Everyone familiar with astrology and its tools knows the planet Mercury refers to mental activities and faculties of the mind.
According to natal astrology, the position of Mercury in your birth chart symbolizes the quality of energy (the zodiacal sign occupied by Mercury) propelling your mind through the areas of experience (revealed by Mercury’s house position) where it best functions. But this is not the most fundamental
approach to determining and understanding mental temperament, because it fails to focus on the cycle of Mercury as a whole, and on Mercury’s particular cyclic phase at the time of birth.
This section presents a valuable, easy-to-use technique allowing you to discover your fundamental mental type. It provides a four-fold classification of mental temperament derived from the major turning-points of the cycle of Mercury. Of ancient origin, the technique of "mental chemistry" was reintroduced into astrology during the early part of the twentieth century by the eminent astrologer Marc Edmund Jones. It was later refined and reformulated by Dane Rudhyar according to the humanistic approach to astrology.
The Cycle of Mercury
One of the first things a student of astrology learns about Mercury is that because its orbit lies inside the Earth’s, it is never more than twenty-eight zodiacal degrees from the Sun. From our geocentric point of view, and because the Earth never passes between Mercury and the Sun, Mercury does not make the entire 360 degree cycle of aspects with the Sun. These factors create an unusual situation characterizing the cycles of two planets lying inside Earth’s orbit— Venus and Mercury. Instead of forming a single conjunction and a single opposition with the Sun during each cycle, Mercury and Venus form with the Sun two different types of geocentric conjunctions–termed inferior and superior.
The approximately 116-day cycle of Mercury begins with the inferior conjunction
with the Sun. It is a celestial situation where the Sun, Mercury and Earth are aligned, with Mercury standing between the Sun and Earth (see accompanying sidebar). Occurring in the middle of Mercury’s twenty to twenty-four day retrograde period, the inferior conjunction inaugurates Mercury’s waxing hemicycle, which is analogous to the period between the New Moon and the Full Moon. Because Mercury’s cycle opens with Mercury leaping from setting behind the Sun in the west to rise before
the Sun in the eastern morning sky, Rudhyar termed this half of Mercury’s cycle Promethean
, for the mythological titan who stole the fire of the gods and gave it as a gift to humanity.
Mercury turns direct nine to fifteen days after the inferior conjunction, and about a week later Mercury reaches its greatest distance from the Sun. A few days later, Mercury begins moving through the zodiac quicker than the Sun (or more than one degree a day). The superior conjunction
occurs when Mercury is at the far side of the Sun, and while moving close to its maximum speed of about 2º15’ a day. It is analogous to the Full Moon and marks the beginning of Mercury’s waning hemicycle, during which Mercury sets in the early evening after
the Sun. Rudhyar termed the waning Mercurial hemicycle Epimethean
, for the always backward-looking brother of the forward-looking Prometheus. About four to five days after the superior conjunction, Mercury’s daily motion matches the Sun’s, and about two weeks later it turns retrograde. Then, ten to fifteen days after turning retrograde, the cycle closes with the inferior conjunction.
The Four Faces of Mercury
The brief look at the Mercury cycle presented above provides the foundation for the four-fold classification of Mercury types: Promethean-Retrograde, Promethean-Direct, Epimethean-Retrograde and Epimethean-Direct. They are Mercury’s four "faces," each representing a particular mental temperament.
It’s easy to determine your Mercury type. First locate the Sun in your birth chart. If Mercury is clockwise
from the Sun, it is Promethean. On the other hand, if Mercury is counterclockwise
from the Sun, your Mercury type is Epimethean. If you’re simply looking-up someone’s data in an ephemeris, notice if Mercury is ahead or behind the Sun in the zodiac. If the Sun is further along the zodiac than Mercury, then Mercury is Promethean. If Mercury is further along the zodiac than the Sun, then Mercury is in its Epimethean phase. While you’re at it, check to see if Mercury is retrograde (indicated by the character Rx in Mercury’s column above the date row). For example, if Sun is ten degrees Leo and Mercury is two degrees Leo, retrograde, then Mercury is Promethean-Retrograde. In a horoscope, retrograde planets are indicated by the Rx symbol. In Khaldea 2001TM
ephemeris and chart graphics, retrograde planets in displayed red.
The following depictions of Mercury’s four faces are expressed in general terms. They provide launching platforms for your own insight and understanding into the types. Don’t apply them rigidly. As with everything astrological, much depends on the horoscope as whole. In a subsequent section, "Venus Morning Star, Venus Evening Star," we'll take a similar look at Venus and its cycle. Then, in Section Five, we’ll refine our look at the inner planets even further and consider the sequence of Mercury, Venus and the Sun in the horoscope.
The graphics illustrating each of Mercury’s four faces provide examples of the positions of the Sun and Mercury for each type. The position of the two bodies within the wheel, however, is arbitrary. Mercury types are not determined by the position of the Sun and Moon within the horoscope wheel, but by Mercury’s direction from the Sun (clockwise or counterclockwise) and whether its motion is direct or retrograde.
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