Tuesday 27 October 2015

Mercury Retrograde - Waning Quarter

Before we begin our tour of the retrograde cycle, a word about orbs. I follow the guidance given by Bob Makransky in Thought Forms ((1) p 71), which is five days either side of the elongations and superior conjunction, and two days either side of the stations and inferior conjunction. His reasoning is that these equate to roughly five degree orbs.

One thing I'd like to mention is that, while mapping out numerous Mercury cycles I began to see tones of other planets as he moved through his phases. So while the undertone of the waning quarter is lunar, there are also shades of Jupiter at the elongation and greatest brilliance, which merge into Neptune for the rest of the quarter. At inferior conjunction, Neptune and Uranus fuse – which makes it a particularly powerful but also dangerous place, then at some point in what's now the solar retrograde phase Uranus gives way to Mars – a young, fresh-faced Mars, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to explore the world around him. And at the morning elongation we find an adolescent Mars, eager to conquer the world with the force of his ideas. Applying these planets to how the retrograde cycle feels might be a useful shorthand for other astrologers. To me, they illustrate beautifully the cool, somewhat ethereal, otherworldly beginning to the cycle and how it contrasts with the hot, fiery, passionate energy that comes in at the start of the new cycle.

(Click to enlarge)

And so to the retrograde cycle. The waning quarter begins with the separating phase of the evening elongation, which isn't all that different from the applying one. There's a hint that some kind of reorientation is necessary as Mercury sets off on its journey towards Earth, but to all intents and purposes people born under this phase are still very much in this world. At elongation Mercury is at is furthest from the Sun and so the mentality tends to be somewhat impersonal, rational and aloof, as well as being more reflective. Such people would rather not have to make snap decisions, preferring instead to consider all the options – their perspective is broad rather than deep and takes into account the implications for others as well as themselves. It's a good position for politicians and diplomats. People born during this part of the cycle include George W Bush and Karl Marx – both of whom have left an indelible mark on the western world. Others whose connection is less obvious are Buddy Holly, one of the first superstars whose early death at 22 in a plane crash guaranteed his legendary status, and Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide at the age of 27.

John Keats
As Mercury moves closer to Earth, but before he turns retrograde, there's a brief period when he appears at his brightest in the evening sky. In fact, seen through a telescope Mercury's disk is only a crescent, but his proximity to Earth allows him to shine. In fact, this is Mercury's 'Goldilock's zone' – the part of his cycle when he's neither so far from the Sun that he's out on a limb and coldly rational, nor so close to the Sun that he's overwhelmed by the larger body and overly emotional. This where the true Mercury energy can shine through, where Mercury can speak from the heart, so perhaps it's not surprising to find two poets born in this phase. Like Mercury itself, this pair burned brightly but briefly – both were dead at age 25. One is John Keats, who died of tuberculosis and whose deathbed portrait – no doubt romanticised – has been described as just what everyone imagines the death of a poet to look like, and the war poet Wilfred Owen. An extremely sensitive young man and reluctant soldier, he was decorated for his bravery and, though hospitalised for shell shock, insisted on returning to the Front, where he died just one week – almost to the hour – before the First World War ended. He was helped through his dark night of the soul by therapy with a sympathetic doctor, and Owen was so grateful for being brought back from the Underworld he bought himself a small statue of Hermes (Mercury) to take back to the trenches with him. (An often overlooked attribute of Mercury is that he is a psychopomp – a bearer of souls from one world to another; and of course he was the only god able to travel freely between the worlds). Also of interest here is that after this experience Owen's poetry changed. He described the horrors of war and questioned the value of patriotism. In one of his best known poems he outlines in graphic detail the effects of a gas attack on his soldiers. The poem ends:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The Latin is taken from an Ode by Horace and means 'It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.' The reference to the 'old lie' refers to the fact that this phrase had been inscribed on the chapel wall of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1913. Another life that burned brightly but briefly was that of musician Gram Parsons, who in the late 1960s/early 1970s played with the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and as a duo with Emmylou Harris. He met the all too common fate of many of that era, dying from an overdose at the age of 26.

There's a certain amount of doggedness and stubbornness to the next point we come to, which is the station retrograde. Mercury's digging his heels in here and can be unyielding to a point that stretches beyond reasonableness. Yet this can make people born at this point extremely self-disciplined and thorough, as well as being completely dedicated to whatever they've chosen to do. We find another poet here – Dylan Thomas, a man who dedicated himself to his art but who succumbed to his demons. He couldn't earn a living from poetry alone but wasn't the sort of person who could knuckle down to a boring nine-to-five job and just write poetry in his spare time. He dedicated his life to poetry at a young age but his relatively short life was plagued by financial worries, worsening health exacerbated by alcohol dependency and a tempestuous, mutually destructive marriage. He fell ill during a poetry reading tour in New York and died aged 39. Another person born on the retrograde and who interestingly did a complete about-turn (just as Mercury does here) is Patty Hearst, granddaughter of the American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Kidnapped in 1974 by a left-wing terrorist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army, a couple of months later she announced she had joined the SLA and over the next eighteen months embarked on a crime spree. When she was arrested, she gave her occupation as 'Urban Guerilla.' She was jailed for seven years, of which she served 22 months (her sentence was commuted by President Carter and she was later pardoned by Bill Clinton). Opinion was divided as to whether she had been a willing participant in the crimes or a victim of brainwashing.

We move on to the retrograde phase, where the mind turns inward and away from the cultural norms and patterns of thinking of family and culture, which most people take for granted. Those born during this phase swim against the tide, like salmon swimming upstream on their way to their spawning ground, after which they die (just like Mercury at inferior conjunction). In both cases they're returning to the source, in Mercury's case so that a new outlook, or way of thinking, can be born. Births under this phase are more plentiful simply because it's longer than the others. A positive example is Jonas Salk, medical researcher and virologist who was born the day after Dylan Thomas but led a very different life. Despite coming from a poor background and experiencing discrimination against Jews in the American medical profession during the 1940s, he succeeded in his ambition to become a medical researcher. He spent many years working on the first polio vaccine (which became available in 1955), went on to conduct research into an AIDS vaccine in the 1980s and lived to the age of 80. 

Nick Drake
 Also born in this phase was Nick Drake, a contemporary folk singer in the late 1960s/early 1970s who abandoned his studies at Cambridge to pursue a career in music. He never received the recognition he craved (and deserved), and as a result spiralled into a depression which was exacerbated by drug misuse, though it was an overdose of a prescription drug which led to his early death at the age of 26. Janis Joplin was another casualty of the 1960s rock and drugs culture, dying at the age of 27. Two politicians currently in the news are Hillary Clinton and Jeremy Corbyn, both of whom are Mercury retrograde and swimming against the prevailing tide. Hillary is hoping to become the first female President of the United States and Jeremy Corbyn is hoping to bring in a new kind of politics (and a kinder one) in the United Kingdom.

The final part of the waning quarter is the two days leading up to the inferior conjunction. Mercury is facing annihilation here and so we'd expect to find a mental outlook which was fragile and on the edge, aware that life is short and you have to make an impact early on. The only example I could find for this part of the cycle was Amy Winehouse, who had a clear idea from a young age that she wanted to sing and made a big impact in the time she was around, but not only for her singing. She also made the headlines for her increasingly chaotic behaviour and drug and alcohol abuse. In the end, she succumbed to alcohol at the age of 27, like so many I came across in this retrograde cycle.

This brings us to the end of the first half of Mercury's cycle. I'll deal with the next quarter separately.


(1) Makransky, Bob (2014) Thought Forms Dear Brutus Press

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