As promised, I'm completing my look at the Mercury cycle with the retrograde part of it. However, for me it encompasses more than just the period when Mercury is retrograde: it starts immediately after Mercury has reached greatest elongation in the evening sky and ends at the greatest elongation in the morning sky. There are several reasons for saying this. One is that the cycle is roughly four months long, or around 120 days (though remember it can be as short as 105 days and as long as 130). This divides into three roughly equal sections: (A) starting at the morning elongation and going up to superior conjunction, (B) from superior conjunction to the evening elongation and (C) from the evening elongation to the morning elongation.
(A) is a solar energy, young, eager, enthusiastic and always direct in motion
(B) is a lunar energy, mature, careful, cautious and always direct in motion
(C) starts as (B), changes to (A) at the inferior conjunction and goes through a series of shifts and changes, both of mood and direction.
Another way to look at it is like the four quarters of the lunar cycle, although the phases are unequal in length. The inferior conjunction is equivalent to New Moon, the superior to full Moon; morning elongation to first quarter and the evening one to last quarter. First quarter is the stage when energy is building and pushing out into the world; last quarter when the energy is withdrawing and breaking down.
And finally, though we use the term 'elongation' to describe the maximum distance that Mercury can be from the Sun, it's a bit misleading. From our viewpoint on Earth, we experience Mercury moving up and down in the sky rather than – as it appears in a two-dimensional horoscope – like a child on reins, now pulling away, now being reined in again. Were we lucky enough to see Mercury regularly we would see him climbing higher and higher in the sky each morning or evening until he reached his greatest elongation, and then he'd descend again quickly until he disappeared below the horizon. (The same process happens with Venus and is easier to see because it happens over a longer period of time).
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An important difference between Mercury at the two conjunctions is that Mercury is at his furthest from us at superior conjunction, and on the other side of the Sun, whereas at inferior conjunction he's at his closest to Earth. Traditional astrology would see the latter as a corrupting influence, whereas I imagine being on the far side of the Sun would place him closer to the Angels. Another thing to bear in mind is that the young Mercury disappears behind the Sun willingly (direct motion) at superior conjunction and comes out a more mature, reflective Mercury – so follows the natural order of things. In contrast an old, dying Mercury is dragged kicking and screaming towards annihilation at inferior conjunction, and an uncertain rebirth. As well as being retrograde at that point in the cycle, the descent is swifter than when approaching superior conjunction and Mercury's light is extinguished shortly after his brief period of greatest brilliance in the sky.
For Mercury, this is a descent to the Underworld. Compare the straightforward, steady-state motion of Mercury in the other two thirds of the cycle. Mercury knows where he's going. In terms of the progressed cycle, someone born at the morning elongation follows the straight path, maturing around the time of the superior conjunction and reaching retirement age around the time of the evening elongation (until recently, anyway!). But the position's very different for a person born after the evening elongation. I reckon there are ten distinct points and/or phases between then and the morning elongation – quite a lot to fit in during the course of about forty days! And quite a bewildering series of changes: one moment burning brightly, then coming to a screeching halt and going back in the direction you've just come from, only now you've become invisible. And after being swallowed up by the Sun, you go through it all again, though in a different sequence. Is it any wonder that a lot of the people I found born during the retrograde cycle weren't around very long? This was especially true of those born in the first half of the retrograde cycle, which is equivalent to the last quarter of the lunar cycle. I found a number of people whose lives were over almost before they'd begun, especially in the period leading up to inferior conjunction. There seemed to be more early deaths from dabbling with drink and drugs in the waning quarter, whereas those in the waxing quarter seemed to have brought it on themselves through carelessness or recklessness.
There are two other points that are worth bearing in mind. There's a different process at work in the retrograde cycle of the inner planets from that of the outer ones (Mars onward). In both cases, the retrograde period occurs when the planet is at its closest point to Earth. With planets beyond Earth the retrograde phase occurs when the planet is in opposition to the Sun, from our point of view – at Full Moon phase rather than New Moon. According to Rudhyar (1), 'Earth is to the other planet a reminder of the original need the cycle was meant to fulfil' (p157). It gives the outer planet a chance to stop, draw back and ask if anything needs to be done before the cycle reaches completion, and then has the second half of the cycle in which to make adjustments. For the inner planets, the time of reflection is at the end of the cycle when our thoughts and feelings undergo 'deconditioning and reorientation at the most inward, subjective phase of their cycle with the Sun' because what's most needed here is 'inner renewal and redirection' (p158).
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The other thing to bear in mind is that the entire period between evening and morning elongation is a kind of Shadowland. This is at its most obvious with someone born around the superior conjunction. In the example shown, a person born the day after the conjunction reaches 8 Leo 22, by progression, at the station retrograde and then spends the rest of their life retracing the path between 8 Leo 22 and 27 Cancer 30, the station direct. This means some people will cover far more ground in terms of degrees and signs of the zodiac than others – it ranges between 120o and 60o, depending on which Mercury phase you're born in. For some, life is ever onwards, for others it's a labyrinthine path.
So let's take a journey through the Mercury retrograde cycle, taking a look at some of the people I came across for each of the ten stages. It's going to be quite lengthy, so I've divided it between two further posts.
(1) Rael, Leyla and Rudhyar, Dane (1980) Astrological Aspects: A Process-Oriented Approach Santa Fe: Aurora Press