Mercury: Big, Two-Hearted Retrograde

Mercury is turning retrograde in Cancer early Wednesday morning.

And stays in retrograde through July 20.

It’s time to fish the swamp.

Something about this retrograde cycle has made me think of  Big Two-Hearted River, Ernest Hemingway’s lean, economical short story about trout-fishing Nick Adams. Not much happens in the story. Adams leaves the burned-out shell of a Michigan fishing village, catches a couple trout, decides against fishing in the cedar-choked swamp, guts and cooks his fish. That’s pretty much it.

But the story means so much more. There are layers and layers of meaning beneath the sparse prose. Shimmering like so many trout, placed there by a Cancerian who’d seen too much death too recently in World War I to ever see home the same way again.

Placed there by a man who knew that to fish the swamps of our own natures could be difficult, even tragic. But not avoided indefinitely.

To carry the swamp metaphor a bit farther, they weren’t much appreciated throughout human history. We’ve drained them, filled them in, cleared them, built over them. It’s only recently we’ve begun to appreciate their various ecological functions and attempted to protect them.

So, too, are retrogrades necessary. They’re times to explore within ourselves the energies of the planets that appear to retrace their paths as we gaze up at them from Earth. To tie up loose ends, finish the unfinished. And, with this Cancerian Mercury retrograde, to duck beneath the branches and wade deep into the depths of our emotional lives. To think about how we are nurturing ourselves and others. To listen to what our emotions have to say.

Andrew Smith has a lovely post about the Mercury in Cancer retrograde, complete with a list of questions to ask and examine, and a heart-centered meditation for tuning into emotional issues to explore at this time.

For Smith and for many other astrologers, including me, the Mercury retrograde can be thought of as an underworld journey. Hermes/Mercury was one of the few Greco-Roman Gods who could freely come and go between the worlds. Olympus, the Earth, the Underworld: all were his to travel. The planetary retrograde can be seen as symbolic of an underworld journey for Hermes. And therefore, for each of us as we plunge into our ourselves.

I also like astrologer Gary Caton’s reading of the moment when Mercury conjuncts the Sun about 10 days after the retrograde begins. He calls it a “seed moment. It’s similar to a New Moon. This retrograde it occurs July 9, and is a good time to set intentions for the next four months around Cancerian themes like home, nurturance, emotional security and personal identity.

Gary also has another interesting take on this retrograde period. Because it’s connected to the place Saturn crosses the Earth’s orbit, he thinks Saturnian themes like boundaries,  structures, discipline, authority, and providing for our basic necessities also will be in play.
I think that because it’s a Mercury retrograde in Cancer, we also need to look at the emotional aspect. It’s a good time to ask how we feel about the Saturnian structures and themes in our lives. And if those feelings are negative, to seek ways in which we might rebuild.

But as I said, this is a two-hearted retrograde. While it’s time to fish the swamps of our subconscious, it’s also time to face those challenges with energy and optimism. Because June 25, Jupiter moved into Cancer, where he’ll stay until August of 2014. Jupiter is exalted in Cancer, meaning he’s happier there than anyplace other than his home sign of Sagittarius.

In Cancer, Jupiter can help us expand emotionally. The Cancerian soulfulness, compassion and generosity is a good match for optimistic, joyful, Jupiter. And, he joins the Sun to fill in the third point of summer’s healing, psychically sensitive, put foundations under your dreams Grand Trine in Water at his entry into Cancer. Because Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune all move slower than Mercury, they’ll keep that happy, supportive position in play during the entire retrograde.

So, with the Mercury retrograde in Cancer, we’re encouraged to fish our emotional swamps. To find the beauty and necessity of those messy, untidy parts of our subconscious. To touch base with Saturn in Scorpio, who’s been waiting to tell us secrets and get us to look at the foundations of our lives. And then, to look upwards to the sky. To expand. To know that the Sun still shines, and that big-hearted Jupiter wants us to believe we are strong and smart and good.

And to know that no river stays in the swamps forever.

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About Kathy Kassab

Kathy Kassab is freelance writer and suburban housewitch who lives near Missouri's Gatway City. She has a B.S. with majors in mass communications, sociology and English. She has worked as a newspaper education reporter, feature writer and editor. Her freelance work has been published in general circulation and specialty publications in the U.S. and Great Britain. Before coming to Patheos she was a featured writer for Civil Religion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interfaith blog. She has organized both large and small public Pagan celebrations bringing together groups from a variety of traditions in the St. Louis area. She leaves offerings to the Fey and to her ancestors, as well as a multi-ethnic family of Gods and Goddesses who so far are content to share altar space. She can be found expressing opinions on a daily basis on Facebook and Google+, or @GatewayGoddess on Twitter.