Growing Out of Balance

The Neopagan blogosphere tends to place emphasis on notions of “balance” as we near or cross an equinox in the year. Similarly, the spiritual and occult community at large have a tendency to speak in terms of achieving some sort of “balance” between Light and Dark, divine and human, or whatever other dichotomies they happen to acknowledge. Even when speaking about the natural world, we have developed a language of “ecological balance”. This talk all has its place, but we too easily let it mislead us, causing us suffering where it need not.

Here’s the thing: there is no balance in Nature. There is no magic number of grizzly bears and salmon, or ants to aphids to daisies, which will keep everything neat and tidy and allow the whole world to live in peace. If such equilibrium existed, it would have been found by now — not necessarily by us, but by the whole big game of the universe. Earth is one hell of a testing ground, and that balance has almost certainly never existed here. As badly as humans are messing things up in this and the past century or so, other mass extinction events and the like attest to the fact that even without us life would have perpetual challenges of one sort or another. None of this is to justify our failure to learn lessons and find a less destructive place in the world, but even our present trouble makes my major point.

If there is no balance to be found, what are we working toward? Every individual must, of course, work that out for themselves. Your answer will almost certainly not look like mine. Even if we both say something like “spiritual liberation”, we will have to unpack what we mean by that and it may not sound at all alike once the tea is drunk!

When we talk about balance, the real error is falling into a stagnation mindset. The reason why balance doesn’t exist is simply because it can’t for any length of time; as soon as a portion of any system is “balanced”, some other factor will throw it off. Rather than balance, we should be looking for some combination of adaptability and fortitude. The world is dynamic; so should we be. Per the last paragraph, that will have to look different for each of us — and that’s a good thing!

In terms of spiritual or magical practice, the concept of balance does have its place. Franz Bardon, for example, emphasizes a state of “elemental equilibrium” in his first book, Initiation Into Hermetics. This is an excellent pursuit for the beginner, which unfolds into a series of practices collectively expanding and deepening the practitioner’s toolkit and experiences which serve well into later magical exercises. But what Bardon (or perhaps his translators and commentators) do not always make clear enough is just the fact that elemental equilibrium is not a state one achieves but an ongoing dynamic process which we discuss as if it were a state to keep the intention clear in our heads. The elemental equilibrium exercises become part of one’s daily practice, or else merge into other practices which go further. That process of equilibration is not for its own sake; it is only to give oneself as firm a foundation as possible to build higher. But keep in mind that foundations need to be repaired, reinforced, even rebuilt from time to time.

You may at some time need to go to an extreme. Conventional wisdom has it that this could only ever be temporary, seeking to come back to balance in the center after going to one extreme or another to solve a problem. But that may not be the case. It’s entirely possible that instead of going far only to moderate, you will instead force circumstances to meet you at your position and so establish the new “normal” afar off from its original “balance point”. Granted, it is ordinarily desirable to avoid a situation in which one has to throw wide to one side or another; it is painful to go to extremes. But if we are adaptable and resilient, we make a new outpost wherever we must and keep going.

This goes to show that there is no “balanced normal state” from which we depart and to which we aim to return; there is no “original sin” which keeps us from Heaven. That doesn’t mean that equipoise does not exist — but equipoise is of the mind aligning with its own inherent nature. It is, in conventional English, an attitude of choice which becomes more and more natural as we deepen our experience of it. Equipoise is inherently dynamic. It is a way of responding (or not) to the situation as it unfolds, with spontaneity rather than crystallized habits. Our ordinary talk of “nature’s balance” is lazy thinking, leading often to dreams of a time when nothing needs to change anymore. No such time will come in this world. As magicians and Tantrikas, we do not seek such a time and place, but to gradually attain to the insight and power of equipoise within the activity itself, to experience the Divine as the nondual essence of the changing world, and to live the Peace, Freedom, and Happiness which comes of that experience.

As the Autumnal Equinox passes us by and we fall away once again from the lovely balance of light and dark, flowing ever more deeply toward the dark and cold of Winter, let’s enjoy the pivot point and allow it to remind us that change is baked in. Whether we perceive time as linear, cyclical, or helical, it is certainly not stagnant.

Portable Puja: An Adaptable Meditation Practice

As to their spiritual utility, ritual (puja), mantra chanting (japa), and meditation are interchangeable. In terms of Yoga, they are all of one essence and accomplish the same ends: to make deliberate use of prāna (what Franz Bardon calls “vital energy”) within or in relation to our organism to clear out our internal channels and make way for the experience of Sakti; to experience, focus, and integrate Sakti; to purify and concentrate the mind. Whether or not we think of them in these terms, all of these processes require the dissolution of various tensions within the system, both subtle and gross.

When we speak, for instance, of the Kleshas, what we are basically speaking of are certain root-tensions (mūlātati) and the seed from which they sprout (bījātati). Likewise, the “knots” (granthi) of Hatha-Yoga represent tensions in consciousness. In both cases, the trouble begins with mind and spreads to the body. This creates a feedback cycle in which mental tensions cause emotional tensions which cause physiological tensions which exacerbate emotional tensions which deepen mental tensions, and on and on. Tension of any kind is therefore blocked-up prāna which cannot properly move in a healthful or helpful way; whether its task should be constructive or destructive, it will either not be doing its job at all, or will be doing it in a perverse way. And where prāna is blocked, Sakti does not move, either.

In Tibet, the individual ego is often offered to spirits, demons, and protective deities in lieu of blood sacrifice. This serves not only to “feed” the spirits, but also to break down the internal blockages within the practitioner. The practice following is similar. As egotism is recognized in Yoga as one of the Kleshas, but the Kleshas are not limited to the ego, we therefore offer up all tensions and all sources of tension. We thereby include the Kleshas, as well as conditioned behaviors and the fruits of karma.

Simple Internal Puja

Sit in your usual meditation posture, eyes closed. With both hands, touch the tips your forefingers to your thumbs, and rest your hands palm down on your thighs. Breathe easily and slowly with your belly. Follow your breath for a few minutes.

Place your attention as much as possible in your heart center (in the middle of your chest). Visualize there a shrine-like cave, your ishta devatā (your chosen deity, usually the deity at the center of your worship or meditative practice*) enthroned within.

Next, visualize a dhuni (fire pit), as if dug into bare earth, in the space of your navel center (about two finger widths below your belly button and straight back). A steady fire is going in this basin. Maintaining your attention in the cave of your heart, simply watch this fire for a few moments and feel the power emanating from it. (If it helps your concentration, you may imagine the whole scene as a landscape with the fire pit being down a steep slope from the cave entrance, a dense forest surrounding the whole. If this level of visual detail is more distracting for you, leave it out. Experiment to find the best balance for yourself.)

Take a deep breath and hold it (with your belly, not your throat) and mentally say: “I sacrifice all of my tension and all the sources of tension into the dhuni fire.” Release the breath slowly and steadily; as you do, probe your body for any centers of tension, simply bringing a warm attention to them and moving on. Throughout this process, mentally say: “All tension melts like honey mixed with ghee, running into the dhuni.” As you inhale again, mentally say: “As the tension burns away, the pure prāna released rises as an offering to [deity’s name] enthroned in the cave of my heart.” As you exhale again, feel the prāna rising up your central channel from the flame at your navel.

Continue the cycle of breathing for as long as you like: inhale, feeling tension melting into the dhuni and prāna rising from it; exhale, feeling the prāna entering the cave of your heart.

Once you feel sufficiently tension-free, or as if your heart center is as saturated as it can get for now, release all of the visualizations entirely and either focus on the cycle of your breath alone, on the bare attention in your heart center, or else on the fundamental energy of your central channel.

There are many ways to extend this practice. It may be profitably combined with the Double Breath meditation taught by Swami Rudrananda and Swami Khecaranatha, for example, or adapted into a Natha equivalent to tummo with the addition of certain Hatha-Yoga exercises. On its own, however, it already presents a full practice unto itself. Once you have practiced it enough to be able to move through the steps smoothly, this meditation may be done in just a few spare minutes as a relaxation exercise, as well. Any number of other applications may present themselves, and I invite you to comment or get in touch with any you may may come up with.

*Note that if you do not have an ishta devatā, you may certainly approach Lord Siva, Ganapati, or Lord Buddha Sakyamuni. If for any reason you are not comfortable with any of them, a brilliant white light like a tiny sun in the cave of your heart is also suitable.

The Planets as Parts of the Self, part 2

Last time, we covered the overall notion of the planets as aspects of the individual, the specifics of which are readable in the natal chart, as well as how this generally applies with the two luminaries, the Sun and Moon. Let’s move on to the wanderers.

Mars represents sattvam, or what we in the West call character. Mars gives us the courage to to properly express our individuality and to live our values; in addition to the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter, he also helps to determine what those values are. Some assume that a strong Mars person would be a bully or a violent sort, when in fact a person with a strong, well-placed Mars is far less likely to use unnecessary force or want to cause suffering because they possess the courage and discipline to find a more constructive way to handle the situation. A strong Mars has a correspondingly strong desire to express goodness; if a powerful Mars is afflicted, however, this impulse can become twisted by frustration, causing eruptions of temper in the face of a world incapable of abiding by the deepest dharmic values.

Mercury represents “the consciousness spoken”. In broad terms, we can call this a person’s know-how, as Mercury brings skill to a person. But in terms of the individual’s personality, Mercury is specifically their capacity to speak and make themselves understood. Mythologically, Mercury is the son of the Moon. As such, he expresses what is in the mind (manas). How effectively he does this is determined by his strength, while how gentle or cruel he is in his communication style depends on which planets join or aspect him. It may seem strange to think of talking as an aspect of the personality rather than just an action the individual can take, but consider how little we tend to consciously choose when and how we speak. It is a patterned and conditioned element just as is our character or our vitality. While we can, if circumstances and patterns permit, choose to become more aware of how and when we communicate, this is as much a case of having to change who we are as is reexamining our morality. We may think about being firm or gentle with someone, but in practice do we communicate what and how we think we should? Causality as often goes the other direction: what and how we communicate changes the contents of our mind. Psychological tools like affirmations and yogic tools like mantra are ways of deliberately taking advantage of this feedback: control your speech and you control your mind.

Jupiter represents “joy-giving knowledge”, which is to say inner knowledge. This is the root of spiritual knowledge, but even those who are not particularly spiritual can be in possession of it with a healthy Jupiter. All happiness is internal and has an internal source, though people experience it in and through external objects and experiences. Someone with a well-developed inner knowledge will find happiness in a myriad of experiences, while someone with a poor knowing capacity will only find a brief glimmer of joy in attaining even their most treasured of goals. Another way of looking at Jupiter’s joy-giving knowledge is as a sense of meaning. Mars gives purpose, a sense of outward direction, but Jupiter provides the sense that there is something more to life than “stuff”. Someone with a bad Jupiter may still accomplish a lot, but they will not receive any lasting happiness from it or see it as having more than utilitarian function.

Venus provides vīrya. While there are deeper metaphysics to it, at the personal level this is simply vitality: the energy and passion necessary to pursue any goal. Depending on Venus’s placement, a strong and healthy Venus gives one physical strength, the ability to recover from illness, heal injuries, and handle stress. Many astrologers look to Mars for a person’s athleticism, for example, but Venus is by far more important. An athlete must have the ability to recover from injuries quickly and to work through illness. A good Mars can make such a person competitive in a healthy manner, but it requires a good Venus to be successful in it and to be able to bounce back for more.

Saturn provides sorrow. This may not sound like a good thing, but put it in the same family as Venus and Mars: Mars allows one to be disciplined, Venus provides energy, while Saturn allows us to survive loss. Saturn also represents our awareness of lack, an inversion of Jupiter’s role. For as important as it is to find happiness within, Saturn lets us keep going through a loss of that with which we identified our happiness and, just as importantly, makes us aware of the realities of disease, death, and everything else which must inevitably come of life but which we often try to keep at arms’ length. While all of the planets are important in one way or another in our spirituality, Jupiter and Saturn tell us a lot about our motives in spirituality. Jupiter tells of the intuitions which lead us inward for greater things, while Saturn shows us the gaps in our experience which spiritual practice can fill.

I’ve run out of space this time, so next time we’ll look at an astrological method of employing this perspective on the planets in your own efforts at self-knowledge. Having a good reading of your own natal chart will be a significant aid in this process, but the technique I’ll be sharing can be used by anyone willing to put in the work of honest introspection.

The Planets as Parts of the Self, part 1

Bringing together the Kleshas and the astrological observation that there are no evil planets, we have the insight that each planet represents an aspect of the individual self.

The word I am translating with “planet” is actually graha — seizer, grabber, that which catches you and won’t let go. Astrologically speaking, this includes the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the ascending and descending lunar nodes (where the Moon’s orbit crosses the ecliptic), Rahu and Ketu. We call them grahas because they grab onto us and move us around in the direction of their influence. It’s a mistake, however, to think that they do this externally. The grahas direct events from within. For the individual, this is because they rule different parts of us: various organs and body parts, the foods we take in, but also our emotions, ideas, ideologies, and all of the processes we each tend to think of as “me”.

I’ll save you the deep metaphysics, for now, and jump straight to the pragmatic psychology: if each planet rules over and directly influences a given aspect of the self, then that planet may be engaged with internally by way of its presence in the individual’s life through introspection. One need not be particularly spiritual to benefit from this sort of introspection; it may be thought of as a form of psychological therapy guided by the reality of your own inborn patterns as revealed in your natal chart. With or without a therapist, all effective therapies are rooted in the individual undergoing it and their own willingness and ability to look inward and honestly to report to themselves what they find. Astrology is certainly not the only way to do this, but it is among the most insightful and actionable models.

Let’s carry on to the grahas’ positions in the individual identity. As ever, keep in mind that the particulars will depend on the details of your own chart. In part 2, we will also look at a method of digging into how these actually impact our lives.

The Sun represents the soul, which is to say the essence of the individuality. The soul transcends the particulars of identity, being the simple core of identity itself, the awareness of oneself as an individual distinct from other individuals and the outside world. While deeper metaphysical experiences can and do cut through even this seeming atom of selfhood, it is nevertheless the most fundamental element of what it means to be a conscious being. The placement of the Sun indicates the idea or experience at the core of the soul’s mission for this lifetime. Whatever metaphor we choose for life — a school in which to learn, an illusion to be seen through, or whatever else — the Sun is at the heart of our approach, usually in ways we are not at all conscious of or which might begin as abstractions and only gain substance through the act of living.

The Moon represents the manas or consciousness more broadly. Manas, often translated as “mind”, is specifically the consciousness-as-mirror. Whether by way of thoughts, emotions, intuitions, memories, or simple sensory impressions, manas reflects the experiences of life by the light of the soul. In other words, it takes in all sensory data, conscious or subconscious, and holds it for our use and edification. When we speak about cultivation, a great deal of the purpose of concentration, meditation, and contemplation is, to use a metaphor common to Zen, polishing the mirror. That is to say, we are trying to find the mind’s original purity — the Moon’s natural fullness — wherein it reflects cleanly and without distortion all elements of experience.

These two are the most important of all, not because the faculties of the other planets aren’t important but because they all arise from the Sun and the Moon, the soul and the mind. The planets themselves will how us how we use our faculties and to what degree we are capable of putting them to work, but the luminaries tell us why we use them, what motivates us. Our spiritual practices thus directly engage the Sun and Moon. The Sun allows us both to spread our awareness and to concentrate it; as the Sun is the source of prāna, it is also the core of our spiritual respiration which we consciously engage through our sādhana. The Moon allows us to generate the nectar of immortality at the heart of all experience. These processes are mutually supporting.

Next time, we will explore the other grahas in relation to the self. In the meantime, it can be valuable, if you know them both, to think on what your Sun and Moon signs say about your soul and your manas; if you know their dignities, all the better.

No Such Thing as a Malefic

The lead-up to the solar eclipse of July 2nd this year saw a lot of people warning about the possible impacts of eclipses all over Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. On the one hand, eclipses — especially solar eclipses — can indeed tip off great difficulties for people, but on the other an eclipse is like any other space weather event: as discussed in my previous article on Mercury Retrograde, it depends a great deal on the individual’s natal chart as to how strongly and how negatively they will experience it. If you want to gain anything from it, take any potentially difficult astrological prediction, especially those made broadly for a general audience, as an excuse to learn more about your own chart and, therefore, about yourself as an individual. Furthermore, these discussions all seem to center around Rahu (the ascending or “northern” lunar node) as either a “benefic” (usually by comparison to Ketu, the descending node, and that misguidedly) or as a “malefic” (because of the difficulties such eclipses can bring). I will leave off discussing the lunar nodes for a future article. For now, I want to focus in on those words “benefic” and “malefic”.

I don’t appreciate the language of benefic or malefic, helpful or harmful, planets. It’s simplistic and not particularly useful, and for those reasons it is not used in Jyotish. You may often see Indian astrological texts translated with those terms being used, but that is a mistranslation incorporating Western assumptions into the Sanskrit terms actually used, or else a translation of convenience for a Western audience. I certainly don’t mean to discount Western astrology; I know and know of some Western astrologers who do great work. However, I do find that a lot of Western cultural assumptions get in the way of astrological interpretation (just as other times, Indian cultural biases can cause similar problems). This concept of good and evil planets is a big obstacle to understanding the nature of a planet properly, and it mostly comes from emphasizing ease and gain as among the highest values.

In terms of growth, each planet — including the lunar nodes — is capable of giving many gifts. Again, the specifics will depend a great deal upon an individual’s birth chart. In general, a healthy planet will benefit the house of its placement and the houses and house lords it aspects. It will bring those benefits differently, however, according to its nature. The terms usually translated as “benefic” and “malefic” are saumya and krura which more appropriately translate as “gentle” and “cruel”. To even summarize the planets’ natures would require a long article for each, but we can quickly divide them into gentle and cruel and gain some insight.

The gentle planets are Venus, Jupiter, the waxing Moon, and Mercury when he is alone or paired with a gentle planet. The cruel planets are Mars, the Sun, the waning Moon, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu (the lunar nodes), and Mercury when he is joined by a cruel planet. You will immediately notice that there are more cruel planets than gentle ones, and isn’t that the way of life on Earth? There is much beauty here, and much to bring us comfort, but there are many more harsh lessons and painful or discomfiting experiences, to the point that we often don’t even notice the minor, everyday ones after a while but relief from them can feel astoundingly good for a time.

Again, though, the cruel planets don’t want to pointlessly torture us any more than the gentle ones wish to shower us in silks and flowers. The cruel planets can give all of the same gifts and bring incredible value to our lives, but they do so harshly. When Mars wants to give money, he will demand courage, conflict, or difficult self-improvement for it. When the Sun does so, he will require that we make a conscious sacrifice of something which stands in our way; it will be painful or difficult, but it will allow us to move into the gift the Sun has in store. When Saturn wants to give us money, it will come through unavoidable loss or disease. If, on the other hand, Jupiter wants to gift us with money, he will do so through the favor of authorities, a need for justice, or the application of insight and wisdom, while Venus will do so out of resonance, choosing wisely between options, vitality, or athleticism. Mercury can bring either through cleverness and skill: gain by know-how and capability, or loss by deception and trickery. And so on.

This is all assuming a healthy planet in one’s chart; a weak or afflicted planet will fail to bring promised gains at all, or will bring it with added difficulty. You can see, then, how the beneficence of a planet is not a matter of its nature so much as its strength and placement. This is not unlike human beings, who can be kindly disposed toward one person but respond to someone else with pettiness or anger, dependent upon the circumstances of their meeting. If we apply the folk-wisdom of first impressions sticking, a person’s natal chart can be thought of as the first impression a planet has of them in this incarnation; while it is possible to change someone’s opinion of us over time, it will not happen in a flash as did their initial observation. (And we can change our relationships with individual planets through remedial measures, as you saw in my aforementioned Mercury Retrograde article.) This is only a metaphor, of course, but it is a helpful one. The planets are conscious entities — gods, demigods, angels, whatever we wish to call them — so while they do not have human concerns we may still profitably search out analogies for relating to them.

If we wish to keep the language of benefic and malefic planets, it is better if we use those terms to describe relationships rather than natures. Mars’s nature is cruel; he will never be anything but harsh, even if cooled down by Venus or sweetened by Jupiter. Mars, however, is not malefic; it is not his goal purely to cause us harm. He may seem malefic in the lives of certain individuals or communities, and so we could describe his actions that way at those times and places. Still, I think it is better to jettison those terms altogether. Our minds tend to reify descriptions — itself the nature of the Moon, who rules the mind — so if we use imprecise or misleading language, our understanding will be thrown off. No planet is benefic or malefic, only gentle or cruel in their activities. Let us learn to relate more effectively with them and better integrate their gifts into our lives. In my next article, I will be discussing how each planet represents an aspect of the individual self. If we reject a planet’s influence as evil, we reject or demonize an essential element in our own makeup.

With Cunning & Command

In this interim between regular posts, I wanted to draw attention to the blog of some friends of mine: With Cunning & Command, written by Sfinga and Salt.

While their readership is likely at least as large as mine already, it is also probably a bit of a different audience. That’s part of why I wanted to bring it to the attention of anyone who reads me: Salt and Sfinga take a very different approach to my own, but one which is demonstrably effective. While I am first and foremost a Yogi — with all magic engaged in as an aid or adjunct to my Yoga, a Tantric approach of participatory worship — these two are sorcerers to their bones.

Salt has proven himself to me a more than competent talismanic astrologer and a brilliant geomancer; I strongly recommend thinking of him if you would like a Geomancy reading. He also engages in a lot of ceremonial magic based in the European grimoire tradition.

Sfinga is a traditional witch, spirit-worker and Balkan Zmajevit-woman with insight and power rather underdone by the word “impressive”. She also experiments with the legacy of the grimoires, among other methods.

Together, they are producing a blog which dives deeply into today’s glutted marketplace of magic books to bring their readers both reviews and, more interesting, post mortems of their magical experiments. It is, and I may be biased, one of the best blogs on Western magical practice I have encountered; the practical experience and depth of knowledge of Sfinga and Salt is truly something special and they communicate it well. If you are a Western-style magician, or if you just want to get authentic perspectives on those methods for your own edification, With Cunning & Command is very worthy of your attention.

Mercury Retrograde: A Constructive Approach

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.

Mercury Yantra

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.