Toward a Multi-Dimensional View of Mercury Retrograde

 “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

C.G. Jung  (1)

It has become common for modern astrologers to think of Mercury retrograde in terms of “shadow.” The basic idea seems to be that there are two areas or zones of shadow, one before and one after actual retrograde motion. When in these zones, even though Mercury is traveling direct, we are still (at least potentially) subject to retrograde kinds of experiences. So weeks before the retrograde, after Mercury passes the degree of its eventual station direct, Mercury enters a zone of sky that is eventually crossed three times, and it doesn’t leave this zone for weeks after turning direct — until passing the degree of the initial station retrograde.

However, when we consider not just the motion but also the speed of Mercury, it seems these zones before and after the retrograde could be better described as slow zones. So we can imagine that when Mercury comes to the station degree, we are experiencing a sort of “cosmic speed bump,”  alerting us that we are in a new kind of zone where new rules and/or codes of conduct may apply, similar to when passing through a school or construction zone while driving.

Nevertheless, even when adding the dimension and nuance of speed, I find this view of Mercury retrograde still wanting. Although taking responsibility for the speed with which we navigate our lives should help to assuage some of the dualistic thinking that seems to accompany the commonly held view of Mercury retrograde (direct = good, retrograde = bad), it remains in my eyes a relatively impoverished view. This is because it is taking into account only two dimensions, those of zodiacal longitude and time/speed. And yet, we live in (at least) three dimensions, don’t we?

Rather than thinking of Mercury retrograde in terms of “shadow,” I feel it is more productive to think of it in terms of light, that is, in terms of the visible apparition of Mercury. When we add the dimension of elongation and altitude, we have a truly multi-dimensional perspective that is less likely to become polarized into dualistic roles. To do this, we must look up from our flat 2D charts and into the third dimension of sky. Doing so, one becomes like a former resident of Plato’s cave, in that what was once perceived as mere shadow is now experienced as light. Ironically, while Mercury is traveling within the modern conception of the shadow zones, he is actually making his highest and brightest appearances in the sky — not only visible to the naked eye, but also brighter than most first-magnitude stars (which is pretty dang bright).

Photo: Mercury at the previous greatest elongation, rising bright as morning star on February 24, 2015 and reflected in the ocean at the inaugural Sky Astrology Conference. (2)

Generally speaking, as Mercury gets furthest from the Sun, he appears higher and brighter in the sky.  Astronomers call the points where Mercury reaches furthest distance from the Sun “greatest elongation,” and if you want to actually observe Mercury in the sky, you need to know how to track these times. Unfortunately, they do not appear in any of our modern astrological ephemerides. However, in Volume I of Hermetica Triptycha, my forthcoming series on Mercury, there are 125 years of these alignments arranged into tables categorized by element, sign, degree, and nearby stars. (3)

A few years ago, I discovered a profound mystery contained within the Mercury visible cycle. Zodiacally speaking, the retrograde is a process of Mercury “switching sides” with the Sun. What this means visually is that Mercury “switches skies” and appears both as evening star and morning star within the single retrograde period. Extending this into the so-called shadow periods (before and after the stations), we find that Mercury makes three alignments with the Sun, two visible elongations and one invisible inferior conjunction. Despite being very different in terms of visible phenomenon, mysteriously, all three of these Sun-Mercury events happen within a few degrees of zodiacal longitude.


Some readers will know that there are many variables within Mercury’s orbit. For example, as the late great Robert Blaschke taught, there are actually three different types of retrogrades according to their duration, i.e., short, medium, and long. (4) And yet despite significant differences from one retrograde period to another, the alignments of the two greatest elongations and the inferior conjunction always happen near the same degrees. This is the single constant or fixed element within the cycle of Mercury. It would therefore seem as if these particular thrice-crossed degrees are ones to which we should be paying special attention.

My observations as a mundane astrologer over the last several years have borne out this idea. When Mercury made these three alignments (e.g., the two greatest elongations and the inferior conjunction) in degrees that are sensitive in some way, we have seen increased volatility. For instance, Mercury’s greatest elongations and inferior conjunction occurred near the winter solstice point in late 2010 as the Tunisian Revolution sparked off what became known as the Arab Spring. (See table) And when the Mercurial triple alignments crossed the vernal point in 2012, we saw a coup d’etat in Mali. (See table)

Last year the Mercurial triple-alignments crossed the summer solstice point. On June 29, 2014, we saw the extremist organization, ISIL, proclaim a Worldwide Caliphate or Islamic state. (See table)

Mercury is about to make the triple-alignments with the Sun in the degree of the Royal star Aldebaran (10º Gemini). My suspicion is that we are moving into another of these zones of major volatility or special significance. Just as there is a mundane cross formed by the equinoxes and solstices, there is a celestial cross formed by four very bright stars known as the Royal Stars of Persia. Two bright red stars, Aldebaran and Antares, lie opposite each other and these form a celestial cross with another opposition of two bright blue stars, Fomalhaut and Regulus. At one time this heavenly cross aligned with the mundane cross, and so these stars became associated with the cardinal directions. In this format, Aldebaran was known as “watcher of the east,” when it presided over the vernal equinox.

Depending on the “orb” of influence, or what time value we might wish to associate with these triple-alignments, we might see the developments in Baltimore around the Freddie Gray homicide as being related to these upcoming triple-alignments of Mercury with Aldebaran. Bernadette Brady says this star is about integrity. (5) One current issue seems to be the integrity of hyper-militarized police forces on a national level; deaths of people of color by police have become a huge issue over the last year. Gray was arrested on April 12 — with Mercury past the superior conjunction to the Sun in Aries — and died April 19, 2015 from his injuries.

This example makes me wonder if the thrice-crossed degrees of the maximum elongations and inferior conjunction could possibly become activated as early as the previous superior conjunction and remain active as late as the following superior conjunction. In any event, with Mercury in Gemini, we do now seem to be within the range of influence of these degrees and the star Aldebaran (10º Gemini).

After weeks of protests and unrest, on May 1, Gray’s arrest was ruled illegal and his death declared a homicide, and Baltimore’s chief prosecutor charged six police officers with a range of crimes including murder and manslaughter. (6) Perhaps if Freddie Gray can get justice, his death may serve a larger purpose and we can finally begin a trend toward more police accountability in our country.

If you would like to know more about these triple alignments, and how to track them and use them for personal growth and transformation, please click the link in my publisher’s website and sign up for my mailing list, which will also keep you apprised of the release of my book.

References and recommended reading:

(1) C.G. Jung, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” (R. F. C. Hull, translator). Contained in The Collected Works of C.G. Jung (vol. 9 pt. 1), H. Read et al. (Series Editors), Princeton University Press, 1969.
(Jung is referencing the anima archetype, or the unconscious magical inner feminine aspect within a man, which at first appears to him as merely chaotic.)

(2) For more info about this pioneering event, please see Dream Astrologer.

(3) Volume I is expected out this summer, published by Rubedo Press.

(4) Mercury in Taurus Recurring Cycle for Goldman Sachs Financial Crises by Robert Blaschke

(5) Visual Astrology Newsletter

(6) NY Times

Bio: Gary P Caton is an eclectic astrologer who embraces an organic, process-oriented approach to spiritual growth and transformation via engagement with the living sky. In 1993, after an intensive exploration of shamanism and tarot, Gary was initiated into the astrological sciences by a dream that revealed the Sun-Venus cazimi. In 2002, Caton received a Bachelor in Counseling Psychology from Old Dominion University, and over the past 20 years he has developed a unique multidisciplinary astrological practice. Visit Gary at his website: Dream Astrologer



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