Flat tire? Mercury is in retrograde. Spat with a coworker? Mercury is in retrograde. Computer goes haywire? Mercury is in retrograde.
It’s one of those trendy sayings that’s “popped off” in the past few years—but what does it mean, exactly, when Mercury is in retrograde?
There are a few components to it: Astronomically speaking, when a planet is in retrograde, the planet creates an illusion from the Earth’s perspective that it is moving backward because it is moving faster than the Earth is around the sun. Have you ever driven a car next to a train, faster than the train is going? Visually, it looks like the train is moving backward, but in reality you’re just moving faster than it.
Although Mercury’s retrograde (and retrograde of all planets, for that matter) is a term spreading like wildfire through Gen Z and younger Millennials, the phenomenon goes back to Mesopotamian times. “People would use landmarks, and they relied on the position of the planets, the stars in the constellation that helped them determine what season it was and what direction to navigate towards,” says astrologer Cindy Mckean.
Mckean, who owns Kansas City Astrology and Tarot LLC, says that retrogrades tend to get a bad rap, but they’re not all negative, even though it seems like Mercury is often the butt of bad-luck jokes—not Venus or Mars. “Mercury retrogrades happen more often than most of the planets,’’ Mckean says. “It also lasts a shorter period of time and is in retrograde over a period of weeks as compared to months with other planets.”
You’re likely basking in a Mercury retrograde as you read this story. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Mercury is in retrograde from December 28 to January 18 and is moving through Capricorn.
Every planet has its own astrological qualities, and Mercury’s are around short-distance travel and communication. Mckean suggests that you use this time to take breaks as needed and know where to apply boundaries.
“It’s kind of like giving you a bit of a rest stop in a marathon,” she says. “Ask yourself: ‘Do I need to re-equip myself?’, or ‘What is the new path?’”