I’m a bit slow. I got an e-mail about Mercury heading into retrograde the same day that Eyjafjallajokull, the Icelandic volcano with the catchy name, erupted. That was 14 April – almost two weeks ago – and I only just now saw the coincidence. I’m probably the last person on the planet to realize this, but I must say that I haven’t run across anybody else making mention of it.
Because of the way everything moves in the solar system, from time to time some planets appear to travel backwards along their paths through the sky, a phenomenon known as retrograde motion. (Actually, they make a small loop or a z shape because of the angles of their orbital planes in relation to our own.)* Astrology interprets this little backtracking detour as a kind of reset: unexpected changes crop up in the areas influenced by the retrograde planet, changes that require us to rethink our approaches or suffer the consequences of trying to do business as usual in unusual circumstances.
Astrologically, Mercury is the planet that rules communication and travel. Mercury’s motion through our sky began the appearance of slowing a few days before it actually went retrograde on 18 April, and Eyjafjallajokull began erupting around the same time. I guess it should be no surprise that the latter’s ash plume wrought such havoc on air travel.
Some might cite this synchronicity as evidence that transportation authorities around the world ought to consult with astrologers more often, but I see it more as confirmation of the general truth behind the astrological understanding of retrogrades: every now and then we need to rethink the way we do things. If we view planetary retrogrades as periodic invitations to examine our assumptions in certain areas of our lives, how is that any worse than seeing the yearly return of spring as a prompt to thoroughly clean house?
From that perspective, maybe we could all benefit from paying a little more attention to astrology.
* For some great explanations of retrograde motion with graphics and cool composite photos, check out these sites: