Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Virgo in the Major Arcana

Secret Tarot

Let’s start our exploration of Virgo in the tarot with the Major Arcana.  In the system I follow (which uses some but not all of the attributions of the Golden Dawn), the Hermit is associated with Virgo.  Not the most obvious association, perhaps, given what we know about Virgoan qualities.   

Of all the images of the Hermit that I’ve come across, the one that gives me clues on the Virgo connection is the one from the Thoth – specifically, in the sheaves of grain in the background. The sheaves have ripened; we can see the Hermit’s harvest. It’s become visible to the world - it’s seen ‘the light of day’.  This begins to sound like the Hermit now – casting a light so that we can find our way.  More traditional images of the Hermit often include a lantern as the sole source of illumination.  

Thoth Tarot
Virgo is the sixth sign in the zodiac.  All the signs up to this point have focused on the individual and our inner world.  Virgo is the last of these; after her, the emphasis turns to the outer, public domain.  The word ‘completion’ is sometimes used as a meaning for the Hermit; we can see this in the harvest, but also in the ‘completion’ of the first half of the zodiac – the part of the journey around the wheel dealing with ‘self’ is complete, opening the way to a bigger arena to nurture and eventually harvest.

Virgo can be introspective, with much of its analytical and/or critical nature directed at the self, not others.  There’s a taste of the Hermit here, particularly in terms of introspection – one of the traditional meanings associated with the card.   The journey is taken alone, requiring courage and trust in oneself.  In the Thoth deck, we see aspects of the ‘shadow’ side of the card in the three-headed hellhound, Cerebus.  See how one head looks back? For me, that’s a Virgo trait – looking back to make sure everything’s been dealt with, all the details tidied up, before moving further along that contemplative path. The Hermit keeps his eyes down, watching the path for potential difficulties that might lie ahead.

Haindl Tarot
The Hermit is also associated with meditation - withdrawing, even if only for a short time, from the outer world and turning our attention inwards.  It's not a selfish desire, but a genuine need for solitude so that we can look at where we are and what we've learned.  The female equivalent of the male hermit, historically, was the crone - the wise, older woman, who draws on what she's learned from her experiences.

When we think of the archetypal hermit, we often associate such withdrawal from society with self-denial. Hermann Haindl's Hermit focuses more on the joy that can come through closer contact with ourselves and the natural world. 
Shadowscapes Tarot

The Shadowscapes’ Hermit also depicts withdrawal from the world; here we see a figure poised on a rocky pinnacle (representing Earth), “clear of the smog of humanity...the air attains...a purity he does not know he has missed until he breathes it for the first time” (Shadowscapes Companion, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, Llewellyn, 2010). As we complete our harvest and begin the introspective part of the year, our eyes will become accustomed to the darkness and we will be able to continue our journey.

Haindl Tarot created by Hermann Haindl, published by US Games Systems, Inc.
Secret Tarot created by Marco Nizzoli, published by Lo Scarabeo.
Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
 Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by US Games Systems, Inc. 


Saturday, 23 August 2014

Bringing in the harvest

‘Virgo Harvest’ ©Alison Coals

(The watercolour collage 'Virgo Harvest' (left) comes from my AstroArt series, inspired by walking the Glastonbury Landscape Zodiac, part of the Alchemical Journey.) 

Warm, sunny Leo has moved on, bringing us into the time of harvest in the northern hemisphere, overseen by Virgo (astrologically, the sun moved into Virgo today at 04:45 GMT).   

Virgo is the Latin word for ‘virgin’, and the constellation was linked, in ancient Greece, to Astraea, the Greek goddess of innocence.   Perhaps more familiar is Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, but also known as the virgin goddess.  Her arrows found their mark, hitting their target – getting right to the point. That can be translated as the sharp, critical faculty associated with Virgo.

‘Virgin’ also refers to a free woman, which we also see reflected in the constellation; Virgo is the only female figure in the sky who is free – Andromeda and Cassiopeia are both chained. The brightest star in the constellation is Spica, representing a spike of a grain of wheat in her left hand.   An early Roman astrologer referred to the constellation as Erigone, linked to wine-making by association with Dionysius.  So Virgo has come to represent the harvest - and the time when things start to shut down, ready for winter and rest.  

Virgo is ruled by Mercury, the swift-footed messenger of the Roman gods. Like his Greek counterpart Hermes, he was also god of trade, in particular of grains. He carries a caduceus, a symbol of trade and commerce. The caduceus is also often incorrectly associated with medicine – the correct symbol is not Mercury’s winged staff and two serpents, but the single serpent-entwined rod of Aesclepius, a Greek god of healing.  Nevertheless, Virgo is often associated with issues of health, in particular nutrition and diet – perhaps through its bodily rulership of the intestines (where things are broken down), as well as the nervous system.  The ability to work with lots of information and finding a way to make them fit – like working with jig-saw puzzle pieces – can also be connected to healing, particularly holistic medicine.

‘Virgo’ ©Alison Coals
Virgo is one of the three Earth signs, along with Taurus and Capricorn. It’s the mutable one – taking what’s been established in Leo and turning it into something useful. It combines earthy practicality with the sharpness of Artemis’ arrows and the swift thinking and dealing of Mercury, resulting in great organizing skills, the ability to design in great detail - and with deliberation and discrimination.   

So how does Virgo fit into the tarot?  Like the other signs, it’s associated with a card from the Major Arcana, at least one court card, and three cards from the Major Arcana.  We’ll start with... watch this space!

The 'Virgo' image (left), in watercolour and ink, comes from a series inspired by Native American artists.