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Like Maha Shivaratri, Christmas, or whatever your spiritual leaning inspires you to observe, the days when Mercury retrograde begins and ends are essential dates that you want to consider marking on your calendar. Many a relationship, business deal, and other areas of life subject to misperception have been salvaged with the awareness that a retrograde has entered the scene. During this time, things are not always as they seem.
Approximately three times each year during Mercury retrograde, the planet that governs our logic, communication, and cognition appears to reverse its orbit and move backward in the night sky. During this time, it’s blamed for all manner of tech glitches and misunderstandings and occasions for deeper self-awareness.
Every planetary retrograde feels amplified at the beginning and end of its cycle. When you consider these are massive planetary bodies generating tonal vibrations that pulse through our solar system, this makes perfect sense. Imagine a world-class orchestra playing in perfect harmony, when suddenly the entire string section goes out of tune. The initial dissonance is felt most acutely. This is analogous to Mercury going retrograde.
The three-week regression does not, however, encompass everything we need to address and transform amidst Mercury retrograde. Every hero’s journey has a beginning, a middle, and an end that cause us to traverse our inner shadows, and while Mercury in retrograde is the bulk of the story, it’s only the middle. What occurs before and after—the beginning and the end—are pivotal transits known as Mercury retrograde “shadow periods”
See also: What is Mercury Retrograde, Anyway?
What exactly is Mercury retrograde preliminary shadow period?
A little more than two weeks before its retrograde begins, Mercury slows its orbit around the Sun before the planet eventually goes stationary. This prelude to the retrograde transit stirs up a sense of agitation and instability in areas of life relevant to your cosmic lesson plan.
Drawing on Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey, these preliminary shadow periods would be called “inciting incidents” that set the tone for the upcoming plot twists ahead. Paying attention and being mindful of what arises during this pre-retrograde shadow period is akin to doing pranayama in advance of asana practice. It better prepares you to meet the challenges to come.
So retrograde isn’t over when it’s done?
The closing shadow periods of the inner planets, or the post-shadow period, represent the end of our retrograde story. As Mercury transits back through the part of the sky it retrograded into, this is where you—as the hero of your own journey—have the choice to synthesize all that you’ve learned over the last few months and polish the skills and tools you were forced to discover and employ during that time.
Wherever your attention was needed during the retrogrades, it will still be required throughout the post-retrograde shadow period. The difference is that you’ve grown more capable of recognizing and reconciling the dissonance as opposed to identifying with it. What was once the subjective turmoil of the moment gives way to an objective truth that you recognize is yours to embody.
Let this be a time of integration. You’re still getting your bearings and trying to make sense of all that just happened. If you’re feeling off-center, you’re not alone.
Recommit to your yoga or mindfulness practice if the tidal wave of these retrogrades knocked you off your mat—and if it didn’t, well played. Prioritize self-care. Be gentle with yourself. Be honest about what is essential to your path moving forward. If changes need to be made, do so at a slow and steady pace. If you don’t yet have a disciplined practice—be it yoga, meditation, breathwork, or whatever facilitates your mindfulness and well-being—now is a perfect time to begin.
This article has been updated. Originally published February 4, 2022.
About our contributor
Born and raised in the midwest, Ryan Seaman has long been on a quest to find the meaning hidden in the stars. This journey landed him in Egypt, where he discovered access to astrology on a level previously unknown to him. The aim of Ryan’s astrological analysis—which corresponds with his study of Gurdjieff’s 4th Way, Jung’s depth psychology, and a host of other disciplines—is to provide objective perspective in support of humankind’s harmonic convergence with the emergent new paradigm on planet Earth.