Here's a question i have been asked:

What is Mercury Retrograde Oil and why do some people use it?

If the question were only asked in this way, respectfully and in the spirit of learning, i would probably only reply one-on-one to those who ask me. The trouble is, many people who employ scented and symbolic oils in their rootworking have the mistaken impression that Mercury Retrograde Oil is inherently "fake" or "New Age" and some have even falsely stated that it comes from a position of "white privilege." Because such biases can distort the thinking of an entire community, i have decided to reply to this question in public, as a "teachable moment."

I am happy to reply, but i am an astrologer and this is NOT basic level sun-sign astrology, so although i will try to keep my comments simple, they will not be brief.


At certain periods, as seen from the viewpoint of Earth, all of the traditional astrological planets, excepting the Sun and Moon, will appear to stop their direct or formward motion, stand still, and then run backwards in their courses, to regress, or to "go retrograde." After a predictable perod of time, which varies for each planet, they will again appear to briefly stand still and then they will resume their direct or forward motion. The still point or pause between a change of directons is called the "station" and it can be thought of by visualizing a train coming to a brief stop in a station. The stop before a retrogradation is called "stationary retrograde," while the stop point before the resumption of forward motion is known as "stationary direct."

Astrologers, like astronomers, realize that all of these seeming backwards, stationary, and forward motions are simply recurrent visual effects that are observed by viewers on Earth due to the relative positioning of the moving planets against a backdrop of distant stars.


Astrology is a divinatory and magical art that relies on symbolism for its functionality. To understand how astrologers assess the symbolic meaning of planetary retrogradations, you first need to know that all of the astrological planets (and many of the distant stars) have long been given traditional symbolic connections, similar to the way in which different herbs and roots have long been assigned magical, non-medical usages in folklore. In particular, each planet is said to "rule" or govern one or two specific areas of the sky, which are called "signs of the zodiac" and each planet is also said to symbolize, affect, rule, or govern certain human conditions and occupations.

Next, there is the symbolism of a planet appearing to run "backwards." Although the periodic retrograde motion of the planets is well known to only be a visual effect based on the observer's viewpoint, nevertheless, retrogradation carries a distinct and inherent symbolic meaning -- namely that the areas of life ruled by the retrograde planet are held back, undone, messed up, go badly, or come to naught. In short, the meaning of retrogrades, like "reverses" in tarot card readings, will generally be negative.

Mercury, the topic of this page, symbolizes the mind, cleverness, cunning, intellect, speech, poetry, verbal dialogue, debates, messages, and messengers. It rules two areas of the sky -- the signs Gemini and Virgo. Gemini is an Air sign and Virgo is an Earth sign.

In trying to grasp this foundational concept of astrology, it helps to think of the planets as spiritual beings -- gods, if you will, but gods much like human beings -- and to think of the signs of the zodiac as neighborhoods where certain types of activities take place. Day by day, year after year, the planets travel in their courses through the signs, and adjust their demeanor and their activities accordingly. Travelling forward through the airy neighborhood of Gemini, for example, Mercury appears to be brilliant, witty, eloquent, and intellectual, while Mercury traversing the earthy neighborhood of Virgo by direct motion presents a look that is logical, rational, perceptive, and informative.

Here's another example: Ruddy Mars, the hyper-masculine planet of war and iron and machinery, rules the onard-marching sign of Aries, the neighborhood of the aggressive, brave, butting, curled-horn Ram, but it is exalted or shown in its best light when it travels forard through the sign of Capricorn, the neighborhood of the sagacious, reliable, conscientious, curled-horn Goat.

So, using the built-out examples above, we can say that when Mercury goes retrograde in Gemini, it would bring about extreme fickleness of speech and inconstancy of mind, while Mercury going retrograde in Virgo would lead to problems with databases, dispatches, and logistics, and perhaps a worldwide drop in rationality. Likewise, Mars retrograde in Aries might bring about mechanical accidents caused by overconfident forward motion and would be a poor time to start a war, while Mars retrograde in Capricorn would lead to slowdowns on the battlefield and much time spent repaidring damaged machinery.

The above examples only provide a few potential meanings for two signs hosting the retrogradation of two planets. The actual number of possibilities is eight planets undergoing retrogradation in twelve signs of the zodiac -- a total of 96 symbolic planet-sign direct motion combinations and 96 symbolic retrograde motion combinations for the astrologer to learn and understand.

And that's not all, for no planet travels alone. As the planets move at varying rates of speed along the course of their travels through the signs, sometimes direct and sometimes retrograde, they encounter other planets, both friends and foes, also moving either direct or retrograde, with whom they interact. The entire pattern of these motions (and emotions) is so complex that it only repeats every 26,000 years.

Keeping track of the planets, their movements, and the symbolism of those movements is like tracking a complex soap opera, with ancient gods as the lead characters. It's a lot of fun for astrologers!


Because the complete pattern of planetary movements only repeats every 26,000 years, Mercury retrograde is a term that refers not to a specific time period but to any of the myriad of recurrent periods of about three weeks in duration, during which, as seen from Earth, the planet Mercury, instead of progressing, appears to regress.

Mercury is said to rule the mind, and to cover all messages and communication, both spoken and written, so when Mercury goes into retrogradation, communication difficulties develop. On a personal level, dialogues may break down into idle chatter, logic may fail, important messages may not be delivered, and gossip may take the place of vital information. Some Mercury retrogrades feature technological troubles involving telephones, printers, and the internet, while others carry in their wake a maelstrom of misunderstood language, which can lead to unnecessary anger, late or lost shipments, and disrupted conversations.

Mercury goes retrograde often, but each time it does so, it will be in a different neighborhood among the signs of the zodiac, and other planets may or may not be interacting with it.

Astrologers have long recognized that because of these and other factors, some periods of Mercury retrograde are more difficult than others.


Astrologers who undertake divination are often called upon to predict the severity of an upcoming Mercury retrograde on the population generally and also to help their clients understand which sectors of life, which nations, and which occupations it will most severely affect. Some clients will request individualized forecasts on the effects that may be expected during specific Mercury retrogradations.

Keep in mind, as previously mentioned, that during every individual's lifetime, each period of Mercury retrograde will be unique because the completed cycle takes 26,000 years to repeat. Thus, in order to make an accurate prediction about any given retrogradation of Mercury, an astrologer will first look at the upcoming Mercury retrograde as an event unto itself, as a form of what some call "astrological weather." Metaphorically, we astrologers try to determine how intense this storm will be and the path that it will take.

In making such an assessment, we may ask and answer a series of diagnostic questions. Each astrologer or astrological school may make a disgnosis by framing the questions and answers differently than i do, but for the record, here is the way i personally approach the subject. Note that some of the terms you will read here have specific meanings with respect to astrology and if you do not know what they mean, i will not be explaining them here, so you will need to look them up online or in a printed astrological dictionary.

* Where is the upcoming retrogradation going to be placed by sign?

* Will Mercury cross signs during the time of the retrograde?

* Are the ruling planets of the signs that host the retrogradation benefic or malefic planets generally?

* Are the ruling planets of the signs that host the retrogradation basically friendly or hostile toward neutral Mercury?

* Will Mercury or any of the respective ruling planets be Void of Course at any time during the retrograde period?

* During the term of the retrograde, is Mercury undergoing any positive (ameliorating) or negative (exacerbating) aspects to the transiting planets in real time?

* What other transiting aspects, long-term or short term, that do not directly involve Mercury or the rulers of the hosting signs, will be applying (or separating) in real time during the period that Mercury will be retrograde?

The answers to these questions will allow me to form a picture of the Mercury's upcoming retrogradation and to see it in the abstract, as if from a weather satellite.


For most clients, the storm of Mercury retrograde is personal. The client is generally not interested in the fact that i can see the storm from a metaphorical doppler radar viewpoint, but instead wants to know if his or her home is likely to flood. So now let's look at how an astrologer determines how any given upcoming Mercury retrograde may affect individuals.

We know that some folks have chronic problems when Mercury goes retrograde. They are not scaredy-pants idiots. They are not weaklings. They are not self-dramatists. They are not speaking from a place of "white privilege" or "New Age fluff." They are speaking from experience, and their experiences may be similar to those of others of any race or culture, even though they are unlike your own experiences.

If clients report that during times of Mercury retrograde they habitually and repeatedly have experienced disruption of dialogues or damage to the technologies they rely upon for the clear transmission of language, we astrologers will certainly take a look at their natal chart.

Here are some of the reasons a transiting Mercury retrograde affects different people in various ways, according to their natal horoscopes:

* For a small number of people born with a very heavily afflicted natal Mercury, the times during which Mercury is retrograde tend to give them a bad reaction, no matter where the transiting retrograde falls. Such people will often experience trouble during most or even all Mercury retrogrades. We can liken them to trauma victims who are "triggered" every time Mercury goes retrograde. With cases such as this, we often wish to determine how many times (if at all) Mercury will cross over a sensitive negative point on the native's natal chart during a given retrograde period. If the number is "three," this retrograde may be more difficult than usual for the person.

* Most folks only have trouble with Mercury retrogrades when Mercury's backwards journey transits one of their own negative or poorly aspected planets or when the transiting retrograde planet makes its own negative transiting aspects or is poorly placed by transiting sign. People of this type sometimes feel the Mercury retrograde effect strongly and other times feel it weakly or not at all. To fully understand how and why any given individual in this group will be affected by any given retrogradation of Mercury, you will have to consider which natal planets or natal aspects will be aspected or activated by the upcoming transiting Mercury retrograde. Once you know this, you can become quite precise in your prediction of the effect of any given Mercury retrograde on that individual and you may be able to, for instance, distinguish whether that particular retrogradation of Mercury will fry their electronic equipment or slow down the arrival of their checks by snail-mail, or even if they will lose their hearing aid in the mall.

* Folks who are born with natal Mercury retrograde often never feel any effects from transiting Mercury retrogrades because a retrograde is their normal set point. They are of the "been down so long it looks like up to me" school of communication. They expect little in the way of understanding from others, generally speaking, so a retrograde of the planet of communication is to them little more than dog poo piled on cat poo.

* And, finally, there are people with incredibly favourable and well aspected natal Mercury placements who can often withstand astrological "weather" that will flatten all of the others mentioned above. Their Mercury placement and aspects are so fine, so firm, so fully packed, that nothing can disrupt their fabulous enjoyment of communication.


We are now ready to examine Mercury Retrograde Oil and to realize why someone would want to make, buy, or use it.

* Mercury Retrograde Oil is not the same as Mercury Oil. A well-made Mercury Oil is a traditional astrological formula that enhances verbal communication and is also used to good effect by writers, thieves, and gamblers, three professions that are ruled by Mercury.

* Mercury Retrograde Oil is not "New Age" or "Wicca." It is a formula based on classical astrological symbolism. It was first put on the market in the 21st century, but similar oils, and similar forms of magical supplies, including talismans, seals, sigils, and botanical curios, have been employed for centuries to counteract the affects of negative astrological cycles. Thus, Mercury Retrograde Oil is a part and portion of the sub-set of astrological magic known as astrological remediation -- the work of remedying less-than-optimal astrological indicators, both long-term and short-term.

* Like any spiritual condition oil, Mercury Retrograde Oil is meant to enhance or to reduce some condition. In this case, the condition is communication and despite the name "Retrograde," the oil is not used to mess up communication -- it is used to counteract the effects of all transiting Mercury retrogrades which may, or may not, mess up communication in any one person's life during any time that Mercury is retrograde.

Mercury Retrograde Oil actually does two things:

(1) it enhances the normal workings of anyone's positive Mercury aspects


(2) it decreases the "hold-back" or "crossed signals" effect of the Mercury retrograde period.

Having realized how much astrological data there is to mull over and how many charts one would want to compile, overlay, and analyze to assess the potential set-backs that any given period of Mercury's retrogradation may impose on any given individual, i am sure you can understand why some people prefer just to buy a bottle of Mercury Retrograde Oil from a reputable vendor, keep it on hand, and apply it prophylactically. Especially if you are one of the many folks who has repeatedly experienced the ill-effects of an afflicted Mercury during a retrogradation, keeping a bottle on hand may become second nature.


Mercury Retrograde Oil is not the only astrological remediation or enhancement product that one could make -- Venus Retrograde Oil, Jupiter Retrograde Oil, Squares Be Trines Oil, Saturn Return Oil, Solar Eclipse Incense, Moon Void of Course Bath Crystals, Six Sexy Sextiles Sachet -- any negative astrological condition can be remediated and any positive astrological condition can be promoted with traditional occult herbs, minerals, zoological curios, colours, sigils, symbols, prayers, and / or the calling in of spirits.


Now that you know what Mercury Oil is and what Mercury Retrograde Oil is, i hope you can see that there is no need for snickering, mocking, bragging, posturing, shaming, claiming dominance, or advising others on whether it is "real" or how, when, or whether to use it.

So what if your culture, religion, spiritual path, or metaphyical training has not opened the doors of astrology to you? Does this mean that astrology is bunk, but the folklore, deities, spirits, and traditional occult tools of your own lifeway are not bunk? Can you, as a metaphysical and spiritually-minded person, actually declare that some forms of spirituality are inherently invalid?

The best answer to that question is this:

Plow your own furrow, plant your own seeds, harvest your own crops.

-- Written while Mercury was retrograde in Virgo by a lady with Mercury conjunct the Sun in Taurus, opposed by Jupiter retrograde in Scorpio, and having rulership of Gemini at the Ascendant, who is writing a book on this stuff, so, yep, this screed is ...

(c) copyright 2017 catherine yronwode. All rights reserved. Do not reprint. Do not copy.

P.S. This page only scratches the surface of the topic. For those who wish to learn more, i recommend "The Book of Retrogrades" by John McCormick, originally published by the American Federation of Astrologers in 1975 and still 100% on point. Enjoy!