For the next three weeks, no matter what goes wrong, we’re off the hook, blame-wise anyway.
At 9:54 a.m. Wednesday — or 3:54 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time, for those apologists who like to make their excuses sound more authoritative — Mercury is going into retrograde, a phenomenon during which the planet appears to move backward across the sky.
Even more important, according to many astrologists, it also makes things go wrong. Lots and lots of things.
We lose our keys. The toaster breaks. Our flight is canceled.
No matter what happens between now and 8:57 a.m. on Feb. 11 — when Mercury will appear to make another U-turn and start going the right way again — we can blame the retrograde for messing up things.
Astrologists maintain that the retrograde causes problems with technology, communication and judgment. By why limit ourselves? We can use it as a coverall excuse for everything from burning dinner to forgetting a spouse’s birthday.
And it appears to be gaining in popularity. (Belief in the retrograde effect, we mean, not dodging blame, which has always been in fashion.)
In a 2012 survey, 45 percent of Americans said they think that astrology is at least somewhat scientific. That’s more people saying they believe in astrology than at any time in the past 30 years.
Concern over the retrograde is centuries old. It wasn’t until the early 1600s, when astronomers finally proved that Earth is not the center of the universe, that people realized that it’s an optical illusion caused by differences in Earth’s and Mercury’s orbital paths around the sun.
But that’s not nearly as exciting as believing that it’s a cosmic version of a get-out-of-jail-free card. Given a choice between logic and a ready-made excuse, there’s an undeniable allure to the latter. □