There is much more to Mercury
than is usually taught in astrological textbooks. Mercury is said to be the symbol of the mind; but this term "mind" covers a multitude of mysteries, and Mercury can be seen to represent a variety of processes and functions in the personality, especially as the latter is developing beyond the normal range of activities familiar to the average cultured individual of our day and age.
If we look at the solar system from a heliocentric point of view, Mercury is seen as the first planet revolving around the sun. It thus can be said to refer to the primary differentiation of the undifferentiated solar energy radiating through space. As such Mercury represents the bi-polar electrical force which is the very substance of all organic activity. This Mercury-electricity is the "tone" of life sustaining and ever renewing the organism isolated by birth as an independently functioning unit, foundation for an individual personality. This "tone" (individualized Solar power) is the involutionary
expression of Mercury, and it is said to be focused at the center of the cross formed by the human spine and the line of the extended arms. It represents the power-aspect of Mercury.
This mystic Mercury center is the "place" where the Rose blooms at the core of all crucifixions significantly experienced in the spirit of Christ, according to Rosicrucian symbolism. It corresponds to the brachial plexus of modern anatomy, which is the very focus of the Mercury function. Traditional astrology attributes to this planet rulership over arms, hands, lungs and breath; and there seems to be a definite connection between the brachial nerves and the Vagus nerve (pneumogastric system) which originates in the head (Aries rulership) and flows downward in two branches on either side of the neck.
We spoke of this aspect of Mercury as "involutionary" because it refers to the primordial descent and prenatal differentiation of the one Solar power which is the essence of individual life and selfhood. However, what is usually known of the Mercury function is its "evolutionary" aspect which deals with the results of personal and social living; and in this role Mercury is the servant of Jupiter. Mercury then should serve the purpose of personal integration, and of the maintenance and aggrandizement of the wholeness of personality. Mercury in this role is mind, not as a creative electrical power, but as the function of relationship of self to environment and to other selves.
We must differentiate carefully, however, between the type of adaptation to environment which corresponds to the Moon function, and that which carries the characteristics of Mercury. The former is "placental" and psychic; the latter, nervous and mental. The Moon function, being the "feminine" polarity of Saturn, adjusts the personality to its environment within the separative boundaries of the particular body and ego, but it can go no further. It deals with the tribal
kind of adaptation to life and is inherently conservative, traditional and appropriative or possessive. On the other hand, the Mercury function, being (in its evolutionary and personalized aspect) the feminine polarity of Jupiter, carries the essential meaning of expansion and accretion, as does Jupiter. It brings to the personality a plus
quality; and therefore it can become the very foundation for the development of the substance of personality from one level to the next.
The power actually to accomplish this transference of consciousness from level to level (or metamorphosis of personality) is contained in the functions of transformation symbolized by the planets beyond Saturn, particularly Uranus; yet the revolutionary and regenerative power of Uranus can only be destructive or useless if the individual has not developed the substantial mental foundation upon which the new-level consciousness and individuality can unfold organically and harmoniously. To move from one level to the next means actually to enlarge one's sphere of awareness, thus one's power to operate in an even more inclusive realm of being. And this can only be done by increasing one's capacity for relationship.
But relationship between what? At first, what is to be related are sensations, then, complex images combining sensations; later, the apparent sources of these images (objects, people, etc.). A further step in relatedness is taken as these sources of complex sensation-images are given the attributes of personality, and thus can be related to one's ego. The sense of ego-to-ego relationship, within some larger environmental and tribal (or family) framework of well-defined and life-sustaining experiences, becomes the substance for social living.
The Jupiterian hunger for food and easier living conditions stimulates inevitably this sense of relatedness to external entities, to which at first the attributes of personality are given, whether they be rocks, trees, animals or human beings. Primitive life is difficult; the environment full of dangers and antagonisms. The Jupiter function demands that a way be found to make friends with and influence everything in the environment. Tribal magic, prayers, sacrifices and all the instrumentalities of the religious life are developed through a combination of Jupiterian faith in some underlying universal harmony (without which no man could come to terms with other men, gods or life-spirits), and of Mercurian ingenuity in building bridges of communication and means of commerce through give-and-take operations pleasing all parties concerned. The use of imitative vocal sounds, soon becoming words and taking form as letters and art-symbols, then the use of objects of standardized values as means of exchange (money and all its cultural equivalents) constitutes the basic ways in which Mercury operates, as social experiences grow in complexity and scope.
Inventiveness (born of the faculty to see correlations between facts and phenomena of different kinds), conceptual generalization (which transforms the Jupiterian feeling or intuition of universal harmony into the study of cosmic laws), and the ability to "bind time" through historical records and communal education, are the building stones of civilization — and they all are aspects of Mercurian activity. This activity is stirred by the Jupiterian craving for self-preservation and for all types of group-cooperation and group-expansion insuring more comfort and a greater sense of happiness through easier participation in the life rhythms of the universe.
This Mercury activity is so complex, so inclusive, so far reaching that it may normally seek to utilize and control an ever-increasing amount of the energy and power of attention disposable in the personality. But, if it does so at the expense of the polar and complementary Jupiter function, a situation arises in which the means to increase the individual's ability to relate himself to ever larger fields of reality expand at the cost of his power vitally to experience and to assimilate (Jupiter) what he becomes related to. The result is the great disease of modern civilization, from which endless complexes and psychosomatic troubles arise: intellectual congestion
. It is the disease responsible for the atomic bomb and the ruthless mentality of men who "know too much for their own good" because their intellectual knowledge is no longer balanced by a deep and intense sense of participation in the whole life of society and the universe. In these men, intellect — which should be only a sum-total of means — has become a devouring power blinding them to the essential end of human existence, immortality in conscious selfhood. Jupiter, the planet of Soul, has been overcome by its mate and natural servant, Mercury, the planet of technique and efficiency.
The generalized development of the modern intellect, based on Saturnian logic and thus deeply allied with a parallel process of ego-emphasis, can be said to have begun in Greece — though India also experienced the results of over-rationalization and of a special type of spiritual selfishness. It led in Greece to sophistry and an orgy of argumentative speculations, and much of it recurred within a new framework during the Scholastic Age in Europe.
With the advent of modern experimental science and of mechanistic-intellectual theories of knowledge, the emphasis became placed upon the technical aspect of the Mercury function and upon a worship of intellectual curiosity, unbalanced by any realization of the fact that to know without the knowledge of what one knows for
can be a slow form of suicide. Technical proficiency without the ability to place it at the service of a spiritually valid purpose, or as an escape from facing the need to develop a more effective and less egocentric feeling of participation in humanity, is likewise bound to lead to spiritual selfishness and pride, and perhaps eventually to some kind of moral self-destruction.
Any individual today living, and with a normal amount of Western education and mental training, is faced with the possibility of succumbing to this contagious disease of intellectualism and "knowledgitis," with its by-products of sterile overspecialization and atrophy of the sense of direct and vitally experienced living. However, focalized expressions of this generalized functional unbalance appear only in the lives of individuals who offer a fertile psychological soil for its development; and when this occurs we should look for indications of the condition in everything concerning the natal Mercury.
A whole book might be written studying various approaches to the interpretation of this planet in nativities; here, however, we must limit ourselves to a consideration of what is probably the basic issue where Mercury is concerned: Mercury's relationship to the Sun and the Moon. Psychologically speaking, what is at stake is the particular way in which the individual's mind operates with reference to the bi-polar life-principle represented by the two "Lights."
A deep rivalry can exist between the realms of mind and of organic vitality; this rivalry often tears modern man apart. Conscious thought challenges the rule of unconscious instinct, when man seeks to transfer the focus of his being from the bio-psychic tribal level to that of individual differentiation and self-determination through thought. Reason opposes feeling; adaptation in terms of the generic purpose of biological and psychic survival is frustrated and opposed by man's new determination to meet his experiences as a conscious thinker and a "free" individual and to forego mortal well-being for an immortal selfhood established in mind.
It is this conflict which basically produces intellectual complexes — either because, try as he may, the individual feels unable to marshal enough mental power to re-focus his individuality from the realm of "life" to that of "mind," or because, spurred on by an overeager and ambitious mentality, he unwillingly loses his sense of rootedness in bio-psychic desires and vitality, though he can as yet not let go of their instinctual pull, which in such circumstances takes on a "fateful" character. In either case he finds himself in between two realms, unrooted and unfocused. In the first instance, instinctual living at the biopsychic level of vital feelings and desires has lost its value, yet the mind is too weak, too uncertain or too confused to carry the burden of complete and integral reality. In the second instance, the mind is strong, restless, or over-stimulated by external influences or various psychological pressures (mainly by some kind of father-complex), but the rest of the personality, clinging to the old desire for life-fulfillment and generic happiness, cannot or refuses to follow the mind.
Indications of such conditions in the natal chart can be of various kinds, depending upon the manner in which these psychological conditions arise during the early development of the personality; yet some important phases of the relationship of Mercury to the Sun and the Moon should always be studied, along the following lines of enquiry.
The most obvious, yet often misinterpreted factor is whether Mercury is "direct" or "retrograde" in its motion. What this actually means, let us not forget, is whether Mercury moves in the direction of the motion of Sun and Moon, or against it
. Planetary retrogression is caused by the fact that the observer on earth gets, as it were, a biased or twisted view of the solar system, of which the earth is a part. No one can evaluate with absolute objectivity that in the midst of which one operates. Earthly man's direct evaluation of planetary behavior is thus, partly at least, subjective — that is, biased by referring the behavior of the other planets of the solar system to his own geocentric position. This is so particularly in the cases of Mercury and Venus, because these planets are moving within the Earth's orbit.
Mercury, the mind, operates within the human personality. I operates in close proximity to the very source of life in man, the Sun. About three times every year (that is, on the background of a complete solarcycle) Mercury oscillates to and fro around the Sun — thus making six geocentric conjunctions. Three times Mercury passes between the Earth and the Sun (inferior conjunctions); three times it moves beyond the Sun (superior conjunctions). Before and after the inferior conjunctions Mercury appears, to the earth-observer, to move backward, thus in a direction opposite to that of the Sun's motion; and at times it appears to stand still or "stationary."
A natal Mercury retrograde does not in any way mean a weak, dull, or lazy mind — in spite of many students' idea that this should be the case. It indicates, however, generally speaking, a mind which operates inherently in counterpoint to the instinctual nature and the flow of the life-force
. This, of itself alone, can indicate a great many things; and it is never wise to jump to conclusions merely because Mercury is retrograde at birth! Benjamin Franklin is said to have had his natal Mercury retrograde, yet he was one of the most outstanding thinkers of his century. John Gadbury, one of the greatest European astrologers, and Abdul Baha, the great Persian Prophet and religious leader, also had Mercury retrograde at birth; and so did countless great men.
The important factor to consider here is the basic relationship established in the personality between, on one hand, the consciousness and its mechanisms of awareness or attention (Mercury), and on the other hand, the vital drives of the organism or the compelling purpose of destiny (Sun). There are for man stages of spiritual evolution at which the greatest growth is accomplished through contrasting pulls between the Mercury and Sun factors in personality — and this may occur at every level of development, in the primitive person (or "young soul") as well as in the highly evolved (culturally or spiritually) person.
Mercury retrograde simply indicates the presence of such a contrast. It may lead to a greater state of individualization by a revolt of the mental life against the instinctual-generic nature of feelings, or it may lead, at its worst, to a neurotic mentality always at war with life, building one fancied self-delusion after another in terms of psychological escape from actual facts. It may mean a lucid mental independence from irrational unconscious energies, or slavery to mental fears and subjective deceptions or rationalizations.
On the other hand, a direct Mercury may mean a mentality conditioned primarily by the need for organic survival and personal expansion (from primitive cunning, to a scientific intellect discovering new relations and new tools for the sake of gain and increase in power), or a mind able to give objectivity and effective formulation to the central Solar will and purpose of the individual.
These mental characteristics (or polarizations) are rarely permanent throughout a life, even if a basic tendency can be detected. And here is where the "progressions" of Mercury throughout the years of a life help us to complete the picture. The retrograde periods of Mercury last about 20 to 25 days; thus, by progression (one day after birth equaling one year of the life), the same number of years. If this retrograde period falls within the span of the individual's life-progressions, a definite change in the conscious attitude of the mind is to be expected during the year when the "progressed Mercury" is stationary (thus changes from "direct" to "retrograde" or vice versa), whether or not the change is emphasized by external events.(1
The distinction between a direct and retrograde Mercury is not, however, the only one to express the inherent dualism (or bipolar nature) of the mind. Traditional in astrology is the differentiation between a Mercury which rises before the Sun at dawn, and Mercury rising 'after the Sun. in the first case, Mercury's longitude in the zodiac is less than that of the Sun, and Mercury is a "morning star"; in the second case, it is greater, and Mercury is an "evening star."
The same dualism of position with reference to the rising or setting Sun has been used even more widely where Venus is concerned; and logically it should have a similar meaning in the case of both of these "inner" planets — that is, of planets moving within the Earth's orbit and in close zodiacal proximity to the Sun. As Morning Star, Venus was called "Lucifer", meaning the Bearer of Light. As Evening Star, Venus was named "Hesperus", meaning "in the West." As morning stars Venus or Mercury can be said to be symbolical heralds of the Sun. At or near their maximum distance in longitude from the Sun (28 degrees for Mercury, 47 degrees for Venus) they shine clearly in the sky; when close to their conjunction to the Sun, they (especially Mercury) are lost in the "aura" of light of the Sun.
Marc Jones has based a classification of mental temperaments on whether the natal Mercury is a morning or evening star (cf. "How to Learn Astrology"). Mercury, as morning star, he writes, indicates a mind that is "eager"; and when more than 14 degrees away from the Sun, a mind "not only eager but also untrammeled." Mercury as evening star is said to point to a mind that is "deliberate" or careful, and when more than 14 degrees from the Sun, deliberate and also untrammeled — that is, independent from the Solar will or self.
This Mercury dualism of position is said further to correlate with the fact that "the only important difference between one mind and another is the underlying or general tendency of one individual to reach forward and anticipate things, and of another to lean back and recapitulate them, together with the further distinction by which some minds do this in a rather extreme degree, whereas others remain relatively close to the central balance of will." This dualism was also known to the ancient philosophers under the symbolism of the two mythological figures of Prometheus and Epimetheus, prototypes of the "progressive" and the time the radiance of tomorrow (the Prophet), and of him who gathers to himself the light of the past (or "who takes counsel after the event"). Indeed, just as the Venus function can be known under two aspects as Lucifer and Hesperus, so the Mercury function can operate according to two basic rhythms in relation to the spirit-source within man, as Prometheus and Epimetheus.
Marc Jones is no doubt right on the whole in characterizing the Promethean mind as "eager," and the Epimethean mind as "deliberate"; but underneath this distinction a still more basic one can be discovered. The Promethean mind is one in which the involutionary, electrical and creative aspect of the Mercury function is eminently active; while in the Epimethean mind it is the evolutionary, associative, recapitulative and generalizing aspect of Mercury which predominates.
However, if we accept this classification of the two basic aspects of the Mercury function (that is, of Mercury geocentrically
considered), our interpretation of retrograde Mercury must be qualified by it. When Mercury emerges from its inferior conjunction with the Sun in a retrograde direction, it becomes and remains a morning star. The "eager" Promethean Mercury-mind can also be at the same time
a "retrograde" Mercury; and after its superior conjunction with the Sun Mercury is both Epimethean and "direct."
A significant and logical solution to the problem this poses can be found by considering the cycle of Mercury's motion from the heliocentric
point of view and in its relation to the successive heliocentric conjunctions and oppositions of the Earth and Mercury. Mercury is essentially a "solar" planet; and likewise "mind" is, of itself, an expression of being closer to the spirit than to the earthly nature of man. What is at the root of all mental problems is the basic adjustment of spirit (Sun), mind (Mercury) and body (Earth) in a total personality. The study of such an adjustment is the most valid key to the "chemistry of the mind," and thus to the foundation upon which abnormal or disharmonious manifestations of the Mercury function can be expected to arise under various kinds of stimuli.
. These changes in motion of the progressed Mercury are as valid when calculated by "converse progressions," that is when one day before
birth (starting from the exact birth-time) is made to represent one year of the life.
In this case the "change of mind" can be seen as due to fateful (or Karmic) pressure rooted in an ancient racial or spiritual past. Return