As we approach a period of Mercury Retrograde — as of this writing, the next Mercury Retrograde will begin on Monday, July 8 2019 and last through the end of the month — it is pretty common to see people on social media panicking about it; once into the retrograde period, you equally have people pinning every problem in their lives on Mercury without ever wondering if perhaps they could have done anything about the situation. When a lot of people talk about astrology, they speak in terms either of inescapable fate or else inexorable power which cannot be overcome or mitigated; it is understandable, then, how much of the audience would get the idea that there’s nothing to be done for the situation and just suck it up and deal with the misfortunes as they come.
In a separate article, I will soon discuss fate and causality in relation to astrological factors, but for now it’s worth stating the core tenet that our choices do matter. Astrology does not negate freedom of choice, but shows us more of the context in which we make those choices. This context includes not just the world around us, but our own bodies and minds which while not constituting the essence of who and what we are nevertheless determine in large part how our individualities may be expressed. As each of us is different in our manifestation, so do astrological factors impact us differently.
Two major astrological factors are planetary transits and planetary dasas. A dasa, unique to Indian Jyotish, is a period of planetary rulership unique to you; your dasas are calculated entirely dependent upon your natal chart, so you will begin your life in a different planetary dasa than will I; even if we are the same age, the present period of our lives will have different planetary rulers, so the planet(s) which presently rule for us will be the lens through which all the rest of our experience will be focused and by which our lives at present will be colored. Transits are both individual and universal. When a planet moves relative to the Earth, that will look the same for any observer on Earth (Mars entering the sign of Pisces, for example), but the way in which the movements of these planets actually impact our inner and outer lives depend on what those same planets are doing in our natal charts as well as our present dasa. Horoscopes in newspapers about what a Sun-in-Taurus individual has in store for them this week or posts on Twitter about what it “means” as the Moon transits out of Cancer and into Leo are usually close to worthless for us (except for some magical applications, but that’s a very different, very detailed topic in its own right). If these factors aren’t being situated within the very unique context of your natal chart and your present dasa rulership, the planetary transits themselves are all but meaningless.
When a planet, most famously Mercury, goes retrograde, we are describing a transit situation: the planet appears to be moving backwards in its orbit relative to our perspective on Earth. This, of course, is an optical illusion, as the planet continues to move in its orbit just as it always has, but astrology is always interpreted according to the planet on which it is being done — as far as we know, always from Earth. This means that apparent motion is more important for an astrologer than actual motion. When a retrograde occurs, the planet apparently moves backward in its procession through the Zodiac so, for example, Mercury entering retrograde early in Leo (as he will on the 8th) will seem to move back into Cancer before once again processing through Cancer and Leo in turn.
During that backward portion of Mercury’s motion, we interpret Mercury’s influence a bit differently. He turns his energy in upon himself. Ordinarily, our natal Mercury tells us about our own capacities to communicate, to act skillfully, to make our ideas manifest in the world. In short, Mercury is the sum total of our ability to get things done. When moving backwards, he obstructs all of these things like a cement-mixer truck backing up a one-way street. A cement-mixer is an extremely useful thing, but when it’s being used poorly or placed in the wrong context, it’s at best a barrier, at worst a safety hazard. But Mercury doesn’t do this just to piss us off. Sure, it does piss us off, make us sad, and whatever else comes of it, but all to the end of turning our gaze inward. But that only works if you and I, as individuals, are willing and able to choose to look inward. Yes, astrology is ultimately about our own self-knowledge and responsibility. Precisely how Mercury will manifest for you, whether retrograde or not, will depend, as I said earlier, on how Mercury looks in your natal chart. But it is still up to you how you choose how you relate with Mercury.
In astrology generally, we talk about remediation: those things we can do to improve our relationships with those planets which give us trouble or to strengthen the ones which are weak influences for us. In Vedic astrology in particular, we call our approach to remediation Graha-shanti or “making peace with the planets”. While this is of general utility, it is also an especially useful way to soften the experience of Mercury Retrograde and allow yourself the opportunity to better understand what it is Mercury is trying to get across to you.
There are a number of Graha-shanti techniques which all work well, but I tend to prefer one method or another depending on whether a person’s relationship with a planet needs to be strengthened, the planet itself has a weak influence in their life, or the planet is overly harsh with them. In the case of Mercury Retrograde, those people who have trouble are generally experiencing Mercury as overly harsh. As such, building a more productive relationship with him is very likely to help — both during the retrograde period and throughout life.
The following method is usable by anyone, regardless of training and background. Ideally, the yantra should be made with appropriate materials at an astrologically elected date and time, but in a pinch it can be done with paper and pen on the day of Mercury (Wednesday).
At sunrise on a Wednesday, offer a lit candle, sweet incense (frankincense, sandalwood, or honey amber are always good, as is sweetgrass), clean water, and some combination of fresh fruit, milk, and honey. As you set out the offerings, lighting the candle and incense, and so forth, chant the mantra to Ganapati: om gam ganapataye namah, pronounced with short a’s making an ‘uh’ sound and namah with an extra aspiration, “nama-huh”.
Draw the yantra of Mercury (below) on a piece of paper; if possible, frame this paper and keep it for later use. Set the yantra up somewhere clearly visible from where you are sitting or standing. If you have a regular shrine or altar, it would be appropriate to keep the yantra there, and to make your offerings there as well.
Making the anjalimudra (the gesture of prayer, hands pressed together with the fingers pointed upward in front of the chest), begin to chant the Mercury mantra: om bum budhaya namah, pronouncing all u’s like the one in “put” and an elongated ‘a’ in the middle of budhaya, like “bud-HA-ya”. Repeat this mantra a minimum of 28 times, but preferably 108; if you have a mala for counting mantras, use that in your right hand with your left resting on your thigh or making the gesture of no-fear (hand held palm out with the fingers and thumb extended with natural spacing between them). When the chanting is over, you may spend some time in quiet contemplation.
Before you stand up or remove anything from the working area, give two sharp claps to close. When finished, the candle can be pinched out, the incense left to burn itself out, and the food and drink offerings consumed or given to others in your household as blessings. The yantra can be kept for later; you can consider making a smaller version of the yantra and, after performing this puja over it, carrying it on your person, such as in your wallet, purse, or briefcase.
If you have consistent Mercury-related difficulties (problems communicating, difficulty being heard and understood, trouble while traveling, inability to translate your ideas into practical actions, etc.), you can sit in front of the yantra each Wednesday and chant the Mercury yantra before you leave home. I especially suggest making the offerings as described here on the Wednesday immediately before Mercury goes retrograde and, if your situation is difficult enough, each Wednesday or even each day throughout the period of retrograde.
This simple puja and japa (mantra chanting) should bring aid to the situation, making Mercury Retrograde a less stressful period for you. Feel free to pass this article along to anyone you know who has a tough time when Mercury moves backwards. If the problem persists or is especially bad, however, it is probably time for an astrological consultation.