Mercury in retrograde: what does it mean and 2021 dates to know

It's almost here: The dreaded Mercury in retrograde. 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)

There are three times a year when our astrological charts go awry, and we all place the blame on Mercury. Have you asked, "When is Mercury in retrograde? What does it mean?"

We're here to give you the star-studded scoop on what exactly is happening when Mercury in retrograde and how you can best prepare for any changes. (Do keep in mind that each planet's cycle has a mind of its own.) 

For those who are not terribly familiar with astronomy, 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.

So let's orbit around Mercury in retrograde—what does it mean for you?

  • 2021 horoscope predictions: how will the next year go according to your zodiac sign?

Mercury in retrograde: What does it 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 Warth 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? 2021 dates to note 

Brace yourself and mark your calendars. Mercury goes into retrograde three times per year and usually lasts for roughly one month. How exciting! The 2021 dates are as follows: 

  • 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)

The summer Mercury retrograde is going to be intense

We're all looking forward to some freedom and anxious to make up for the lost time we experienced during the lockdown. But this summer's retrograde—from May 29 to June 22—might not be terribly simple.

This phenomenon will take place during Gemini season (and Gemini's ruler is Mercury). Since Gemini is a star sign that is known to make advances, there could be some ups and downs in your love life, so proceed with caution! Check out your June 2021 horoscope for more intel...

How does Mercury in retrograde affect you?

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.

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.