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What Is the Mercury Retrograde Shadow Period + How Can It Affect You? Astrologer Weighs In

Plus how to take advantage of the change

No matter what your day-to-day hustle looks like, one thing’s for certain: The pace of life often feels downright frenetic. More than ever, it’s impossible to get anything done without relying heavily on technology and transportation to get us from point A to point B — ASAP. For these reasons, we’re all more likely to notice and stress out over Mercury retrogrades. During this frequent, buzzworthy astrological event, the planet of communication slows its typically zippy pace and appears to move backward through the zodiac. Mercury retrogrades happen almost seasonally, which is a case for learning how to work with them. As an astrologer and the author of Mercury Magic: How to Thrive During Retrogrades and Tap Into the Power of the Messenger Planet All Year Long, I can confidently reassure you that it really is possible to make the most of these periods versus fear them. And one of the first steps is recognizing that you can absolutely feel Mercury retrogrades both before and after they’re officially in effect, thanks to the Mercury retrograde shadow periods. 

Read on for all the details on what the Mercury retrograde shadow period means and how you can channel your awareness toward greater productivity and peace.

Related: What Is Mercury Retrograde? An Astrologer Explains How It Affects You

What is the Mercury retrograde shadow period?

The Mercury retrograde shadow period occurs both before and after Mercury is officially retrograde. You may already know that Mercury retrogrades, which last about three weeks and occur every three to four months, occur when the “messenger planet” appears to move backward from our vantage point on Earth. 

It’s important to note that when Mercury is direct, it’s the fastest planet in our solar system, zipping around the sun every 88 Earth days. And as the planet that oversees communication, information-gathering and sharing, thought processes, how we learn and make decisions, technology and transportation, all of these aspects of life run more smoothly when Mercury is direct. But when Mercury is retrograde, the planet’s typically speedy pace slows, and it appears to reverse its course across the ecliptic — or band of constellations that surround us on Earth. 

Retrogrades are notorious for throwing a wrench in your best-laid plans by spurring delays, setbacks and miscommunications galore. But like all astrological events, Mercury retrograde isn’t all negative or positive; it’s simply the celestially-driven weather of the moment. And the purpose of any planetary retrograde is to encourage us to go inward and focus on self-work related to the themes of the planet and the sign it’s moving backward through. 

Mercury Retrograde Shadow: View of planet Mercury from space. Sun, space, nebula and planet Mercury. High resolution and quality solar system planet. This image elements furnished by NASA.

And before Mercury is technically retrograde and after the transit has ended, we’re presented with the Mercury retrograde shadow period. Yes, during this time it can feel as though Mercury is either already or still retrograde. Wires are more apt to be crossed, technology meltdowns are more likely to occur, and transportation slowdowns could result in extra time spent in an airport terminal or bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

The reason for each Mercury shadow period: The messenger planet requires about two weeks to slow down ahead of its retrograde as well as a couple of weeks to pick back up to full speed once Mercury retrograde has ended. And as Mercury’s pace takes a hit, the aspects of life that it oversees simply won’t function as smoothly as they do when Mercury is moving ahead at full speed. 

What is the Mercury retrograde pre-shadow? 

Ahead of any Mercury retrograde, the pre-shadow period serves as a sneak preview of what you might expect during the messenger planet’s actual three-week backspin. In other words, you’ll be dealing with situations, interactions and projects that might call for revision, reimagining or self-reflection during the retrograde. 

During the pre-shadow, Mercury is technically moving forward — just more slowly than usual — but its path is particularly important to take note of. Mercury officially hits its pre-shadow when it travels forward through the degrees it’ll revisit during its retrograde. Here’s a recent example:

  • Mercury pre-shadow – March 18, 2024: Mercury’s pre-shadow began at 15 degrees Aries
  • Mercury retrograde – April 1, 2024: Mercury went retrograde at 27 degrees Aries
  • Mercury direct – April 25, 2024: Mercury went direct at 15 degrees 
  • Mercury post-shadow – May 13, 2024: Mercury direct moves past 27 degrees Aries

To figure out how you might experience a given Mercury retrograde pre-shadow, you can refer to your birth chart to find the sign and degrees that its occurring in. They’ll fall within a given house in your chart. Explore the themes of that house for a sense of where in your life you’ll be called to reflect, revise or retrace your footsteps. For example, if 15 to 27 degrees Aries happens to fall in your seventh house of partnership, the pre-shadow likely spotlit one-on-one endeavors and goals that you were editing during this most recent retrograde.

What is the Mercury retrograde post-shadow?

Mercury Retrograde Shadow: Mercury, computer artwork.

The Mercury retrograde post-shadow is the period during which Mercury has to ramp back up to full speed following its backspin. While you can — and should! — proceed as though Mercury is direct by pushing for forward movement (signing contracts, traveling, kicking off new business ventures, etc.), the post-shadow can make for slightly wonkier than usual communication and a higher potential for delays. However, you might also find that, during the post-shadow, you’re able to gain traction on anything you were working on during the retrograde. You can also examine reflections and emotions that came up, as well. 

How to treat a Mercury retrograde shadow period vs. Mercury retrograde itself

The traditional guidance around Mercury retrograde is to stick to old business and avoid starting anything new as a compromised planet of communication could inhibit its progress. Yet, even when Mercury is officially retrograde, there are exceptions to this rule — like when a new moon, perfectly wired for solid intention-setting, falls during Mercury’s backspin. Not to mention that it’s impossible and unrealistic to perpetually avoid moving forward on a key decision, negotiation or move during a retrograde. Often, the best thing you can do to avoid a retrograde-related issue is to slow down, double-check all the details and trust your intuition. 

That said, there’s no need to treat a shadow period exactly like the retrograde itself. After all, three weeks is long enough to be especially cautious! By simply being aware that you’re in a pre- or post- Mercury retrograde shadow period, you might be less stressed by — and prepared for — potential bumps in the road. 

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