Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 (94)

2023: A mercury elemental year of earth

Back when I was establishing myself as an astrologer and writer, one notable contribution to the literature on retrogrades was Erin Sullivan’s classic book Retrograde Planets, which was first published in the early 90s. Regarding Mercury, Sullivan notes that the three Mercury retrogrades each year often belong to the same astrological element. She explains that this elemental expression of the retrogrades is collective, experienced by all of humanity, but that the individual experience is of course better understood by the houses that contain that element. This first part is actually something of a radical statement, because at the time it was mostly the outer planets that were seen to be in charge of collective forces. Because of this, I set out to do my own investigation of Mercury’s cycle of retrogrades through the four elements.

If I had any doubts about the collective expression of the element in which Mercury performs what I have come to call its “backward trickster medicine dance”, these were definitively dispelled in late 2010. We experienced the collective phenomenon that came to be known as the “Arab Spring”, just as the Mercury retrogrades were moving into the fire signs for the first time in six to seven years.

In profound synchronicity, a Tunisian street vendor decided to protest corruption via an act of self-immolation by setting himself on fire. Rather quickly, the entire region became inflamed in protests. This was a very literal expression of the elemental nature of fire, which is to move quickly, up and out, jumping over barriers (such as national borders), engulfing and consuming all the dry fuel within its reach. Indeed, versions of this same phenomenon (mass protest) spread across the globe within a year.

In contrast, the year we all spent in lockdown (2020) belonged to the element of water. Rather than up and out, the basic tendency for water is to move downward and inward. Therefore, as Mercury was spending more time in the water signs than all the other signs combined, we all spent a lot of down time with a major inward focus for the year.

These basic, fundamental expressions of the elements are not always quite so pronounced, yet I have seen time and again how they show up in very obvious ways. Air years often seem to be about technological advancements. The Wright Brothers’ first flight and the Moon landing both happened in air years, for instance. More recently, Bitcoin and Ethereum (the first two cryptocurrencies) were born in consecutive air waves, while the crypto industry experienced another boom in the most recent air year.

As we move into a period where Mercury will be accentuating the earth element, it behoves us to re-examine the fundamental nature of earth, in an attempt to harmonise with the expected collective zeitgeist. Like water, the nature of earth is downward and inward. In fact, earth is denser than water. Any child knows that even a skipping stone eventually sinks. Many of the most interesting things about earth are found below the surface. Therefore, it seems that an ability to calmly and coolly settle in and patiently and methodically dig down beneath the obvious will be called for.

However, in these reactionary times, this strikes one as being a rare or even unobtainable quality. It seems collective judgments are often rendered nearly instantaneously, and anyone who questions these quick decisions is labelled as a denier, or worse. For instance, it was almost immediately assumed that Covid-19 arrived naturally, via an animal, and any discussion of the possibility that it leaked from a lab was labelled as conspiratorial thinking. But, a year and a half later, the President of the United States called for a deeper look into that very possibility. It’s precisely these kinds of knee-jerk assumptions that we then have to walk back on that we need to guard against in earth years.

In terms of classical qualities, earth is cool and dry. In addition to its natural downward and inward movement (cool), earth energy is also about making distinctions (dry). The ability to separate one thing from another and to classify and organise them all belong to earth.

A prime and positive example of this is the Gothard Base Tunnel, an underground railway through the Alps that opened in 2016 — the previous earth year (it takes six to seven years for the retrogrades to cycle through all four elements). The tunnel allows for freight volume to shift from trucks to trains, which reduces both the danger of crashes and the environmental impacts of heavy trucks.

Other collective developments from 2016, which are clearly reflective of the nature of earth, were the escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The practice of “island building”, which has been going on in the region for decades, is quite obviously indicative of earth. The idea of boundaries, where one nation’s borders separate them from another or from international waters, is also a very dry and therefore earthy distinction. Notably, both malefic planets (Mars and Saturn) also share a dry nature. As China has placed military equipment on these artificial islands, this kind of belligerent stance could lead to escalating tensions, especially because the United States sees these as international waters and plans to use its aircraft and vessels to assert freedom of navigation in the region.

Another ongoing territorial dispute that resurfaced in 2016 was that of Israeli settlements. A UN resolution declaring them illegal was passed 14-0, with only the US abstaining. Given the Biden administration’s strong language last year, perhaps it can be expected that further actions might be taken against Israel. The eruption of violence in these contested areas might force the discussion.

The dry and separate quality of earth can also be seen in the development of the Brexit movement during 2016-17. This was the first time that a national referendum had gone against the preferred option of the UK government. Following the referendum, worldwide markets lost more than $2 trillion in one of the worst trading days ever. The resulting four-year process of negotiating withdrawal was very challenging and divisive.

Some more subtle but important examples include three events from the same day, 7 October, that all played a significant role in the 2016 United States presidential election. Just as we’ve noted that national boundaries form a very dry distinction between two things, these three events also concerned breeches of what were considered important natural distinctions. First, US intelligence agencies accused Russia of interference in US elections. Second, the media leaked a video of Donald Trump bragging about breeches of personal boundaries of women. Third, Wikileaks released thousands of emails from inside the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Notably, Clinton’s emails themselves were considered by some a breach of normal boundaries, as they had been stored on a private server rather than the normal governmental (and therefore public) channels. These events occurred just as Mercury was passing the degree of its previous station retrograde, at 29° Virgo — which involves what astrologers call the World Axis (comprised of the four cardinal and four cross-quarter points).

Global impacts in 2023

In 2023, Mercury aligns with the World Axis on 22 December at the Winter Solstice — making an inferior conjunction with the Sun in the first degree of Capricorn. I have discovered that Mercury also passes the same degrees of the conjunction at what are called “greatest elongations”. These happen around 4 December and 12 January. Because of a triple activation of the World Axis, this whole period of the final retrograde in earth signs could become very pivotal in terms of significant world events. This is similar to what happened in late 2010, however instead of happening in the last degree of a fire sign, this conjunction is in the first degree of an earth sign. This suggests some pivotal economic events, which may realign our world in terms of monetary or fiscal policy.

Given that we are currently experiencing a border conflict between Russia and Ukraine in which the majority of nations have decided to impart financial sanctions on Russia, rather than intervene militarily, it will be very interesting to see what clarity another year brings in terms of the effectiveness of these policies. Also, in an effort to battle rampant inflation, the US Federal Reserve is set to begin tightening monetary policy in an effort to achieve a “soft landing” from the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic.

Since the inherent nature of retrogrades is somewhat disruptive, it seems likely that neither of these situations will unfold smoothly, with the Mercury retrogrades being experienced as particularly volatile periods. What is held to be true or best policy may change greatly, more than once, even within these relatively short three-to-six-week periods. Once again, an ability to calmly and coolly settle in and patiently and methodically dig down beneath the obvious will be the key, and those who are able to dig up contradictory information that anticipates these changes of direction will have a distinct advantage.

Personal impacts in 2023

So far, we have been looking at how the Mercury retrogrades will be reshaping our collective experience of the earth element, for all humanity. The way we understand how this impacts an individual chart is to focus on the most individual factor — what is known as the horoskopos, which means “hour marker”, and is commonly referred to as the “rising sign”. The sign rising across the eastern horizon changes every couple of hours, so much so that even individuals born on the same day, and sometimes even in the same hour, can have radically different birth maps. This is because there is a series of 12 “houses” that derive from the rising sign or ascendant and these houses signify all the major areas of life experience.

Given that the three Mercury retrogrades of 2023 are occurring in the three signs of the earth element, this means that a set of three houses will
be activated in any given birth chart. And, since it turns out that the themes of these three houses are somewhat naturally related, I have used these natural groupings to establish a set
of four “trigons”.

Earth signs

For the earth signs, Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn, the Mercury retrogrades of 2023 will be activating a group of houses I call the “Identity Trigon”. It may at times seem like your well-established brand or image is just not as useful as it used to be. Normally, this would spur the individual to update their image with education, training or perhaps just simply a new wardrobe. In these years (which occur in a six to seven-year cycle), it may feel more like you need to begin to construct an entirely new image, rather than updating or improving the existing one.

Whether you go with updates or new construction, any new identity offers you fresh choices. This is kind of the point. These new choices mean you get some room to play and explore creatively. This creative surge can result in both gains and losses, new opportunities or dead ends. Sometimes it all comes down to timing or luck. But happy accidents are a fundamental part of the human equation, and mixing things up and trying something new is the only way to allow them into our lives. So, even though it may feel stupid and awkward to try on a new identity, eventually it opens creative possibilities for us.

Acting on these new creative possibilities expands our horizons and takes us not only to places we haven’t been before but places we hadn’t even imagined going. If it was a happy accident that got us here, we might need to expand our minds or our philosophy in order to understand what is happening to us. Of course, this whole process can happen in the reverse. Just as taking on a new identity can necessitate a new philosophy to navigate new worlds, taking on a new philosophy or exploring new worlds can eventually result in the formation of a new identity as we slowly absorb the foreign material.

Fire signs

For fire signs, Aries, Leo and Sagittarius, the Mercury retrogrades of 2023 are activating a group of houses I call the “Trigon of Mastery”. Though it has been a collective theme during the pandemic, at some point in 2023, you are likely to experience resource issues on a more personal level. It may be that your supply chain is not functioning or you might have new unexpected expenses, but in some way, resources are going to be more challenging than usual.

In order to deal with these resource issues, you are going to have to develop new routines or new skill sets. You may not even set out with this goal in mind, yet in the process of navigating your resource issues it will become clear this is what needs to happen. Adding a new skill or making changes to your routine takes time and patience, which are not things fire signs are particularly noted for. However, this will force you to slow down and in the process you will begin to see the deeper fuller picture.

Once you have begun to master a new skill or have successfully adjusted to a new routine, it is time to see what you can really do. Accepting any challenges that come as if they are a divine decree allows you to cast off the boredom and frustration. Use the challenges to set goals for yourself and then see if you can exceed them. Of course, this whole process can work in reverse, too. Any time we challenge ourselves and set new goals, we will have to search for resources and develop new skills in order to reach them.

Water signs

For water signs, Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces, the Mercury retrogrades of 2023 are activating a group of houses I call the “Relationship Trigon”. At some point this year you are likely to face some social challenges. It may be that your best friend moves away or one of your social groups dissolves. Alternatively, you may simply lose interest in or find that you have drifted away from some social connections and aren’t really motivated in re-establishing them. At the same time, new and perhaps challenging or even annoying connections may be thrust upon you. If your social skills have become dusty, this may require more than a few deep breaths, however, water signs are naturally empathetic so you will come around.

Of course, any time we begin to explore new relationships, this leads us to encounters with new groups as well. We end up meeting the families and groups within which our new friends are embedded. If we are serious about these new relationships, this requires us to adjust and accept or develop a new identity within these new group settings.

The final step in this process is of course integrating our new relationships and groups within our existing ones. Our old friends may not find the new ones as interesting as we do, or they may feel jealous. Or they simply may not have time or interest (they may be working on a different trigon). But, as you learn to foster connection between groups, you will see a wonderful new complexity begin to emerge in your life, this will be reflected not just in new social opportunities but also in new emotional supports and resiliency.

Air signs

For air signs, Gemini, Libra and Aquarius, the Mercury retrogrades of 2023 are activating a group of houses I call the “Trigon of Dynasty”. At some point in 2023, you may experience some disruption to your sense of home and family, or perhaps to your sense of contributing to the world or leaving something behind for your heirs. This could be a relatively simple relocation, but it could trigger a deeper re-evaluation of your values. What exactly is the point of all this (Life), anyway?

In times of emotional stress, we often need to lean on those who care about us. As you reach out to your emotional support group or extended family, you will find that some of them relate to what you’re going through and can offer some perspective, while others may not understand or even resent the idea that your feelings could change. In this process, you will remember how important and fundamental the bonds of intimacy are in our lives, however this may not fully resolve that nagging need to find meaning or understand the bigger picture.

Eventually, you will realise that what you’re going through is a spiritual process as much as anything. While most people may not think of it this way, in addition to our family of birth and our marriage and business commitments, most of us need a “spiritual family” as well. These are people who share our sense of the big picture, what brings meaning to life, and help us remember what kind of world we want to live in.

For some, it may be that the themes of the earth year quite obviously show up in their personal lives. For instance, the Trigon of Mastery that fire signs have activated this year naturally bring up resource issues, which will already be a collective theme. For others, the interplay between collective and personal may not be as obvious. It could seem as if they are very separate and disconnected. However, at its root, a search for meaning is about values. So, even if we are not feeling the pinch regarding resources, we may be going through something very similar in terms of our values. Understanding and navigating the interplay between these collective and personal themes represents the deeper integration that will ultimately benefit us in the longer term.

WellBeing Team

WellBeing Team

You May Also Like

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 05 15t104130.286

Stargazing: Your May & June Horoscope

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 04 17t143950.232

Inside the spirituality database

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667 2024 04 26t150353.669

The Positive Power of Pets

Wellbeing & Eatwell Cover Image 1001x667

Gifts of Love