“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy. Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds, many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea, fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.”
So begins The Odyssey. They are good lines to keep in mind whenever Mercury turns around. If you’ve never read The Odyssey, here it is in a nutshell: a man too clever for his own good spends ten years fighting a war, which he wins through his own cleverness — but he gets a little arrogant, which angers Poseidon (god of the sea). Poseidon makes him suffer, and he spends another ten years trying to get home. Still Odysseus is a favorite of the goddess Athena, who always has his back. He gets in and out of trouble along the way, using every trick his brilliant mind can conjure up, but always falling prey to some blindspot. Finally, he makes it home, reunites with his family, and kills all the guys who have been trying to steal his home and marry his wife.
What does this have to do with Mercury retrograde? Well, Mercury is the planet of twists and turns, and right now it is twisting and turning. Mercury represents that unique gift of nature, the human mind. It’s quite fashionable to denigrate the mind, as if it were something bad and dirty, and only a source of problems. But it is not. Just like the body, which religions have shunned for centuries, the mind is actually something to be loved and honored — and properly used. The problem is not the mind. The problem is how we use the mind — or rather, how the mind uses us. Mercury retrograde will always show us how the mind has been using us and how we might set things right. Just like Odysseus, having “plundered the hallowed heights of Troy”, whenever we think we “have it”, something unforeseen comes along to wipe that smirk off our faces. Here’s to the blindspots.
The Odyssey is, like all myths, a metaphor for life. But as with all things symbolic, and as with all things in this universe of correspondence, it can be a metaphor for life at all scales: the whole thing, a particular chapter, a career, a relationship, a creative project — and of course, the 3 ½ weeks of Mercury’s retrograde period, during which time we may be driven again and again off course, yet seeing many interesting sites and meeting many interesting characters along the way. Eventually, by the grace of the goddess, we will return home, wiser and more whole than before.
As I keep proclaiming every three months, Mercury retrograde does not equal “bad”. If you have the courage to know your own mind, it can be one of the most powerful times to get to work on that. As the Delphic oracle said and Socrates repeated, and as the Hermetists, Gnostics, Buddhists, Tantrics, and Yogis have all known in their own ways: Know thyself. Know your mind and its ways. Know you are more than your mind, too. The only freedom you will ever have is to be found in self-knowledge — and in letting go of what you, in your ignorance, thought you were.
During this particular retrograde period, as Mercury approaches a conjunction to Pluto, this is an especially fruitful time to dig up the dirt — most fruitful if you dig up your own dirt. What scares you? Where do you consistently refuse to look? Where are you apt to cast your mind outside yourself, looking for explanations or people to blame? Venus is also in the mix, so it’s a good time to remember who and what you love, what matters most to you, and to open your heart to others even if it feels scary. And to love your own glaring imperfections.
Keep your eyes open for synchronicities. They always pick up about now.
In keeping with the Odyssey theme, remember it is your destiny to be on the journey and your destiny to make it home. As Constantine Cavafy writes in his Odyssey-inspired poem, Ithaka:
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon — don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon — you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
In other words, do not let fear and doubt get the upper hand. No need to dramatize the horrors of Mercury retrograde. It’s all part of the rhythmic cycles of existence. Know thyself at all levels — your own rhythmic cycles, the mob within, and the deep stillness that watches it all. You are safe and free, so enjoy the ride.
Alchemical adept and archetypal astrologer Alex Stein is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of consciousness to discover the magic that shapes our reality. Blending Hermetic and Tantric wisdom, depth psychology, science, astrology, and psychedelic practice, Alex explores consciousness for the practical purpose of living a more beautiful, integrated, magical existence. He is currently pursuing a PhD in East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, working to help usher in a new paradigm that recognizes the power of consciousness.