If you’ve ever heard a co-worker attribute their actions to “Mercury being retrograde” and wondered what the hell the solar system has to do with Stephanie’s inability to answer an email, that’s a fair question. The answer, according to science, is nothing. There is no good reason to believe that Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, might impact individual human behavior here on Earth. And yet, Mercury retrograde remains a persuasive astrological concept for many. Here’s what astrologists say it means, and when to look out for it in the year ahead.
What does Mercury retrograde mean?
First, let’s make sure we get this part right: Sometimes people mistakenly refer to this concept as “Mercury in retrograde,” which bothers the more die-hard astrology enthusiasts. Retrograde is an adjective that means backward, and you wouldn’t say “Mercury in backward,” would you? No.
Mercury retrograde therefore refers to a period of time in which the planet Mercury appears to — but doesn’t actually — move backward. This is an optical illusion, first noticed and described by astronomers. All planets in the solar system move in the same direction around the sun, but because Mercury’s orbit is shorter than ours (88 days versus our 365), it “laps” the Earth a few times a year, and when it does so, it appears to reverse course. The same thing happens with Venus when it laps us, and with the outer planets when Earth laps them — but it’s Mercury we’re worried about here.
What happens when Mercury is retrograde?
According to scientists, nothing apart from the optical illusion described above. But according to astrologers, this can be a disastrous time for communication and travel, facets thought to be ruled by the planet Mercury, named for the Roman god who ruled the same. This might sound like a fairly specific concern, but according to astrologer Susan Miller, Mercury’s perceived movements can affect “listening, speaking, learning, reading, editing, researching, negotiating, selling, buying … all formal contracts and agreements, important documents … as well as transportation, shipping, and travel.”
For these reasons, astrologers often advise that we avoid travel, sensitive communication, and making decisions during Mercury retrograde. Technology breaks down. Flights are delayed and/or canceled. Texts are misinterpreted. It’s not a good time to start something new because agreements made during this time are likely to shortchange one party or another. It’s also a ripe opportunity for disagreement with loved ones, so astrologers caution discretion in interpersonal discussion. Lots of people seem to think this is a good time to contact their exes, too. According to astrologers, they would be wrong.
It’s hard to say how widely this applies, but Susan Miller also thinks Mercury retrograde is a bad time to get elective plastic surgery.
So what should I do during Mercury retrograde?
Climb into a hole and stay there. Just kidding. (Unless …?)
Mercury retrograde periods last about three weeks (more on when in a moment), so for most people, it’ll be impossible to shut down all forms of communication, transport, and commerce during that time. What you can do, though, is exercise extra caution, which is probably a good idea regardless of what the planets are doing. Think twice before sending a text (especially if you’ve had a drink or two), and if someone offers you a deal too good to be true, it probably is. If there’s an important decision you need to make, give it a bit more time if you can. If you can’t put it off, Susan Miller advises you to ask lots of questions before you accept.
There can be an upside to the retrograde tendency to think back on the past, too: You might reconnect with an old friend, rediscover a lapsed hobby, and more generally evaluate feelings about your relationships, your career, and your goals.
When will Mercury be retrograde in 2020?
There will be three periods when Mercury appears to be retrograde in 2020. A quick way to check whether it’s happening right now is to visit this site (please ignore that grammatically incorrect “in”). But here are the dates to keep in mind:
February 18 – March 9, 2020
June 17 – July 12, 2020
October 13 – November 3, 2020