Monthly Archives: September 2013
Etymology – Virgin or Young Maiden
The constellation of Virgo is one of twelve that form the classical Greek Zodiac. Virgo is often depicted as a Winged Maiden holding a stalk or sheaf of wheat or some other grain in her hand. After Hydra, the constellation of Virgo is the second largest constellation and the largest constellation of the Zodiac.
Astronomy & Astrology
Much of the foundations of Western knowledge regarding the fields of Astronomy and Astrology owe its roots to Ancient Mesopotamian cultures. Many ancient cultures studied the stars, seeing in them patterns that are called constellations. These ancient astronomers were able to make predictable, annual turnings of the heavens that they could divide and mark for the passing of the Seasons and time. For the ancients, Astrology served as a precursor to Astronomy and they believed that by studying the heavens, they could foretell future events and even a person’s life path.
These ancient cultures would also meet and exchange ideas frequently and in this fashion, when the Greeks encountered the Persians, there was an exchange of knowledge regarding Astronomy that becomes the constellations and zodiacs so many know today. Eventually, there is no clear distinction between what ancient Mesopotamian Astronomers and Greeks Philosophers knew. Or who influenced who regarding the stories and myths behind the constellations. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.
Virgo is Latin for virgin and is one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, it is one of 88 known or recognized constellations and is located in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the second largest constellation in the night sky and the largest constellation of the Greek Zodiac. Other constellations close to Virgo are Boötes, Coma Berenices, Leo, Crater, Corvus, Hydra, Libra, and Serpens Caput.
The constellation of Virgo has been recognized and known by many different names by different cultures and civilizations. The Egyptians saw Isis, the Goddess of Fertility, in India, they saw Kanya, the mother of Krishna, the Hindu saw Kauni, the Maiden, the Persians knew her as Khosha, the Ear of Wheat and the Hebrews knew of her as Bethulah, “Abundance in Harvest.”
In Chinese astronomy, the northern part of Virgo is part Taiwei, a palace of the Emperor where a Private Council with administrators and legalities were conducted. This court was also known as the Supreme Palace Enclosure and included parts of the constellations Coma Berenices and Leo. The stars Beta, Eta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon Virginis, Alpha Comae Berenices and Delta Leonis all formed the walls of this enclosure in the heavens. The stars within these “walls” represented all the different government officials, courtiers and dignitaries.
The stars Spica and Zeta Virginis formed Jiao, the horn of the Blue Dragon cang long. The horn Jiao is also the first of 28 Chinese lunar mansions. Jiao was also seen as the gateway for the Sun, Moon and planets as they passed along the ecliptic. Another pair of stars south of Spica known as 53 and 69 Virginis formed another gateway known as Tianmen.
Two more stars, found at right angles to Spica and Zeta Virginis formed a straight road called Pingdao that the Sun, Moon and planets traveled on. The star Theta Virginis was known as Jinxian and represented the people who have outstanding achievements and were awaiting their honors and awards. To the north of Zeta Virginis, possibly Tau and either 78 or Sigma Virginis formed Tiantain, the heavenly fields that would be ploughed every spring before planting time.
The stars Lambda, Kappa, Iota and Phi Virginis form the neck of the Blue Dragon or Kang. This is the second of the lunar mansions and represented the administrative part of the government that oversees the affairs of individual households. Close to Kang is a lake with sail boats in it called Kangchi. As to which stars represent Kangchi is uncertain as they have changed over time.
During Medieval Europe, Virgo easily became identified with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ.
According to Manly P. Hall’s “Secret Teachings of All Ages,” the Catholic Feast of the Assumption is connected to the constellation Virgo and the story of the Greek goddess Astraea to Virgin Mary as being the one who rose up into the Heavens. By this same source, the Roman calendar of Columella marks the disappearance of Virgo in the night sky around mid August. And Astraea’s Assumption that was observed by the ancient Greeks and Romans seems to have been adopted by the Catholics.
Egyptian Astronomy and Mythology
The zodiac ceiling painting in the Dendera Temple Complex has been identified as Isis by Eratosthenes and Avienus. In the painting, Isis is shown holding a sheaf of wheat ears in her hand that she later drops to form and become the Milky Way.
Greek and Roman Mythology
There seem to be multiple, conflicting myths from Greek and Roman mythology that have become associated with the constellation of Virgo. Virgo was also called Parthenos among the Greeks.
Vesta is the Goddess of Light and Roman counterpart to the Greek Hestia, whose function and job was to watch over the hearth fire of a home. The Vestal Virgins were shown the utmost respect and if their chastity was ever violated, they were punished by being buried alive.
Goddess of Justice
In Greek Mythology, there is another goddess, Astraea, the Goddess of Justice who represented the natural order including those of childbirth, change, abundance and death. Astraea’s story overlaps a little bit with that of Pandora. For when Prometheus was punished with having given the gift of fire to humans and chained to a rock, Zeus (or Jupiter) then went on to curse mankind with the first woman, Pandora who was given a box. When Pandora finally opened the box, unleashing all manners of plagues and calamities up humans, the gods began to leave the earth.
Astraea is also said to be the daughter of Zeus and Themis and that it is from Themis that Astraea took on the duties and responsibility of meting out justice and ordered the seasons. When the Golden Age ended, Astraea was one of the last immortals to leave the earth and causing an era of anarchy and crime. It is this goddess who is said to represent the classical Greek Zodiac of Virgo. Astraea is sometimes depicted as holding the scales of justice, which is represented in the zodiac as Libra. The legend continues too that one day Astaea will return to the earth and bring back the Golden Age.
To make this a little more confusing, Astraea is also closely linked to another Greek Goddess of Justice, Dike. So much so, that Dike often has the epitaph of Dike Astraea. Both goddesses are daughters of Zeus and Themis, though with slightly different aspects of Justice that they are responsible for and preside over. In some tellings of the story of Dike, when she’s identified as Astaea, she will be said to be the daughter of Astraeus, the father of the stars and Eos, the goddess of the dawn.
When the above myth involves Dike in its retelling, she lived during the Golden Age of man, a period of prosperity and peace with ever lasting spring and humans having never experienced old age. At this time, Dike was mortal while fulfilling her role as a keeper of justice and law. Once Zeus had defeated and over threw his father, it marked the beginning of the Silver Age and the turnings of the season were introduced and men began to cease honoring the gods as they had before. Dike tried to warn the people of what would happen, but she eventually gave up and found herself forced to turn her back on humans and left for the heavens. It is at this time that men began to war among themselves and the Bronze and Iron Ages came.
Demeter and Persephone
Another Greek myth related to the constellation of Virgo is the story of Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and how she was abducted into the underworld by Hades. Before Persephone’s abduction, it had always been eternal spring, never winter. So when Hades abducted Persephone, Demeter beside herself with grief, rage and anger, destroyed the crops of the Greeks and bringing about winter. Demeter swore that she would not allow the Earth to be fertile again until her daughter was returned.
With the people starving and beseeching the gods for help, Zeus intervened, informing his brother Hades that Persephone must be returned. Such would be possible, provided that Persephone hadn’t eaten any of the Underworld food or drink.
However, by one means or another, Persephone did eat three seeds of a pomegranate and as a result; this tied her to the underworld. Eventually a compromise was reached, where Persephone agreed to marry Hades and she would spend part of the year with him, the time known as winter and the other times of the year, she would be with her mother Demeter, allowing for spring and the other seasons.
Incidentally Demeter has sometimes been identified as the virgin goddess Iustitia or the previously mentioned Astraea. It’s also an interesting note, from the perspective of the Northern Hemisphere, that when the constellation Virgo is visible in the night sky, it is spring and when it no longer is visible, it does mark autumn and winter.
Under Roman influence, Demeter is identified with their goddess of the harvest Ceres. Her festival was held in the second week of April around the time that the constellation of Virgo reappears in the night skies and marking the beginning of Spring.
The daughter of Icarius, Erigone is also another character in Greek myth who is identified with Virgo. In this story, Icarius, who was a devote of and favored by Dionysus, was killed by his shepherds when heavily intoxicated. In grief, Erigone hung herself and Dionysus hung both Icarius and Erigone up in the heavens as the constellations Boötes and Virgo.
Finally, wrapping up all of the Greek and Roman connections, the historians Eratosthenes and Hyginus said that the constellation of Virgo represented the goddess Tyche, the goddess of fortune and her horn of plenty.
In the Babylonian Astronomical tablet known as the Mul.Apin, the constellation of Virgo was known as “The Furrow” and represented the goddess Shala’s ear of grain. To this day, the star known as Spica seems to be a reminder of this older constellation as the star’s name in Latin means “ear of grain.”
This constellation was also called AB.SIN and absinnu, connecting it to fertility. According to the author Gavin White in his Babylonian Star-Lore book, the constellation of Virgo actually corresponds to two Babylonian constellations: “the Furrow,” the eastern half of Virgo and “the Fround of Erua,” in the western half of Virgo. The Frond of Erua is supposed to represent a goddess holding a palm frond, an image still associated with other depictions of Virgo.
The constellation of Virgo has been identified with the Sumerian and Chalean goddess of Ishtar or Inanna, the Queen of Heaven. Ishtar descended into the underworld in order to bring her husband Tammuz back to life and earth. For without him, the earth went dark and nothing could grow. At the intervention of the other gods, Ishtar and Tammuz were rescued and the earth restored to fertility.
Stars of Virgo
Alpha Virginis – Also known as Spica, it is the brightest star within Virgo. It is considered the 16th brightest star in the night sky and is a blue giant located some 260 light-years away from Earth. In latin, Spica means “ear of grain” or “ear of wheat.” 17th century western astronomers referred to Spica as Arista. The Chinese refer to Spica as Jiao Xiu. Hindu astronomers know Spica as Nakshatra Chitra. Spica also appears as one of the stars on the Brazilian flag.
It’s also with Spica, that early astronomers like Hipparchus discovered the precession of the equinoxes by measuring the movement of the stars in the heavens during the year. And Nicolaus Copernicus’ observations of Spica allowed for the change in astronomy to move to a heliocentric cosmology instead of one that placed the Earth in the center of the universe.
Beta Virginis – Also known as Zavijava and Alaraph, is the fifth brightest star within Virgo. The Autumn Equinox is now marked by this star. The name Zavijava comes from the Arabic language of zawiyat al-cawwa’ which means “the corner of the barking dog.”
Gamma Virginis – Also known as Porrima or Arich, is the second brightest star in the constellation. Porrima is the name of two Roman goddesses of prophecy, the Carmenae. This star is also sometimes known as Postvarta or Laouiyet al Aoua. The later name in Latin of Angulus Latratoris means “the angle of the barker”. This star, along with Beta, Eta, Delta and Epsilon Virginis formed a smaller asterism known as the Barker.
Epsilon Virginis – Also known as Vindemiatrix or the Grape Gatherer, is the third brightest star in the constellation.
Virgo Galaxy Cluster
Not surprising, with Virgo being the second largest constellation after Hydra in the night sky, that it would also be a section of the night sky where thousands of galaxies are found within. The most famous of these galaxies is one known as the Sombrero galaxy due to how its shaped.
There are a number of minor and major meteor shows associated with the constellation of Virgo. The major and more significant ones are: Alpha Virginids (from March 10 and May 6), Gamma Virginids (from April 5 to April 21), Eta Virginids (from February 24 and March 27), and Theta Virginids (from March 10 and April 21). The rest are minor, daytime meteor showers that can be hard to see or spot.
With the precession of the heavens and passage over time, the first day of Autumn and the Autumn Equinox now lies within Virgo, close to the start of when Beta Virginis or Zavijava is high over head.
The Autumn Equinox used to be marked by the constellation of Libra.
The constellation of Virgo is the sixth sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from August 23 to September 22. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during May around 9 p.m. The planet Mercury is said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. In some astrology reports, the asteroid or planetoid Ceres is also said to be the ruler for Virgo. Its element is Earth, an extroverted sign and is one of four mutable signs.
Virgos are said to be known for their attention to detail natures and can often come under condemnation from others for being too picky and critical. Virgos see this as only trying to help and they do love to help and serve. Their methodical, industrious and efficient manners are frequently a great boon when getting a job done and getting it done correctly. It’s good for a Virgo to remember to keep themselves well ground and not to over do it when working. They are also known for their modest and humane natures. Virgos enjoy their practicality and will gives themselves fully to a project until it is done.