Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Hanging in the balance?



Today is – in the northern hemisphere – the Autumnal Equinox; in the southern hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox. It’s the turning point where, depending on which hemisphere you’re in, the days either become shorter (north) or longer (south), due to the tilt of the Earth and its position relative to the Sun.  This point, where the length of day apparently is equal to the length of night, is marked by the ingress of the Sun into the astrological sign of Libra (in the tropical zodiac) – the scales.

Libra on the right, Scorpio on the left (from www.rocketmine.com)
The constellation of Libra (Latin for “weighing scales”) was known as Zibanu (“balance” or “scales”) in Babylonian times. Scales were sacred to Shamash, the Babylonian sun god, who was also associated with truth and justice, concepts that are still associated with the sign of Libra today.  The Babylonians also called this constellation the Claws of the Scorpion – the constellation sits next to that of Scorpio and may have been considered to be part of the scorpion. The Arabic word for scorpion is “zubana”, not dissimilar to the Babylonians’ “zinbanu”, which might perhaps account for the “claws” becoming the ‘scales”.

In Egyptian mythology, Libra is represented by Ma’at, the goddess of the scales who would, at the time of death, weigh the human soul against an ostrich feather to determine whether or not the soul would reincarnate.  Greek mythology gives us Themis, a blindfolded seer who also carries a pair of scales.  The archangel Michael, in Christianity, holds the scales. In each tradition, the theme is balance, of keeping things – be they social or spiritual – in order.  But the story that resonates most with me is the Greek story of the Judgment of Paris. 

'Judgment of Paris', from the Louvre
It starts with the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Eris, the goddess of Discord (a “shadow” side of Libra), hasn’t been invited but decides to gate-crash. She throws a golden apple down in front of all the goddesses who have been invited.  On the apple is inscribed ‘to the fairest’.... and so we have perhaps the first beauty pageant! Hera, Aphrodite and Athena are the front-runners, and ask Zeus to choose. Zeus, in his wisdom (or some would argue, cowardice!), elects Paris, a Trojan mortal to be the judge. Atop Mount Ida, the three goddesses attempted to bribe Paris – Hera dangled the prospect of becoming king of Europe and Asia, Athena wisdom and battle skills, and Aphrodite the most beautiful woman in the world.  Paris chose Aphrodite’s gift – Helen, wife of the Greek king Menelaus... and the rest, as they say, is history, at least in mythological terms.  The Trojan horse, the “face that launched a thousand ships” ... even the idea of “who is the fairest” comes up again and again – and not only in fairy tales such as Snow White!

‘Libra’ ©Alison Coals
So many Libran qualities are illustrated in this myth –beauty, harmony, attraction, negotiation and adjudication.  And no surprise that Venus (the Roman goddess most similar to Aphrodite) is the ruler of Libra!  But “to the fairest”?  That also taps into Libran ambiguity!  The fairest in terms of the most beautiful, or the most even-tempered? The most well-balanced when it comes to making judgments? Libra, despite the association with beauty and attraction through Venus, is more a sign of balance. It’s considered and reflective, more concerned with “the other”  (7th house) than with the “I” (1st house). Libra is mediator, negotiator, and diplomat.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Virgo in the Minor Arcana: The Ten of Pentacles


Sharman-Caselli Tarot

Back to the Minor Arcana today, for a look at the last of the three Minor Arcana cards associated with Virgo.

The Ten of Pentacles is linked to Mercury in Virgo (and to the final ten days of the sun’s journey through this sign – 13th-23rd September).  This is a particularly auspicious association, because Mercury not only rules Virgo, it’s also exalted in Virgo. What does that mean? Well, when a planet rules a sign, it’s at home.  It’s comfortable – it can kick off its shoes and put its feet up.  When it’s in exaltation, it’s also comfortable – but there’s a protocol to be observed.  A friend of mine uses this analogy: the Queen is at home in Sandringham or Buckingham Palace – she’s the ruler.  When she goes abroad, say to visit the White House, she knows she’ll be looked after, but there’s a certain formality and protocol that has to be followed – that’s exaltation.  Interesting that the Wildwood calls this card ‘Home’!

Wildwood Tarot
But here, Mercury is both at home and exalted!  Remember what we said about Mercury, in the first of the Virgo posts? He’s the swift-footed messenger of the Roman gods, as is his Greek counterpart Hermes.  He’s also the god of trade (especially grains – a link to Virgo); the caduceus he carries being a symbol of trade and commerce.  Despite the caduceus often being incorrectly associated with medicine, Virgo is often associated with issues of health, through its ability to work with lots of information and finding a way to make them fit, e.g. holistic medicine.

So the Ten of Pentacles is a great card to have when it comes to acquiring wealth – whether it’s financial, physical (good health) or spiritual well-being.  Mercury in Virgo brings strong analytical skills to the table, and a clear, down-to-earth way of expressing ideas and putting them into some sort of order.  Virgo is practical and helpful – remember that link to the sixth house and the idea of ‘service’!  And it’s not just about acquiring wealth – it’s also necessary to share it... and to enjoy it.  

Shadowscapes Tarot
In the Shadowscapes, the creators of the deck have chosen to depict the background landscape as a stained glass image. The art of staining glass seems to me very Virgo-an in terms of the patience and dedication required in its creation - as well as reflecting the idea of the pattern that Virgo might seek in life.  I can see the coiling dragon as Mercury's caduceus, too. 

Despite the double ‘whammy’ of rulership and exaltation, there’s another side to the coin.  Too much attention to detail can get in the way of seeing the bigger picture – that ‘not being able to see the wood for the trees’ thing.  Another potential ‘shadow side’ of the coin is fear of poverty. This can lead to holding on to things, rather than sharing.  Hoarded wealth stagnates: “the more you give, the more you receive”.



Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Sharman-Caselli Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections

Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections