Friday, 22 September 2017

Weighing it up - the Sun enters Libra

Today (22nd September) 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.

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.

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.

The image on the left comes from my AstroArt series - watercolour and ink collage.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Virgo in the Minor Arcana: The Ten of Pentacles

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

Ten of Stones (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot
The Ten of Pentacles is linked to Mercury in Virgo (and to the final ten days of the sun’s journey through this sign: 13-22 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 Tarot's Ten of Stones carries the title ‘Home’!

Ten of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselli 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.  It's also associated with medicine, although modern medical symbols appear to have lost one of the two twining serpents! 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. 
Ten of Pentacles (trimmed):
© ShadowscapesTarot

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- 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”.

Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new e-book, Astrology in Tarot, now available from Amazon.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Virgo in the court cards

Knight of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselii Tarot
Let’s have a break from the Minor Arcana, and look at Virgo in the court cards.

The sign of Virgo is one of the three Earth signs, and one of the four mutable signs.  So what court card does this represent?  Different traditions have different astrological correspondences when it comes to the Court Cards.  I work with a system that assigns mutability to the Knights so, in the earthy sign of Virgo, we have the Knight of Pentacles.

That combination of earth and mutability suggests a mix of earthy practicality with quick, clear, analytical thinking: the ability to organize, design and plan in great detail. It’s about being methodical, not running roughshod all over the place, but doing things with great deliberation and discrimination.  

Knight of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Shadowscapes Tarot
The Knight of Pentacles in many decks is shown sitting on a horse that appears to be at a standstill. If he's moving at all, it's at a slow, considered pace, reflecting the methodical, deliberate movements you might associate with Virgo.  In the Shadowscapes, we see the Knight on the back of the Earth Dragon, "grounded and slow but undeniable in its progress", say the creators of the deck, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore. He values the success more than the speed at which that success is achieved.

Knight of Disks (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
In the ‘double element’ system, the Knight of Pentacles represents fire of earth.  We can see this in the rings of sunlight falling over the harvest in the Thoth’s Knight of Disks.  But here ‘fire’ doesn’t represent fast-burning, fast-moving; this is more about keeping the fires burning steadily.  The Knight and his horse are not moving – in fact his horse looks as though he’s grazing on the harvest! Perhaps both horse and rider are worn out by their hard work, bringing in the crops.  The effort is worth it, though, in terms of what can be reaped at the end – as it is when it’s done for our own individual growth. Remember that Virgo is the last sign of the personal, individual emphasis in the journey around the zodiac.

Remember too, that Virgo is ruled by Mercury.  When we apply this to the suit of Pentacles, we can see how attention to detail can be applied to the down-to-earth, practical affairs that we encounter on a daily basis – finances, health... our material well-being. Slow and steady, meticulous, deliberate, dedicated, reliable – that’s the way of the Knight of Pentacles!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new e-book, Astrology in Tarot, now available from Amazon.

Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
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 U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Virgo in the Minor Arcana: The Nine of Pentacles

Following on from the Eight of Pentacles, we have the Nine, linked to Venus in Virgo, and to the middle ten days of the sun’s journey through this sign (3rd-13th September).  We’re still looking at Virgoan qualities here, so it’s Venus that gives the Nine a different ‘flavour’ from the Eight.
Virgo is the sign associated with the harvest, while Venus symbolizes harmony – that sense of well-being that I feel whenever I look at this card.  There’s a real feeling of abundance, and the enjoyment of it - Virgo is the mutable Earth sign, so there's the suggestion of sharing and spreading the wealth of the harvest.  I’m also reminded of the Empress, with all the signs of fertility – the fruit as well as the rabbit! In the Nine of Pentacles we see it’s taken a lot of hard work, though, for the earth to have yielded such wealth.  

Nine of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Mystic Spiral Tarot
Venus is not really that comfortable in Virgo, though – in astrological terms she’s ‘in fall’ in this sign.  This can come out in the Virgoan critical faculties, when Virgo’s ideals and standards aren’t met – when the ‘perfectionist’ goes overboard.  But I can also see this ‘Venus in Virgo’ in the pleasure that the woman in the image is taking in what she’s produced.  The fruits of her labours are not necessarily beautiful, but they are useful and practical – appealing to the down-to-earthiness of the Pentacles family.

Venus in Virgo can also be cautious, or conventional.  The fruits of her labours have probably been a result of ‘tried and tested’ methods, not something new or revolutionary. 

Nine of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselli Tarot
As I mentioned in earlier posts about Virgo, this sign is the sixth one encountered in the journey around the zodiac, and as such, represents the closing of the first half of that journey, that of the individual.  From here on, the focus shifts to the wider, outer world.  I think this comes across clearly in the Nine of Pentacles (as well as in the Hermit) – there’s a sense of self-sufficiency in this card. There’s no one else in sight.  She’s alone - but not lonely, and is happy in that state.  She doesn’t need more, but she’s content with what she’s achieved, and with the promise of what’s ahead (in the Sharman-Burke/Caselli Beginners' Guide to the Tarot deck, the hunting bird symbolizes her far-sightedness and imagination). The actual harvest is still to come, of course - this is only the Nine; the culmination, the Ten, is still to come. 

Nine of Disks (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
In other decks the falcon represents a very Virgoan quality: discipline – the ability to give attention to the job at hand.  The discipline here is not imposed from an outward source; it’s about having the self-discipline required to devote time and energy to something that you really want to achieve. And when you do achieve it, you – like this woman - can luxuriate in the fruits of your labour!

The Thoth deck, although the image is very different from that of the Rider-Waite-based decks, carries a similar message.  The more we give, the more we receive – the harder we work, the more rewards we’re able to reap, the overall idea being that a number of qualities or skills need to be brought together in order to achieve results.    In this image, we can see six symbols representing the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, as well as the Moon – which in astrology is considered to be a planet (as it too ‘wanders the sky’).  So we have the ambition of Mars, the vision of Jupiter, the communication  of Mercury, the time-management, perhaps, of Saturn, the nurturing of the Moon, and – last but not least, the abundance of Venus, all brought together though the effort of Venus in Virgo!

Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Mystic Spiral Tarotcreated by Giuseppe Palumbo & Giovanni Pelosini, published by Lo Scarabeo
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Virgo in the Minor Arcana: The Eight of Pentacles

Now let’s look at Virgo in the Minor Arcana.  Virgo is linked to three ‘pip’ cards in the earthy suit of Pentacles.  Because Virgo is a mutable sign, we look to the 8, 9 and 10 of the suit to find the planetary correspondences.  (For more information on this system of Planetary and Zodiacal dignities, I recommend Elizabeth Hazel’s Tarot Decoded, published by Weiser, 2004).

8 of Disks (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
In the system I follow, the Eight of Pentacles is linked to the Sun in Virgo – and to the first ten days of the Sun’s journey through this sign (23rd-2nd September).  The deck that conveys this best, for me, is the Thoth.  The earthiness of the Pentacles (Disks, in the Thoth) is represented by the plant, and the earthy greens and browns.  I can almost feel the sun, with all that bright yellow-gold suffusing the card!  Gerd Ziegler, in his ‘Tarot: Mirror of the Soul’ (published by Weber Books, 1998) talks of the ‘flowering of internal and external richness’ – a lovely description of this image.  

Notice how each blossom is shaded from direct sunlight by a large leaf?  There’s a message here about protection, about being careful and prudent (the keyword on the Thoth’s Eight of Disks).  Although we’re in Virgo, this card isn’t about harvest.  It’s too early for that, in this card - whatever it is you’re nurturing has only just reached flowering stage.  It needs time to develop blossoms.  If we extend this to wider Pentacles themes, such as health or finances, the message becomes one of ensuring that our resources have time to develop sufficiently to allow for success.   

Eight of Stones (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot
Virgo, the sixth sign of the zodiac, is associated with the sixth house – the house of service, of daily routine, of health and well-being.  Virgo needs to be helpful in a tangible, practical, down-to-earth way.  The Sun just wants to shine!  The Eight of Pentacles is about allowing ourselves to grow and develop our skills and talents - the things we use in our daily lives – carefully.  We have to tend to our creativity, just as we would our garden.  Some discrimination is required – what’s useful, and what need to be weeded out?

The image in the Wildwood Tarot’s Eight of Stones focuses more on Virgo’s attention to detail, to the crafting of practical things.  The keyword here is ‘skill’. In order to acquire skills, we need to develop self-discipline, as well as patience and perseverance – qualities we might associate with the other earth signs of Taurus and Capricorn, perhaps. But that’s where the mutability comes in – Virgo takes what’s been set in motion by the Capricorn discipline and maintained by the Taurean perseverance and determination, and turns it into something that can be used in a very practical way!

Eight of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Shadowscapes Tarot
The Shadowscapes’ Eight of Pentacles also focuses on attention to detail – just look at the delicacy of a spider’s web!  The image also reminds us that diligence and patience are important qualities when it comes to creating something.  The deck’s creators write of “a practical application of intellect and skill to a task to see through to the finish” – a great description of Virgo qualities!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new e-book, Astrology in Tarot, now available from Amazon.

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 U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections

Sunday, 27 August 2017

The Hermit: Virgo in the Major Arcana

The Hermit IX (trimmed):
© Thoth 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.
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.

The Hermit IX (trimmed):
© Secret Tarot
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.  Many decks show a lone figure journeying through the dark, with a lantern as the sole source of light - although in the Secret Tarot, we see the glimmering of the light of dawn as well - the illumination we seek.

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.

The Crone 9 (trimmed):
© Margarete Petersen 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. Margarete Petersen has chosen The Crone archetype for her deck - a very earthy crone, in keeping with Earthy Virgo.

The Hermit IX (trimmed):
© Haindl Tarot
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. A winged creature appears in the background, while several owl-like birds surround the hermit on the ground.  Apparently Haindl was thinking of St Francis of Assisi spending time in the wild with animals and birds, later dedicating himself to serving others. In astrology, Virgo rules the 6th house, the house of service - and of small animals!

The Hermit IX (trimmed):
© 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.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new e-book, Astrology in Tarot, now available from Amazon.

Haindl Tarot, created by Hermann Haindl, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Margarete Petersen Tarot, AGM-URANIA/Deep Books, 2004.
Secret Tarot created by Marco Nizzoli, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2004
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 U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Bringing in the harvest

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 on August 22nd, 22.20 UT).  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 Harvest’ ©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!

‘Virgo Harvest’ comes from my AstroArt series, inspired by walking the Glastonbury Landscape Zodiac.