For exclusive access to all our stories, including sequences, teacher tips, video classes, and more,
join Outside+ today.
Like Maha Shivaratri, Christmas, or whatever dates your spiritual leaning inspires you to observe, the days when Mercury retrograde begins and ends are essential windows to the cosmos that you want to mark on your calendar. Many relationships, business transactions, or another areas of life subject to misperception have been salvaged with the awareness that a retrograde has entered the scene, and things are not always as they seem.
The first of three Mercury retrogrades this year began January 18 and concluded February 3. During Mercury retrograde, the planet that governs our logic, communication, and cognition appears to reverse its orbit and move backward in the night sky. The three-week regression does not, however, encompass everything we need to address and transform amidst Mercury retrograde. As humans, we learn best through stories, and every good hero’s journey has a beginning, a middle, and an end. While the actual 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 called Mercury’s “shadow periods.”
See also: What is Mercury Retrograde, Anyway?
What is Mercury retrograde’s shadow period?
A little more than two weeks before its retrograde begins, Mercury slows down in 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. In terms of Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey, these are called inciting incidents and 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.
Every planetary retrograde feels evermore 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.
Mercury’s most recent shadow period began on December 29, when the planet was in exact conjunction with—or in the same sign as—its neighboring planet Venus, which entered her own retrograde transit 10 days earlier. Adding Venus to the retrograde mix these last several months is like the woodwind section of the orchestra going out of tune in an entirely different key. It cannot be overstated just how impactful it is to have not one but both of the inner planets traversing their shadows and retrogrades simultaneously. Less metaphorical and more personal, it’s as though your sense of logic and balance suddenly goes sideways, or something that feels perfectly clear to you somehow makes zero sense to the person you’d least expect to have difficulty understanding it. This process requires a review of how you relate with others, your beliefs about yourself, and brings into question virtually every aspect of your perception of reality.
So Venus and Mercury retrograde aren’t (quite) over?
This brings us to the current astrological forecast, in which both Venus and Mercury complete their retrogrades within a few days of one another, on January 29 and February 3, respectively.
The closing shadow periods of the inner planets, or the post-shadow period, represent the end of our retrograde story. As Mercury and Venus spend the better part of February transiting back through the part of the sky they retrograded into, this is where you—as the hero of your own journey—will 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 the retrograde. Wherever your attention was needed during the retrogrades, it will still be required throughout the remainder of the month. The difference is that you’ve grown more capable of reconciling the dissonance as opposed to getting identified 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 February be a month of integration. You’re still getting your bearings and trying to make sense of all that just happened. If you’re feeling a bit of post-traumatic stress, you’re not alone. With the recent Aquarius new moon conjunct with Saturn, you’re invited to recommit to your practices if the tidal wave of these retrogrades knocked you off your mat—and if they 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.
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.