What Does Mercury Retrograde Even Mean?

by Tori Emery


What Does Mercury Retrograde Even Mean?

Yes — that’s actually what mercury looks like!

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 6 years. For all 6 of those years, I’ve used Mercury Retrograde as an explanation for bad days, weird omens, and shitty behavior. I know it’s not just me —we all say it when our devices go on the fritz and our feelings get a little too strong. But what does it actually mean for Mercury to be in retrograde? Dive in below to see what it really means, from both a planetary perspective and a horoscope perspective.


Since I don’t want to get too science-y on you, we have 3 versions of the same explanation:

Short: The planets move west to east most of the time, but sometimes they switch directions and go east to west. When they’re moving backward, we’re in retrograde.

Medium: All of the planets in our solar system (the Milky Way FYI) move from west to east, but every once in a while they move east to west. When this happens it’s called retrograde motion (retrograde means “to move backward”). They always eventually return to their normal state of orbiting west to east. But plot twist: they’re not actually changing direction. It’s just a giant optical illusion that makes it look like they are.

Long-ish: Our solar system is a heliocentric system, meaning all of the planets orbit around the sun. The planets move from the west to the east (this is called prograde motion) but sometimes the planets go into retrograde motion, which is when they appear to move from east to west. This tricky illusion happens because all of the planets (including Earth) move at different speeds. Similar to the sensation you get when you’re standing at a train station and the train goes rushing by – are you moving or is the train? Another example: next time you’re driving and the stoplight turns green, notice how you and the car next to you start in the same position (like our planets) but if you speed up and pass them they seem to be moving backward, even though they’re still moving forward.


Now that we know whats going on in the planetary system, we can start to understand why this could be a bad thing from an astrological perspective. No one wants planets going backward, but why?

We seldom hear about the other planets in our solar system being in retrograde, or even Earth. Why do we only care when it’s Mercury? According to astrologists, Mercury represents and controls the principles of nearly everything in our day-to-day life: communication, reasoning and rationality, our neighborhood and environment, family relationships, and even physical dexterity. Since Mercury represents such major components of our daily lives, the shift into retrograde causes all of these things to go awry.

Astrologers recommend not making any big decisions during a retrograde, and to be prepared for relationships to hit a rough patch (remember reasoning and communication? Yeah, this retrograde hits them hard). Although some of us are just now learning about this, it’s not recent or unique ideology. These ideas have been around since before the first century and date back to Roman, Hindu, Babylonian, and ancient Armenian beliefs.

One more thing to know about Mercury Retrograde: there’s nothing we can do to stop it (sorry!). All we can do is prepare. To help you plan, here are all of the times when Mercury will be in retrograde in 2020:

February 16 – March 10
June 17 – July 12
October 14 – November 3

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