Sign o’ the Times ~ Mercury Retrograde in Gemini

The second Mercury Retrograde of the year arrives on May 29th, and will last until June 22nd.

It will be in the mutable air sign of Gemini (one of Mercury’s signs of rulership), arriving in between eclipses and culminating with a Cazimi on the same day as the Solar Eclipse.

If Mercury’s first retrograde cycle of the year was operatic, then this one promises to be a pop extravaganza.

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Gemini is a more playful sign than Aquarius. Where Aquarius is the voice of the exile crying out in the wilderness, Gemini is the shapeshifting trickster who responds with a wink, a nod and a top o’ the mornin’ to ya!

While charming and playful, the trickster is far from harmless. Mischief swiftly turns to mayhem when the attention deficit of Gemini is not tempered by careful discernment and cultivated discipline. With Mercury turning retrograde in Gemini during an eclipse season on the Gemini/Sagittarius axis, the winds of change will rampage through the epoch like a wild tornado, tearing down any belief system that wasn’t nailed to the floor with lead spikes.

Mercury will retrograde exclusively in air signs this year, which is significant for a number of reasons. 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.

We are still in the infancy of the astrological epoch initiated by the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction in Aquarius that closed 2020. 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.

If the Great Conjunct set the stage for the astrological epoch of the air element, then the Mercury Retrogrades of 2021 are the “3-2-1” countdown to showtime.

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 freely 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.”

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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).

In a recent episode of his podcast, Caton remarks that the retrograde cycle is Mercury’s alchemical dance through the skies, making fixed the volatile by emphasizing an elemental triplicity every year. In other words, Mercury normally hangs out for only about 2 to 3 weeks in the other elements, but during his retrograde spends 40 days transiting a specific elemental triplicity. Therefore, his direct motion makes him volatile but his retrograde cycle makes him fixed. And it is through making fixed the volatile that the formula of solve et coagula is achieved and the Great Work accomplished.

The reconciliation of the fixed and the volatile are central to the Great Work—the magnum opus that defines the path of alchemy. The Great Work is never complete; it is an ongoing process of eternal refinement. This was symbolized by Michael Maier in his 17th Century manuscript Atalanta Fugiens by “squaring the circle,” a mathematical problem that was proven impossible to solve a century later.

Despite the inherent impossibility of “squaring the circle,” it has remained an enduring symbol of the Great Work. It represents the impossible task of “making fixed the volatile” or the reconciliation of spirit (volatile) and matter (fixed) that is central to the alchemical opus. The quest for the Philosopher’s Stone is the long and enduring process of capturing spirit in matter—of transforming yang into yin. In Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens, this is symbolized by an alchemist holding a compass, measuring a circle in a square in a triangle in a cirlcle. Inside the circle stand a man (volatile/yang) and a woman (fixed/yin), facing one another.

While impossible to solve, when contemplating “squaring the circle” you should not discount the miraculous. There is a deep well of occult symbolism in the figures of the man and the woman at the center of the squaring of the circle, but there is a more apparent reading of the pairing that reveals just as much esoteric wisdom. Human reproduction is a process in which masculine volatility is captured by feminine fixedness and the Great Work is accomplished. To a loving parent, the child that is born as a result is a Philosopher’s Stone—the perfect reconciliation of spirit and matter. This is truly the miracle of life.

Because of his retrograde cycle, Mercury is a master of the fixed and the volatile. As mentioned above, when he turns retrograde three times a year, he is fixing his position in a given sign, spending a 40 day transit contemplating its meaning. And his rulership in Gemini represents perfectly the duality of volatile/fixed, spirit/matter, male/female.

Checkout Gary P. Caton on the Hermetic Astrology Podcast to learn more.

Play in the Sunshine

Gemini represents much more than the duality of good and evil. Rather, it is the duality of human and divine. In classical mythology, this was represented by the twins Castor and Pollux—one human, the other divine.

This myth holds a secret to understanding the lessons of this retrograde cycle—that in order to square the circle, reconciling the human and the divine, the human must be sacrificed. This is true in parenthood, in which the male and the female must sacrifice their worldly identities to assume their divinely appointed duties as father and mother. It’s also true in mythology: when the human Castor dies, Pollux sacrifices some of his divinity to give his twin brother eternal life, with the bargain being that they spend half of the year on Mount Olympus and the other half in Hades.

On June 10, a little over 12 hours after the Solar Eclipse, Mercury will make his Inferior Conjunction with the Sun at 20 degrees Gemini. This transit is otherwise known as the 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 potential of this Inferior Conjunction is pregnant with profound possibility. With Mercury’s role as messenger of the gods and his rulership Gemini, his powers to move between the human and the divine will be greatly amplified.

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.

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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.”

Sign o’ the Times

The perfect album to keep on heavy rotation this Mercury Retrograde is Prince’s 1987 masterpiece Sign o’ the Times.

Sign o’ the Times is Prince at his most Mercurial, shapeshifting through musical styles with the elegance of an alchemist making fixed the volatile and the grace of psychopomp dancing between worlds.

Its genesis is pure alchemy. Unsatisfied with the three different albums that he recorded within a year, Prince (natal Sun and Mercury in Gemini) scrapped all of them (solve) and recombined them into Sign o’ the Times, a magnum opus of mythic proportions (coagula). On Sign o’ the Times, Prince fixed what was volatile and accomplished the Great Work of his legendary career.

Prince created an alchemical masterpiece with Sign o’ the Times, a double album that reconciled the duality of opposites in volatile & fixed, spirit & matter, and male & female.

The Mercury Retrograde begins in medias res on Side C of Sing o’ the Times with Mercury’s conjunction to Venus before stationing retrograde.

Here we are folks
The dream we all dream of
Boy versus girl in the World Series of love
Tell me, have u got the look?

“U Got the Look” reflects the fireworks of the Mercury/Venus conjunction on May 28th. Prince’s high-pitched androgynous voice sings a duet with Sheena Easton—building the sexual tension through a sassy back-and-forth duet on the chorus:

U got the look, u’ve got the hook
U sho’nuf do be cookin’ in my book
Ur face is jammin’
Ur body’s heck-a-slammin’
If love is good, let’s get to rammin’
U got the look, u got the look

The Grecian counterparts of Mercury and Venus, Hermes and Aphrodite, had a scandalous love affair that produced an unusual offspring. Hermaphroditus, the Magical Child of this strange relationship, was born intersex and became a sacred symbol of androgyny, with devotional cults appearing in Cyprus at the time of the 7th Century B.C.E.

The androgyne is a magical child born of the Great Work, whose entire form represents the reconciliation of male & female, volatile & fixed, spirit & matter.

Look here
U got the look (U got the look)
U must’a took (U must’a took)
A whole hour just 2 make up your face, baby
Closin’ time, ugly lights, everybody’s inspected (everybody’s inspected)
But U are a natural beauty unaffected (unaffected)
Did I say an hour?
My face is red, I stand corrected (I stand corrected)

The androgyne reveals itself on the next track, “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” The volatile funk of “U Got the Look” descends into a fixed groove like Mercury descends into the underworld when he stations retrograde on May 29th.

On “If I was Your Girlfriend,” Prince transforms into his alter ego Camille, raising the pitch of his voice to embody the shapeshifting genderlessness of his natal Mercury in Gemini. Camille serenades and seduces their beloved through a series of strange questions and curious propositions, their high-pitch crooning complimented by a deep funk groove (fixed & volatile).

If I was your girlfriend
Would you remember
To tell me all the things you forgot when I was your man?

This is only the beginning of the Mercury Retrograde. Over the course of the next two weeks, there will be a Solar Eclipse on the same day as the Mercury Cazimi. Let’s dig deeper into the album to discover what this means.

An eclipse is known as the alchemical marriage, when the volatile becomes fixed and the powers of masculine (Sun) and feminine (Moon) become one. With the eclipse taking place in Gemini and conjunct retrograde Mercury, there will be a brief moment when dualities will be reconciled and the power to slip between worlds magnified.

Because of their natural born relationship with duality, Gemini is always willing to hear both sides of the story. This makes Gemini the perfect journalist—informed, informative and infophilic to a consummate degree.

Prince displays these attributes of his natal sun sign impeccably on the title track which opens the album—delivering a message about the human condition in the modern world with journalistic integrity and bardic romance. The social plagues of poverty, injustice, scientific hubris and political corruption that Prince sang about in 1987 on “Sign ‘o the Times” are just as prevalent in 2021—and you’ll probably find yourself reflecting a lot on them during the Solar Eclipse in Gemini.

“Sign o’ the Times” is a song about epidemics—be they medical, social or political.

In France a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same

The opening lyric references the AIDS epidemic that ravaged marginalized communities in the 80s. But even though this song was released in 1987, it holds strong resonance with the state of the world today which is still suffering through the brutal COVID-19 pandemic, which finds a peculiar sympathy with the AIDS epidemic. Both were ushered in by the Saturn/Pluto conjunction; however, where the AIDS epidemic followed the Saturn/Pluto conjunction in Libra, the COVID-19 pandemic followed that of Capricorn. Where AIDS confronted mainstream society with the issues of social justice for the marginalized and oppressed (Libra), COVID-19 has threatened the very structure of world civilization (Capricorn). Both outbreaks compromised social behavior on a massive scale—the AIDS epidemic requiring the need for protection in sexual relations, while COVID-19 highlights the compulsion for protection just to enter the grocery story. The two outbreaks also share a familiar face in Anthony Fauci and equally mysterious origins that seem to evade public disclosure.

At home there are seventeen year old boys and their idea of fun
Is bein’ in a gang called the Disciples high on crack, totin’ a machine gun

The next lyric in the first verse references the crack epidemic that spread a wave of crime and decay through underserved and disadvantaged urban communities—and brings to mind the CIA involvement in the cocaine trade (see Gary Webb).

My sister killed her baby ‘cause she couldn’t afford to feed it
And we’re sending people to the moon

The second verse opens with a lyric that recalls Gil Scott Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon.” But it also resonants with the state of the world today, with Elon Musk being named richest man in the world and news about the Mars Rover getting a software update dominating the headlines while cities in America burned in the voracious fight for social justice, unemployment levels worldwide reached all-time highs and violent crime surged in urban areas.

September my cousin tried refer for the very first time
Now he’s doin’ horse, it’s June. 

Prince revisits the drug epidemic in the second line of the second verse, with a lyric that calls to mind the modern day opioid crisis, brought to you by the same industry we depend on for the experimental vaccines designed to manage the pandemic.

The title track segues into “Play in the Sunshine”, an exuberant psychedelic rock tune that turns volatile the fixed groove of “Sign o’ the Times”, stirring the opening track’s deep meditation of crisis into a joyous celebration of life.

We going to play in the sunshine
We’re going to get over
I’m feeling kind of lucky tonight
I’m going to find my four leaf clover
Before my life is done
Some way, some how, I’m going to have fun

“Sign o’ the Times” segueing into “Play in the Sunshine” perfectly captures the energies of June 10th, when the Solar Eclipse in Gemini in the morning will be followed by the Mercury Cazimi in the evening. It will be a day to contemplate the disastrous state of the world (volatile) and the beautiful soul of humanity (fixed).

With the messenger of the gods in the heart of the Sun, the Mercury Cazimi will be a time to send a message to your Higher Self and receive a response. Spend this time cultivating your superior nature and contemplating what it means to be both human and divine.

Fixed & Volatile

Prince offers guidance on how to reconcile the opposites of fixed & volatile, matter & spirit, or human & divine on the closing lyrics of “Sign o’ the Times”:

Sign o’ the times mess with your mind, hurry before its too late
Let’s fall in love, get married, have a baby
We’ll call him Nate, if it’s a boy

Like an alchemical bard, Prince finds the panacea to the modern condition in the conception of a magical child—of fixing the volatile social issues he’s spent the entire song singing about through the act of love.

The bardic tradition sought to elevate the consciousness of the times through songs of temperance for and devotion to an eternal beloved. In the face of the diabolic powers that seem to perpetuate darkness from the shadows, Prince envisions a world worth bringing children into because it is a world where the light of eternal truth shines within every living being.

May you spend this Mercury Retrograde cultivating your superior nature, making fixed the volatile, reconciling human and divine, shining the light of eternal truth into the world and jamming Sign o’ the Times on heavy rotation.

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