AstrologyDecember-HERO-min

Astrology with Alice: The Lesson of December’s Mercury Retrograde

Mercury is back to its old tricks, but what does that mean for us?

Words by Alice Smith

Astrology with Alice: Welcome to Astrology with Alice, a monthly astrology column aimed at helping readers understand the vibes of the month ahead in plain English. As a Taiwanese immigrant who grew up in Los Angeles, I specialize in combining western astrology with eastern philosophy. I’ve taught modern astrology through the lens of Buddhism and Taoism, and I also draw from the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Knowing the movements of the planets can help us make decisions around our careers, relationships, family. As the planets move around in the sky, they shift the energetic vibes we experience on Earth, and I believe in flowing with energy instead of fighting it—to work smarter, not harder. So join me on our monthly planetary lowdowns and learn how you, too, can ride the cosmic waves!


Mercury is going retrograde from Dec. 12 to Jan. 1. As we’ve talked about before, Mercury retrograde affects technology, communication, and travel. (So if you’re traveling during the holidays, bring non-digital backups of your itinerary and tickets!) However, there is a higher purpose to Mercury retrograde.

When Mercury turns retrograde in a sign, we’re pulled into a period of questioning and reflection over all the things that the sign represents. And, in this case, Mercury will retrograde in Capricorn—the sign that heralds the start of winter.

All astrological phenomena simply invite us to learn lessons and work on our evolutionary “stuff.” The planet involved indicates the type of assignment we’re invited to take on while the sign indicates the topic. So, Mercury retrograde in Capricorn is an internal review of our thinking, worldview, and mental connection with the material world—in short, our mind and our mental process—as it relates to the concept of achievement.

All astrological phenomena simply invite us to learn lessons and work on our evolutionary “stuff.” The planet involved indicates the type of assignment we’re invited to take on while the sign indicates the topic.

This retrograde invites us to question the biases, motives, and assumptions that our very dreams of success are built upon. How much of what we want is built upon others’ expectations? How much of what I think success looks like came from someone else? Did I even draw my map to success? Or did my society, my culture, or my family do it for me?

The sign Capricorn is associated with the Devil card in the Tarot, and it’s been my experience that the Devil card appears whenever a person is on the precipice of experiencing expansive changes. The Devil card doesn’t represent any religious devil, but, rather, the small stories and contractive thinking of our fears. Growth terrifies the part of us that just wants to stay safe. Therefore, on the eve of any evolutionary leap, our fears unleash a barrage of attacks on our trajectory and attempt to derail us back into the safety of certainty.

The story of the Buddha’s enlightenment illustrates this pattern. Mara—the demon of materialism and delusion—appeared to tempt the then-Prince Siddhartha off of his path on the eve of his enlightenment. Mara challenged Siddhartha three times: first with pleasure, then with fear, and finally by direct challenge to Siddhartha’s worthiness. Siddhartha was not moved by promises of pleasure and comfort; he saw through the empty threats of Mara’s intimidation, and when Mara attempted to undermine the Buddha by claiming that there were no witnesses to his enlightenment, the Buddha touched the ground and told Mara, “The Earth is my witness.” Defeated, Mara withdrew, and from then on, popular depictions of the Buddha show him touching the earth with his right hand in honor of this moment.

Mara is a metaphor for our fears. We experience Mara every time we have a big idea. Our souls scream “Yes!” to an electrifying and exciting idea. And then, as if on cue, our inner Mara pipes up and convinces us that we don’t have the resources, we don’t have enough time, we’re not capable, that we’re just stupid or silly to even consider it, and that we’re going to sacrifice all our free time with that extra work. Our inner Maras then unleash a flood of shoulds and oughts, and, before we know it, we’ve talked ourselves out of our dreams. Those who persist on the path of achievement must confront their Maras, so, put within this context, we could say that the Buddha simply told his negative thinking and imposter syndrome to fuck off.

Those who persist on the path of achievement must confront their Maras, so, put within this context, we could say that the Buddha simply told his negative thinking and imposter syndrome to fuck off.

Mercury retrograde cycles through the elements. Since spring, the planet has been retrograding through the earth signs: Taurus, Virgo, and now Capricorn. Therefore, we’ve been reevaluating our attitudes towards money (Taurus), work (Virgo), and now success (Capricorn). Earth is concerned with pragmatism and the material world, with money and resources, and with the concept of worth and self-esteem. Next up is the fire cycle of Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, so we will be reigniting old dreams and maybe even resuscitating dead ones during next year’s retrogrades.

Dreams are scary, and what next year’s fire cycle will ask us to do is to leave our comfort zone. And if we’re too attached to our comfort, we’ll never embark on our next evolutionary steps into the unknown. A certain level of dissatisfaction with the status quo is necessary, and that’s what the current cycle of earth retrogrades have attempted to instill in us. So, since Capricorn has to do with achievement, ask yourself this: What is the legacy I wish to leave behind that will endure after I’m gone?

And one more. “What is keeping me from creating that legacy?”

Each sign will feel the energy of this retrograde more acutely in different areas of life. Find your sun sign and rising sign below to see which areas of life you’ll feel the strongest pull to reflect on your achievements. (If you don’t know your rising sign, go here to generate your birth chart and find out.)

The astrological sign for aries.Aries

Career

The astrological sign for taurusTaurus

Travel and education

The astrological sign for geminiGemini

Finances

The astrological sign for cancer.Cancer

Partnerships

The astrological sign for leo.Leo

Work

The astrological sign for virgo.Virgo

Children and romance

The astrological sign for libra.Libra

Domestic life

The astrological sign for scorpio.Scorpio

Communication issues

The astrological sign for sagittarius.Sagittarius

Monetary assets

The astrological sign for capricorn.Capricorn

Personal reinvention

The astrological sign for aquarius.Aquarius

Spirituality and mental health

The astrological sign for pisces.Pisces

Community and long-term goals

Published on November 30, 2023

Words by Alice Smith

Alice Smith has loved astrology ever since she read her first horoscope as a kid. She’s a certified, professional astrologer who reads birth charts for clients all over the world and has spoken at events throughout the Pacific Northwest. Alice learned to write horoscopes from her mentor Rebecca Gordon who was herself mentored by the grande dame of horoscope writing, Susan Miller. Alice has a degree in sociology from the University of Washington and is (too) obsessed with her “Furgo” (furry Virgo) cat, whose birth chart she often interprets on social media.

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