Mercury retrograde and the “Shadow Period”

Mercury will be retrograde between November 17th and December 7th 2018.

Thanks to the Internet, the magic of REAL astrology (as opposed to those Sun Sign horoscopes you still see everywhere) is spreading and the concept of Mercury retrograde has gone mainstream.  This is exciting since even people who profess not to “believe in” astrology often are aware that when Mercury is retrograde things often don’t operate as we expect them to.  Machinery glitches, communication breakdowns, an epidemic of “but I thought you said…” – all are widespread under the influence of Mercury retrograde.

In classical astrology, Mercury is said to be “debilitated” when it is retrograde; it doesn’t operate as it normally does which is to facilitate communication and messaging, as well as daily routines, short distance travel and plans of all kinds.  As most of you know, I don’t particularly care for these ideas of positive and negative as they cause us to miss out on the benefits offered by astrological factors that we normally consider negative such as Mercury retrograde and Saturn and Pluto transits.  I view the retrograde phase of a planetary cycle as being a part of the natural ebb and flow of nature.  The waves of the ocean flow towards the beach, and then they must flow back to the ocean before returning to the sand.  The joyful warm days of summer give way to the bitter cold days of winter’s hardship.

When Mercury is retrograde, it’s not uncommon to run into problems.  Contracts written when Mercury is retrograde often have to be renegotiated.  Plans made often have to be revised.  Travel reservations are often stymied. Communication breakdowns are common.  Mercury retrograde periods are excellent fr some things though – they are perfect for review and reassessment.  They are perfect for do-overs and repairs.  It is said that anything that begins with the prefix RE- (from the Latin word meaning “again”) is ideal for Mercury retrograde periods, including REdecorating your home, REdoing your website or marketing plan, REwriting that chapter you’ve been putting off.

It is often warned that Mercury retrograde periods are not good for surgery but that really depends what kind of surgery.  A surgery that is a repair is not by itself contraindicated by Mercury retrograde, although scheduling could be difficult and require rearrangement of the schedule.  Elective cosmetic surgery would not be favored under Mercury retrograde.

What is this “shadow period”?

When planets appear to turn retrograde (to move backwards in the sky from our perspective), they don’t just turn on a dime.  The retrograde motion of planets is very much like a car doing a U-turn.  First it has to slow down, and only then does it make that U-turn to go the other way.  The concept of a “shadow” period is fairly recent and different astrologers use different techniques to determine where this shadow period begins and ends.  I have seen some pop astrology columns that give an arbitrary two week period with no explanation.  One technique from Chris Brennan’s involves using the exact degree of the retrograde and direct stations.

(Geeky astrological detail:  This technique uses the beginning degree of the retrograde as the end of the post-retrograde shadow period, and the end degree of the retrograde as the beginning of the pre-retrograde shadow.  This month’s Mercury retrograde station is 13 Sagittarius on November 17th and the direct station is 27 Scorpio on December 7th, so using this technique the pre-shadow period would begin on October 29th when Mercury reached 27 Scorpio before the retrograde, and the post-shadow period would end on December 25 when Mercury returned to 13 Sagittarius.  Using this technique the shadow period lasts about 19-20 days.) 

Neither the arbitrary two week period nor the retrograde degree technique really work for me as they don’t take into account the symbolism of the slowing down of the speed of the planet as it prepares to make that turn which is, I believe, the actual cause of the retrograde energies.  Mercury typically travels about one degree of a sign per day, and its motion begins to slow down about one week before the actual date of the retrograde station, and this is where we can begin to see the classic signs of Mercury retrograde: communication snafus, equipment breakdowns, etc.  So I typically use about a week as the shadow period before and after a Mercury retrograde cycle.

If you have additional thoughts about the shadow, or experiences you’d like to relate, please share in the comments.

By | 2018-11-14T08:11:42+00:00 November 14th, 2018|Astrology|11 Comments


  1. Bonnie November 14, 2018 at 9:53 am - Reply

    This last spring’s mercury retrograde and shadow period was a detour that needed to be taken. My husband and I were planning on moving closer to my family. He was stressed because interest rates were going up and we purchased a house under the shadow period. It’s just not the right house. We could have backed out and stayed and started looking again but we moved forward.

    The great thing is we decided to build. When we did that, there was a lot that is perfect–exactly in the kind of area we wanted, close to the things we wanted (which is the one really great thing about this house) and in the price range we wanted. The thing is, we’d have struggled building when we were far away and this particular lot wasn’t even on the market until this past summer, months after my husband had hoped to move.

    I feel like this house was a perfect entry into a new place and got us to where we could be to purchase the exact right house. Now, just hoping that all goes well when we sell!

    • November 16, 2018 at 7:10 am - Reply

      What a great story Bonnie, and reflects the positive aspects of the retrograde. If we pay attention, we often see that everything proceeds just as planned although we don’t always know the reasons right away. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. julie ross November 16, 2018 at 5:35 am - Reply

    I am in the mood of RE-thinking my career and applying for a new job, even if Mercury is retro.
    RE-assessing your energies can be positive and I think you can still move forward in those periods. The Universe is vibrant and in constant expansion so why focus on one aspect of planetary influences? Your intuition remains key no matter what.

    • November 16, 2018 at 7:10 am - Reply

      Thanks for commenting Julie. I think if you read more of these pages you’ll see that rather than focus on just one aspect I write about exactly what you describe here.

  3. Julie Ross November 16, 2018 at 7:30 am - Reply

    Hi Lynn, I do read your articles and appreciate them a whole lot 🙂 That said I notice many people avoiding doing things that could be to their benefit during Mercury retro. That’s simply my experience and that’s what I intended to point out comment. Enjoy the day!

  4. Ryan November 16, 2018 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    I’m experiencing communicating breakdown already.

  5. Ginny November 18, 2018 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Hi, well they say you learn something good or bad every day. Thank you…

  6. Sandy December 3, 2018 at 3:28 am - Reply

    Would it be ok to have a minor cosmetic surgery procedure around December 14th?

    • December 3, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

      Hi Sandy, it would be irresponsible for me to advise you without looking at your entire chart, but I can tell you that Mercury is direct that day which is a good thing.

  7. Sue February 1, 2019 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Would elective surgery be okay 2/22/19 during
    Mercury pre shadow?

    • February 2, 2019 at 7:38 am - Reply

      Depending upon other factors, the Mercury position relative to the retrograde in itself is not problematic. Mercury is in Pisces where it is debilitated, but depending on what’s going on in your own chart and how that is affected it may not be a problem. Electional astrology is a complex art and can’t really be answered with one chart factor. That said, I have seen people go into surgery on days that seemed to be to be very problematic and everything turned out for the best so I wouldn’t worry too much about it if that’s the best day for you to have the surgery done.

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