Four Lessons from Mercury Retrograde in Scorpio
I don’t know about all of you, but Mercury Retrograde has thrown me for a loop. It has undermined my routines, scrambled my sense of resources and time, rerouted me toward addictive and numbing behaviors, and, fueled by its current home in power-conscious Scorpio, facilitated some epic showdowns with the toddler I care for. I have writing for Golden Hour that I’ve been trudging through for over a month (if you’ve been wondering about those Scorpio season horoscopes!). And yet, in the moments I’ve taken to sink (with care and curiosity) deeper into what appears as frustration and chaos, it is obvious that a wealth of self knowledge and opportunity for growth lives in Mercury’s backwards wake.
You may have heard Mercury called “the Messenger of the gods.” In many tellings, Mercury is ruler of communication and technology, and Mercury Retrograde is most often said to effect these areas of our lives. Back up your computer, people say, and expect communication breakdowns. All good advice—but it has never fully encapsulated how Mercury Retrogrades show up in my life. Perhaps I have thought of “communication” as too small a concept. More than just email exchanges and conversations with our bosses, the sending of messages encapsulates so much of our lives, intentionally and otherwise: our routines, the ways we use resources, what we speak, how we present to the world, what we do. Certainly the prayers we chant and spells we cast. In truth, everything we do is a kind of communication. Our intentions, plans, and routines—the seeds we plant and what we water—are messages to our future and past selves and to whatever kind of cosmological ear/magnet/weaver we may believe in. They say, “this is what I intend to make of my life, and this is how I show up to do that, day after day.”
Mercury is also the guide of souls to the Underworld. If Scorpio season is the portal into our dark realms, seeing our guide into that territory move out of orbit can feel especially destabilizing. Our traumas, dependencies, coping mechanisms, and the unintegrated parts of ourselves that reside in our dark places might feel more threatening than usual, and they can take on a kind of power we may feel we have already spent much time and energy getting them to hand back to us. We may feel powerless, and alone. If Mercury is our curiosity and open heartedness to how things truly work (including the ways we live with our shadows), the seeking to fully understand our inner and outer landscapes and make functioning systems of our lives, if it is our ability to envision and plan for our future—our magic, manifestation, and yes, all the ways we communicate these things in the world—and if depression is isolation, powerlessness, and hopelessness...it is no wonder that Mercury Retrograde, the visual back pedaling of the planet, puts us into a collective funk, and sends those of us with these proclivities back under the waters of depression and addiction.
But this time isn’t hopeless, or even necessarily bad.
I have had the impulse to label these few weeks, when I’ve been procrastinating on work, less than careful with my resources, and wanted nothing other than to eat time away as I lie in bed all day, as “wasted.” But that is not the full promise of Mercury Retrograde. An important distinction to make is that planets in retrograde are not actually going backward—their backwards orbit is only an illusion. And yes, illusions do have power. What we see, and how disorientated that makes us feel, has real effects in our lives. But we need not despair that all the work we’ve done is being, well, undone. Mercury Retrograde, for all of its frustration that we are going in the same circles we’ve been in before, is a profound time of learning. It is a time to pause, reevaluate, to recognize what still isn’t clear and what needs an infusion of new life. Mercury is doubling back from its usual forward movement to give us important messages. That is amazing! And at the same time, our current stop through Scorpio’s depths does not make this an easy trip—revisiting how traumas, ghosts, and grief show up in our routines, our communications, and our ability to work our magic can really mess with our days. Over these few weeks, I have found that holding a few tenants in my heart and plans, and tending to them through every day rituals, has made this chaos more manageable as I listen for the deeper messages and take this time to readjust for the future. I invite you to reflect on your own past few weeks, and the practices and rituals you might be longing for as you take these last few days of Mercury Retrograde to reflect and realign.
#1. Offer compassion and forgiveness to ourselves and our communities
Things are hard. Even beyond beautiful, difficult Scorpio season and beautiful, difficult Mercury Retrograde, we live in a beautiful, difficult world. The more we can meet those we’re in relationship to, and most fundamentally, ourselves, with compassion and forgiveness, the more we will be able to lead with curiosity about what’s really going on, and learn from the challenges we face. This isn’t easy or even simple work—many of us were taught to self hate, and the anger and pain we are filled with in the face of this broken world is deeply justified and important. I am not asking any of us to lose that fierceness—it is necessary, and constructive, to feel what we feel, and to let those feelings inform our work in the world.
But we can’t let our hearts become hard, especially to our own selves. Herbal allies have been important to me in this, most especially rose and hawthorn, which open our hearts while maintaining our boundaries. Let’s just say I have gone through a lot of rose petals this month. I have also leaned heavily on nervines like tulsi (holy basil) and oat straw. Trauma and unprocessed grief do a number on the nervous system, and nourishing our nerves is one of the most important ways we can soothe anxiety and depression, meet ourselves with love, and heal our battered souls. I have also found that indulging in uplifting comforts and pleasures like lighting candles at night and reading (not for research) both fill the needs my less-desirable habits are actually trying to meet (like the need for comfort), and remind me that no matter how much I may feel like I’m behind/failing/not good enough/actually bad, I am, in truth, worthy of relaxation and care. And so are you.
Flower Essences for meeting ourselves and others with compassion and forgiveness: Lantern-Hearted (Black-Eyed Susan)
#2. Accept what we cannot change, and refocus on its purpose.
I have found myself throughout this month repeatedly agitated with my routines. Showing up for them day in, day out, has felt unbearable, and I’ve started to resent these hard-won ways I have developed to care for myself. The route that I walk every day with the little one I work with feels like a never ending slog. I can’t stand opening each bottle in my skincare routine. I forget to feed myself or drink water. Part of getting through this challenging period has been accepting that some things just are, and reconnecting to their purpose:
The walk from school to the bus is a part of every work day. It is time we get to spend in connection to each other and our world. I do this work because I love the influence I get to have on a little life, and it brings me resources I use to make the life of my dreams.Tending to my skin is important to how I feel and if I ignore it, I will feel bad. It is a ritual that marks the boundary between sleep and meeting the world. Through it I am in touch with my body and its cycles. It is an opportunity for healing and magic.Eating and drinking in regular intervals is non-negotiable to human life. Being a body is an amazing thing, and heading the (wise) messages from my body means we can keep doing our thing. When I forget about my needs I am usually numbing out or plowing through work, and being reminded to take a break is a gift that gives me back my power. Also, food is great!
One major way that I hold this sense of acceptance with me through my day is identifying what tasks make me feel that sense of angst and putting them into my mental or physical schedule so I can say things like ”the next half an hour is for our walk to the bus.” No ambiguity! Like talking to a toddler, this takes a gentle firmness and lots of patience. To aid this, I turn again to nervines. Wood Betony is wonderful for bringing me back to my body and dissolving some of the tension that the stress of routine burn out can induce; it is especially helpful to ground me when I feel hypnotized by heady thinking or screens. [b: Peppermint and Spearmint are also helpful to keep up my sense of energy and optimism throughout long days without becoming wired the way caffeine tends to make me. Listening for what wants to be changed is an important part of Mercury Retrograde’s gifts, but there is a fine line between embracing reality as a path to transform it, and living in a fantasy of wishing things weren’t so when they actually just are.
Flower Essences for accepting what is: Onward, Brave One (Bleeding Heart)
#3 Infuse some magic and play
When routines become stale, infuse them with magic and let yourself play. I learned a long time ago that to get through long, daily walks, I can pay close attention to the changes of green spaces around me. Now, I do that with the little one. We crunch and collect leaves, listen to the rush of the brook, and yes, stop to smell flowers. I put flower essences in my moisturizer, concoct new herbal brews, and try new snacks and drinks to make skin care and fueling my body exciting again. In our home we cook seasonal meals to bring meteorological magic into our routine. Drinking tea with Mugwort has been an aid to magic making with its dream-inspiring and veil-lifting ways. I drink it with a heart protector like rose and a nervine like oat straw to make sure I feel fortified in entering the unknown. Another spark lighter is Ginger, warming dull, cold days, and encouraging us to connect with passion and play. Staying in tune with seasonal/lunar/hormonal cycles (and religious, if that applies) and the way they affect my body and spirit gives everything more magic and ease, and guides the ways I breathe life into my routines. What magic can you find in your days?
Flower essences for infusing magic: Ignite the Spark (Nasturtium)
#4. Make life easy where we can
Since I first heard her say it, I have been sitting with this maxim from the Lazy Genius: “Be a genius about what matters and lazy about what doesn’t.” Let’s reclaim “lazy” as the measure of ease and rest we deserve among a lot of other tough and important things we’re trying to do. So many of us come down on ourselves when we don’t give our absolute all in every possible arena of our lives—this is a trap of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, and it is just not possible to fulfill. Instead, we can name our priorities and forgive ourselves for our perceived failings.
As someone who lives with depression, letting go of my routines can have a snowball effect that leads me to days of lying in bed—but there is a world of difference for me between neglecting to care for myself in a cloud of guilt and shame, and putting a plan in place for inevitable moments of low energy and routine breakdown. I try to pepper easy options into my life whenever and wherever it is doable and makes sense: buying snacks that I’m excited to carry in my bag for when I neglect to eat a meal, keeping some freezer meals on hand for tired nights, putting wipes by my bed for when I just can’t wash my face. It is easy to feel we’re betraying a vision of perfection—or even our values—when we choose the easy thing, but what if it’s actually a gift we can give to ourselves? I trust us each of us to decide when easy is actually needed ease. Demulcent (soothing and mucilaginous) herbs like Marshmallow and Mullein help me find softness when my body and spirit feel rough. Where can you make the hard edges of your life just a bit more supple? What burden can you lift from your shoulders today?
The gift of Mercury Retrograde, with all of its challenges, is a chance to recognize and refresh what has become stale in the ways we shape our lives. In Scorpio, the parts of ourselves that are so often invisible come into the light. We have an opportunity, right now, to accept more of the fullness of ourselves into our vision of our life. With each Scorpio season, and each Mercury Retrograde—with each spiral back into the underworld of ghosts we may have thought we shook loose, we are given a chance, once again, to circle deeper into the depths of ourselves, and with this, to know the depths of our hearts.