Clare: Let's have a look at Mercury. Unlike the other planets of the old world, Mercury doesn't have an opposite or a partner because, as a symbol of paradox and contradiction, it contains all the opposites within itself. Mercury is androgynous, both male and female. It is both divisive and integrative. As the planet closest to the Sun, Mercury is the smallest and fastest, with an orbit of only 88 days. From its astronomy you can immediately see where some of our associations to Mercury come from. It darts quickly around the Sun; sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't. Sometimes it appears to be travelling in one direction, and sometimes in another. Do you have any associations with Mercury from a mythological viewpoint?
Audience: Wasn't he the messenger of the gods?
Audience: He was also a trickster and a thief. Didn't he steal some cows?
Clare: That's right. His image is that of a young boy with a winged helmet and winged sandals, holding a caduceus, a staff with two entwined serpents, often used today as a symbol for healing and medicine. Mercury is the carrier of messages and information. He has no interest in the content of the message itself: his task is simply to act as a go-between. In this sense, Mercury has no preference for right over wrong or for truth over lies. He would just as happily spread scandal and gossip as any other kind of information. He is versatile, witty, amoral, unreliable and ethereal, a kind of Puck figure from A Midsummer Night's Dream or Ariel from The Tempest, or Peter Pan, who never wanted to grow up.
Audience: Amoral? You mean he has no morals?
Clare: Yes. He is perfectly happy to put the cat amongst the pigeons and stand back and watch the result. This is where Mercury's association with the rogue, the trickster, the card-sharp and the thief come from. When we describe people as 'mercurial', we mean that they are clever, certainly, but also that they are wheeler-dealers and possibly a bit dodgy.
A distorted Mercury can express itself through cunning and trickery, cheating and lying, as destructive criticism and verbal cruelty, or as a profound level of anxiety, fear and tension which erodes the immune system and undermines the body. Any of these manifestations may indicate that the archetypal gifts of Mercury, perception, intelligence, knowledge, gentle humour, genuine modesty and self confidence have been undermined by an individual's negative experiences of the world. This would indicate a potentially fruitful area for investigation by the psychological astrologer, depending on the placement of Mercury in the chart.
The alchemical Mercury, from Tripus aureus (The Golden Tripod) by Michael Maier, c. 1618. As Mercurius he presides over the alchemical opus, integrating the principles of Sun and Moon.
Mercury rules the brain, the mind and the thinking processes. It is bi-polar, ruling both left and right brain - logical thought (where something cannot be both A and not-A) and analogical thought (where something can be both A and not-A). From this point of view, Mercury rules double meanings, and double talk, double sight, double entendres, crosswords (vertical and horizontal thinking), humour and jokes. These would all be instances of seeing or hearing one thing, and then a moment later finding a deeper or different meaning to what has been said. The Freudian slip is a good example of the way Mercury functions. There is a fascination with language and with words and the connections between them. So this Hermes figure is very hard to pin down, very volatile and very tricky. It is no coincidence, for example, that we say, 'My mind is playing tricks on me'. Astrologically, Mercury in the birth chart describes how each of us perceives and interprets the world, the way each of us understands, processes information, makes connections and communicates.
In common with all the other traditional planets, except for the Sun and Moon, Mercury has rulership over two signs of the zodiac, one positive and one negative: the air sign of Gemini and the earth sign of Virgo. Have a look at the various Mercury associations with Gemini and Virgo in the table of planetary correspondences. The Moon rules our babyhood, and Mercury rules our early childhood - the period when we learn to speak, we learn to walk, and we are able to explore our immediate surroundings, which will include our first relationships with our brothers and sisters. Mercury will usually describe the kind of relationship we have with our siblings - how we perceive them. Mercury's function is to carry and disseminate information. Mercury rules the gossip which goes on in the corner shop where you buy your newspaper. In the mundane world Mercury rules schools, shops, markets, fairs, tennis. Tennis is a very mercurial sport, a skilful game, passing the ball backwards and forwards. Mercury rules roads, car parks, garages, telephone exchanges, stationery, pens, pencils and books. Mercurial people love books, pens and pencils!
Audience: So Mercury is multiple.
Clare: That's right. In the animal world, it rules all small creatures of the air, such as butterflies, birds and bees, which go from plant to plant carrying pollen and cross-fertilizing. And small animals generally - creatures which move quickly, to-ing and fro-ing about their daily business.
Audience: So they move a lot, but not very far.
Clare: Yes, which is why Mercury rules tradesmen, postmen, couriers, people who go from house to house. Taxi drivers are another example. This take people from one place to another, but have no interest in the purpose of or reason for the journey.
Audience: So it is the sort of person who watches and facilitates but doesn't get involved themselves.
Clare: Yes, it is about making connections for their own sake, such as introducing people to each other. Secretaries, journalists and writers are mercurial people. Now we could generalise and say that journalists can be amoral, having no interest in whether what they write is true or not. The main thing is to get the story, isn't it?
Audience: My son is a Gemini and he is also a journalist. He is so like this that it is just not funny.
Clare: And I am sure he is very quick, clever and articulate as well?
Audience: Yes but that doesn't help when you live with him, because you can't pin him down to anything.
Clare: Well, that's because you are not meant to.
Audience: It sounds as if Mercurial people are very childlike.
Clare: Yes, people with planets in the Mercury ruled signs of Gemini and Virgo often look much younger than they are. This is perhaps because they are always interested in what's going on. Now that we have been discussing this planet of communication, language and making connections, I want us to start using the language of astrology as soon as we have the vocabulary. I would like you to have a look at your own charts to see if you have a contact, or aspect, in your own charts between Mercury and either your Moon or your Sun. You can see this from the grid - for the time being it doesn't matter what kind of contacts or aspects these are, since I simply want to bring together the planetary principles themselves.
Audience: I have a contact between Sun and Mercury.
Clare: This is a very common connection, because Mercury is never further than 27º from the Sun and the two planets are often connected. How would we interpret this?
Audience: That my identity is somehow connected to my ability to communicate?
Clare: Exactly right, and this is our first piece of real chart interpretation. If the Sun describes our identity, then it will involve Mercury. This contact will describes the importance (Sun) or focus (Sun) on communication and information (Mercury) and is likely to be found in the charts of journalists, writers and teachers (Mercury), for example. Is this relevant in your case?
Audience: Yes, because I am a teacher. But more than that, I teach languages!
Clare: Let's look at the Mercury-Moon contact. This tells us that the way we think will be connected to and affected by the way we feel. This could be someone who pours a great deal of emotion into their writing, for example. It would be a good contact for a poet. On the other hand, it could describe someone whose feelings muddle up their thinking, someone who finds it difficult to communicate clearly if they feel emotional about something. Mercury-Moon describes someone who is fed and nurtured by information, conversation, books, reading and/or gossip (the need to tell). Or someone whose mother (Moon) is a primary school (Mercury) teacher (Mercury), or perhaps a youthful (Mercury) mother (Moon), more like a sibling (Mercury) than a traditional mother (Moon) figure.
It could describe a female (Moon) journalist (Mercury), or a women's (Moon) magazine (Mercury). We can play with all the words on all the different levels in the table of planetary correspondences. For example, we could have a white (Moon) car (Mercury), a woman's (Moon) bicycle (Mercury), a female (Moon) tennis player (Mercury), a silver (Moon) butterfly (Mercury), and so on. Although on one level this is just a superficial word game, it also carries much deeper astrological significance because the symbolism of these two planets is equally valid through all the levels. So, for example, it would not be surprising, except to non-astrologers, to discover that a person with a Mercury-Moon contact did indeed have a white car!
Copyright ©2005 by Clare Martin.
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