30 Jan The Magic Flute ~ Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius ~ January 30th, 2021
The first Mercury Retrograde of 2021 arrives on January 30th—and it will be nothing short of operatic.
It will be in the fixed air sign Aquarius, where just last month was the monumental Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
Mercury’s Retrograde cycle will be exclusively in air signs this year, providing a huge gust of wind in the sails of the ship that embarked on a cosmic voyage when Jupiter and Saturn met in Aquarius last month.
The two giants’ conjunction in Aquarius was monumental for a number of reasons. The first is that Jupiter and Saturn only meet once every 20 years, an astrological transit known as the Great Conjunction. However, for the last 200 years, they met almost exclusively in the triplicity of earth signs. The Great Conjunction of 2020 initiated a new 200 year cycle of the transit taking place in the air sign triplicity.
And now, with this year’s cycle of Mercury Retrogrades taking place exclusively in air signs you might say that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
If the Great Conjunct saw the hour hand of the cosmic clock strike midnight to carry us into a new astrological epoch of the air element, then the Mercury Retrogrades of 2021 will be like the first three eager ticks of the second hand skipping into the Age of Aquarius.
While he finds his rulership in Gemini, Mercury has an affinity for all of the air signs. Known as triplicity dignity, this astrological doctrine presumes that the nature of a planet agrees with the nature of an element. Being the Winged Messenger whose gifts include language, travel and communications, Mercury finds a natural proclivity toward the air element.
In alchemy, operations of air are those of separating and sifting the mind from beliefs and ideas that ensnare it in repetitive patterns and rigid dogma.
With Aquarius being the sign of the exile and heretic crying out in the wild frontier, this Mercury Retrograde will be an initiation by trials through both fire and water to purify the mind of its most limiting beliefs.
The 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 is the pillar that holds up the entire universe and connects the human world to one that is at once animistic and divine.
It is through Mercury, 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).
Aquarius is naturally the realm of the scientist and the shaman—the outsider of society who works for its ultimate benefit. Where Capricorn is a closed system with one way in and one way out, Aquarius is an open system, the wild tundra of the unknown.
On the most recent episode of The Hermetic Astrology Podcast, Gary P. Caton observed that in Aquarius we cry out—not for the system that rejected us, but for what-is-to-come. It is a place of great terror and awe but also promise and potential, and this retrograde season in Aquarius, Mercury the trickster shaman will bring us to the edge of reason and sanity.
The Heart of the Sun
On the morning of February 8, Mercury will make his Inferior Conjunction with the Sun at 20 degrees Aquarius. 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.
With Mercury’s role as the messenger of the gods and Aquarius being the Water Bearer of the gods—the bridge between the human and the divine—the potential of this Inferior Conjunction is pregnant with profound possibility.
The Cazimi is a great seed moment, an opportunity for you to cry out to God and have your prayers heard. 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.
Check out the most recent episode of the Hermetic Astrology Podcast to learn more about Mercury in Aquarius.
Following the Cazimi, Mercury will descend into the second decan of Aquarius, where he will spend the remainder of his retrograde. Mercury finds rulership in Aquarius’ second decan, a liminal space on the Zodiac belonging to scientists and merchants alike, and the journeys they embark on in their quest for knowledge and commerce.
This decan is attributed to the Six of Swords in the Minor Arcana of the Tarot. The Rider Waite deck pictures a ferryman carrying two weary travelers across a river. The ferryman is Mercury himself—master of ports, terminals and other in-between spaces—while the presence of the travelers leave themselves open to interpretation.
You’re given the opportunity to project yourself into the weary travelers and ask what are you leaving behind, what lies on the horizon, and what baggage are you carrying that can be cast overboard?
On February 13, Mercury will conjunct Venus and the next day, on February 14, he will conjunct Jupiter. With these conjunctions lasting for a few days, Mercury’s ménage à trois with the two benefics will last all of Valentine’s Day weekend. It will be a time to love and celebrate with reckless abandon the most strange and unusual aspects of your hidden self.
Mercury stations direct on February 20, in a loose conjunction with Saturn whose first square with Uranus in Taurus perfected a few days beforehand. This signals a time of a close call with reality before you promptly catch yourself and correct course.
Mercury Retrogrades are times to, in the words of Timothy Leary, pick up the needle and move to another groove. It is a time to sacrifice the lower self that no longer serves your highest good—a time when you can change your story by journeying inward, reviewing the script and applying the age-old writer’s formula of killing your darlings.
To aid in this journey, it is advised to embark upon a directed mythological study and magical practice. As Caton writes in Hermetica Triptycha, “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.”
Music of the Spheres
There is no greater work of art to meditate upon for the Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
Mozart’s final opera is a perfect balance of both myth and magic, a fairytale phantasmagoria that awakens the archetypal imagination with primal vitality in service to a grand ritual of initiation.
Working from a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart produced one of the most forward-thinking and avant-garde works of Western art with The Magic Flute—which comes as no surprise for an artist with their natal Sun conjunct Mercury in Aquarius.
The music finds Mozart pushing the boundaries of composition and performance both forward & back and up & down (as above/so below, as within/so without) while Schikaneder’s libretto draws from a kaleidoscopic well of influences ranging from Egyptian mythology to Medieval romance and German fairytales to Masonic philosophy.
In his elegant balance of poise and proportion, Mozart was the apotheosis of the Classical period in Western music. But in The Magic Flute, that elegant poise becomes a balancing act of extreme measure. It calls back to the Baroque era while pushing ahead into the Romantic period. It contains passages of classic opera & traditional folk music, somber ceremonial hymns & silly childish music of masterful simplicity, impossible virtuosity & basic skill. It finds some of the most extreme registers in Western music, ranging from the highest note the human voice can sing on stage to the lowest bass the voice can reach.
O gods of earth and gods of heaven,
I beg your presence on this day,
For two young men now seek our wisdom
And must be placed in danger’s way.
Grant them the will to resist temptation
And give them strength to find salvation.
Should they be worthy, they then shall find
Wisdom to share with all mankind.
Schikaneder’s libretto tells the story of the divine Prince Tamino and his earthly sidekick Papageno as they journey to rescue the Queen of the Night’s daughter Pamina from the sorcerer Sarastro. Tamino, having fallen in love with Pamina at the sight of her portrait, is eager for the quest. To aid in their journey, the Queen gives Tamino a magic flute and Papageno magic bells. However, when Tamino and Papageno reach Sarastro’s temple, they discover that he is not a wicked sorcerer but a wise magician. Sarastro informs Tamino that he must undergo a series of trials to become worthy of Pamina. With the blessing of Isis and Osiris, Tamino must take a vow of silence and heroically cross both fire and water with aid of his magic flute. Meanwhile, Papageno undergoes his own trials, which he fails utterly but is redeemed nonetheless by the love of his female companion Papagena.
In the finale, when the Queen of the Night is preparing to destroy the temple, she is stopped by Sarastro and his priests, who sing:
The bright glare of sunlight has conquered the night
As truth shatters falsehood and wrong flies from right!
Rays of truth and virtue
Burn thru evil’s blight.
Hope is now triumphant.
Love is man’s guiding light.
The good are triumphant and justice is done.
Thru knowledge and courage all glory is won!
Both Mozart and Schikaneder were initiates of the esoteric brotherhood of Freemasonry, even belonging to the same lodge. The Magic Flute reflects their affiliation in its mystical treatment of the duality between light and dark, good and evil, divine and human, sacred and profane—extremes of existence reflected in Mozart’s extremes in composition.
But within the tightrope balance of duality lies a triplicity, reflected in The Magic Flute’s persistent theme of threes: 3 trials, 3 ladies, 3 boys, 3 doors. It’s written in E-flat Major, which has 3 flats in its key signature.
The overture opens with 3 chords (each of which have 3 notes) that define its narrative arch. The first is E-Flat Major in its natural root position, echoing Tamino’s innocence when accepting the Queen’s assignment. The second, C-Minor, expresses the sorrow of experience when Tamino discovers his quest was not as simple as it seemed. The final chord is an inverted E-Flat Major with its bottom note moved on top, restoring musical order while pointing higher toward enlightenment, reflecting Tamino’s heroic accomplishment of restoring balance to the kingdom.
It is in its abundance of triplicity that The Magic Flute makes itself a Mercurial work of art par excellence.
In the Hermetic worldview, everything has three aspects: Salt, Sulphur and Mercury (or Body, Soul and Spirit). These correspond to the three worlds (Earth, Underworld, Heaven). During his retrograde cycle, Mercury has three phases—first peaking as the Evening Star, then descending below the horizon for the Inferior Conjunction, and reemerging as the Morning Star—which allows him to travel between the three worlds.
In its esoteric themes of illumination and virtuosic composition of balanced extremes, The Magic Flute is an excellent roadmap—or skymap—for navigating the Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius.
Beyond its esoteric puzzles and occult riddles, The Magic Flute promotes the very real Enlightenment Era values of rationalism, humanism and skepticism of traditional institutions such as the Church and the Crown. But the postmodern world of 2021 is much different than the Enlightenment could have predicted.
As a philosophical discipline, postmodernism is defined by the collapse of the Grand Narrative—when institutions of government, bodies of knowledge and schools of philosophy have failed to bring meaning to existence or justice to life. Now that we have reached the end game of the Enlightenment, the shortcomings of its philosophy are on clear display in the technocratic dystopia of the 21st century.
As an artistic movement, postmodernism is defined by its playful mixing of high & low culture, old & new forms, and classical & commercial art. Being an irrational story about the virtues of reason, Mozart’s The Magic Flute was postmodern before modernity was even a thing.
When The Magic Flute debuted in 1791, it wasn’t in a posh opera house but the people’s opera house. Emanuel Schikaneder’s Theater auf der Wieden was an opera house for the common man with an ensemble troupe of actors some of whom were even not classically trained. The Magic Flute was the Star Wars of its time—a mystery play for the people to initiate them on the hero’s journey.
With scientific rationalism becoming the New Religion, it’s time that we renewed the Enlightenment vows of separating Church & State. And since alchemical operations of air separate and sift the mind from beliefs and ideas that ensnare it in repetitive patterns and rigid dogma, the Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius opens an opportunity for such an undertaking.
Let The Magic Flute be your skymap this retrograde season, for you to travel to the brink of reason to come to your senses and separate your divine mind from the rigid dogma of scientific materialism.
May it be the breath of fresh air that you need to carry you across the universe.
N.B. Eternal gratitude to my husband Andrei Burke for his contributions to this article.