What You Need To Know About Mercury ‘Retroshade,’ the Period Just Before and Just After the Chaotic Retrograde Transit

Photo: Getty Images/ Seyed Morteza Shakeri/ EyeEm
The looming reputation of Mercury retrograde tends to precede it: Even in less astrologically inclined circles, people often associate the transit, which occurs when Mercury appears to move in reverse, with chaos, crossed wires, and travel mishaps (and understandably so). But as it turns out, the cosmic event also has a quite literal prologue—and an epilogue. The period that immediately precedes and follows Mercury retrograde by two weeks is often referred to as the shadow phase of the retrograde, or retroshade, and it can bring some of that same wonky energy for which Mercury retrograde has become so infamous.

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But before you bemoan the fact that the bad Mercurial vibes actually last weeks longer than you thought, know that these periods just before and just after each retrograde can actually help us handle the chaos. Think of the pre-retrograde shadow as a helpful study session before the tough test of the retrograde, and the post-retrograde shadow as a chance to check your score and make adjustments once the "test" is over, and the planet has returned to direct motion.

What exactly is Mercury retroshade?

Mercury retroshade is technically "about a two-week period immediately after Mercury retrograde when Mercury is moving in direct motion along the same path over which it was just retrograde," says astrologer Rachel Lang. Some astrologers also see the shadow period as extending for the same amount of time before the retrograde when the planet was traveling direct along the same path that it would soon retrograde back over.

Think of the transit as a planetary zig-zag: From our perspective on Earth, Mercury appears to slow down and backtrack over a set number of degrees within a particular zodiac sign, before returning to direct motion. And the time it spends traveling through the same chunk of zodiacal degrees three times (forward, backward, and then forward again) encompasses the full transit, with the first and last portions accounting for the pre- and post-retrograde shadow periods, or retroshade.

It's for that reason that astrologer Maria Sofia Marmanides likens a Mercury retrograde to a three-act play: the pre-retrograde shadow is the first act and a time of exposition in the lead-up to the main event, as the characters and events are introduced. The main event, or the second act, is the retrograde itself, where all the action takes place. And the post-retrograde shadow is the third act, which corresponds to the resolution, during which reflection occurs and loose ends often need to be tied up.

How does the shadow phase of Mercury retrograde affect us?

Overall, the pre- and post-retrograde phases of retroshade help to provide clues about what we should take away from each Mercury retrograde. “It's giving you little plot points as to what you're dealing with,” says Marmanides. In the lead-up to the retrograde, you have an opportunity to prepare for the chaos to come, as certain happenings foreshadow the kinds of communication snafus and misunderstandings you may face during the retrograde. And in the follow-up after the retrograde, you gain insights into how you might handle the wreckage and use it to move forward in greater alignment.

“The retroshade is giving you little plot points as to what you're dealing with during the retrograde.” —Maria Sofia Marmanides, astrologer

Of this post-retrograde shadow, Lang says, "it’s a time to clean up anything that happened during Mercury retrograde and to integrate the lessons you learned along the way about anything that may have come to light."

Consider a misunderstanding with a friend as an example of how Mercury retroshade might unfold: Maybe a passive-aggressive text lands in your messages in the ramp-up to Mercury retrograde, which sows seeds of discord. During the retrograde itself, tensions could boil over as a result of clumsy communication about the problem at hand. And in the retroshade (post-retrograde), you'd likely make the decision to act based on your learnings: Perhaps you find resolution, or you end the friendship.

Why does Mercury retroshade happen?

Like all the planets, Mercury is always shuttling through the sky, so as it appears to slow down before heading into retrograde motion, it's also spiraling through a set of degrees in a certain zodiac sign (rather than, well, pausing and turning around). The cosmic ground it covers right before reversing its direction spans the same set of zodiacal degrees that it'll then chug back over in its retrograde, which is why astrologers think this pre-retrograde period can offer a preview of what's to come.

The same thing happens as the planet ends its retrograde; it doesn't just immediately return to direct motion, but rather, has to slow its backspin in order to shift back to forward motion, moving for the third time over the same set of zodiacal degrees in the sky that it just covered in reverse.

That third "zag" of the transit is the post-retrograde shadow, during which astrologers believe we have more clarity on the situations that happened during the retrograde and more awareness with which to make decisions and take action, particularly as the planet gets back up to full speed in direct motion. “[During the post-retrograde shadow], we’re retracing our steps because now Mercury basically has to walk through his old footsteps [to return to forward motion],” explains Marmanides.

How to make the most of Mercury retroshade

The thought of Mercury causing even more chaos in your life might make your head spin—but actually, it's best to think of Mercury retroshade as a welcome reprieve.

Yes, you might see some early indications of mishaps to come during the pre-retrograde shadow, and you might be pushed to make some tough decisions in the post-retrograde shadow. But in the former case, you have the opportunity to plan ahead, and in the latter, to course-correct with new intel, after you've been pushed to review, reassess, and reconsider past events during the retrograde.

"The shadow period helps you become clear about what all of those [retrograde] encounters and experiences can mean for your life moving forward." —Rachel Lang, astrologer

In the post-retrograde phase of Mercury retroshade, in particular, it's helpful to reflect on what took place, says Lang. The retroshade is an opportunity to consider big life decisions and reconnect with distant friends or exes with a newly clear head after all the retrograde chaos and reflection. "The post-shadow period helps you become clear about what all of those [retrograde] encounters and experiences can mean for your life moving forward," says Lang, "and it's a chance to resolve any issues that might have arisen during the retrograde."

Use the time to reflect on any lessons learned, and don't be afraid to adjust your thinking based on your insights. "Often, the retroshade can be a time when you change your mind," says Lang. "You could also notice errors you missed, typos in contracts, or mistakes you might have made in communication with others, meaning you could also face some consequences for your actions." Think of the retroshade as a second chance to right any wrongs or misjudgments, she adds.

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