Mercury retrograde – the story of the Sabian symbols

Developing yesterday’s theme of Mercury entering Leo and then entering his shadow, it is interesting to draw upon the Sabian symbols to have a look at the over-arching story this retrograde phase is telling us.

First of all, the Sabian for the degree at which Mercury enters the shadow and later on will turn direct. At present the influence of this time is unseen; we do not feel strongly the times when planets enter their shadow, in general we only become aware of the significance of this time later on once the planet (in this case Mercury) has gone back across the sky to this point. The Sabian for 2˚Leo has clear symbolism here – it shows individual people having personal experiences that will grow to become a collective experience:


KEYNOTE: The spreading power of individual crises through a collectivity.

This symbol should be interpreted at two levels without evading the issues posed by its original wording. What does an epidemic imply and why mumps? The broad meaning of an epidemic is that one individual, if infected by a certain type of disease, can spread the disease to a vast number of persons in their environment, and in some cases all over the globe. In the proceeding symbol we were confronted with the individual crises, and its dangerous possibilities for the individual were implied. Now we deal with a process that affects the entire society; this obviously points out that the whole of mankind is potentially affected by, and thus, consciously or not, cannot help being involved in the critical situations faced by any individual or special group of people. Why then an epidemic of mumps? A childhood disease is implied, but it may have very serious consequences for adult men who catch it, since it affects not only all lymphatic glands, especially in the neck region, but also the testicles.

If the sign Aries symbolizes birth as a natural organism on this Earth, Leo represents (at least potentially) rebirth – at the level of the conscious and mind-based individuality. Thus in Leo man/woman, in this sense, is as yet only a ‘little child’ one might say a would-be initiate, an infant in spirit. The relation of the mumps to the sexual glands is characteristic, for the entrance into the realm of the conscious and individualized mind can affect the sex force, either through over-stimulation and irritation, or in terms of a deliberate ascetic deprivation.

This second stage symbol also provides a contrast with the first. What was an individual issue is now seen as a collective danger. Thus we are dealing with THE INFECTIOUS SPREAD OF INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES.

Hermes, the Greek equivalent of Mercury, looks ready to take on the task at hand.

Whilst Mercury is in his shadow there is a full moon in Capricorn (July 3rd 18:52GMT). In many ways this full moon sees the culmination or the closing down of opportunities started at the New Moon on 19th June – the seeds sown then start to sprout and you can see what kind of plants they are and decide whether to nurture them or not. The Sabian symbol is suggestive of a quest for greater meaning in life, a realisation that life should be about something more than simply filling in the time between cradle and grave. This full moon, then, shows Mercury something about some greater aim – Mercury will pick this up during his retrograde phase:


KEYNOTE: The subjective quest for ultimates beyond the interplay of life and death processes.

Beyond cultural enjoyment and the passion for accumulation of often-unusable data of sense knowledge stands the willful and determined “adventure in consciousness” of the occultist, the yogi, the mystic. The mystery of fire has always captured man’s imagination because it is the mystery of all transformations wrapped in the enigma of death. In times when collective, perhaps total, death could be in store for mankind, the process of subjective meditation is fascinating an ever-greater number of people.

This is the third symbol in the fifty-seventh sequence. It brings us to a stage beyond life itself. Are we ready to take this step which the masters of yoga claim to have taken: to experience death and return to the same body? Are we ready to demonstrate man’s WILL TO TRANSCENDENCE?

Next we have the Mercury retrograde degree, where Mercury realises there is something he needs to go back and see to (July 15th 02:17GMT), whatever it was that began to stir back when he entered his shadow has now started to show itself, it seems with this Sabian that Mercury gets a hint of some kind of tranquillity and peace, but first he needs to deal with things that have been brought up recently – he will return to this point at the end of his retrograde journey:


KEYNOTE: The quieted mind’s recollections of crises and joys long past.

The sea captain has steered the ship of his ego-consciousness through seas and storms, maintaining the integrity of his individual selfhood while in close contact with the collective Unconscious. Now retired, he may try to distill wisdom from his many experiences and from his victories over elemental forces. The “swing” of the child-consciousness has now become a “rocking chair” from which one can contemplate past as well as present scenes, gently moving as waves roll over the shore. Peace at last.

At this third stage we find the consciousness of old age, after having witnessed the spontaneous play of children close to protective nature (Leo 11°) and the fashionable social parties of escaping adults (Leo 12°); three phases of mental development. Keyword: QUIET RECOLLECTION.

Whilst Mercury is going backwards it seems things start to really kick off, the ‘epidemic’ of the entering the shadow degree is beginning to build and is starting to cause upheaval and unrest as people see that something needs to be dealt with, things simply can’t be brushed under the carpet any more. This is the Sabian for the New Moon that occurs while Mercury is retrograde (July 19th 04:25GMT) and sets the scene from now until the next full moon which also takes place while he is retrograde:


KEYNOTE: A confrontation with a social upheaval demanding the reconsideration of static values.

The deeper implications of the scene depicted in the symbol are that the socio-cultural elite can always see its position and security challenged by forces beyond its control, even if it may be successful in protecting itself from destruction. The individual may not be able to depend on the standards and values he has acquired through education and through a relatively sheltered and rich life. He has to rise to the occasion, and perhaps to undergo an inner metamorphosis as a result of the crisis he has been able to accept as a personal challenge.

The contrast between the two first phases of this twenty-fourth sequence is evident: peace in luxury and intellectual development in terms of collective cultural values (reading books), then the challenge to meet a crisis situation produced by uncontrollable karmic forces that could lead to a successful CATHARSIS.

That next full moon (Aug 2nd 03:27GMT) shows the nature of the upheaval happening with the previous new moon – it is upheaval which, although shocking at first clears the way to see a new way forward:


KEYNOTE: The need to rely upon inner inspiration and guidance at the start of new developments.

What is implied here is the essential value of keeping open to the descent of spiritual or Soul forces, especially when a new period of individual activity is about to begin. The individual should not depend mainly on outer circumstances and on traditional — and in a sense external, because collectively formulated — incentives. There is a creative power within, a power that can be tapped, or rather that should be allowed to flow into the brain-consciousness or the hands which write or fashion materials into original forms.

This is the first stage in the sixty-third sequence of five phases of activity. It refers to the OVERSHADOWING of the individual consciousness by an inner, yet transcendent, Power.

After this inspiration Mercury reaches the stationing direct degree – i.e. the degree at which he entered his shadow, he understands the nature of the issues in question that need to be dealt with and he is ready to move forwards again. The remaining Sabian is for the next New Moon (Aug 17th 15:55GMT) which comes while Mercury is moving through his shadow for the last time, a beautiful image of new beginnings, hope and inspiration:


KEYNOTE: Linking above and below, the Covenant with one’s divine nature, promise of immortality.

In the Bible the rainbow is the sign of the Covenant established by God with Noah (the cyclic “Seed man”) guaranteeing that no longer shall the destructive power of Spirit (the Shiva aspect of the Divine) be used to destroy life on earth. As we come to the third level of the scene of “Release,” we find the man who has been able to weather the cathartic storm face-to-face with his divine Archetype; because he has been victorious, a link has been established with his divine Soul-being. Both the human and the divine partners should remain thus linked. H. P. Blavatsky’s last words are said to have been: “Keep the Link unbroken” — the Link she forged With the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood that had sent her into the darkness of nineteenth-century materialism for this purpose.

At the first stage of this thirtieth sequence, the symbol of the rainbow shows us the need to maintain a state of open communication between the Sky and the Earth within our total being — not for the sake of finding an ever-elusive “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow, for this end is never to be reached, but in order to face the totality of our individual selfhood as it is projected in the many-hued dome of our sky-flung consciousness. After every successfully met crisis, the REVELATION OF WORTH comes to us, and with it comes the promise of success, if only we do our part.

All in all the Sabian of this retrograde period tell an interesting story of individual experiences being shared by many and spreading widely. This causes some unrest and uncertainty which needs to be countered by both a reflective and courageous approach, unafraid of change and inspired by a vision of a bright future. Very nice indeed!

Here is a great write up for this Mercury Retrograde period:


One thought on “Mercury retrograde – the story of the Sabian symbols

  1. Pingback: Friday the 13th, and then the weekend! | Coromell

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