A Change is as Good as a Rest: Learning Little Lessons From Mercury
As I write this, yet another Mercury retrograde is coming to an end. When this is published, our speedy little space friend should be stationing direct, leaving varying degrees of chaos – or, as we’ll see, solved problems – in his wake. But I like the opportunities Mercury brings, even when he’s backtracking, so I thought I’d share a poem about an experience my son had during a past Mercury retrograde, and my views about how the whole mess can be helpful.
My eldest son – let’s call him C – is a quadruple Gemini (one of two signs ruled by Mercury, the other is Virgo). His natal sun, Mercury, Venus, and ascendant are all in Gemini and his chart is Mercury dominant by many miles. My second son – E – is a triple Gemini (sun, Mercury, Venus) with Virgo rising and is also Mercury dominant, but Mercury retrograde always affects C much more obviously than it affects E.
One such incident was in Summer 2017: while visiting friends in Llandudno (North Wales), I co-hosted a poetry event, and we held the readings at the end of the pier. Mercury had just started moving backwards that day, or maybe the day before. C was 14 at the time, my other sons 12 and 13, my older daughter was just a year old, and I was four months pregnant with my younger daughter. My sons were all in the arcade right next to where we were reading when C decided to wander off while the other two were playing games. It’s worth mentioning C is autistic and so am I, and while C is a mega Gemini, my own chart is Virgo dominant despite my natal sun and Mercury being in Cancer (the short explanation is: I have three planets in Virgo – Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). A minor state of emergency ensued, with poets splitting off in different directions to look for C. It turned out he’d walked all the way back up the pier to the beach. On purpose, yes, but without telling anyone where he was going. There are always a few sides to a story, and this was no exception. Several months later, I wrote the following poem, which explains our two sides to the best of my ability.
The younger ones ask where
the eldest has gone, say it’s been
half an hour since they saw him—
in this moment the pier is ten miles
long instead of just over one.
He’s the child who refuses a phone,
and in this moment all bad things
are possible; it’s like he wants
to disappear. In this moment you
almost hate the sea you love, because
you know if he jumped in, he’d never
make it. That’s a fine fate you’d keep
for yourself, but not your children.
Everyone separates, leaves you
to the vacuum of your headspace—
you wander through murk of candy-
floss, choking on doo-wop pumped
through loudspeakers, the buzz of 2p
slot machines. The sea is serene
and you think it is waiting, or sated…
then someone’s calling, someone’s
found him, on dry land, solid pavement
beneath his feet. Your son lopes back
down the pier to you, you look up to his
his face, tell him how it scares you when
he goes missing—his eyes clear, curious:
to him you speak a dead tongue—he
insists he knew where he was all along.
*reprinted from my chapbook Land and Sea and Turning (CWP Collective Press, 2018)
It’s interesting how Mercury retrograde played out for both of us that day in equal but opposite ways. We are both autistic, we are both heavily influenced by this mischievous planet – so while C went his own way, following his natural Gemini butterfly curiosity, it felt like everything he’d detached from – the noise, the lights, the smells, the caring about his own personal safety… – overwhelmed me instead. But there’s no point to astrological insight if we don’t allow it to teach us something. I learned to trust more in my son because of this experience – the older my boys get, the more I learn that letting them go their own way is gradual, not something that happens when they turn a specific age or leave home – and he learned to be more careful about communicating with his family.
Thankfully this most recent Mercury retrograde has been tame (though there’s still some hours left, so we’ll see how it goes). C had some misunderstandings with friends, but nothing too troublesome. It’s been a little stressful for me where communication is concerned, and deliveries have been slow, muddled, or non-existent. But I’ve used the time for quietly working on poetry projects, domestic organising (a never-ending task for a family of seven, and this Mercury has been transiting my 4th house of home and family!), and as usual, setting some things right that went a bit wrong previously – including preparing an anthology for publication after a nine month delay. I also finished my allocated therapy sessions for cptsd, complete with practical spellcraft to help me stay on track.
I’ve learned over the years that when I’m being guided to slow my pace, I better do it – and ironically fast-moving Mercury is the number one teacher for me where that’s concerned, surprisingly more often than my chart’s own slow-but-steady dominant planet, Saturn. Even the poetry reading I did this month – a guest spot at an event I was supposed to do over two years ago but had to postpone (see what I mean about setting things right?) – was in a relaxed environment.
Because it’s tinged with chaos and drama – always fun for everyone – Mercury retrograde has become well known outside of astrological or witchy circles, but it is somewhat misunderstood. I’m only a witch with my head in the stars (plus one foot on the ground and the other in the water) not a professional astrologer, but in my experience it’s not worse than anything else the planets and the zodiac throw at us – it’s a party compared to what some planets can do (yes I’m looking at you again, Saturn). And even when it isn’t fun, it’s all energy to be harnessed and used in specific ways. I always feel like the most important thing Mercury can teach us is how to change and adapt when necessary – and it can be especially effective when he’s the reason we need to do it in the first place.
Born in Southern Ohio, but settled in the UK since 1999, Kate is a writer, witch, editor and mother of five. She is the author of several poetry pamphlets, and the founding editor of four web journals and a micropress.
Her witchcraft is a blend of her great-grandmother's Appalachian ways and the Anglo-Celtic craft of the country she now calls home – though she incorporates tarot, astrology, and her ancestors, plus music, film, books, and many other things into her practice. Her spiritual life is best described as queer Christopagan with emphasis on the feminine and the natural world. She believes magic is everywhere.
Find Kate on twitter and IG - @mskateybelle - and at her website.