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            Mercury Retrogrades in 2013, with the Shadows and the Storms

                                                    by Jim Shawvan

If you do not clearly understand the following paragraph, you need to read this article:

On February 8, 2013, Mercury enters the Shadow of its coming retrograde.  On February 19, 2013, Mercury enters the "Front-end Storm" associated with its retrograde station, which occurs on February 23.  After going retrograde, it remains in the "Storm" until February 28, conjoins the Sun on March 4, and enters the "Back-end Storm" on March 11.

Especially for the latter half of this article, it may be helpful to read it slowly as you look through an ephemeris for 2013 -- particularly if the subject matter is new to you.

Note that all dates given in this article are for North American time zones.  If you live in another part of the world, some of the dates may differ by one day.  Accurate data can be found in Llewellyn's 2013 Daily Planetary Guide (which features Jim Shawvan's Opportunity Periods for the entire year).  The raw data can also be found in any good astrological ephemeris.

By the time you finish this article, you will understand that the effects of Mercury retrograde extend well beyond the period of the retrograde itself.  You will also have a good handle on when problems or miscommunications are most likely, and when life is more likely to seem normal.

The Astronomy of Mercury Retrograde

Mercury is the closest of all the planets to the Sun, and it takes only 88 earth days to make a complete circuit around the Sun.  To put it another way, Mercury's own "year" lasts only 88 days in Earth time.  Since Earth takes about 365 1/4 days to go around the Sun, we observe Mercury's motion from a moving platform -- rather like two cars moving along two different lanes of a racetrack at different speeds.  One effect of the two motions is that Mercury appears to us to go backwards (retrograde) in the zodiac for about three weeks at a time, roughly three times a year.

The Astrology

Mercury rules communication, and astrologers have long observed that more SNAFU's in communication seem to occur during Mercury Retrograde than at most other times.  Mercury Retrograde is particularly associated with failures of the mails, deliveries, phone systems, and of course computers and computer networks.  According to some people's accounts, transportation is not immune to these effects either -- although I personally have had no bad travel experiences associated with Mercury Retrograde, and I have traveled in 39 countries.  Foreign travel, of course, is traditionally associated with Jupiter, and short-distance travel with Mercury, so that may be a possible explanation for the relative ease with which I have experienced foreign travel.

Mercury Retrograde seems to be bad for decision-making as well.  Business people who watch their astrology will notice, for example, that new clients who appear during Mercury Retrograde will often disappear afterwards, never to be heard from again.  Likewise with regard to purchases -- what seems like a really good new product or service during Mercury Retrograde may not pan out in the long run.  As far as making life-changing decisions while Mercury is retrograde, I have one word of advice:  DON'T.

In my experience, if one has made a sound decision before Mercury Retrograde, there does not seem to be any problem following through with it during the retrograde period.  Catching up, filing, and escrows work fine during this time.  More -- I have seen buyers of real estate make clear decisions in advance about what kind of property they were looking for, and then pick the specific property while Mercury was retrograde.  In these cases, the purchases were successful, and the new owners remain happy with their new homes several years later.

When students of astrology first hear of the effects of Mercury Retrograde, they often jump to the conclusion that everything will be hunky-dory right up to the moment that Mercury starts its apparent backward motion, then everything will be totally dysfunctional for about three weeks, and then as soon as Mercury resumes its normal direct motion everything will again be just peachy.  Unfortunately, reality is not that simple.

The Shadow and the Storm

There are two more phenomena around the retrograde period that need to be understood -- the "Shadow" and the "Storm".  I will use the period around the Mercury Retrograde of February and March 2013 to give concrete examples of both.

The Station

A note about terminology:  In discussing the movement of the planets, the word "station" means the point at which a planet changes its direction in apparent motion.  This usage of the word "station" often strikes us speakers of modern English as odd -- but it is very good Latin, from the verb "stare", meaning to stand, or to stand still.

The Mercury Retrograde of February and March 2013

On February 23, 2013, Mercury is stationary retrograde (or "makes its retrograde station", i.e., starts going backwards in apparent motion) at 1:41 am Pacific Standard Time, which is the same as 4:41 am Eastern Standard Time, or 9:41 am Universal Time.  Its position (celestial longitude) in the standard Western tropical zodiac at that moment is 19 Pisces 52.

On March 17, 2013, Mercury makes its direct station (or "is stationary direct", i.e., starts going forwards again in apparent motion) at 1:03 pm Pacific Daylight Time, which is the same as 4:03 pm Eastern Daylight Time, or 8:03 pm Universal Time.  Its position (celestial longitude) in the tropical zodiac at that moment is 5 Pisces 37.

The Shadow Period

If you think about it, you will realize that Mercury must pass the degree of its direct station some time before it goes retrograde.  A look at the ephemeris shows, in fact, that it passes that point on February 8, 2013. This is the beginning of the Shadow Period.  The astrologers Terry Lamb and Roxana Muise deserve credit for drawing attention to this topic.  Roxana Muise has lectured and published extensively on the Shadow Period, using graphic ephemerides to illustrate the concept.

To reiterate, Mercury enters the "Shadow" of the following retrograde at 5 Pisces 37 on February 8, 2013, and then continues moving direct (forward) as far as 19 Pisces 52, at which point it makes its retrograde station on February 23.  Mercury then appears to go backwards for about three weeks, and makes its direct station at 5 Pisces 37 on March 17. Then its direct (forward) motion takes it past 19 Pisces 52 again on May 25, at which time the Shadow Period is over.

We can think of the entire cycle as:  Front-end Shadow, Retrograde, Back-end Shadow.  From experience, it is clear that Mercury-ruled matters start to get weird sometime during the Front-end Shadow, and continue to act weird until sometime during the Back-end Shadow.

The Mercury Storm

To understand the timing of the weirdness still better, we need another concept -- the "Mercury Storm".  I owe this very useful term to a short anonymous article in an old bulletin of the Arizona Society of Astrologers.  (Would the author please step forward and take credit for it?)

As Mercury approaches and passes its retrograde station, it appears to slow down to a crawl, then stops for a moment, then starts moving "backwards" very slowly, and slowly speeds up.  By the middle of the retrograde period, Mercury is moving at something approaching its normal speed, but in the "wrong direction".  The speed of retrograde Mercury peaks sometime around the date when it conjoins the Sun, and life often seems to be getting back to normal for a while around that time.  Then Mercury begins to slow down again as it approaches its direct station.  Again it slows to a crawl, stops for a moment, and then resumes its forward motion.

The "Mercury Storm" is that period right around the station -- either station! -- when Mercury is moving very slowly.  Normally Mercury is the fastest-moving planet (other than the Moon, which is really a satellite of the Earth), and it is helpful to think of Mercury as being "happy" when it is moving fast, and "unhappy" when it is moving slowly.  My working definition of the Mercury Storm is any period in which Mercury is moving less than 40' (minutes of arc) per day, since experience shows that the SNAFU's tend to peak at those times.  Using that definition, in the case being discussed here, the "Front-end Storm" around the retrograde station lasts from February 19 to February 28, 2013, and the "Back-end Storm" around the direct station lasts from March11 to March 26. The number of days in the Storm is highly variable, which is at least consistent with the fluid nature of Mercury!

The Mercury Retrograde of February and March 2013, as detailed above

Mercury enters its Front-end Shadow on February 8, 2013.  It enters the Front-end Storm on February 19, and makes its retrograde station on February 23.  It leaves the Front-end Storm on February 28, and continues retrograde, conjoining the Sun on March 4.  Still retrograde, it enters the Back-end Storm on March 11, then makes its direct station on March 17.  It leaves the Back-end Storm on March 26, and finally leaves the Back-end Shadow on April 6.

The Mercury Retrograde of June and July 2013

Mercury enters its next Front-end Shadow on June 9, 2013.  It enters the Storm on June 17, and makes its retrograde station on June 25.  It does not leave the Storm at all in the middle of this retrograde, but rather continues moving very slowly, conjoining the Sun on July 9.  Still retrograde and still within the Storm, Mercury then makes its direct station on July 20.  It finally leaves this long Storm on July 27 , and finally leaves the Back-end Shadow on August 3.

The Mercury Retrograde of October and November 2013

Mercury enters its subsequent Front-end Shadow on October 1, 2013.  It enters the Front-end Storm on October 15, and makes its retrograde station on October 21.  It leaves the Front-end Storm on October 26 and continues retrograde, conjoining the Sun on November 1. Still moving retrograde, it enters the Back-end Storm on November 7, then makes its direct station on November 10.  It leaves the Back-end Storm on November 15, and finally leaves the Back-end Shadow on November 27.


So now you know that the SNAFU's associated with Mercury Retrograde can and do occur while Mercury is direct, in particular during the Mercury Storm periods right around the stations.  You also have the tools to identify these periods, as well as the Shadow Periods.

Good luck dealing with this stuff -- be careful, but have fun learning from your experiences, too!

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This page was last updated on: January 29, 2013