21 Aug Bohemian Rhapsody ~ Mercury Retrograde in Virgo
The third Mercury retrograde of the year has arrived, in the mutable earth sign of Virgo.
Virgo is the virgin. In the ancient world, the word virgin was defined as a woman whole unto herself. The term typically described a priestess tasked with the duty to transmit the divine grace and wisdom of the earth.
The role of virgin was given to women who remained independent and autonomous. She was an initiate of the mysteries, whole unto herself and answered to no authority outside of her own.
Virgo inspires awareness of the natural order and rhythms of the universe. In the virgin’s mind, every experience is a thread that pulls the whole tapestry together. Seeing how each thread weaves together is her joy.
And Mercury is her loyal servant. In service to the virgin, Mercury weaves together the world—through language, culture, science and art. He becomes a devotee of the mysteries, distilling the natural essence of universal order.
It’s in Virgo that the Roman Mercury manifests as his mythological counterparts— the Grecian Hermes and Egyptian Thoth, the latter being the language god who taught alchemy to humankind.
And it was in the alchemical corpus that the sign of Virgo was often attributed to the stage of distillation in the Great Work. After a long and turbulent fermentation process, distillation brings clarity and purification to the work, like wine turning into brandy or beer turning into whiskey.
But distillation also reveals the essence of hidden order in the natural world. Think of the patterns of sacred geometry that can be found in plant life, the human genome and spiral galaxies.
The Mercury retrograde in Virgo invites you to explore the alchemy of personal transformation. You’ve got a chance to weave together the worlds of body, mind and soul—of past, present and future—so you can distill the essence of your inner world and discover the medicine in your lived experience.
Power of Three
Hermetic cosmology sees three worlds—heaven, earth and the underworld (divine, human, animal)—all connected by the axis mundi.
The axis mundi has been depicted in mythological traditions as a tree (Yggdrasil of Norse mythology) or mountain (Mount Olympus of Greece). It’s the pillar that holds up the entire universe and connects the human world to one that is at once animistic and divine.
It’s through Mercury that we learn our ancestral wisdom and divine origins in equal measure. Mercury’s Grecian counterpart Hermes was the only god granted the power to travel the full range of the axis mundi, from the heights of Mount Olympus to the depths of Hades.
When he turns retrograde, Mercury descends below the horizon. He transforms from the Winged Messenger into the psychopomp, the guide who carries departed souls into the underworld.
In Hermetica Triptycha Volume One: The Mercury Elemental Year, Gary P. Caton describes the visual phenomena of the Mercury Retrograde as a “disappearing act,” writing that it appears Mercury is “switching skies, appearing in the same degrees three times: first as evening star, then becoming invisible and making the inferior conjunction, and finally crossing for the third time as morning star.”
The Mercury Retrograde is an invitation for you to switch selves—to transform from ordinary consciousness to unconscious reverie, from a rational being into an irrational creature. You are being asked to switch patterns and change perception, lest you become a “victim” to the alteration of consciousness naturally underway during the Mercury Retrograde.
You may hear an invitation from Mercury the trickster to switch worlds. It’s an invitation to go within to discover the source of your discontent with others and the world-at-large, rather than point your finger like a heat seeking missile at an easily identifiable enemy. You are being called to break free of rationality, to embrace the irrational and see reality as it truly is (or at least seems to be).
Open Your Eyes, Look Up to the Skies and See
On September 6th, 2023 Mercury will make his inferior conjunction with the Sun at 14 degrees Virgo. This transit is otherwise known as Cazimi, translating to “In the Heart of the Sun.” The image given here is one of a messenger entering the throne room of a great monarch.
The Cazimi is a great seed moment. In this cosmic temple beyond the limits of space and time, you may commune with the divine and bear witness to a greater plan for your destiny.
The Cazimi takes place in the second decan of Virgo, which the Picatrix describes as a face of “of desires, and of wealth, of tribute;” while Agrippa describes it as signifying “gain, scraping together of wealth and covetousness.”
Images attributed to this decan commonly depict men in multiple layers of dress, from coarse material to fine garment. Medieval scholar Ibn Ezra depicts a man in three garments, “…one of leather, the second of silk and the third is a red mantle”—while the Picatrix depicts a man “dressed in leather, and over his garment of leather is another garment of iron.”
In his tome 36 Faces, astrologer Austin Coppock reads this symbolism as the spirit enclosing itself “in a dense body here in order to gain control over gross layers of the physical plane and to oversee its process with a keen eye.”
In other words, the second decan of Virgo depicts the distillation of spirit into matter. The Emerald Tablet describes distillation as: “It rises from Earth to Heaven and descends again to Earth, thereby combining within Itself the powers of both the Above and the Below.”
The Great Work of alchemy means making fixed the volatile—or bringing spirit (volatile) into matter (fixed). The quest for the Philosopher’s Stone—that evasive, enigmatic universal panacea that perfects anything it touches—is the long and enduring process of distilling spirit in matter.
With every rise “from Earth to Heaven” and descent back to Earth, the Stone combines “within Itself” the powers of spirit (Above) and matter (Below).
And so the symbolism of the man clad in garments of leather and silk reveals itself to be the combining of “the powers of both the Above and the Below”—leather representing the dense matter of Earth and silk the fine spirit of Heaven.
The second decan of Virgo is attributed to the Nine of Disks in the Minor Arcana of the Tarot. In The Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley calls this card “Gain” and writes:
“The disks are arranged as an equilateral triangle… This signifies the multiplication of the original established Word—by the establishment of ‘good luck and good management.’”
The “original established Word” can be found in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, which opens with:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
But it’s also found in the Corpus Hermeticum, or the holy books of Hermeticism that gave rise to the discipline of alchemy. Its author, the mythic father of alchemy Hermes Trismegistus, describes his vision of creation:
“Out of the light came forth the Holy Word which entered into the watery substance, and pure fire leapt from the watery substance and rose up; the fire was insubstantial, piercing and active.”
This ‘Holy Word’ is the logos, a Greek word meaning ‘word,’ ‘speech,’ ‘reason,’ or ‘discourse.’ It means the divine word of creation or a discourse with the divine mind of the Creator. The Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus defined the logos as an “ever-living fire” whose incessant transformations are at the heart of the cycle of life and death.
So at Mercury’s inferior conjunction in the second decan of Virgo, you have the opportunity to open your eyes, look up to the skies and see the divine spark in all of creation—to hear the inward thought and outward speech of the divine whose spirit shines within material existence.
To aid in this undertaking, it’s advised that you embark upon a directed mythological study and magical practice. As Caton writes, “To keep the passages between worlds open, and our basic self and non-rational worlds integrated, we should dedicate at least one of these three periods each year to taking a conscious descent into the worlds of magic and myth.”
I’m Just a Poor Boy, Nobody Loves Me
If you wish to explore the extreme heights and great depths of the Mercury retrograde in Virgo, then might we recommend Queen’s magnum opus, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Written by Freddie Mercury—who was born with his natal Mercury and Sun in Virgo, and who looked equally fabulous in both leather and silk—this track needs little introduction.
The pièce de résistance of Queen’s 1975 masterpiece A Night at the Opera, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the crown jewel of the Golden Age of the 70s rock experiment.
This was an era when musical acts like Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Brian Eno pushed the envelope of how the recording studio could shape the sound of the artist and the experience of the listener. What the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Phil Spector began in the 1960s was brought to its logical conclusion in the 1970s, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the gold standard.
When they recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen didn’t just refine the rock music of a decade—they distilled the history of Western music into a 6-minute epic. Calling it a song is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s actually five songs in one— a suite or a succession of compositions. It begins with an acapella, which segues into a ballad, then into an opera, then to rock song and finally a coda that reflects on the entire composition.
The track skillfully combines both high and low in its musical composition, lyrical content and emotional impact. Like Virgo the virgin, who sees every weave in cosmic tapestry, “Bohemian Rhapsody” weaves together every thread of human experience.
Musically, it ranges from classical opera to modern rock, from a close five-part harmony acapella vocal to a virtuosic guitar solo, from piano ballad to full hard rock—and it transmutes from the major keys B♭ to E♭ to A to F.
Thematically, it encompasses both the comedic and the tragic, the absurd and the sublime, the demonic and the divine.
The lyrics tell the story of a poor boy wanted for murder. In the a capella introduction, he’s in a state of shock and cannot discern reality from fantasy.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality
As the track segues into ballad, cries out for his mother, lamenting that “life had just begun” but now he’s “gone and thrown it all away.”
Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away
He resolves himself to a decidedly nihilistic fate, eschewing existential vitality for philosophical absurdism.
Mama, ooh, didn’t mean to make you cry
If I’m not back again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters
But during the opera suite, the lyrics take a decidedly comedic turn as the poor boy addresses the judges presiding over his case.
I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me
(Galileo) Galileo, (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Figaro, magnifico
Both high and low are represented in equal measure in this verse—as are truth and deceit.
Scaramouche is a comical figure—a clown stock character from the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition, often depicted as a conceited figure who tricks the audience with deception.
But Galileo Galilei (also hailing from Italy) was a tragic figure. The father of modern observational astronomy whose support of heliocentrism brought him to attention of the Inquisition—and was forced to recant his beliefs on the grounds of heresy and spend the rest of his days under house arrest.
Mercury (Freddie, that is) perfectly captures the dualistic nature of Mercury (the planet) by referencing both the public spectacle of Galileo’s persecution and public performance of Scaramouche’s deception.
Mercury is simultaneously a clown and a scientist, using deceit to disarm his audience and truth to disrupt the status quo—all in a single verse!
But the judges see through his duplicity when they proclaim “We will not let you go!”
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
No, we will not let you go (let him go)
We will not let you go (let him go)
We will not let you go (let me go)
Will not let you go (let me go)
Never, never, never, never let me go
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh, mamma mia, mamma mia
Mamma mia, let me go
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me
Bismillah! is an Arabic phrase that means “in the name of God.” It occurs at the start of the Qur’an and is used in the Basmala, an Islamic phrase meaning, “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful” The Basmala is used across the Muslim world before the start of good deeds, such as daily prayer.
But Beelzebub is a name given to Satan in the Christian tradition. The name is a transliteration of Ba’al-zəbûb or “lord of the flies.” According to the Testament of Solomon, Beelzebub appears as a fallen angel akin to Lucifer. He’s a prince of demons who claims “to cause destruction through tyrants, to cause demons to be worshipped among men, to excite priests to lust, to cause jealousies in cities and murders, and to bring about war.”
Mercury again reflects the dual nature of humanity—the angel on one shoulder and devil on the other. One inspires you to rejoice in the name God and invoke the logos before any undertaking so you may serve the highest good of all. But the other persuades you to forsake your divine nature, live only for your animal instincts and revel in a world of moral relativism—because “nothing really matters.”
The conflict between demonic and divine comes to a crescendo as the track breaks out into its hard section and Mercury rebukes his judges with ferocious vitality.
So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here
But ultimately, as the track descends back into a reflecting coda, Mercury again resigns himself to a nihilistic fate.
Nothing really matters, anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me
In 1975, it wasn’t common for radio hits to have such an eclectic range of time signatures and key changes. It was standard practice among prog rock bands like Yes, Jethro Tull and Genesis—but not among commercial acts.
And yet, “Bohemian Rhapsody” went on to dominate the airwaves for what seems to be all time and eternity. It’s a staple of the classic rock repertoire.
That’s because it awakens something in the psyche. With its wide range of musical styles and lyrical content, “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t just a perfect distillation of Western music—but of the Western Mystery Tradition.
It’s a mini-arcanum that holds the key to that Emerald Tablet stanza: “It rises from Earth to Heaven and descends again to Earth, thereby combining within Itself the powers of both the Above and the Below.”
Because with every listen, every ecstatic car ride sing-a-long, every drunken karaoke—you behold a vision. Every moment of your life flashes before your eyes. Something is refined in your mind, clarified in your soul, and concentrated in your body.
And it brings you closer to the discovery of your own Philosopher’s Stone.
Nothing Really Matters
The 16th century alchemist Paracelsus said, “Alchemy means: to carry to its end something that has not yet been completed.”
And in the 21st century, modern alchemist Brian Cotnoir said, “Alchemy is the art and science of bringing something to its final perfection.”
Alchemy is the search for the logos in all of creation—a discourse with divinity.
This is what Freddie Mercury discovered when he wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody”, bringing rock music to its final perfection in a track that discourses with the divine on the nature of the human soul.
And it’s what you have the chance to discover this Mercury retrograde in Virgo. To see clearly every thread in the story of your life and every weave in the tapestry of your existence. To behold every fiber that joins together every moment in time, every memory that defines your identity, every dream that calls you to your destiny. To bear witness to the sacred geometry that connects every ecstasy & agony, every joy & sorrow, every dream & nightmare.
To realize that “nothing really matters”—and to distill it all into an alchemical elixir of emotional transcendence.