Tammy was a Virgo rising and Gemini Sun sign. She was a fun conversationalist who loved to discuss and analyze everything. Chris on the other hand, was a man of few words, which happened to drive Tammy, who lived a few cities away from Chris, nuts. Chris rarely called regularly to begin with, but the move made this fact almost unbearable for Tammy, who thrived on feedback and found it hard to know where she stood with him.
When Tammy wanted to talk about their relationship, Chris would get tongue tied and somehow always either feel like Tammy put words in his mouth or he’d end up saying the wrong thing and make Tammy cry (which made him feel terrible). It’s not that Chris didn’t share – or care. He told Tammy he loved her (and she gave his plainspoken words monumental importance because he said so few of them). Truth be told, Chris was sometimes intimidated by Tammy’s easy ability to speak her mind. On more than one occasion her wit and quick comebacks made him feel dumb- slow even. He covered up this insecurity by shutting down.
Do you think Tammy and Chris’s relationship make it? If they do not work on their communication issues they might not. We’ve all faced communication difficulties at various times in our relationship, and not all of them are serious enough to question the entire relationship. In everyday language, we can call these missed cues and mis-fires a “misunderstanding” many of which we move through quickly and relatively painlessly, or at least without damage to the relationship.
But what if we experience ongoing misunderstanding, missed signals, disconnects and misconnects? What if most attempts to connect triggers frustration, confusion in one or both partners? A therapist might suggest this couple work on their communication skills, and that would be good advice. An astrologer would ask Chris and Tammy for their birth times, then examine their respective planet(s) of communication- Mercury.
Who is Mercury? Mercury is the planet of mind, speech and self-expression. When we talk, write, learn, teach, communicate, gather facts and make connections based on data, we are under the employ of the archetype of Mercury. But Mercury is so versatile that like his shape-shifting namesake, the scientific element Mercury, the minute we define his realm of influence, he changes into something else. The planet also charges synchronicity and coincidence, travel, craftiness, experimentation, inventiveness and flexibility – to name a few.
To understand Mercury let’s look at the myth. In Roman myth, Mercury is the Messenger, and to the Greeks he was known as Hermes. Hermes was born in a cave in Mt. Cylene, Arcadia – a region of Ancient Greece. Immediately he grew restless and bored, and when only one day old he set off to find something to do without knowing where he was going or what he would find. Restless and clever, he started getting into adventures immediately, inventing a lyre out of a turtle shell, and eventually impressing the Gods so much that they solicited Hermes’ services to help them get out of the Olympian level jams they got into. When a higher up wanted their tracks covered, or a message delivered to the Underworld, Hermes could lie, cheat or steal to make it happen.
Mercury/Hermes was everyone’s friend –especially to travelers and merchants who appreciated his smooth street smarts and surefooted ability to cover a lot of ground in record time. But Mercury/Hermes could bend the truth to his advantage and tongue-tie others with clever, winning arguments (even if the argument was wrong), which also made him a trickster & thief. As the saying goes, Communication is tricky.
Maybe you know a Mercury ‘type’ person. Someone who is clever, witty, intelligent, street smart and has an easy, breezy way with words. Not all of us were born under the Mercury archetype (with Mercury, or to some degree Gemini/Virgo, prominent in our horoscope). However we each have a Mercury in our horoscope, and whether he plays a large or small role in our life, every single one of us needs our Mercury’s ongoing help to speak our mind, use our voice –to effectively express our selves.
Your Mercury Element
How do you express your self? Boldly or quietly? Imaginatively or intuitively? Are you awkward or relatively confident? To these questions, your natal Mercury answers. In your natal birth chart, Mercury resides in a zodiac sign, house, and makes aspects to other planets. A full picture of your Mercury is beyond the scope of this article, however, a character sketch of each of Mercury’s four elements will get us started on the right foot. Before we dive into the interpersonal aspects of Mercury, we might consider how our own Mercury operates.
Fire Sign Mercury (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) Sometimes brash and overconfident, often assertive and outspoken, fire sign Mercury expresses with enthusiasm and panache. Barring modifying factors, fire Mercury is impulsive, colorful, adventuresome in thinking – but not always practical.
Earth Sign Mercury (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) Practical and analytical, methodical, deliberate, the earth sign Mercury is wedded to the reality principle, so express thoughtfully and with consideration for ‘the facts’. Mercury earth signs are stable-minded, not easily wavered by emotion or passion.
Air Sign Mercury (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) Fluid, experimental, open-minded, sometimes scattered, like air blowing across a desert air Mercury expresses itself by covering a lot of ground. Barring other factors, this chatty Mercury is happy conversing with others on a wide variety of subjects.
Water Sign Mercury (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) Investigative, perceptive, chameleon-like, sensitive, the water Mercury expresses itself poetically and intuitively – in realms where what is unsaid is as important as what’s said. Water Mercury signs are feeling-oriented, making objectivity difficult.
Mercury, Venus in Relationship
As we’re learning, Mercury is the master of how effective we are at expressing our self, where we like to experiment, how we regard learning, where our attention is, the way we think, and much more. Mercury also tells us how effective we are at intimate dialogue -that dimension of human life where two person’s communication styles can flow like the melody of a trickling river stream, or get stuck on one note.
Before we dive into the inter-aspects you share with another, let’s get a sense of how this planet hangs in the astronomical sky, and who with. As the closest planet to Sun, Mercury is the intermediary between our Ego (Sun) and the Universe, ie, our world. Mercury closely orbits the Sun, which makes it easy for us to (incorrectly) identify our Ego self with our words — those times we buy into what we think without question. “This is who I am because this is what I think” is a common Mercury assumption. However, when we focus the Sun’s willpower and Mercury’s attention, we are capable of creating our destiny with our mind and it’s thoughts.
Mercury also hangs out next to Venus, the planet of love and relationship. Besides being tight neighbors, these two have more in common: the symbol of Mercury (Mercury symbol) is Venus (Venus symbol) but with a set of antenna on top rivaling your local radio tower. As we pick up signals from the ethers, and from each other, Venus, the planet of relationship connection, cleverly concealed within Mercury, makes sure that we are more than just talking heads. Our ability to empathize, pick up patterns, read feedback, notice subtle social signals and choose words for the intended audience are Venus’ gifts & all help us to effectively communicate.
The principle of communication and relationship are indeed intertwined. Likewise, how we express our self, through our voice, language and self-expression plays a huge role in our ability to connect. Of course we all express/assert our selves differently, and with different degrees of confidence. Like Tammy and Chris from our opening example, we may be more (Tammy) or less (Chris) comfortable in Mercury’s realms.
For Tammy, whose Gemini Sun and Virgo Rising are both Mercury-ruled signs, communication, self-expression, language are essential to the way she meets the world (Rising Sign) and her sense of identity (Sun). She is someone who thrives on a whole lot of verbal and mental stimulation.
Chris, on the other hand, a Pisces Sun sign, is more intuitive than mental. He also has Mercury in Aquarius, retrograde, in the Sixth House of Skill-Building. Mercury retrograde gives the mind an inward bend, as thought processes go against the mainstream. This quality of introversion gives rise to imaginative thinkers but a retrograde motion can make a naturally forthright planet like Mercury, reticent. The Sixth House adds another layer: a planet that falls here needs a little extra help.
At this point, you might be wondering whether our star-struck couple should call it a day. There’s another piece we can add–the Mercury aspects they share.
In relationship astrology, well, the planets have relationships, too. My Mercury may link up with many of your planets, say Saturn, Venus and Moon –or none at all. The number of linkages our planets form vary, but in relationship astrology there is one golden rule: the greater the number of our planets linked, the greater our chance for relationship. Apply this to Mercury and we can understand that while the style in which we each individually communicate is important, in relationship astrology it is less important than the fact that we actually do form a connection. So how do we link up? The inter-aspects tell us about the nature of our connection, flowing or tense.
When Mercury makes an aspect to another planet by trine, sextile or sometimes conjunction (60, 120 and 0 degrees, respectively) we call this a flowing aspect. Communication is generally a joy, supportive and helpful. A square, opposition and sometimes conjunction* (90, 180 or 0 degree aspect) between Mercury and a planet can make communication a challenge, but not impossible. A tense aspect is a little harder than a flowing aspect, but even a flowing aspect can get us into hot water when words flow so easily we can create distractions, chatter.
Frankly, it’s great to have connection of any nature. Again, if your Mercury does not connect with any of my planets, it means that we probably won’t strike up a conversation to begin with.
*Note: a conjunction is either challenging or flowing depending on the planet(s) and your relationship to it. If you share a conjunction, choose which scenario fits best – and there may be elements of both.
How do your Mercurys match up?
Flowing aspects: There is a basic harmony between the Sun person’s identity and Mercury’s expressive style, interests. Even if their ideas aren’t the same, these two understand each other. Tense aspects: To Mercury, the Sun person can be closed-minded & over-powering of which the Sun person should be mindful. The Mercury person needs to choose words wisely, so they don’t dominate with chatter.
Flowing aspects: Delightful and engaging, the Mercury person provides hours of entertainment for the Moon, while the Moon person makes Mercury feel safe & comfortable enough to let it all hang out and get loony. Tense aspects: The Moon’s feeling nature is pricked and irritated by Mercury’s restless mind & ideas while Mercury finds the Moon’s feeling orientation provincial. Speaking & listening from the heart cuts through the noise.
Flowing aspects: Interesting & interested, shared interests, ideas, conversation create a great Mercury-Mercury connection. Sometimes mental stimulation happens so easily there’s a danger of turning into talking heads. Tense aspects: You are coming from two different perspectives, and positively, you can open each other’s mind. But to learn from each other you must first work on listening. Listen with your heart.
Flowing aspects: An articulate & encouraging pairing, the Mercury person helps Venus to vocalize relationship needs and desires, while Venus enhances, through artistry, empathy, tenderness, Mercury’s ability to express. Tense aspects: Mercury’s communication style can make it hard for Venus to feel romantically connected & valued. Venus can help this by speaking up & articulating her desires.
Flowing aspects: A lively pair. The Mars person brings passion, can-do and enthusiasm to Mercury’s great ideas while Mercury’s reasoning facilitates the Mars person’s goals. Tense aspects: The partners who share connection between these quick natured planets need to recognize their capacity for volatility. Both partners need to stay away from extreme language, and curb their enthusiasm for sparring.
Flowing aspects: An optimistic and fun-loving pair, the Jupiter person expands Mercury’s ideas about what’s possible while the Mercury person finds ways to implement Jupiter’s schemes and make the road traveled together, sweeter. Tense aspects: The Mercury person can find Jupiter’s opinions and sermons on life, overbearing, while Jupiter thinks Mercury is too scattered or critical. Both are helped by humility, and by diversifying their perspectives.
Flowing aspects: The Saturn person offers practical realism to Mercury’s thoughts and ideas while the Mercury person helps Saturn find solutions to problems that at first glance seem unsolvable or insurmountable. Tense aspects: Mercury doesn’t like Saturn’s insistence on reliable, responsible communication while Saturn finds Mercury’s communication style lacking in maturity. Mercury could work on consistency, and Saturn could lighten up on minor discrepancies.
Flowing aspects: An off the wall and creatively exciting pair, the Uranus person encourages Mercury’s experimental side while the Mercury person goads Uranus creativity and genius to even greater heights. Tense aspects: Communication can be anything from abrupt to offensive when either partner fires off a shoot from the hip response. Both can work on hearing the other person out before responding.
Flowing aspects: A couple who can communicate without saying a word, the Neptune person offers acceptance and the meditative sound of silence to Mercury, while the Mercury person takes Neptune’s creative & spiritual pursuits to new levels. Tense aspects: Confusion abounds when these two start a conversation, only to have it go in circles. Mercury insists on reliable communication, which Neptune could take or leave. Neptune could work on being more fully present.
Flowing aspects: The Mercury partner brings curiosity and interest to Pluto’s investigative orientation; when Mercury decides to look at the deeper, psychological, taboo subjects of their relationship, Pluto brings penetrating, truthful insight. Tense aspects: Painful subject matter brings out defensiveness in both partners. If the Mercury person triggers a wound in casual conversation, Pluto can help by being compassionate & resisting the urge to shut down or play psychologist.
Mercury & The Talking Stick
So what can you do if you find you and your partner having communication problems? Mercury can tongue-tie a partner with dexterity and verbal agility. Our girl, Tammy, had some clear Mercury talents, which may’ve made it harder for Chris to speak up and be heard. There are other ways Mercury can one-up others: they may talk your head off until you get tired of listening or throw in the towel, or, like a good lawyer, they may be able to win arguments even when that argument is wrong.
Tammy’s Mercury (in Gemini) is square Chris’ Mars (in Pisces). To prove a point Tammy could do all of the above, inciting retreat, or passive aggression, from Chris. To stay together, they’ll have to work and keep working on these trouble spots; the conflict of an inter-aspect square never goes away but self-awareness and new solutions will create forward motion. Meanwhile, their respective Mercury(s) are trine -a traditional aspect of easy, flowing communication. No chart aspect exists in isolation and this trine helps Tammy & Chris to make lemonade out of lemons.
There is an essential, human lesson at play in every communication difficulty. At a basic level, what differentiates good communicators from so-so communicators is not intelligence, wit, cunning, or a facility with words. It is knowing how to listen, and how to speak. We probably think we learned this in grade school…but maybe we did not. If we’re in a relationship, we could all use to brush up, anyhow. Here, a few communication 101 tips from Charlotte Kasl’s, If The Buddha Married.
Guidelines for Listening
-Hold a responsive posture; stay relaxed and centered in your breath and belly.
-Listen with the intention of understanding, not giving advice or jumping in.
-Check your motivation before you say something. Feeling eager to cheer them up, appease or advise is a sign to: pull back, breathe and wait for neutral intent to arise.
-Show you are listening by giving simple feedback like, “Wow, that must’ve been hard.”
-If you need to end the conversation, you can say, “I don’t want to be rude, but, I have an errand to run, etc.” Guidelines for Speaking
-Breathe, drop into your belly so your words can arise from an inner stillness.
-Share your personal experiences – that’s how true connection happens.
-Avoid excess detail and get to the heart of the message. Excess detail can obscure your message or bore your partner.
-Notice the other person’s response. Do they look engaged? If not, check in, “Am I rambling?”
-Know when to end the conversation. Even if it feels good to talk, don’t hang on.
Finally, Native Americans have a wonderful tradition, which communication experts use all the time. They would pass around a talking stick to tribe members and those with the stick, talk, while others listen. Though the talking stick exercise helps resolve deep communication rifts, in everyday life we can simply remember to honor whoever holds the symbolic talking stick by honoring their voice with our complete attention and when it’s our turn to speak, ask for the same of them.
Originally published by WellBeing Astrology Magazine, 2013
Forrest, Steven & Jodie. Skymates: Love, Sex & Evolutionary Astrology (Seven Paws Press, 2002).
Kasl, Charlotte. If the Buddha Married: Creating Enduring Relationships on the Spiritual Path (Penguin, 2001).
Greene, Liz & Sasportas, Howard. The Inner Planets: Building Blocks of Personal Reality (Weiser, 1993).