Mercury is Retrograding But We Don't Have To

Feeling a little spaced out lately?

Or maybe life’s constant barrage has you wishing for brief respite into space? 

Understandable, considering *waves hands maniacally* all the things. But not everyone gets to be an amateur astronaut and crash the atmosphere like a mid-level influencer at an Emmys afterparty (welcome back, SpaceX posers). The rest of us earth-bound misfits are forced to reckon with the only planet we’ve got. Until some billionaire funds public transit to Mars, anyway. 

Our dear terra has been certainly putting on an impressive show as of late, adding to its usual repertoire of hellacious heat and dastardly tropical storms a couple of 4.3-magnitude shake-ups in California, a spectacular performance by the Cumbra Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands and literal Satanic levels of rain right here at home. (For witty, factual analysis on the weather and whether it means we’re all going to die, bookmark Savannah-based data doomslayer Enki Research.)

As if we didn’t have enough apocalyptic gossip items starring our own rapidly boiling blue ball, there’s cosmic drama as well. No, I don’t mean the dog bone-shaped asteroid twerking down the asteroid belt near Jupiter or the ongoing controversy about poor Pluto.

Some of you already know what it is: Mercury goes retrograde this Monday, Sept 27, and as usual, I’m shook. 

While this tiny, speedy celestial body is in no danger of actually colliding with us, it’s thrice-yearly backtracks can still be a triggering prospect. Like many tender-hearted weirdos born in the Age of Aquarius, I tend to include astrological considerations in my larger worldview, though my horoscopic education might have been more comprehensive than most:

Among her many fascinating careers that included high school English teacher in post-Civil Rights era Philadelphia and director of a modeling agency during the Nagel craze, my mother briefly ran a private astrology practice in 1970s Miami. This was just when housewives were shaking off the patriarchy’s stodgy gender roles for feminine free will, and astrology represented empowerment and a tool for personal development, a once esoteric language claimed by consciousness-raising culture. I grew up with Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs on the coffee table and an ERA NOW sign in my hand, marching for justice in cute shoes (total typical Libra-Leo Rising, am I right?)

According to the sages, Mercury the Messenger rules the transmission of information, manifested in the ways we express ourselves in the world and in relationships through all the media available to us. Mom always sounded the alarm when Mercury was about to go into retrograde, warning of crossed wires and mixed-up messages—and this was back when the most advanced forms of communication were an avocado-colored wall-mounted phone and a floor TV the size of a Honda. 

As an adult I have come to associate Mercury in retrograde with appliance glitches, sizzled motherboards, phones dropped in toilets, hitting “Reply All” on sensitive emails meant for one person, setting your alarm for PM instead of AM, and all manner of travel snafus, legal disputes, missed appointments, misunderstandings, miscommunications, and general misery. Every time it rolls around—three times a year for three weeks at a time—I want to close the shutters and recede into solitary, technologically-sparse activities, like losing at solitaire and spinning my own yarn from dog hair. 

Loath to be left tongue-tied and twisted this time around, I decided to seek out sagacious counsel from local astrologer Whitney Howard, who charts the heavens and translates their significance via her practice, Starland Alchemy. I had the pleasure of participating in one of her Full Moon cocktail hours this summer, a joyful occasion where astrology felt like so much more than a party trick with Whitney’s lovely Southern lilt prescribing ways to leverage the loaded lunar energy for our greater good.

Naturally, her serene, second-level sanctuary is located in the Starland District, though her path to cosmic coach has hardly been so literal. 

“I grew up in a very conservative, religious home, so to say astrology was not part of the ancestral lexicon is an understatement,” laughs the South Carolina coastal native, who soared through public school to earn an MBA from UofSC’s coveted International Business program and flew up the corporate ladder to secure stints as a senior VP at Sony Music, Conde Nast and the National Hockey League, overseeing massive digital service departments and streaming apps. Talk about intense information transmission, sports fans!

But Mercury and the rest of the zodiac had other plans for her. 

“I had great success, but in the second half of my 30s I was going through a lot of personal changes, and I started to wonder what I was doing to make a difference in the world,” she recalls, recounting a solo trip to Iceland for her 40th birthday that led to deep questioning of the universe and her place in it. 

“I’d had a tightly scripted narrative about myself, and I became curious about astrology out of the blue. In one 90-minute session I saw things I’d spent decades trying to understand about myself, and my life was never the same.”

A few months after that first reading, she quit the rat race and settled back in the South to embark on a year-long study of the stars, applying the same analytical prowess that drove her corporate career but imbuing her pursuit with her love of music, unquenchable curiosity, and most importantly, joy. She found a mentor in The Golden Astrologer, Deb McBride, and when friends began asking her to read their charts, she realized she’d found her celestial destiny.   

She celebrated her first year in practice this August, and these days she maintains a busy orbit of private clients (in person and on Zoom) as well as lending her supernal consulting talents to local creative businesses like Yaupon Teahouse, partnering up for workshops with Ordinary Magic and Savannah Yoga Center, and co-hostessing special events at Starland Strange. For those looking to uplevel their personal and entrepreneurial presence, Starland Alchemy is also offering a year-long coaching course guaranteed to shine light on your inner process. 

Along with modern takes on eclipse magic and cosmic playlists shared on her gorgeous Instagram feed, Whitney’s stargazing employs the paradigm of evolutionary astrology, which regards the heavenly bodies as a means for deeper spiritual progress. It’s a tool many use to untangle long-knotted emotions and integrate understanding of why we do the things we do—alchemizing the ugly old patterns that weigh us down into golden opportunities for change. 

“Traditional therapy can keep you in a loop, talking and rehashing trauma,” she notes. “Looking at your chart can work in tandem with that and facilitate real healing.” 

Speaking of healing, her perspective on Mercury’s cosmic cartwheeling is kinder and gentler than the upending maniacal trickster of my youth. While she agrees with Mom that we ought not to sign binding legal agreements or buy expensive techy equipment if we can help it, Starland’s resident alchemist proposes cultivating calm in the chaos. 

“First of all, Mercury doesn’t actually move backwards; it only appears that way from earth,” she explains as we sip sparkling water in front of her color coded bookshelf, evidence of her influential Virgo moon.

“That is such a beautiful cosmic act of kindness to us earthlings, because when it appears to do so, it allows us to integrate the lessons of all of life’s forward momentum.”

All of us need a respite from the post-modern existence’s breakneck speed. But rather than eschewing electronic communicado and hiding out in a yurt doing goat yoga, Whitney recommends reading important missives extra carefully (instructions to the new dishwasher, emails from your boss, anything from the IRS) and simply sloooowing way down for the next 21 days—and maybe even a couple of more weeks after that, since Mercury continues to affect us in its shadow. This week’s particular planetary about-face takes place in the mentally-active air sign of Libra, the ruler of relationships, and she advises taking time to consider how we communicate with our loved ones, perhaps looking back on the last time this cosmic combo collided in September 2015.

(Ugh, speaking of collisions, Mercury’s madness made itself known early to our family when a car crashed into the front door of my husband’s Strong Gym late Monday night. Miraculously, no one was hurt, and we are grateful for all the love from our community. Though we’d have preferred not to have to endure Mercury’s lessons about patience and clarity while dealing with insurance companies, contractors, and landlords.)

Astrology is all about perspective, and rather than attach ourselves to the term “retrograde,” which sounds like a bulldozer hurtling over the disaster areas of our lives, Whitney encourages us to “re” our actions in other ways.

“Instead, think ‘review, revise, reconsider,’” she says, suggesting that cleaning out inboxes and junk drawers are a productive way to spend extra mercurial energies. She also adds that Mercury’s way of making us mindful and meticulous in our relationships can also bring sweeping change. 

“Honor that there are old ways of communicating that don’t work anymore. You don’t have to torch and burn, but it’s OK to move on.” 

That’s a horoscope I can get behind, though I can’t keep my mind from the circling skies. Sure would be great to be a galaxy-bouncing billionaire who can leave problems and bad weather behind, even for a little while. But that’s not what’s written in the stars for most of us. 

Guess we’ll have to learn to transform the lead in our lives into gold, right here on earth. 

Learning to fly, always ~ JLL