This week, as we make our way on a journey through the twelve signs of the zodiac, we'll examine Virgo, our sixth sign, the last of the summertime season and the one most concerned with the Earth and her harvest. Virgo is ruled by Mercury, the messenger of the gods. As an archetype, he represents the mind and communications. This is thinking, speaking, talking, proposals, decisions and the like, but of a practical nature. Virgo is a mutable earth sign symbolized by the Virgin. Each of these simple images is a cornucopia of metaphorical material, opening the door to a treasure trove of information.
As individuals, Virgos tend to be meticulous and orderly. Their job is to serve. It's said that the mind is a good servant, but a poor master. They're always trying to figure things out. Everything in life is reduced to an analytical equation, with rationality the chief guide leading you to the answer. When Mercury is well aspected, there is clearheaded thinking; what is proposed is on track. When it is not well aspected, the mind is dim and the choices are often in err.
As a class of people, Virgos represent the workers, trades people or guild; particularly taken collectively. This is labor. At their best, there's quality in their craft and they're highly renowned artisans, illustrating the perfection of the virgin.
Homer's Iliad weaves a web of astrological information for those just setting out to study the highway connecting heaven and earth. Here we examine Book XVIII, the second Virgo book (the first was Book VI, six plus twelve equals eighteen, the chapter we are in now), and in it we find the Craftsman of the Gods, Hephaistos, ready to begin his labors.
"He left her there, returning to his bellows,
Hephaistos is constructing a new set of arms for Akhilleus, having lost his to Hektor. Virgo is the sign of ordnance and supply. It represents the tools of the craftsman, the brushes of the artist, the munitions of a cannon or the arms of a warrior. It is no accident that, when greeting Thetis, Hephaistos tells Grace (Aphrodite) to...
"Serve her our choicest fare
At this he left the anvil block, and hobbled
Virgos are neat and orderly. Thetis, the divine mother of Akhilleus, has come to Hephaistos to ask him to apply his craft to her request. She is the one who bore her son, "a child flawless and strong beyond all men." Akhilleus now strives to win his "perfect glory." These are illustrations of the 'perfection' qualities elicited by this sign, and both appear in this section. There are many Virgonian images throughout, but particularly in the pastoral scene which Hephaistos crafts into the shield's face. Most of these are of town life and agricultural themes, the harvest and the good earth, highlighted under a canopy of stars.
"Durable fine bronze and tin he threw into the blaze
"His first job was a shield, a broad one, thick,
If our hypothesis is correct, that the stars are the inspirational author of this work, then they pivot appropriately above our shield's design, monitoring events here on Earth.
"He put there, too, a king's field. Harvest hands
Homer then paints another seasonal image with spreading vines and light hearted boys and girls harvesting the grapes.
"A vineyard then he pictured, weighted down
Some might counter that grapes and wine are Pisces, and so they are; but as cultivated crops they belong under the domain of Virgo, together with the wheat, barley, olives and other 'fruits of the earth' which look to our tender care under domestication. The images just continue to roll across the fields and pastures...
"The artisan made next a herd of longhorns,
"And on the shield the great bowlegged god
But these are not the only Virgonian metaphors which are presented here. There are many others. Images of the earth are woven into more than simply these verses around the construction of the shield. In the first of several examples, Akhilleus has just learned that Patroklos has been killed, and he responds, for this chapter, in a particularly earthy manner...
"On his bowed head he scattered dust and ash
"As they made land at the fertile plain of Troy..."
"Here I sat,
"...they came together on the assembly ground..."
"He will not be contained by the flat ground..."
"Both he and I were destined
"Here the earth will hold me under."
"Now my son lies prone on the hard ground in grief."
"When the besiegers from their parleying ground
These notions of assembly ground and parleying ground combine the rulership of Virgo, Mercury, with the notion of this earth sign. It is common ground where people come together to discuss their ideas.
This, in turn, led to a notion which I had never personally considered for this sign, but which makes perfect sense in retrospect, which is that of the people working together. Virgo is the sign of town life, of maids, soldiers, craftspersons, and those that work the fields, etc. Hektor brings it up as the Trojans are pondering what to do, in a clause which seems almost out of context, unless one considers this theme at work.
And finally, again in reference to the planetary ruler, Mercury, we find a common thread being woven throughout this chapter, where the messenger of the gods, choice, proposals and clarity comes to the fore. The chapter opens with Antilokhos bearing a message to Akhilleus, of Iris, another messenger of the gods, also bringing a message to Akhilleus, of Hera, who ...should (she) not devise ill fortune for the Trojans whom (she) loathe(s)?", and of Poulydamas rendering clear judgment to Hektor's poor judgment. Indeed, in this last example we are given a clear signal as to how astrology works. As the earth turns, the emphasis slowly shifts from house to house in the natal chart, with different qualities being highlighted as the planets change position. Just this notion is described in the birth of these two Trojan champions.
"Clearheaded Poulydamas, son of Panthoos,
"'Think well of our alternatives, my friends.
"If we can follow
Notice that it is recommended that they gather at the market place, an image again repeated on the shield. Mercury is the Lord of the Merchant, and Homer is here evoking yet another Mercurial image. Even though this is for the good of all, Hektor does not like this plan, and he glares at Poulydamas.
"Poulydamas, what you propose no longer
"This was Hektor's speech. The Trojans roared
And these are precisely the notions of speech, communication, discussion, argument and counsel. They are all products of the mind, which bounces back and forth, seeking the best path between two differing courses of action.
But it is a combination of the good earth and how it is worked that is essentially Virgo. This is too large a task for any one person, and hence, it is the collective, of people pulling together for the common good, that Homer brings to the fore in both chapters VI and XVIII.
You can almost feel and smell the good, rich soil being worked beneath the plow.
"Upon the shield, soft terrain, freshly plowed,
It's marvelous the way Homer works an image inside an image inside an image. The craftsman of heaven, Hephaistos (Virgo) making the arms (Virgo) for our hero while working in the season of the Earth's harvest (Virgo). Now that's what I call a weave!
It's just perfect!