Did you know that Mercury was in retrograde for most of March 2019? From the 5th through the 28th, the planet was in retrograde—but what does this mean exactly? If you loosely follow astronomy, you know that most people are on heightened alert when Mercury is in retrograde. Many refuse to engage in new business, start a relationship, or make any major decisions during this time. Are they just falling victim to superstitious foolishness, or is there really something to this astrological event?

The astronomical truth

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While you might be skeptical of Mercury in retrograde, it actually does refer to a real astronomical event. Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, and like all the other planets in our solar system, it travels in a clockwise manner. However, because it’s so much closer to the sun than Earth, three to four times a year, it looks like it’s moving in reverse. In reality, Mercury isn’t “retrograding.” The planets are on constant revolutions, which can create illusions because each one revolves around the sun on its own time frame — and Mercury has the shortest revolution.

Why does astrology make such a big deal about Mercury in retrograde?

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The idea of Mercury being in retrograde has its origins in ancient times when astronomers believed that the planet really did shift into a reverse motion a few times a year. However, ancient astrologers observed common patterns of behavior or scenarios that would always appear when Mercury was in retrograde. As a result, they cautioned against specific behaviors or activities during this time.

Why is Mercury so important anyway?

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Even if you have a passing understanding of astrology, you know that certain signs are ruled by specific planets. Likewise, each planet has a scope of control over everyday activities, habits, or behaviors. Mercury is no different. The smallest planet is said to primarily rule communication and travel. In particular, it controls written, verbal, professional, romantic, and personal communications—and, as an extension, professional, romantic, personal, and familial relationships. In the same vein, the planet also impacts travel and is credited for either ensuring a smooth trip or a calamitous one.

Why is Mercury in retrograde viewed as a negative?

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Obviously, communication has expanded since ancient times. So today, it also includes text messages, computer coding, and really anything that helps you to connect with someone else or display information to others. What does this mean, though, for “Mercury in retrograde?” When Mercury is moving in the opposite direction as Earth, it means that communication gets muddled and errors are made. Often people claim that they’ve ruined relationships, signed bad contracts, and even had horrible job interviews when Mercury is in retrograde.

For business travelers, this astrological event can lead to canceled flights and delays, making it a bad time to conduct business. And in an unexpected twist, Mercury in retrograde is considered an inauspicious time to engage in elective medical procedures like plastic surgery. Now, could bad things happen in these areas without this astrological phenomenon? Yes, certainly, but Mercury in retrograde makes a perfect scapegoat.

How can you protect yourself when Mercury is in retrograde?

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Serious believers in astrology are encouraged to take caution and be thoughtful when communicating with others. As the saying goes, “measure twice and cut once.” Don’t rush into new business opportunities or contracts like buying a home, entering into a partnership, starting a new job, or buying a new car. If your friend, spouse or relative gets on your nerves, stop and think before you pick a fight with them.

Even though business travel is strongly discouraged, Mercury in retrograde is perfect for leisure travel. The theory is that you’ll avoid making bad decisions since you (ideally) won’t be around anyone who would trigger them. But sometimes you can’t avoid making tricky decisions or starting new ventures. In that case, be sure to double check the fine print on any contracts or carefully weigh all options before settling on a specific path.

When Mercury in retrograde is a good thing

Before you finish this article thinking that Mercury in retrograde is all bad, there’s a bright spot to it. While it’s bad for new business and communications, this period is historically linked with strengthening old bonds, making amends and improving existing relationships.

While most people think of Mercury in retrograde as a period of calamity, havoc and mayhem, there’s a select segment of the population who is immune to this drama. If you’re born during these retrograde periods, apparently you aren’t as likely to fall victim to it like those not born during this time. Supposedly, people born during these periods are inherently philosophical and thoughtful, making them less likely to rush into bad decisions.

After learning more about Mercury in retrograde, you’ll most likely have your assumptions reinforced. Whether that means you firmly believe this period is an unlucky time or that it’s a bunch of hooey is up to you. But either way, this astrological and astronomical event highlights something that we should all do — be more thoughtful in our words and actions and not rush into new situations.