Mercury Retrograde, Explained—and How to Survive When It Sets You Back

Buckle up. We're in retrograde until September 15th 2023

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No matter how much astrology knowledge you have, it’s undeniable that Mercury retrograde is real. You love to blame Mercury retrograde for everything from missed emails to bad haircuts. But do you know what it actually means? Mercury retrograde is here August 23rd through September 15th, 2023. Let me, a professional astrologer, break it down for you.

So, What Does Mercury Retrograde Actually Mean?

First things first, despite what you might have read on the internet, Mercury is never in retrograde. Mercury is retrograde—retrograde, meaning reverse. Mercury retrograde is when the planet Mercury appears, from our human perspective on Earth, to be moving backwards. Mercury isn’t actually moving backwards, though. It’s a visual phenomenon akin to when you’re driving very close to another car on the highway, both going at the same speed. It might appear like the other car is moving backwards as you pass them, but really you’re just very close. During Mercury retrograde—which happens about three times per year—Mercury is as close to the Earth as it gets during its cycle around the sun. This puts an exclamation point on all things Mercurial, like communication, technology and transportation.

Mercury is an extremely fast-moving planet. But during Mercury retrograde periods, its regular pace is interrupted.

Mercury retrograde can really be divided into three sections:

  1. The pre-retrograde shadow: Mercury moves through a section of the zodiac, slowing down and coming to a complete halt.
  2. The retrograde: The main event. Mercury moves through the same part of the zodiac for a second time, only this time it goes backwards.
  3. The post-retrograde shadow: After coming to a second complete stop, Mercury moves forward through the same part of the zodiac for the third and final time.

When Is Mercury Retrograde?

As mentioned, Mercury retrograde happens three times per year with the retrograde period lasting approximately three weeks. Remember though: Each retrograde has a shadow period before and after, which also lasts about two to three weeks, meaning that each Mercury retrograde holds influence for close to two months at a time! 

The upcoming Mercury retrogrades are:

  • August 23rd - September 15th, 2023 (with a shadow period from August 3rd - September 30th, 2023) in Virgo.
  • December 13th, 2023 - January 1st, 2024 (with a shadow period from November 25th - January 20th, 2024) in Capricorn and Sagittarius.
  • April 1st - 25th, 2024 (with a shadow period from March 18th - May 13th, 2024) in Aries.
  • August 5th - 28th, 2024 (with a shadow period from July 17th - September 11th, 2024) in Virgo and Leo.

How Does Mercury Retrograde Affect Us?

Now that you have the upcoming Mercury retrogrades marked in your calendar, let’s talk about what happens. Mercury retrograde does in fact cause delays, errors and technical glitches. Emails get sent to the wrong person. Instagram shuts down for an entire day. Your subway car gets stuck underground for close to two hours. These things happen, yes, but what Mercury retrograde is actually about is the opportunity to pause when they do.

While the planet of communication is going backwards, it’s good to do anything that begins with "re"—reflect, reconsider, revise, review, realign, etc. When your first email bounces back, take more care in your second attempt at a response. When your iPhone breaks, reflect during your digital detox. When your car’s in the shop, reroute your trip to work. Who knows who you might meet when taking the road less travelled! Sometimes pushing ever forward gets you nowhere. During Mercury retrograde, we go back instead.

How Does Mercury Retrograde Affect Each ZodiacSign?

There’s also something to the fact that, when using astrology, not every transit is about us. There are some transits that are personal while others speak more to the collective and what’s going on around us. If you’re a Mercury-ruled sign—Gemini or Virgo—then Mercury retrograde is definitely about you. It’s also about you if Mercury is retrograding through your own sign (Virgos get double duty with this current retrograde). But for others it might be more about your family or your boss or your kids. Here’s the parts of life that Mercury retrograde effects for each sign (if you know your rising sign, read for that):

  • Aries (March 21 - April 19)
    A review of schedules, routines, close friend and neighbor connections, health, fitness and day job responsibilities; more likely than other signs to have technical snafus or issues with car or transportation
  • Taurus (April 20 - May 20)
    A review of income, money, budgets, creative projects, and dating prospects; more likely than most to bump into an ex-fling and sell old clothes on Poshmark; might be more about your kids than it is about you!
  • Gemini (May 21 - June 20)
    Self-reflection and questioning around image, identity and style; as well as reviews of home, family and private life; more likely to have a very classic retrograde experience
  • Cancer (June 21 - July 22)
    A review of schedule, routines, close friend and neighbor connections, as well as your mental health; a period of feeling a bit lost or ambivalent; more likely than others to have tech issues or transportation woes
  • Leo (July 23 - Aug 22)
    A review of budgets, income, finances, dreams and wishes; friends and coworkers return from the past; more likely than others to clean out your closet or give away what you’re no longer using
  • Virgo (August 23 - September 23)
    Self-reflection and questioning around image, identity and style; as well as a review of career goals, relationships with bosses or other industry leaders; more likely to have a very classic Mercury retrograde experience
  • Libra (September 23 - October 21)
    A review of spiritual and educational goals and values, as well as your mental health; possible snafus with major travel or higher learning; mentors and teachers return from the past
  • Scorpio (October 22 - November 21)
    A review of shared resources, debts, taxes, relationship power dynamics, collaborations, dreams and wishes; friends, coworkers and old therapists return from the past
  • Sagittarius (November 22 - December 21)
    Ex lovers, best friends and business partners return from the past; a review of career goals, relationships with bosses and other industry leaders; your current partner might be more affected than you during this transit
  • Capricorn (December 22 - January 19)
    A review of health, fitness, day job responsibilities, travel plans, educational goals and spiritual matters; more likely than others to have issues with major travel or education; mentors, teachers and coworkers return from the past
  • Aquarius (January 20 - February 18)
    A review of dating prospects, creative projects, collaborations, debts, taxes and shared resources; ex-flings, freelance clients and creative comrades return from the past; might be more about your kids than it is about you!
  • Pisces (February 19 - March 20)
    Ex lovers, best friends and business partners return from the past; as well as reviews of home, family and private life; your current partner might be more affected than you during this transit

Mercury Retrograde Do’s and Don’ts

If you want to get really specific, here are my top do’s and don’ts for Mercury Retro:

1. Don’t make any major tech or car purchases

Mercury rules all things tech and transportation. Software glitches and engine breakdowns aren’t just possibilities during Mercury retrograde, they’re the norm. If you need a new car, a replacement iPhone or even just a charger—truly anything involving electronics or wires—wait until after Mercury retrograde to buy if possible. Sometimes though, you have no choice. During a recent Mercury retrograde, I shattered my already water-damaged iPhone screen into oblivion, and had to buy a new one. I thought of this as Mercury telling me it was fed up with me using a phone that was less-than optimal for my business and daily communications. If you, like me, end up having to buy something during Mercury retrograde, just make sure you keep the receipt. It’s possible you’ll have to return it (yes, another "re" word). 

2. Do finish projects

Mercury retrograde is a wonderful time to review and recommit. So if you’re sitting on a bunch of half-finished ideas, get to work! Depending on what part of the zodiac Mercury is moving through, you might be inspired to finally finish cleaning out your garage or complete that knitting project you abandoned last winter! Anything that requires technical skill and a slow, steady approach benefits during this time. 

3. Don’t rush

As we know, Mercury retrograde causes delays and miscommunications, so if you have something important to say, take your time saying it! Proofread your emails and your text messages for typos or misnomers that could easily be taken the wrong way. If you’re dating someone new, they might be slow to set up dates, or you two might have incompatible schedules. Instead of getting frustrated, accept this as a learning curve and a chance to get to know their rhythm. 

4. Do keep things flexible

Mercury retrograde leads a lot of us down a nostalgia wormhole, and you might find yourself thinking about an ex lover, a faraway BFF or a coworker with whom you fell out of touch. If you’re feeling an itch to reconnect, be the Mercury retrograde you wish to see in the world and send them a text. Another "re" word is, of course, reconcile.

You might also bump into old friends unexpectedly during this transit. Keep your schedule as flexible as possible so you can make the most of the run-in and take a lunch break to catch up rather than just saying a hurried hi. The point is to take the happy accidents and run with them.

Bottom Line

Mercury Retrograde isn’t so scary. Yes, Mercury retrograde has us running into plenty of speed bumps, but the point is to take it slow. The more you can accept that things aren’t going to proceed as usual, the more you’ll get out of it.

Jaime Wright is an astrologer based in New York. You can subscribe to her newsletter for more musings on the stars.

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Jaime Wright is an astrologer and writer based in NYC. She has been writing PureWow’s weekly and monthly horoscope columns since 2019, and also authors the cult favorite...