mad scientist

This November: Not Your Average Mercury Retrograde

by Tony Howard
(see the “general public” version of this info here)

Hey astrologers! Mercury completes its last retrograde cycle for 2018 this month. But this is no ordinary Mercury retrograde cycle because Mercury will be simultaneously out of bounds, squaring Neptune, and in Sagittarius – the sign of its detriment.

Here are the important dates:

  • Mercury in Sagittarius – November 1 through December 1, 2018; December 13 through January 5, 2019
  • Mercury out of bounds – November 3 through 20, 2018
  • Mercury Retrograde – November 16 through December 6, 2018
  • Mercury square Neptune (3° orb) – November 9 through November 22, 2018 (exact square Nov. 16, the day of the station retrograde)
    Again from December 21-26, 2018

Classic Mercury retrograde snafus (communication mishaps, computer gremlins, and short-distance travel delays) are likely to manifest in full form. If you’re learning astrology, it’s important to note the sign Mercury retrogrades in to get a more complete feel for the style of the cycle. Then add in the aspects it makes and its declination to get the full picture.

Here’s a quick breakdown of this cycle’s highlights.

Mercury in Sagittarius

Planetary dignity and debility is a traditional way of classifying planets according to their state. Mercury is called “in detriment” here because Sagittarius is the opposite sign of Gemini, which Mercury rules. Although that sounds like a downer, most of our teachers will explain that planets in detriment and fall can have positive expressions in one’s life. It all boils down to how we work with the energy, what kind of consciousness (or unconsciousness) we bring to bear on them, and how we respond to challenges.

Some modern astrologers like to ditch these “old” ways of describing planets because they’re too negative (or too positive in the case of “exaltation”). But these words contain some essential teaching that we can learn from if we recontexualize the meaning in a modern context. We’ll save a long explanation for another post. But that’s a start. So let’s look specifically at Mercury in Sagittarius.

Philip K Dick ValisMercury’s agendas clash with the Sagittarian approach. In a person’s birth chart, wrestling with these energies over a life can lead to some pretty rich rewards. Case in point is sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, whose prolific writing brings his readers to elaborate worlds and introduces mind-blowing cosmologies (natal Mercury in Sagittarius, out of bounds, conjunct the Sun and Saturn).

In the more challenging expressions, we find a potential for “foot-in-mouth” syndrome. Mercury correlates with the dissemination of information, communication, writing, and talking. Mercury has to do with data, facts, and trivia. In its trickster form, Mercury challenges us with competing “facts” when we feel mentally secure, or when we think we have everything figured out.

Sagittarius correlates with figuring it all out! Sagittarius has to do with weaving meaning into the fabric of life – meaning preferably arrived at through direct experience. One Sagittarius end goal is discovering (and then preaching) the “one true” overlying theory of everything. This is also its Achilles heel. Sagittarius gets into trouble when it clings to a world view derived from limited experience with one cosmology.

Enter Mercury, which comes along to remind us that there are multiple cosmologies, and they all “work.” This insight gives the too-sure Sagittarius a meltdown.

With Mercury in Sagittarius we’re at risk of believing in “the one truth” without question – and then jumping on a pulpit to “share” that truth with everyone (using an exhaustive number of words).

Jupiter moving into Sagittarius on November 8 underscores this expression, increasing its potential, in both higher and lower expressions.

Mercury Out of Bounds

Keep it simple, let’s focus on the word “extreme.” In my out of bounds teaching, I explore many potentials of out of bounds planets, and cover multiple keywords. But this one – extreme – is one that applies across the board. You can get this by thinking about the astronomy of high declination planets. Here’s a non-technical explanation to use as a starting point: the planet is as high or low as it can go from our view on Earth, based on a midline that the planets more or less travel along. All planets move above and below that midline. But some move higher and lower than others. Those that move further north and south than the Sun’s limit we call “out of bounds.”

So out of bounds planets have the potential for extremes of behavior. Additional keywords here are “the most,” “too much,” “more than,” “maximum,” “extraordinary,” etc.

So, adding what we have together so far we have the potential for an extraordinary case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. But wait, there’s more!

Mercury Square Neptune

You know those days when Mercury is direct and you grab the ephemeris because you could swear it’s retrograde? It’s pretty common to find Mercury square Neptune on those days. Neptune is the fog that rolls in, blurring and distorting our view. Neptune introduces the awareness of the energetic realm, the invisible realm, and realities beyond the linear and worldly. Neptune can really throw Mercury for a loop.

In its trickster expression, Mercury isn’t a straight-shooter. So Mercury isn’t thrown off by Neptune because it’s all about truth and facts. Mercury has to do with messages and communication (true, false or otherwise) and correlates just as much with liars as fact-bearing trivia hounds. Remember that Mercury was also the Roman god of trickery and theives.

And Mercury famously delights in pranks and trickery. Think about the myth of Mercury (Hermes) stealing his brother Appollo’s cattle by making them walk backwards (a great example of a myth containing the astrological symbolism built in – here of the Mercury retrograde cycle).

This trickster side, and the predilection for truth-bending is emphasized when Mercury is in aspect with Neptune. We teach that every astrological symbol has positive, negative, neutral and gray-area ways of expressing. That’s true here, but let’s keep exploring the shadow potential.

When Neptune is linked to Mercury (by transit or natally), we can fully believe we’re telling the truth, or seeing all of the facts when that’s not the case. We might make choices “based on facts” that we later find weren’t true, were distorted, or falsified.

Neptune can impair our ability to get clarity because its function is to get us to see “beyond” clarity. Neptune teaches us there there is more than the material world. There are energies and experiences that are beyond our intellect to understand or quantify.

But in the moment of our day-to-day experience, we find ourselves making decision on faulty information – our medical test results get switched with someone else’s in the lab but we don’t figure that out until later. Our friend only tells us half the story. Or worse, we’re intentionally deceived. We take solace in destructive fantasies and then tell ourselves they’re real.

With that, let’s put our whole sentence together, considering the peak time when all of these energies converge (roughly November 14-20). During this time we see the shadow potential for an extraordinary case of foot-in-mouth syndrome based on untruths, ungrounded beliefs or ideas, or complete fantasy.

This spells “interesting” times ahead, and especially strange timing with the US election.

Are there more positive, life-affirming potentials too? Of course! Now it’s your turn to think of some using the formula I’ve outlined above. Share your favorites in the chat area below.

-Tony Howard

PS Want to read some tips for working with these energies intentionally on a personal level? Visit my Mercury Retrograde 2018 blog post for more.

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