Whenever the Moon is in Virgo its like we’re transported into the past, when the phrase “chop wood carry water” wasn’t just a metaphor or zen koan. If you wanted to stay warm you had to chop wood, and if you wanted to stay cool you had to draw water from the well. In many ways its our distance from the daily work of survival, the daily upkeep of life itself, actually chopping wood and carrying water, that has created a modern slant on the sign of Virgo that is more unfortunate. We now think of Virgo as a sign that has to do with “busy work,” or “shitty work,” because our focus is on the speed and convenience of our lifestyles. This isn’t to say that people long ago enjoyed chopping wood and carrying water anymore than we enjoy organizing our taxes, but it is to say that we too easily lose track of the elemental side of Virgo (an earth sign) because of what “daily upkeep” looks like at this point in history.
From my point of view this makes it extra important to revive and amplify the more magical elements of Virgo. First we should remember that Virgo’s constellation image is that of the maiden with angel wings or the maiden and the bird. It’s through the bird/wing symbolism, in particular, that we can start to see through the most mundane level of Virgo’s symbolism and into the magic of its world.
Birds have always been an important symbol for diviners and augurs. The flight patterns of birds, the daily changes of the birds, the sudden appearance or call of a rare bird…all are images related to the discrimination of the priestess or magician during many ancient forms of divination.
What were diviners generally trying to interpret? The simplest answer is that they were trying to understand if celestial/cosmic/divine conditions were favorable or not for the success of a particular question or endeavor. Sometimes the questions (like the kinds of questions we put to our modern astrologers and tarot readers) were personal and other times they were political or societal. Either way, the careful discrimination of stomach or liver entrails, the careful observation of birds, or the meticulous reading of bones, sticks, coins, and cards have long been associated with the god Hermes/Mercury, who is the ruler of Virgo, and whose presence is found most appropriately in the bird/wing symbolism of the Virgo constellation.
We don’t normally think of Virgo as a magical diviner, but the truth is that we should. And we should also start accepting Mercury as a perfectly fitting ruler for Virgo as well (at least this is my argument for all those astrology students who often wonder how Mercury fits for the sign of Virgo!). In old times, the daily concern for survival was closely linked to a divinatory mindset. Will this year’s harvest be abundant? Will we make it through the winter? Will the rains come? Will our health be good? These questions belong to the workaday world of Virgo, and their answers are always part preparation and part divination.
Remembering the seasonal light quality of Virgo helps my point along further. Recall that Virgo is the last sign before the Harvest moment of the fall equinox. During Virgo season there is a critical awareness of the coming judgment moment. Soon the gods will measure the worth of our claim or questions and we will be judged by the scales of Libra. Virgo’s hyper awareness of the coming judgment day is part of what makes Virgo such a magical sign. The coming of judgment day tunes Virgo into the tiniest details, the smallest signs and omens that foreshadow what could go wrong and how the favor of the gods might be obtained or offended. Within Virgo is the purity and meticulousness of a very good diviner…a diviner who knows exactly what must be done to please the gods and effect a good outcome.
We lose all of this with simple cliches like “service” and “work” or “purity” and “details.” Instead we might picture a Vestal Virgin, mindful, magical, and attentive to the health fires of Rome. We might picture Virgo as the careful discrimination of liver entrails, the pricked ear to the lone bird call, the eye for impending disaster, and the whisper of the gods filled with instructions for how to change the stormy forecast. We might picture Virgo as the timing of the medicine maker, the listening angle of the moon, and the specific hand and fingers with which to pluck the fruit. Virgo is the mantra to recite at just the correct time of year. The oracular work of the farmer and his magician’s almanac. None of these things done with a lot of pomp and circumstance…but just as quietly, and modestly as a bucket of water drawn from the well or an arm full of pine wood for the fire.
There is a magic to the way we work…not just the work we do..but the way we do it…here is where most of the heavenly instructions are found and where the success or failure of our inquiries are made. Virgo’s magic lives in this world, along with the winged birds of Mercury. Let’s not forget.
Prayer: the magic of chopping wood and carrying water…
Image by courtesy of Steve Garfield, at creative commons image licensing.