The planet Mercury, the sphere of consciousness it represents and the wavelength of living energy to which it corresponds, is usually understood through its connection to technology, travel and language. It is these areas we assess when we inspect the natal position and condition of Mercury, and it is to Mercury that we look when we desire to judge the favorability of such activities on a given date.
Technology, travel and language are indeed the outer forms or manifestations to which Mercury corresponds, and it is this trinity of categories which are most often perturbed during Mercury’s thrice-yearly periods of retrogradation. As important as these areas of external experience are, the inner zones to which Mercury corresponds are at least as vital. This inner area is nothing less than the structuring of reality by means of language. The process by which word and number transform the prima material of experience can and should in no way be underestimated in its profundity.
The core of many meditative methods, particularly those of Buddhist derivation, is to purify the mind of word and number, thus returning it to its primordial or original state. The importance of language in shaping experience is also crucial to psychoanalysis, particularly that of Jaques Lacan. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the Self is an inherently linguistic concept, its structure born of ideation bounded by language.
Mercury’s retrograde returns us to the primordial encounter between mind and language, whose overlap generates not only the Self but also the World itself. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, and thus the first of the concentric layers of planetary reality which surround it. The Sun is held to be the source of raw, unstructured spirit-being-intelligence. As the light passes through the sphere of Mercury, the sphere of language, it encounters duality for the first time, gaining the ability to discriminate but also suffering a fracture into Self and Self-As-Other.
In Lacanian psychoanalysis, this encounter between self and language, which takes place in childhood, is referred to as the “Mirror Phase.” The Mirror Phase occurs when the child first sees themselves in a mirror. They observe themselves from the outside as a person shaped image, which moves as they move, cries as they cry, laughs and they laugh. This event, whether it is literal or symbolic, is the beginning of the self concept. Although less widely discussed than “self esteem”- the value one attaches to their self concept, the self concept is more fundamental, for it is at the very core of identity structuring process. For what one sees when they look in the mirror is not themselves, but an image to which they have attached the self concept.
The central drama of Lacanian psychoanalysis is the struggle for liberation from this prison of language- return from exile in the realm of the symbolic. It is unlikely that we will ever be permanently “liberated” from language, but it is of crucial importance that our self concept or idea of ourselves have a strong relationship to the facts of our lives. These facts, however, change rather more swiftly than our ideas about ourselves, and so it is thus necessary to return to the boundary between spirit-intelligence-being and the structuring matrix of language- the pathway between Mercury and Sol.
In the Golden Dawn variant of the Tree of Life, the Sephira of the Sun (Tiphereth) and Mercury (Hod) are linked by the 26th path, called the “Rennovating Intelligence” in the Sepher Yetzhirah. “Renovating” is certainly an apt title for the type of activity which Mercury’s retrogrades favor- fixing a car, buying a new phone, and editing a manuscript all qualify as renovation.
In the Golden Dawn system, this path is also considered to correspond with Tarot Trump XV- The Devil. As is clear in the Rider-Waite version of the card, the Devil enslaves man and woman, verily, they have the look of a Fallen Adam and Eve, and this is indeed who they are, for the same couple is pictured in an Edenic state in Trump VI, The Lovers. The Fall and subsequent enslavement to the demi-urgic Devil is part of the Fall/plunge into manifestation.
This path is paced between the spheres of Sol and Mercury, for it reveals that the essential nature of their enslavement is the imprisonment of spirit in bodies made of language. Yet this bodies, like the physical one, is a necessary vehicle for operation in this manifest layer of reality. However, too easily the vehicle becomes a death-trap. The shell which protects hampers growth- thus must the crab molt and leave behind its exoskeleton.
Mercury’s tri-annual retrograde is the macrocosmic cue/push for this molting process. During nearly the entirety of Mercury’s retrograde, the swift planet disappears from the visible sky, for it is so close to the Sun as to be invisible to us. The temporal center of each Mercury retrograde is the inferior conjunction, where Mercury is placed exactly between the Sun and the Earth.
This is the place where the Self’s language is re-made, the light re-articulated into new idea-forms in greater harmony with the dynamic, pulsating heart of the present. This is a sacred communion, death and rebirth, and it requires our attention. The conceptual mind must not be entirely preoccupied with external affairs. As such, during Mercury’s retrogrades, it is drawn away from such things. The removal of Mercury’s energy from exterior spheres results in the slippage between words and meaning so prevalent during Mercury retrogrades, as well as the blooms of chaos in those activities which are language and representation dependent, such as technology, communication, travel and scheduling. For travel relies on maps, and much technology on the language of ones and zeros.
Each Mercury retrograde entails the separation of spirit-intelligence-being from its body of language. Separated, the two are then purified separately, the spirit by merely remembering itself and the language body, or self concept, by means of mechanico-logical tear downs to improve its capacity to serve as an adequate vehicle.
This alchemical process of separation is inevitably followed by the reunion of the purified components- the process of coagulation. Plugged back in, the machine hums to life, and Mercury rises to visibility once more in the East, heralding the Day-To-Come.
This thrice-great process occurs triannually, yet the entirety of the Self is rarely broken down and reformed, for Mercury’s retrogrades ask only that we examine one particular part of our lives, and selves, at a time. It is the part of the language body which is relevant to the area of our chart which Mercury and the Sun transit which is in need of attention, dissolution and reformation.