As you probably already know because people are very, very fond of saying it: Mercury is currently retrograde, and will be until May 22, potentially causing everyone various types of gratuitous distress and inconvenience. A few NBD examples from my last few days: Forgetting my phone or subway card at home when it’s too late to turn back for them; reaching for a single piece of produce at the grocery store and triggering a landslide of bell peppers to the floor; spending more than eight hours in the car on what should have been a four-hour road trip, etc.—and these are some of the more harmless Merc Retro experiences I’ve had in life.
Clearly, Mercury spinning backwards instead of forward has mysterious, often shitty consequences. But we haven’t even told you the best news yet: There are three other planets that are also currently retrograde—Mars, Saturn, and Pluto—and if you believe in such things, they’re probably affecting your mojo as well. (One decent piece of news is that number would have been four, if Jupiter hadn’t gone direct yesterday.)
We talked to astrologer Katrin Haiba, of the horoscope site Cosmic Wave Astrology, to find out WTF all this retrograde madness actually means and how best to deal until the planets right themselves again.
First, Haiba gave us a crash course in what it means when any planet goes retrograde: “Technically, it means the planet appears to be going backwards in its orbit from our point of view on Earth,” she says. “Visually, the effect is similar to when you pass a car on a highway—and then when a driver passes you back, that’s what it looks like for a planet to go direct again.” Astrologically, she says, it means that a planet’s energy turns inward, giving a sense of retracing recent steps, reevaluating decisions, reconsidering actions. “To keep with the driving metaphor, it’s as if you spin your wheels in a sharp U-turn, suddenly remembering you’ve left something important behind.” Um, yeah, literally.
The reason we pay so much attention when Mercury goes retrograde, more than other planets, is that the planet represents communication, information, and coordination. “Our society is incredibly dependent on fast and flawless flow of data,” says Haiba. “We’re used to getting instant answers and feedback. We’re addicted to the idea of progress, forward motion, and rushing off to embrace the next thing. Anything that interferes with this onwards-and-upwards trajectory messes us up, making us fume in frustration.”
But it’s the natural cycle, and when we don’t go with the retrograde flow, says Haiba, we only make it worse. “Retrograde cycles remind us of the need to release and reset, to turn our attention inward once in awhile. When we don’t do that, we invoke the classic mire of miscommunication and tech meltdowns that gives Mercury retrograde its rotten rep.” She adds that blaming Mercury has become a popular “cultural thought virus,” a convenient way to let ourselves off the hook when things go wrong.
Instead of falling into the trap of whining about Mercury retrograde and holding our breath until it turns direct, there are more productive ways to handle it. “Engage in R-word activities: Review, reboot, rethink, reconsider, refresh, renovate, redo, and relax.” Relaxing is especially important right now, since Mercury is retrograde in Taurus, an earth sign that’s tuned into your senses, so getting grounded in your body’s wisdom will help a lot. “Slowing down to match nature’s graceful pace can save a lot of needless stress,” she adds. Other smart steps: Budget more time for travel, embrace detours or delays as divine interruption, and try to stay flexible—at least until May 22.
From April 17 through June 29, Mars spins backwards. Haiba says Mars is the planet that represents our drive to achieve and act—it’s how we go after what we want. During this cycle, “outward progress is often slow or thwarted,” she says. “Instead of banging our heads against the wall, take a look back and see what decisions led us here. It urges us to get really honest with ourselves and look at why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
If you’re not seeing the results you’re hoping for on various fronts, whether it’s weight loss, relationship progress, or a job hunt, it could be a sign from the universe that you need to look harder at your motivations for each. “If we’ve faced our inner dragons, we can emerge victorious, liberating ourselves to act more potently and precisely when Mars turns direct.”
From March 25 to August 13, we’ll be seeing the effects of Saturn’s backwards cycle. The planet represents structure, discipline, and responsibility, says Haiba. When using Saturn’s energy properly, we make wise choices, work hard, set healthy boundaries and say no when we need to.
When the planet spins backwards, it’s asking us to check the strength of our internal and external support systems. Certain people or routines you’ve leaned on in the past will either withstand the test or won’t—and if they don’t, it’s a sign they’re not meant to perform that function in your life anymore. “If Mars is the warrior, Saturn is the general,” says Haiba. “With both planets retrograde, frustration at a lack of progress can erupt, but have patience with the process and yourself. Use the time wisely to craft a solid strategy and support your core for the next upward climb.” In August, says Haiba, your results will start to show.
From April 18 through September 26, Pluto, the planet that rules our unconscious, is in retrograde. When Pluto spins backwards (which it does five months per year, so we’re all relatively used to it) it’s a time to face old fears, disengage from dysfunctional relationships, ditch bad habits, and end patterns of self-sabotage.
“Accepting Pluto’s quest leads us to authentic empowerment, but the journey is not for the faint of heart,” says Haiba. “‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ could well be Pluto’s mantra.” But if we do successfully clear away old debris in our life, it leaves room for new growth.
The ultimate lesson of all this retrograde mayhem: It might suck on the surface, when you’re dealing with miscommunications, delays, or painful life and relationship changes. However, if you stick it out and don’t resist the challenges each planet throws your way, you’ll wind up in a better place for it—so worth it.