Planetary Magic 3: Mercury, the Mind and Communication

(Originally appearing in Crow’s Calling)

 Mercury may be one of the smaller planets of the solar system, but its power is great. Mercury is the power of the mind, our ability to think, perceive and communicate. Mercury rules over the power of our words and how we use them.

Time and again I’m always fascinated by the physical characteristics of the planets, and how they uniquely match the astrological energies. Our ancient ancestors didn’t have the scientific knowledge that we do, but perhaps their intuitive perceptions were just as accurate, or even more so. Mercury physically has much in common with the Moon. While the Moon rules our more emotional nature, Mercury masters the mental side. Both are the fastest moving planets, though the Moon is technically a satellite of Earth, leaving Mercury the fastest of the true planets. If Mercury represents thoughts, it shows how quickly we can change our thoughts, and how fast our thoughts travel into the universe. The planet has no real atmosphere, so if you were able to stand on it, you could see far and wide. Light is not hazed by any gases or water vapor. Your perception would not be clouded as it is on Earth. Mercury is clear, logical and detached perception, not influenced by the waters of emotion. Having no atmosphere, Mercury’s surface suffers no erosion, like the Moon. When something leaves an impression in Mercury, it is always remembered and recorded.

Metaphysically, Mercury is the archetype of both the messenger and the magician. Both images deal with communication and travel. The most popular image is of Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek myth. Mercury is his Roman name. With his winged helmet and sandals, he travels from the heavenly home of the gods, to the land of mortals and to the underworld, communicating and connecting all parts. In a way, that cosmology can be a symbol of our three selves, our mortal or ego self, our intuitive, or lower self and our higher, divine self. The power of Mercury connects them all, assuring good communication. Hermes is said to lead the souls of the new born to life and the souls of the dead to the netherworlds, earning him the title of Psychopomp, a shaman or magician of sorts. He is also credited with the invention of mathematics, the alphabet, gymnastics, music and gambling, truly the first Renaissance man. As a child, days old, he was so precocious he stole the flock of his brother Apollo, the Sun god. He was clever enough to trick Apollo, but was eventually caught. To make up for his acts, he created the lyre from a tortoise shell, and gave it to Apollo, giving him greater dominion over music. Apollo, in return, gave him the caduceus, the staff wrapped with a serpent, as a symbol of medicine and healing, which became Hermes’ realm. As Hermes and Apollo have a special friendship, the Sun and the planet Mercury have a special relationship. The two are never far apart from our view on Earth.

The word Hermetic comes from this god, meaning “sealed,” and now referring to certain laboratory and medical procedures. Hermes is the god of medicine. It’s less common definition refers to “sealed” as in secret, referring to a system of magic coming from the ancient Hermetic documents. The Hermetic documents and Hermes himself, under the guise of Hermes Trismegistus, is linked with the Egyptian scribe god Thoth. Thoth is the god of mystery and magic, power and creation, very powerful, yet acting as a guide for the Egyptian Pharoh gods Ra, Osiris and Horus.

Keys to the Mercury archetype are magic, walking between worlds, writing and communication. Often they have an androgynous quality to them. Sometimes they are out right tricksters, tricking us into seeing ourselves and the world as things really are, rather than living in our illusions. Other Mercurial figures are the Norse Odin, Loki, Hiemdell and Hermod; the Celtic Ogma, Lugh, Gwydion, Math and Merlin; the Sumerian Nabu; the African Legba and the Hindu gods Ganesha and Sarasvati.

Air is the element associated with Mercury, even though the planet contains no atmosphere. Air is the symbol of the mind, communication and expression. Likewise the throat chakra, the center of communication, is its energy point. Wednesday, or Wotan’s day, an older name for Odin, is the day when the energies of communication are high. Phone calls, networking and writing are all emphasized on Wednesday. The metal of Mercury is liquid Mercury, or quicksilver. It shifts and moves quickly, but can also be poisonous if not handled correctly, just like our thoughts and words. Most modern magicians substitute aluminum in their charms instead of using quicksilver.

Mercury rules two signs, Gemini and Virgo. Gemini, an air sign, deals with communication, expression and learning. Virgo is an Earth sign, but has many Mercurial qualities. Virgo’s talents are processing information, discernment and detail-oriented work in the service of other. Virgo brings the mind down to Earth. The yearly period of Mercury is approximately August 24 to October 24, the fourth 52 day period from the Vernal Equinox. It happens to start near the Sun’s entry into Virgo. To find your personal Mercury period, divide the year into seven 52 day periods starting at your birthday. The fourth period is your Mercury time. Both times are great for change, to stimulate yourself and shake things up. Travel, education, writing, working with children or any other mentally active task is enhanced at this time.

One time to take note of is the dreaded Mercury retrograde. People with just enough astrological knowledge to make themselves dangerous will warn others not to leave their homes or do anything when Mercury is retrograde, but don’t exactly understand why. This time caused much fear and should simply be used to our own advantage. To understand Mercury retrograde, lets first understand retrograde. If you have ever been on a train that passed another train, you have experienced a retrograde. Both were going in the same direction, but due to an optical illusion, it looked like the other train was traveling backwards. It wasn’t. It simply looked that way.

The same thing happens to planets. When one planet passes another, it often looks like it is going backwards in its orbit. It is simply an optical illusion we call a retrograde. But in astrology, our perception is often more important than the reality. And from our perception, it is going backwards, so it acts like it is going backwards. The energy is introverted, internalized and often used for reflection on the past. When you try to use it externally, you are swimming up stream.

All the planets go retrograde except the Sun, Moon and Earth, at least from our view. Mercury is more feared because we base our society on extroverted communication and don’t honor private, inner time. So the universe forces us. Some people perceive that during Mercury retrograde communication breaks down, both on a personal level and communication systems such as computers, phones, etc. Travel is disrupted. Legal misunderstandings occur. Information is incorrect. Lies, deliberate and unintentional occur with this trickster spirit. Accidents happen.

Frustration abounds at this time, unless you are doing inner personal work. Then we know where we are going and can take some time to look backwards without pushing forward. But even if we are having no difficulties, others around may still affect us with their retrograde experience.

Mercury retrogrades are the most frequent kind, since Mercury is the fastest planet. It occurs about every three months, for about three weeks. Its best to relax, take things easy and plan nothing major at these times, but continue to live life. Just live a more reflective life.
If you want to do Mercury Magic, to improve communication, mental clarity, memory or perception, or if you want to increase your magical and shamanic abilities, I suggest using the herbs and crystals ruled by the energies of Mercury. They help ground this mental energy into the world.

  • Minerals: Agate, Alexandrite, Aventurine, Green Aventurine, Orange Calcite, Carnelian, Chrysocolla, Howlite, Mottled Jasper, Kyanite, Merlinite, Mica, Snowflake Obsidian, Pumice, Variscite
  • Herbs: Agaric, Alfalfa, Almond, Azaleas, Banana, Bayberry, Bittersweet, Buckwheat, Burdock Root, Caraway, Carrots, Cedar, Celery, Cherry, Cinnamon, Cinquefoil, Coffee, Dill, Echinacea, Elecampane, Fennel, Fern, Flax, Garlic, Gentian, Goat’s Rue, Hare’s Foot, Hazel, Nut, Honeysuckle, Honeywort, Horehound, Jacob’s Ladder, Lady’s Slipper, Lavender, Lemon Grass, Lemon Verbena, Liquorice, Lobelia, Lungwort, Mace, Mandrake, Meadowsweet, Morning Glory, Mountain Grape, Mulberry, Mushroom, Myrtle, Nightshade, Papyrus, Parsley, Parsnips, Pecan, Peppermint, Pistachio, Sage, Sandalwood, Sassafras, Savory, Scullcap, Slippery Elm, Uva-Ursa, Valerian

(Be sure to consult a reputable medical herbal book or herbalist before using any herbs topically or internally. These are listed for their magical properties, not medicinal.)

If you would like to attune to the energies of Mercury, here is a simple ritual anyone can do. On a Wednesday, take some grain, seed, cornmeal, sugar or any other powdery substance, and draw a Mercury symbol, a circle on top of a cross, like the female symbol, but with a crescent moon on top of the circle, like horns or antenna. Throughout the day, observe your communications and thoughts. Keep a part of you “detached” and observing your thoughts, words and actions. At the end of the day, write in a journal about all your observations. All of this mental activity, along with self-introspection will align you with the powers of Mercury.