Mercury retrograde has indeed gotten a bad rap over the past few years. It’s been blamed for countless issues, particularly related to Mercurial archetypal themes of technology, communication, finance, travel and speech. As a former Technology Project Manager in the financial services sector, I used to dread project work during these periods, because of the superstitious belief that issues would bubble up to the surface, something I later discovered to be a slightly partial truth only. My goal here in this piece is to educate and bring forth wisdom and knowledge in venues where disinformation tends to predominate…
A few years later now, and having studied Astrology considerably for the past few years, my insight on planetary retrogression has now shifted. If you’re interested, please keep reading…
Astronomically, planets retrograde when their relative motion to the earth makes them appear to be moving backwards in the heavens. When Mercury passes in retrograde, it is closer to the earth, the visible light reflected back towards the earth also appears brighter.
From a Vedic Astrology perspective, the ancient texts have elaborated on the system of Shadbala, the sixfold (six = Shad) measurements of planetary strength (Bala). One of the factors mentioned is called Chesta Bala (Motional Strength). Chesta means activity, effort, movement. The simple analogy here is that swimming upstream requires more effort, and hence, the planet is exerting more visible strength in the skies. In his treatise, the great seer Maharishi Parashara outlines different states of Chesta Bala and weights those scores accordingly, with Vakra (retrogression) being the strongest in carrying motional strength.
In the Astrological lineage in which I currently study, it is said that retrograde motion increases planetary strength threefold, particularly as it relates to desire for the themes they will represent in a person’s horoscope. I definitely consider a retrograde planet to be a source of strength when doing natal astrology readings (called Jataka), and not necessarily a weakness. That said, we also consider that any backwards movement tends to follow the direction of the lunar eclipse nodes, Rahu and Ketu. Hence, there is an element of instability that gets carried along with the additional strength from retrogression.
According to my personal view, when any planets retrograde, I tend to carry more weight to other factors to determine the final outcome, such as:
Planetary Combustion (called Astangata, in Sanskrit). Combust planets becoming very close to the longitudinal position of the Sun), in other words, the Sun is overpowering the rays of the planet. They become kopa, irritable in their behavior.
Planetary Yogas (associations by conjunction, mutual exchange, or aspect) to the retrograde planet.
Modified strength, overall disposition and rulership of the retrograde planet in question (planetary Avasthas).
Here are the transit charts for February 11th, 2021 in South Indian, North Indian, and Western formats, respectively. All planets underlined are in retrograde. Please also note - AL stands for Arudha Lagna and is not relevant to the present observations.
As of the time of writing this piece, Mercury began its first retrogression cycle of 2021 on January 30th, and will continue to be [Vakra, in retrograde] until it goes direct on Feb 20th. We must also consider its combustion between Feb 2nd-18th. At this stage, Parashara teaches us that it becomes kopa (angry), and the outward planetary themes become affected at this stage. Furthermore, it is becoming as such in the sign of Aquarius, where it will eventually retrogress into the of sign of Capricorn (sidereal positions are considered here) on February 5th. The Sun will be conjunct Mercury until February 12th. Mercury will also be conjunct Jupiter (Neecha – Debilitated), Saturn (Swa Rashi – Own sign), Venus, and Moon on the 11th. Due to ALL of these associations, we can therefore conclude that Mercury will become quite irritable on Feb 5th, and the irritability from combustion will definitely tie in stronger, especially considering all the conjunction pileup of Feb 11th (There’s also some planetary wars happening in this cycle, with Venus-Saturn, Jupiter-Venus, Venus-Mercury, which also represent a negative aspect as well in this transit. This is all occurring in the sign of Capricorn, so these themes will play out predominantly on the field of hard work, pragmatism, pressure, stability and diligence versus feeling stuck and fearful. Ultimately, we should rely on routine, diligence, and slow and steady persistent focus to face the next few days ahead, since that is one of the stronger aspects of Capricorn.
Considering all these factors together, planetary pressure will come to a zenith around Feb 11th, then resolve to a greater extent after this retrogression cycle is over.
Certainly, retrogression is a main factor here which is leading this planetary pileup, but not the only one. We can’t exclude the other factors either, lest we reduce our retrograde factor to a simple rule that damages the reputation and validity of the Vidya (body of knowledge) of Astrology.
Retrogression is a normal process for all of the non-luminaries (Venus, Mercury, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter – and Rahu/Ketu). Since retrograde increases the strength of the planet in question, the planetary themes will no doubt predominate by transit, impelling us towards reflection on the same.
Does this mean we should avoid certain activities while planets are in retrogression? Please, no - it's business as usual. Sometimes there are strong auspicious planetary yogas that can be created, and auspicious circumstances can be found, even while retrogression occurs.
As always, be well, and thank you for reading.