Mercury retrograde is absolute nonsense – but a whole generation is hooked on it

‘Anyone else felt crazy since Friday? Or just me?’: Millennials everywhere are blaming the planets for their problems (iStock)
‘Anyone else felt crazy since Friday? Or just me?’: Millennials everywhere are blaming the planets for their problems (iStock)

Ask any millennial woman what singular thing has had the biggest impact on her year and chances are she’ll say “the moon”. Ask her about this week in particular, though, and she’ll also start talking about Mercury retrograde. In both cases, she’ll be deadly serious. And you’ll feel bad for wanting to laugh.

Just a few years ago, such remarks would have prompted major eye rolls and sniggers amid even the most open-minded among us. And yet, in 2023, talk of astrological activity is well established in WhatsApp groups around the world, particularly if you’re a certain type of woman who spends a certain amount of time in a certain corner of the internet. Ahem.

Allow me to share a selection of moon and Mercury retrograde-related memes I’ve recently seen on my Instagram feed: “I respect the moon because it controls three of our most precious entities: oceans, women and natural wine,” reads one. “Mercury retrograde starting tomorrow, if you’re from my past don’t come back pls [sic],” begs another. “Mercury retrograde begins in a few days, stay out the way and keep quiet!! It’s about to get crazyyy [sic],” chimes a third.

There has been an uptick of musings of this ilk over the past week given that Wednesday 13 December marked the start of a new moon and the final Mercury retrograde of the year. In other words, two major astrological movements collided to create a major cosmic moment. If none of this means anything to you, allow me to explain.

Presuming you’re vaguely familiar with lunar activity – at least to the degree where you’ve looked up at the night sky and noticed the moon – you may know that new moons generally occur once a month, given that’s roughly how long it takes to orbit the earth. To most people, that’s where its meaning begins and ends. But to others, it’s the gateway to a whole new universe whereby the moon’s movements control our psychological, emotional, and even menstrual wellbeing. It’s not entirely unfounded: some studies do suggest that synchronicity exists between the lunar cycle and menstruation.

Combine this with Mercury retrograde and it’s an overload for the spiritual senses. Occurring for a few weeks every four months or so, Mercury retrograde refers to a phase when the planet Mercury is briefly overtaken by the Earth in its orbit, creating an optical illusion whereby it looks as if it’s moving backwards.

Astrological lore suggests that because Mercury is the planet to rule expression and communication – it’s named after the Roman messenger god – this disruption can lead to misunderstandings among friends and lovers, arguments between those closest to you, and many, many moments of emotional mania. Hence why the phrase itself has become a social media shorthand for any kind of chaos – just take a quick look at “Mercury retrograde memes” on Google to see what I mean.

Is there really anything to this kind of thing? The internet would like to think so – as I’m sure would any company producing astrology-related merch

It might sound simple enough. But in recent years, this arbitrary planetary quirk has been blamed for everything from breakups and divorces to breakdowns and full-blown existential crises. A quick search in my WhatsApp messages proves just that. “It was Mercury retrograde making me feel mad,” one friend said in April during the second retrograde of the year. “This Mercury retrograde has f****d me,” said another in September 2022. “Anyone else felt crazy since Friday? Or just me?” asked another four months earlier. “Oh, hang on, just seen Mercury is in retrograde.”

The moon is just as wily. “The moon has screwed me over this week,” said one friend a few months ago in relation to the full moon. “I’m not having a good day. I’m googling moon rituals,” added another. You see my point. But is there really anything to this kind of thing? The internet would like to think so – as I’m sure would any company producing astrology-related merch. And I definitely used to subscribe to it all. But now I’m not sure it’s doing me any favours.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal. When you’re having a difficult time, whether it’s at home, work, or in your relationship, it’s much easier to blame some sort of extraterrestrial force you barely understand than to take stock of your own shortcomings. In the modern world, we’re hardly ever encouraged to take accountability for our own actions, or to try to understand how we might be contributing to the negativity we’re experiencing. Why? Because it’s much less profitable. There’s a lot of money to be made in telling people what they can buy to fix themselves.

But there’s a lot of efficiency in it, too. By blaming Mercury, we rid ourselves of any responsibility. And we can take comfort in the knowledge that whatever we’re going through is only temporary – at some point, the retrograde will be over. Thinking this way grants us the option to pass “Go”, collect £200, and move right onto the next round – where we can happily stay for a while. At least until the next retrograde.

But this – to put it in Instagrammable terms – is also not serving us. In fact, I’d argue that the proliferation of moon and Mercury chat is nothing more than an indictment of how ill-equipped we are to deal with the woes of modern life. I’m not dismissing the concept entirely – though scientists would ardently remind anyone that Mercury retrograde is merely an optical illusion – but I do think we should stop giving it so much cultural weight.

Studies have shown no correlation between the planets and human behaviour – nor do I suspect they will any time soon. And while it can feel helpful to have something to cling onto when you’re going through a hard time, I think you’re better off investing your energy into speaking to a therapist, or reading a book that’s been written by one. Don’t just look up at night and hope for something to change. You’ll only wind up feeling more disappointed when it doesn’t.