Mercury and Mars turn direct and conquer love

Mercury, messenger of gods, prince of tricksters and bringer of dreams, is in the morning sky an hour before sunrise in the east.

Black crayon drawing by Francesco Albani, c. 1609, the same year Galileo first used a telescope to look into the sky

On Sunday, August 19, 2018, the planet Mercury completed its retrograde and resumed its direct, or eastward motion. This coming weekend, the planet Mars will do the same thing when it completes its apparent retrograde. The difference between them is that while Mercury was retrograde for three weeks and is now in the morning sky, Mars was retrograde for over two months and is brilliant in the evening sky. 

Another way to think about the celestial “about-face” of these two is to consider them in their historical context: Mercury was always known as the messenger of the gods, the prince of tricksters and bringer of dreams; while Mars was known as the god of action, aggression, and war ~ and now they’re both changing course ~ so if you’ve been bogged down by a long, hot summer while they were going backward, then know that reprieve may soon be on the way!

Mercury and Mars are linked through an ancient story involving the sacred net of Vulcan, the blacksmith of the gods. Vulcan was married to Venus, but she was unfaithful to him with Mars. Apollo told Vulcan about their affair, so he crafted an unbreakable net to catch the lovers and humiliate them in front of all the other gods. 

He did catch them, but afterwards, Mercury stole the net so he could catch Chloris, a nymph he admired. Chloris had the task of scattering flower petals in the path of the rising Sun. Mercury waited several days for her at the sunrise point until he finally caught her (John Keats’ poem “Lamia” begins with Mercury/Hermes departing Mt Olympus in search of Chloris, and can be read here).

From Sky and Telescope, this image shows waxing Moon sweeping past Saturn and Mars in the southeast an hour after sunset.

Now this week, while all the other naked eye planets are visible in the evening sky, Mercury is there alone in the morning sky, waiting for Chloris. And true to his trickster nature, he’s changing up the storyline, because in this configuration, Mercury gets first dibs on using Vulcan’s net, because he turned direct before Mars, and he’s rising up in the morning sky while Mars is there in the evening sky ~ I think of this like an opportunity for redemption of love in the storyline and in the season!

Look for Mercury low in the east an hour before sunrise all week.


To hear the audio of this story from my weekly radio segment on Interlochen Public Radio, click here.

From vale to vale, from wood to wood, he flew,

Breathing upon the flowers in his passion new,

And wound with many a river to its head,

To find where his sweet nymph prepar’d her secret bed…

~from John Keats’ “Lamia”, describing Hermes/Mercury in search of his beloved Chloris at dawn