchronicities and discover revelations in connection with all forms of air symbolism. One realm will be in the use of language itself, rethinking how we use language to communicate. With the tension from Mars and Uranus to the gathering of Aquarius planets there will continue to be cultural battles over the use of language and the ways we tell our collective stories of humanity, with escalating conflict swirling like whirlwinds. In verbal conflicts of any sort, the mediation offered by Mercury retrograde is to pause, slow down, and rethink your perspective, finding ways to de-escalate discord so that a bridge between view points can be made.
Within our personal relationships, we will also have opportunities for uncovering ways to more directly express the heart of the matter through our choice in words. As the living symbolism of Aquarius involves how humans draw from sources of spirit within earthly matters, one constant intersection is in how we express the flight of our thoughts through language. As Dr. Mervat Nasser wrote in Hermopolis, “the Egyptian alphabet took the shape of birds that were seen as capable of flying high into the sky to mediate between the knowledge of heaven and earth, between god and humanity.”
We may also gain insight through the appearance of airy omens and signs, whether they appear through images soaring through our mind when asleep or through the flight patterns of birds within our waking time in nature. Just like Owen Barfield emphasized in Saving the Appearances, rather than forming an “I-it” relationship with nature in which we desire to observe the beautiful flight of birds separate from ourselves, we can instead seek to learn what we can understand about ourselves from the sudden appearance of a Blue Heron or Peregrine Falcon along our path. There is a depth of symbolic insight accessible when Mercury is retrograde that can be more nonlinear and intuitive than linearly logical.
When possible it will be worthwhile to spend time with the muses of your creativity while Mercury is retrograde, as the gathering of planets in Aquarius making creative tension with Mars and Uranus can lead to breakthrough ideas and important brainstorms that dislodge you from a formerly stuck position. In myth the Muses were known as the daughters of Mnemosyne (memory) and Zeus (creative divine mind), and so with Jupiter and Venus both present in Aquarius with Mercury we may draw from streams of memories in the creation of new expressions and thought forms. According to Tim Addey, who drew upon the work of Plato in his book The Seven Myths of the Soul, engaging in arts and sciences requires both creative thought and “the memory of our pre-terrestial vision of the celestial realm.” To Addey, this creative process can put us in touch with a sense of morality drawn down from the spirit of stars above, a rather Aquarian process as ethics are an important ideal for Aquarius:
“The theory of reminiscence is Plato’s explanation of why we as human beings are able to recognize abstract, universal and spiritual truths, such as justice, beauty, and goodness: it is because the soul once possessed this knowledge..but forgotten when she descended into the world of matter; the soul’s activities in arts and sciences helps her remember it.” – Tim Addey, The Seven Myths of the Soul
Pilgrim from a Sublunar World (1891) by Odilon Redon
. . . Oh, but just beyond that,
behind the last of the billboards, plastered with signs for “Deathless,”
that bitter beer which tastes sweet to those drinking it
as long as they have fresh distractions to chew . . . ,
just beyond those boards, just on the other side: things are real.
Children play, lovers hold each other, off in the shadows,
pensive, on the meager grass, while dogs obey nature.
The youth is drawn farther on; perhaps he’s fallen in love
with a young Lament . . . . . He pursues her, enters meadowland. She says:
“It’s a long way. We live out there . . .”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, from the Tenth Elegy of Duino Elegies translated by Edward Snow
Venus and Mercury will both be entering the underworld together within the first few days of Mercury being retrograde, meaning that both the Mercury and Venus aspects of our life will begin to enter a phase of putrefaction and decomposition. However, while Mercury will be stationing retrograde to descend from visibility as an evening star in the west at sunset, Venus will be disappearing from view as a morning star in the east at sunrise; while Mercury will be moving slowly through the zodiac backwards in between our orbit with the Sun, Venus will be moving fast and direct on the other side of the Sun from us in orbit.
Soon after disappearing under the beams of the Sun, Venus will run straight into the unsettling square aspect being formed between Saturn and Uranus. On February 5 there will be a conjunction of Venus with Saturn in Aquarius followed by square between Venus and Uranus in Taurus on February 6. As a result, the increasingly purgative phase of Mercury being retrograde that leads up to its union with the Sun on February 8 will also involve a cathartic process of Venus setting off the friction building between Saturn and Uranus. Just as Mercury will be increasingly burning off material built up from its last union with the Sun on December 19, so will Mercury also help us shed and release aspects of the issues being volatilized by Venus engaging with Saturn and Uranus.
To dig deeper into the meaning of the aspects we need to remember that Venus will be in the home of Saturn when they unite on February 5, followed by Venus having a catalyzing encounter with Uranus who will be in the earthy home of Venus. While potentially disruptive there is also more potential for integration due to astrological reception being involved in the aspect sequence. The union of Saturn with Venus can bring a sobering view of reality, coming into contact with the confines of our circumstantial context. Yet the airy nature of Aquarius can help move with the emancipatory impulse from Uranus that can push desires to break free from present restrictions.
Fundamentally, the sequence of Venus moving from Saturn into Uranus combined with Mercury undergoing its own regenerative process of purification will create opportunities to deepen into the ways in which our values are being reshaped and reforged during a period of great collective transition. If we have been unconsciously letting go of old ideals and desires, as Mercury approaches its union with the Sun on February 8 we can begin discovering ways to embody the ways in which our values are undergoing a process of renewal and rejuvenation. Yet before full embodiment will be possible, we will need to come into greater clarity and realization of the ways in which our known understanding is transfiguring into unknown, emerging potential.
Across time the myth of Prometheus has been increasingly connected to the meaning of Uranus in astrology, perhaps most notably by Rick Tarnas. Within the Uranian themes of emancipation, innovation, invention, and rebellious individuality in the story of Prometheus, there are also lessons centered around the hubris of humanity. When we are struck by Uranus in astrology, we may ask ourselves what we have been creating with the divine gift of fire, what we most wish to bring to civilization, and what we most wish to awaken in ourselves and others. Just as Prometheus knowingly sacrificed his boundless nature to be chained to an earthly rock as punishment for delivering the gift of fire to humanity, so do we need to find ways to ground the searing visions of Uranus into our material forms with awareness of its repercussions across our world. As Tim Addey in The Seven Myths of the Soul wrote, “The mystic’s initiation into the mysteries of Prometheus is the voluntary acceptance of the limitations of matter, not its rejection.”
Whatever innovative ideas, clarifying insights, and new desires are gathered by Venus moving across Saturn and Uranus will be brought into the conjunction that will form between Venus and Jupiter in Aquarius on February 11, the same day as the New Moon in Aquarius. While this will be a period in which to come into deeper contact with the new visions gestating within, we will first experience the reanimation of Mercury with the Sun on February 8.
Vision (1895/97) by Odilon Redon
Task: to be where I am.
Even when I’m in this solemn and absurd
role: I am still the place
where creation works on itself.
Dawn comes, the sparse tree trunks
take on color now, the frostbitten
forest flowers form a silent search party
after something that has disappeared in the dark.
But to be where I am . . . and to wait.
I am full of anxiety, obstinate, confused.
Things not yet happened are already here!
I feel that. They’re just out there:
a murmuring mass outside the barrier.
They can only slip in one by one.
They want to slip in. Why? They do
one by one. I am the turnstile.
— from “Guard Duty” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly
Mercury will become reanimated by its conjunction with the Sun on February 8 at 20°01′ Aquarius. The reseeding of Mercury in solar light occurs as it aligns in between the Earth and Sun by zodiacal degree, as close to us in orbit as possible for Mercury within its cycle. Known as the inferior conjunction of Mercury, it’s a moment of clarifying rebirth that can enhance realization and seed new ideas for the Mercury cycle ahead. While Mercury is within one degree of conjunction with the Sun, even more so within sixteen arc minutes of its solar conjunction, there can be empowerment for tasks associated with Mercury since it is enthroned upon the solar chariot. Older astrological texts named this moment of Mercury’s rebirth cazimi, or being in the heart of the Sun. It’s the cyclical moment when Mercury enters what Demetra George has named the “sanctum sanctorum,” or “the innermost holy chamber of the mystery initiations” found within “the protected space at the heart of the Sun.”
Guarding the entrance of Mercury into the heart of the Sun will be Pallas Athene, whose asteroid will unite with Mercury on February 7 and will be at 20°51′ Aquarius when Mercury unites with the Sun at 20°01′ Aquarius on February 8. The union of Pallas Athene with Mercury is the second in a three part sequence: Mercury formed its first conjunction with Pallas Athene on January 16 at 13°05′ Aquarius, and will form its third and final conjunction with Pallas Athene on March 18 at 3°25′ Pisces. With her glaring gray-eyes that penetrate with far reaching vision, Pallas Athene will be present with her sharpened spear, slithering snake, and protective aegis to foster the courage of a burning heart that can pierce through previous blockages to enliven a fuller sense of our potential.
A goddess of arts and crafts, prophecy, and warfare, Walter Burkett noted in Greek Religion that what unites Pallas Athene’s “divergent spheres of competence is not an elemental force, but the force of civilization: the just division of roles” among the populace as well as “the organizational wisdom which achieves this.” Burkert further noted that “more than any other deity Athena is always near her protégés,” declaring that “wherever difficulties disappear and the impossible becomes possible, Athena is at hand.” In astrology, Demetra George has described Pallas Athene in Aquarius as representing “futuristic perception ” that creates “forms that will benefit generations to come,” as well as artists and others “on the forefront of the future, translating the tone of what is coming in for the masses.” While the issues in need of addressing across society seem impossibly large, the presence of Pallas Athene with the inferior conjunction of Mercury is a sign of significant progress being possible in terms of reorganizing structures, roles, and responsibilities within societal and personal systems of all sorts.
The union of Pallas Athene with Mercury will precede the movement of Mercury from the heart of the Sun into a discordant square aspect with Mars in Taurus. Mercury will form its exact square aspect with Mars on February 10 during a dark Moon in Aquarius that will be moving through a sequence of conjunctions with Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury as it draws its lunar cycle to a close, intensifying our feelings of transitioning in between what has been and what will be. The disruptive influence of Mars in Taurus upon the inferior conjunction of Mercury will be modulated by Pallas Athene, amplifying the penetrative visioning available as well as the inspiration for activism on behalf of social justice concerns from groups who have been marginalized in one way or another by the cultures in power.
If you experience any significant breakdowns, conflicts, or obstacles as Mars and Mercury clash, keep in mind that as soon as Mercury begins to separate from Mars it will begin applying toward a beneficial and restorative conjunction between Jupiter and Venus in Aquarius. There may be a need to come to stark terms with what isn’t working in the middle of February, but there will be celestial support available to diagnose solutions and ultimately begin moving forward again from a more solid foundation.
The Buddha (1895) by Odilon Redon
The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
“I am not empty, I am open.”
— from “Vermeer” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly
A few days after the inferior conjunction of Mercury, there will be an extremely potent New Moon in Aquarius on February 11 at 23°17’ Aquarius that will involve a conjunction between Venus and Jupiter in Aquarius as well as all of the seven traditional planets and lights occupying Aquarius except for Mars. Following the New Moon in Aquarius, Mercury will form a conjunction with Venus in Aquarius on February 13 followed by a conjunction with Jupiter in Aquarius on February 14. These days following the Aquarius New Moon can be extremely fertile for creativity and coalescing greater clarity regarding the path we need to follow into the year ahead. The more we can strip away the inessential and what is ready to be shed from our life in the period leading up to these days, the more space we will have to welcome exciting new developments.
As Mercury begins slowing down to station direct on February 20, it will become visible again in the darkness before dawn around February 16. There will be a burst of new movements and ideas for future plans at this time, as the reappearance of Mercury as a morning star to deliver a vital message will be combined with the fact that both Saturn and Jupiter will have also renewed their own visible cycles as morning stars in the days before Mercury. Yet we will have to navigate an extremely turbulent atmosphere while integrating new visions due to the first exact square aspect between Saturn and Uranus taking place on February 17. There will be rupturing in collective events creating division while sudden shifts and movements continue to reorder and rearrange systemic structures and alliances between societal structures and groups.
Some of the ways Mercury may assist in ferrying us across the volatile middle of February involves Mercury being within its own decan of ten to twenty degrees of Aquarius. Mercury will possess both decan as well as triplicity dignity as it slows down to station, giving it added potency in helping us forge links of support with relationships and resources that can help us handle being at a threshold in-between the way it’s been and the way of what’s to come. Austin Coppock in his book on the decans 36 Faces ascribed the image of “Heaven and Earth” to the second face of Aquarius, noting that the “principled but fierce wisdom” found in this face “stabilizes commerce between heaven and earth” while also allowing for “the connection of the orthodox and the unorthodox, the known and the unknown,” as well as “the ideal and the practical.”
Further adding to the instability and creative tension of the days surrounding Mercury stationing direct, Venus in Aquarius will form a catalyzing square aspect with Mars in Taurus on February 19. The waning square between Venus with Mars will necessitate adjustment and reorientation within our relational dynamics in accordance with whatever larger collective changes are taking place as well as whatever kind of internal shifting in values and needs we have been experiencing. As Mercury will be stationing direct at the same time, make the time and space needed to gather a deeper sense of how your life and desires have been reshaped. After Venus forms its square with Mars it will form a conjunction with Pallas Athene in Aquarius on February 21, helping us formulate strategies to handle any difficulties that were set off by Mars as well as gain a stronger sense of ways we need to alter plans and goals for the future in light of however our inner values have been shifting.
As a result of numerous destabilizing astrological aspects occurring simultaneously, it will be important to be as mindful as possible in the days surrounding the stationing direct of Mercury on February 20 at 11°01’ Aquarius. Mercury will station close to the midpoint between Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius, giving us an opportunity to deepen in our understanding of how our life has been altered in correspondence with the great conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn that arrived at the end of 2020. Mercury will next slowly begin moving forward again as it applies toward a conjunction with Jupiter that it will not complete until March 4. As a result, we will have a couple of weeks following the stationing direct of Mercury to benefit from the star of Hermes applying toward a conjunction with Jupiter in Aquarius. Utilize this period for pushing forward with goals and generating forward momentum toward whatever ways your purpose in life has undergone a metamorphosis.
Mercury will reach its maximum elongation as a morning star and begin speeding up on March 6. The maximum elongation of Mercury 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.
In all, the period of Mercury retrograde in Aquarius promises to be full of ups and downs as we move through an unstable stretch of time. Although the collective changes that will be developing may feel unsettling, we could not ask for a better guide through the volatility than Hermes. Give praise to Mercury and welcome his wild wisdom into your life, as you need to allow for all of his tricks in order to receive all of his gifts. Be on the constant lookout for the windfalls of fruitful fortune that Mercury may deliver unexpectedly, while making the time to formulate long-term strategies to achieve the goals and larger visions that have been consolidating in your mind. By the time Mercury is heading direct again at the end of February, you may feel renewed with a rejuvenated excitement about what you can create and bring into form in the year ahead.
Mercury Riding Pegasus, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
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Coppock, Austin. (2014). 36 Faces: The History, Astrology and Magic of the Decans. Three Hands Press.
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