The astrological Mercury is all about mind: how we think, what we believe, and how we communicate that. Show me a prominent Mercury in a natal (birth) chart and I’ll show you someone who is good with mind or mouth, hopefully both used wisely together.
When it comes to retrograde planets, though, we find a bit of consternation in the outer expression of that planet’s potential. “Retrograde” means backwards movement; it’s the name for the apparent (not actual) reversal of a planet in its orbit. Think of Mercury retrograde, and you probably think of a time when it’s hard to communicate effectively, when cues will be missed, cell phones down, mind in reverse (not yours of course, but the idiot you’re trying to get through to at the cable company).
But this is a simplification of deeper meaning. Yes, Mercury retrograde can mean more obstacles to clear understanding, but it more broadly means an opportunity for inner dialogue. Retrograde planets indicate inner work; a person born with many of these will probably be talking to themselves a lot, hopefully in good company
Mercury retrograde happens about three times a year, for about three weeks at a time. Its expression, though, cannot be simplified to a formula; this is because the retrogression happens to you in a singular way. It is a transit (an ongoing movement, that is) within your own natal chart, and so will be expressed according to the aspects made there to other planets (angles of connection, like a web), and its house placement. Further, it will be retrograding within a sign, which will indicate the inflection, the type of energy, being expressed (or more properly, in-pressed, within you).
Can any generality be made? Yes, but it is only a generality. During periods of retrogression, use your intuition to feel the weight of what’s spoken to you. (I’d say “be alert to what is being spoken,” but during Mercury retrograde, our faculties of alertness–our sunshine of the supposedly spotless mind–may be softened in favor of moonshine of the mottled soul.) Take more time to reflect before responding; take in what is being communicated to you, and find its underlying intent. Conversely, be sure that others understand what you say, more than just a nod of their heads. (For example, and especially, when dealing with bureaucracy, repeat yourself and confirm that you’ve been heard as you intend.) And find time to meditate or otherwise nurture your introverted side; during retrogressions, understanding often comes to the heart before the head.
If you have had a your birthchart made for you, pull it out and see what house this retrograde Mercury is going through. (Online, you can find charts for planetary movements; collected together in an “ephemeris.”) Notre what aspects Mercury makes; this is important, as Mercury is all about trying to “talk it out,” and aspects are a dialogue between two planets. (You can find the meanings of these aspects online also. The four main ones are conjunction, square, trine, and opposition. There are many more, but not as important and likely to confuse by TMI–Too Much Information.)
Also consider looking over recent retrogressions and see if you can remember anything unusual for you during that time. In 2014, Mercury was retrograded from February 6–27, from June 7–30, and from October 4–24. (Personally, I felt on Friday October 24th a breezy and sudden-seeming opening of ability to get medical appointments scheduled that had floundered in outer (and inner) limbo for a month or more–predating the dates of the retrograde. This brings up an aside of note: Mercury retrograde can precipitate a need to reassess, reconsider, and re–strategize an issue (as I had to) that had its origins before the time of the retrograde itself.)
Our next Mercury retrograde will be January 21 – February 10, 2015. Take note; keep watch on the outer but become a stargazer inwardly of your own soul as well.