What Exactly Is Mercury Retrograde, Anyway?

What Exactly Is Mercury Retrograde, Anyway?
What Exactly Is Mercury Retrograde, Anyway?

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What does it mean when Mercury is in retrograde? It helps to reframe the question as what is Mercury retrograde trying to help you understand?

Each time Mercury, the planet of communication, reverses its course and appears to move backward, we can choose to feel opposed and knocked down in every conceivable way. Or we can surrender to being in relationship with it and come into a space of greater curiosity and awareness about what it can show us about ourselves. It’s your choice.

Mercury retrograde asks you to take in the medicine of the planetary body so it can teach you how to integrate its archetype within your own personal expression.

What Does It Mean When Mercury Is Retrograde?

During its retrograde phase, Mercury or any other planet does not actually move backward or slow down in space. Mercury retrograde takes place when the planet is traveling along its usual trajectory through the zodiac and then, from our perspective, slows down before taking a brief pause and then reversing its apparent motion and revisiting a place in the cosmos where it has recently been. It moves backward to a specific point in the zodiac and then once again slows down, takes another pause, and appears to move forward again.

This happens because Mercury takes only 88 days to orbit it whereas Earth takes 365 days. Throughout the year, Mercury overtakes the Earth, not unlike a car overtaking another on an interstate. This creates the semblance of reverse motion, an illusion resulting from our perspective of the planet’s orbit in relation to ours.

Illustration of Mercury retrograde in relation to Earth.
(Photo: Getty Images)


Because we experience Mercury retrograde from our vantage on Earth, it is our perspective that creates Mercury retrograde. It could be argued that our perspective in turn creates our reality, so in actuality, there is no difference.

During each Mercury cycle, the planet appears to be stationary twice. Gary Caton, author of Hermetica Triptycha: The Mercury Elemental Year, asks us to consider these stations, or when the planet appears to stand still. These pauses or changes can be insightful times. They provide us an opportunity to slow down and be keenly aware. In so doing, we can typically sidestep the typical Mercury retrograde complaints of miscommunication.

Caton also explains that to consider Mercury’s cycle only as direct versus retrograde is lacking profundity. The planet Mercury, whether retrograde or not, always influences and challenges us, asking us to use our wit and ability to change directions to organize—and reorganize—the way we think about ourselves and life. Mercury retrograde has an especially influential role for those with strong Gemini and Virgo placements as these signs of the zodiac are ruled by Mercury.

When is Mercury Retrograde 2024?

Mercury appears to move backward three or four times in a calendar year. There are four Mercury retrogrades in 2024, including the final one from 2023 that ended on January 1, 2024. Following are the remaining dates of Mercury retrograde:

April 1-April 24
August 4-August 27
November 25-December 15

What Happens During Mercury Retrograde?

Mercury retrograde has been popularized in a way unlike any other astrological event. Although it is notorious for incurring calamity, notably technological and communication gaffes, all that we fear is not true. Mercury retrograde can, at its most influential moments, invite us to have greater awareness and responsibility in several areas of life, including:


Be mindful, rather than paranoid, about the tendency for these occurrences. On the technological front, knowing that we’re about to enter retrograde can be a reminder that we should regularly back up important information and work documents.


Misunderstandings in communication are notoriously common during Mercury retrograde. The very nature of retrograde is confusing because Mercury seems to go backward even though it’s actually not. Being the ruler of communication, Mercury can bring on the same quality in conversations. One way to counteract this is to voice your understanding of things to someone in order to be certain you and others are on the same page.


Mercury retrograde influences us from both an external and internal perspective. It relates to the level of communication with others as well as self, a topic that’s not often discussed.

During any retrograde, we are called to an awareness around our need to be more individualized in whatever aspects of life that planet rules. Mercury, specifically, corresponds to deductive, linear, and rational thought. Its retrograde period is a time to reorient the way we mentally organize reality, specifically in terms of facts, rules, and thought processes that come from external sources. It is a time to look for what is not in alignment with what we know when we turn inward and review our own reality. Journaling can be an amazing tool to explore this.

Mercury retrograde does not ask us to deny facts. Rather, it helps us throw off the conditioned approaches to thinking that are limiting our more inductive and intuitive understanding and processing of reality. It is a call to think individually rather than place linear or rational ways of thinking on a pedestal. Mercury retrograde might be asking you to identify where you can shrug off the societal pressure to listen to logic.

During the upcoming Mercury retrograde periods, allow yourself to simply let go, forget, and release what you feel isn’t aligned with or necessary for your thoughts as you ponder and play. Allow yourself to use more of your intuitive faculties. If you thought you knew how you were going to make something happen, step by logical step, and you feel an intuitive nudge to do something differently, listen to that whisper.

Slowing Down

Sometimes we tend to feel more scattered during Mercury retrograde. When Mercury appears to reverse its course, it invites us to change our way of always being on the go, always being distracted by devices, always overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. It can be both a highlighted time of intense single-pointed focus as well as a feeling of not being able to hold onto information that isn’t aligned for you.

During Mercury retrograde, people have the tendency to more easily check out mentally because of a deeper function that is calling us to empty out all the information, data, and ideas that are creating stagnation. Ease up on judging self and others for being mentally preoccupied.

What Is the Spiritual Meaning of Mercury Retrograde?

Each Mercury retrograde cycle has a unique meaning based on the sign and corresponding element in which it takes place. In 2024, Mercury’s retrograde cycles are unique in that they all take place in fire signs. What is the effect of the planet that represents ideas and communication transiting through fire?

On an individual level, the planet of communication moving from air to earth will invite us to review our thoughts about how we are going to be in connection in the world moving forward, and then how we will begin to take the steps needed to turn these ideas into actualities.

Mercury retrograde misconceptions and truths

Following are a few practical tips for being in relationship with Mercury retrograde. Some might appear to go against the usual caveats you’ve heard in the past. Instead of relying on absolutes in terms of your thinking and behavior, focus on how you hold yourself in a particular situation and draw on your awareness.

Contracts Are Okay

You absolutely do not have to wait to sign contracts until after the Mercury retrograde periods. However, double check everything you sign and review agreements with people verbally—literally state back to them in your words the way you understand the contract to read—in order to avoid confusion and miscommunication.

Trust Your Intuition

Allow yourself to leave behind the linear way of thinking as your primary orientation. Listen to the whispers of your inductive reasoning and the less-linear parts of your mind. Step out of societal thinking that everything needs to be a certain way. This will save you a lot of frustration.

Be Adaptable

Mercury is a trickster, and it can, indeed, throw some curveballs and obstacles our way. Take these situations as redirections, which will serve you more than fixating and ruminating on your mental framing of what was “supposed” to happen.

Remain Aware

During Mercury retrograde, you can alternate between feeling hyper-focused on a particular area of life and completely checked out of your day-to-day reality. Being aware of this propensity can help you avoid the typical Mercury retrograde miscommunications. If you feel that you are going to check either of these areas of extremes, convey your unavailability to necessary parties so that no relationship issues arise as a result.

Being aware of the above can reorient you away from an oversimplified perspective on Mercury retrograde and allow you to begin to be in a more dynamic relationship with it. This is just the beginning of your understanding of its relevance in your life.

What Is Mercury Shadow Period?

Prior to and following Mercury retrograde are what’s commonly known as the “shadow period.” These are the two weeks before and two weeks after Mercury appears to reverse its movement. During the pre-retrograde shadow, Mercury goes through the exact same degrees of the zodiac that it will revisit after it goes direct.

I think of the pre-shadow phase as the foreshadowing of what is to come. This is a time when we tend to experience some of the same awareness and misunderstandings that happen during the actual retrograde, but to a lesser extent. After Mercury goes direct, the post-shadow phase can bring any number of lingering effects, whether an embellishment or a resolution of any situations you recently encountered. Try to experience them as hints leading you to clarity and insight around any situations or mindset you are being asked to revisit.

RELATED: Mercury Retrograde Begins on April 1. (No Joke!) Here’s What That Means for You.

Learn more about the effects of the Moon on you, what your opposite sign means, and how astrology intersects with your everyday life with our astrology email newsletter.

This article has been updated. Originally published January 13, 2022.

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