What's the actual meaning of Mercury in retrograde?

Everyone talks about Mercury retrograde but what does it mean and, more importantly, why should you care?

Stock photo of Mercury planet - Mercury in retrograde what does it mean
(Image credit: Getty)

Everyone talks about the dreaded Mercury in retrograde, but what does it actually mean? There are three times a year when our astrological charts go awry, and we all place the blame on this trouble maker. But does it actually have an impact on our lives?

For those astronomy newcomers, Mercury is known as the messenger that is responsible for communication and travel. When it is moving in another direction, known as retrograde, that's when things get a little shaky for us here on Earth. We'll blame any and all inconveniences on the planet during this unusual time, but perhaps we should examine this phenomenon from a new point of view. 

Let's orbit around Mercury in retrograde, shall we?



What does Mercury in retrograde mean?

To understand Mercury in retrograde, what does it mean, and why does it happen, we need to go back in time. The ancient Babylonians began using the skies to help them predict seasons and celestial events. At the time, astrology and astronomy were more or less the same thing. In the 4th century BC, famous Greeks like Plato and Aristotle made the practice of astrology much more common and began connecting it to real-life situations.

In Roman myth, Mercury was the god of commerce, cheats and thieves. He was supposed to govern the circulation of people and goods, but he was also often accused of pulling pranks on people, even good and unsuspecting folks. That would certainly explain a lot!

Despite the mythology attached, there is some real-deal science behind the meaning of Mercury in retrograde. When a planet is in retrograde motion, it appears that it is orbiting in an opposite direction to other bodies within its system, as observed from a particular vantage point—in our case, Earth. For Mercury, this happens three times a year. (More distant planets retrograde more frequently.) 

This illusion is brought on by the fact that Mercury moves so much faster than the Earth in its cycle around the sun, it actually passes us. You know when you pass another car on the road and it appears to be moving backward? The same thing happens in the sky when Mercury passes the earth and continues its cycle beyond. To your eyes, Mercury has changed its direction. In reality, it's just so far ahead it appears to be behind.

When is Mercury in retrograde? The 2021 dates to note

Fortunately for us, Mercury likes to go into retrograde three times per year. And, in true Mercury fashion, it doesn't just last for a few days—it's typically an entire month (more if you count the Mercury retroshade...). Lovely! Here are the important dates to mark in your calendar this year: 

  • January 30 to February 21
  • May 29 to June 22
  • September 27 to October 23

Other important dates to note include the following: 

  • The pre-retrograde shadow begins on January 15 and the post-retrograde shadow ends on March 13.
  • The pre-retrograde shadow begins on May 14, and the post-retrograde shadow ends on July 7.
  • The pre-retrograde shadow begins on September 6, and the post-retrograde shadow ends on November 7.

Top view of woman holding smartphone and tablet with calendar on desk

(Image credit: Getty)

What happens when Mercury is in retrograde?

What happens when Mercury is in retrograde?

Because Mercury is the god of commerce and communication, these are the areas that seem to be most often affected when Mercury is in retrograde. People like to blame getting stuck in traffic, losing emails or texts, poor purchase decisions and all kinds of other mishaps on Mercury in retrograde. 

According to astrologers, this is the worst time of year to sign legal paperwork or plan important business meetings or trips. Of course, some things can't be avoided, but it is always advisable to plan ahead and be extra cautious...just in case. This is how the planet can affect you in the different areas of your life...

Work

As we know, Mercury rules communication, and when it’s in retrograde, communication becomes harder, and there is a bigger risk of misunderstanding. Expert Tammy Richards from Pure Optical advises us to take more time and be more mindful of what we are saying. She warns that misunderstandings are a very common occurrence during retrograde.

You can also expect travel delays this month, so if you’re a commuter, prepare yourself for some travel mayhem this month and give yourself a bit of extra time.

Health

Mercury can have an impact on your sleep pattern. You may find yourself having strange dreams and waking up in the morning feeling groggy and unrested—even if you got all eight hours.

woman having headache while she lying on bed. - stock photo

(Image credit: Getty Images / Boy_Anupong)

Love

As we now know, big decisions and plans are a big no-no this month—especially when it comes to our love lives. We are more sensitive, prone to misunderstandings, and may find ourselves more short-tempered, which is why breaking up during Mercury retrograde is not that uncommon.

“Arguments may become more dramatic, so if you find yourself arguing, try and take a step back and think ‘is this really worth it?’” Tammy says.

Friendships

Much like in our relationships, it’s all about communication. The risks of arguments and fallouts are much higher.

There may be a temptation to cut friendships and invite old connections back into your life, Tammy says to avoid this but to journal down your thoughts during this time. When Mercury's retrograde is complete, then revisit these notes and if you still feel the same, then act.

Technology

One of the strangest impacts Mercury can have is on our tech and gadgets. Our computers are more likely to crash and our phones to break. But before you throw your laptop out of the window in anger—take a deep breath, call an expert, and remember it’s not the end of the world.

Tammy says to take frequent screen breaks, and also make sure you hit save often on your work and maybe back things up.

Though these effects all seem very daunting and frustrating, it’s not all doom and gloom. Mercury in retrograde can be a great time to reflect and reevaluate your career and relationships. Take things slower, and now you know what is likely to be negatively affected you can prepare yourself to tackle them.

How should you prepare for Mercury in retrograde?

Here's the deal: Mercury in retrograde isn't all bad. Obviously, things can go wrong during those few weeks when it's occurring, but things can go wrong at any time of the year, so preparation is key. If you want to be ahead of the game, there are several things you can do:

1. Take a look at your calendars
Try not to make any huge travel plans if you can avoid it. If you do, make sure you don't rely exclusively on online tickets and registrations to get you where you need to be. If you didn't already, print a paper copy that you can hang on to as a backup in case you have phone or computer troubles.

2. Double-check messages.
Make sure that that last message was sent on time, whether it was over email, text or other messaging apps. If it's important, however, you may want to go with a call on the phone to make sure it gets through. Or, hey, you could even try a real letter like in the good old days! In general, the best tactic is to try multiple methods just to be certain.

3. Slow down
Since it's usually inadvisable to make quick decisions during this time of the month, it's a great opportunity to slow down and do some reflection—really put a lot of thought into your plans, your priorities, and your schedules. If you're like most people in this day and age, you tend to rush from one thing to another as fast as possible and often miss out on the big picture as a result. The next few weeks would be a great time to really reevaluate your priorities and make sure your decisions are carefully planned out. Light one of the best scented candles you've got, take some deep breaths with the best meditation apps around, and get to planning!

4. Use crystals
We've rounded up a complete guide to crystals for beginners that will help you get your feet wet. If you feel your energy shifting during Mercury retrograde, see what type of crystal could be most beneficial to you. There are no rules—find whatever works for you and speaks to your experiences!

If you're looking at this list, you might be thinking that these tips are pretty common advice even when planets aren't looking weird. You're right! Whether or not Mercury in retrograde affects your life isn't the most important thing in the long run. You're in charge of making your life meaningful and fun. The decisions you make every day affect your relationships, your health and your future.

Remember, this isn't a time to panic, but rather a time to readjust and be aware of our actions. 

"It's an opportunity to readjust the things that the particular planet rules and revise the way we're going after things," Montufar says. 

Mercury—bring it on! 

Danielle Valente
Danielle Valente

Danielle is a writer for My Imperfect Life, where she particularly enjoys covering lifestyle and entertainment news. She was previously the editor of Time Out New York Kids and a news editor at Elite Daily. When she's not working, you can find her reading a good book and enjoying a cup of coffee. Follow her @dvwrites.