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Mercury retrogradeMercury goes retrograde today, and will remain so until June 19. It seems that even many people who know nothing else about astrology are aware of Mercury’s retrograde periods, and dread them.

The conventional astrological wisdom characterized Mercury retrograde as a time fraught with all sort of mishaps related to communication and technology: emails gone astray, fax machines on the blink, cars breaking down inexplicably, misunderstanding, missed phone calls, negotiations SNAFU.

I have certainly seen all these things descend on myself and others during a retrograde, but there are also plenty of times when everything goes along smoothly during a retrograde – and no one notices or comments on the fact. As a practicing astrologer, I dislike oversimplifications and black-and-white thinking, especially when fatalistic, fear-based thinking is involved.

The truth is, the shift of energy that occurs when Mercury goes retrograde, although significant and noticeable, is not the only energy at work in our lives, or even the only energy involved in the workings of technology and communication. It is just one factor. Like all astrological energies, some of us will be more affected by it than others.

All the planets (except the Moon and Sun) go retrograde from time to time. (The outer planets are retrograde for almost half of each year.) When a planet is retrograde, its energy is less directly available, so the matters it presides over can stall out or become convoluted. This is usually not a problem for things that are humming along smoothly before the onset of retrograde, but it can complicate situations where we require the active involvement of a planetary energy to initiate something or to turn a crucial juncture in a certain direction.

I think of retrogrades as a reminder that we occasionally need to back off from relying on a planet’s energies too strongly and pushing for accomplishment in the area the planet presides over. Everything needs a “time out” period now and then, and this is especially true in our frenetic, fast-paced times. My advice in coping with retrogrades is to not struggle against them, but to go with the flow. Maybe one doesn’t need quite so much gadgetry, zipping signals, and chatter anyway. Maybe it’s time to sit down with a good book or a journal, or to just meditate and reflect on things instead.

It’s not necessary to fear a retrograde. When I simply remind myself to relax and loosen my expectations a bit, I usually find that things carry on well enough.

The HermitToday’s card comes from the Thoth Tarot, designed by Aleister Crowley and illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris. The card bears considerable esoteric symbolism. In the Golden Dawn system of tarot correspondences, The Hermit corresponds to the sign of Virgo, and hence we see the shafts of wheat forming the background. The Hebrew letter for the card is Yod, the first letter of the divine name. Yod means “hand”, and so the Hermit’s hand is at the center of the card. Virgo is ruled by Mercury (Hermes), who served as the psychopomp figure in mythology and esoteric philosophy, guiding souls between heaven, earth, and the underworld. Hence we see Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Hades, as the Hermit’s companion. The spermatozoon and serpent-coiled egg reinforce Virgo’s fertility theme, although we are dealing now with an esoteric understanding of fertility – the creative interplay between matter and spirit that gives rise to creation.

On the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, the Hermit card is assigned to the path from Chesed to Tiphareth. It thus represents divine life and blessing streaming into the soul center, symbolized by the sun-like light in the Hermit’s lantern.

More literally, the Hermit is a monk or other religious seeker who shuns the company of humanity to undertake an inward journey of discovery and transformation. He carries his lantern with him into the lonely and dark places, seeking to bring hidden truth to light.

As Crowley remarks, the legend of Persephone helps bind these diverse ideas together. Persephone, a maiden goddess with agricultural associations (hence Virgo) is taken into the underworld by Hades (hence Cerberus), where she finds her own power as Queen of the Dead, striking a bargain in which she travels between the Underworld and the surface (to ensure the continued fertility of the earth), with Hermes of course being the messenger and guide.

In The Hermit, we see how new life arises from what might seem like a bleak and solitary journey beneath the earth. Only by carrying the light of spirit into the deep places of body, memory, and unconsciousness can return to the surface realities of life and make them fruitful and vivid.

When I began my study of tarot, The Hermit was my special card, just because my personality was naturally inclined toward privacy, solitude, and study. (The Led Zeppelin album didn’t hurt either.) But The Hermit, like all the cards of the major arcana, is not just a personality type, but is a teacher, a guide on a great journey through different layers of experience and understanding. The Hermit is solitary not just because solitary study suits him, but because his mission of discovery and transformation can only be achieved in the interior landscape of contemplation.

He knows the way in.

MercuryMercury enters Gemini today, where he will remain until July 10, thanks to a retrograde period from late May through mid-June. Gemini is Mercury’s sign of rulership, so he is very exuberant here. Conversations become dynamic, witty, and full of detail. (Things may get a bit overwhelming for the introverts among us.)

Sometimes, Mercury in Gemini can spawn conversation for its own sake, as he delights in the exchange of words and viewpoints. This can be a good time to play with different perspectives on a question, to brainstorm, or to solicit opinions from people with diverse perspectives.

It is not, however, the best time to finalize and agreement or polish a piece of writing. Mercury is a little too frenetic for that, and will have trouble settling on a single approach.

Mercury in Gemini also has a somewhat duplicitous quality. (Mythologically, Mercury was the patron of merchants and thieves, both of whom can indulge in trickery and misdirection.) Don’t believe everything you hear this season. Even people with good intentions can launch into some off-the-page narratives, as the delight in telling the story takes on a life of its own and leaves the facts to fend for themselves.

In exchanging ideas with others, it will be easier to keep things light and to toss ideas around without too much ego-bruising. Be careful, though – if you (or someone else) has a lot at stake in an idea or position, Mercury in Gemini can be frustratingly unproductive.

Although planet Mercury is primarily concerned with communication, he also governs other types of mental and manual skills. In these areas, too, we may find our activities highly energized but difficult to focus. To use the energy productively, try working on projects that are fresh and not too near to completion. If you are a writer, make drafts and outlines, and plan on settling them into a final shape later. If working in the visual arts, this is a good time for studies and sketches.

People who have their natal Mercury in one of the air signs (Gemini, Libra, or Aquarius) will find it easiest to pick up on the advantageous aspects of Mercury’s journey through Gemini these coming months. Folks with Mercury in Pisces may feel overloaded by detailed information, and those with Mercury in Virgo will be frustrated by the difficulty of settling on a final version of anything until July.

HermesMercury will be leaving Aries tomorrow, and I for one will be glad for the change. These last couple weeks have worn me down with conversation that is just too pushy for my sensibilities – even though I’ve been responsible for my share of it! To make it worse, I ended up not taking my own advise too well and taking it too personally. Oh well – blame my Saturn in Capricorn I guess.

Mercury enters Taurus next, where he will stay until May 2. Most of us connect Mercury very strongly with air – he is the messenger god, the communicator, the wit and conversationalist. He does have an earthy side, too, however. He rules Virgo, where he expresses his mythological connection with craftsmen and traders. It is also interesting that Mercury’s Etruscan manifestation, Turms, was very much a god of property, territory, and land. Symbols of the god were erected at the center of each farmer’s plot, so that others would know it was claimed. The Etruscan Mercury thus has an earthy, almost Saturnian quality about him. Mercury is more than merely glib and articulate, he can also help produce, maintain, and defend our concrete resources.

In Taurus, Mercury becomes more subdued and more grounded. We can expect conversations to be more premeditated and sensible. Mercury also forms a trine with Saturn during the first part of his time in Taurus. If you are working those Saturn in Virgo issues, this weekend will be a good time to sit down and plan out your course of action. Saturn provides the motivation and sense of gravity for the undertaking, and Mercury lends his skill with details. Maybe you need a business plan, a budget, or to schedule your time for the months ahead. This is a good time to do it.

For those of us picking up on this change in Mercury, there may be a feeling of needing to slow down and consolidate our thinking on the matters of importance to us. What are the core issues? Which of those opinions that we expressed so eagerly early in April really deserves a place in our lives? This pausing and sifting is a good thing, but watch out for Taurus’s notorious stubbornness: ideas can be quietly expressed, but nonetheless forcefully held.

This transition also brings Mercury out ahead of the Sun, who will not enter Taurus until Saturday. For a while now, Mercury will be the usher, bringing in new ideas that impact our sense of identity and purpose. Things may appear suddenly, with their significance only becoming clear some days or weeks later.

The next couple weeks will also be a good time for making purchases or securing other material benefits. Make those decisions carefully, but do make them.

aries-softphp.jpgMercury enters Aries today, sprinting through the entire sign in a dizzying two weeks, to exit into Taurus on the 17th. This is the fastest part of Mercury’s cycle, midway between retrogrades. It is fitting that he is Aries at this time, a sign known for its energy and initiative.

Mercury governs how we communicate and how we organize our thoughts. He also contributes strongly to our mechanical skills, dexterity, and attention to detail. In Aries, he wants to face the world as an innovator and is driven by a sense of purpose and self-confidence. During the next couple weeks, many of us may be inclined to “cut to the chase” in our dealings with others, and not mince words.

The nice thing about this is that we can expect some release from negotiations that have become bogged down or planning activities that seem to run in circles and get nowhere. Mercury in Aries can help by blurting out the suggestion that gets the ball rolling again.

The downside is that diplomacy takes a back seat, and ideas may not be expressed in the most cordial fashion. If you feel stung by someone’s words, don’t take it too personally. There’s probably no hidden agenda or malice behind it, just impatience and an inner censor that’s been set to idle for awhile. It can also be a frustrating time for those of us who like to mull things over; decisions will be made swiftly.

People with planets in fire signs (Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius) will enjoy this new energy the most, and slip into it quite easily. If you have Libra, Cancer, or Capricorn planets, expect to feel more conflicted about your verbal outbursts (and those of others).

All this reaches a sort of climax when Mercury passes the Sun on April 15-16, just before leaving Aries. The purpose of all those animated conversations and new ideas should come into focus then, giving us a neat package to work with later, if we so choose.

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