Mercury Magic: The Tarot’s Magician Card
(Based on the representations found on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.)
Too often I find myself in a process of unhelpful comparison. Invisible standards that are nobody’s imposition but my own; regret-filled after-thoughts of what I could have done differently in order to achieve the ever-moving yardstick known as “better.” But is there a baseline for “good enough”? When are my efforts “first-rate”? And, do I ever warrant receipt of that elusive gold star?
I’m not sure how much of this is socially or culturally conditioned. Perhaps we all suffer from this insatiable striving for “better” in different ways; perhaps we all feel as though we’ll never measure up in some area of our lives — never achieve whatever brass ring we’re shooting for, which may seem eternally out of reach.
I’d like to blame my twelfth-house Virgo placements for the hairshirt-like commitment I demonstrate for picking everything in my life apart. The Mercurial penchant for information-gathering, analysis, and assimilation is strong in my chart, but its shadow qualities can manifest themselves as a drive to acquire further data, constantly striving to improve. The analysis and dissection of everything — from the composition of an e-mail to the consequences of inadvertently skipping a bill payment — can weigh heavily after a while.
Mercury’s gifts include knowledge and intellect; less beneficial is its reputation for changeability, flightiness, or extreme rationality, which can trap us all in negative cycles of critical self-talk, limiting beliefs, and unfocused behaviour. To make the best use of Mercury’s gifts, we need to be mindful of Mercury’s pitfalls, as well as the alchemical potential the planet presents for transforming the lead in our lives to gold.
As I write this, eclipse season is approaching, and I find myself eager to embrace the endings and beginnings that it will no doubt bring. I’ll be paying close attention to the themes of learning, expansion, and spirituality that the eclipses will emphasize in my chart by virtue of house placement. The squares the lunar eclipse in Sagittarius will form with Jupiter in my house of service and servitude is less alarming than it is curious. It is already raising questions around what I slavishly serve and whether it is in my highest good?
Mercury will be the ruler of the June 10 solar eclipse in Gemini. At this time it will be forming a conjunction with the sun as well. The Sabian symbol for the sun at 20 degrees of Gemini is “A cafeteria with an abundance of choices.” For me, this image is representative of the choices that life presents us with at any given time. We weigh these choices: the steak au poivre, the meatloaf, the fish sticks. Rarely do we examine whether our own self-defeating thoughts are responsible for us never choosing steak.
This year, Mercury, the ruler of the Magician, is having its thrice-annual retrograde in air signs — Aquarius in February-March, Gemini in May-June, and Libra in September-October. The air element corresponds to the sword, which appears on the Magician’s table, next to the cup, pentacle, and wand. These are the other elemental associations for the water, earth, and fire signs, all of which can be considered the Magician’s tools over which he commands his magic wand.
Each year, Mercury retrogrades in the same configuration of elemental sign: all earth, all air, all water, or all fire. Exceptions are years that seem more “liminal” in nature, where Mercury straddles two elements, like it did in 2020. These elemental grand trines — astrological aspects, which are regarded as harmonious, creative, positive, flowing, and ripe for manifestation — are the seat of Mercury’s retrograde cycles, and significant periods of assimilation, synthesis, and (re)genesis. In my view, these retrogrades invite us to review what we learned and what we will take with us on the next leg of our spiritual journey. Mercury, in this instance, is not calling us to do better but to know better — and this includes the disciplined thoughts that the Magician’s mindset requires.
While Mercury retrograde has entered the mainstream vernacular of Instagram stories and Twitter tweets as something to be dreaded — missed appointments, faulty contracts, transportation delays — the retrograde period is the basis of Mercury’s synodic cycle. When Mercury is retrograde, it forms an “inferior” conjunction with the sun — the birth of a new cycle. In the days leading up to this, Mercury is thought to be symbolically ending its previous phase, similar to the lunation cycle.
According to Brian Clark, Mercury’s “inferior” conjunction is similar to the “New Moon.” He writes: “At the beginning of the cycle, this ‘new Mercury’ begins its waxing phase, yet it is still retrograde. In a symbolic sense a new facet of mercurial development is set in motion” (p. 8). Mercury then waxes until it arrives at its “Full Moon” phase, known as the “superior conjunction” — again formed when Mercury is in a conjunction with the sun. Mercury finally enters its waning phase, beginning “a more pensive and introspective [phase of the cycle] and disappears from the morning skies.” According to Clark, the planet’s orbit can best be described as “erratic”; archetypally, its back and forth movement through the sky — retrograde, direct, retrograde, direct — resembles a crude lemniscate — the figure above the Magician’s head.
In the Medieval book of astral magic known as Picatrix, the author defines magic as “any act someone performs in which the spirit and all the senses are engaged throughout the whole process and through which miracles are produced to the extent that the senses are driven to their contemplation and wonder” (p. 41). He states that “everything in this world obeys the celestial forms,” and, as such, “the root of magic is the motion of the planets” (p. 69). This suggests that an understanding of the cosmic rhythms — appreciating the planetary movements and the geometrical relationships they form with each other — can support manifestation as much as the power of the mind. The Universe has its own cycles of expansion and contraction; understanding periods of opportunity, constraint, birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth are important to any mage on their magical path.
In recent years, I’ve seen the proliferation of books on manifestation with the lunar cycles. This is probably the most practical planetary energy to work with based on the speed of its synodic cycle (approximately 28 days). Working with Jupiter (12 years) or Saturn (approximately 30 years) would take much more patience and long-term planning. Mercury, however, has a slightly longer cycle than the moon at approximately 116 days — a substantial period, which could invite the acquisition, assimilation, and deployment of knowledge in advancing our goals and ambitions.
To understand the movement of the planets and to effect magic in our lives is to understand symbol and metaphor. The Magician is a card of potency — knowledge acquired through dedicated study and disciplined, constructive, directed thought. The Magician, pointing his wand up toward the heavens, while his free hand points to the ground is said to represent the oft-paraphrased quote from the Hermetic text, the Emerald Tablet: “As above, so below.” Harkening back to Picatrix, this card may be calling us to amplify our intentions, prayers, and positive affirmations with faith in Divine Timing. Sometimes, it may also be reminding us that turning the lead in our life to gold is as simple as a small shift in perception.