In Virgo everything starts to change. Subtly, almost imperceptibly, the quality of light changes, and a greater lightness and delicacy comes into the force of Summer. You could go on in this dream, but you also know Autumn is coming, a distant rumour, but only that. Virgo is like the last summer of childhood, looking out on a lucid evening, over the balustrade, beyond the garden, to the pine forests that brood but also invite, before our gaze returns to the lamp on the table and the warmth of our house. Virgo could really enjoy a ghost story next to an open fire, with everything just so.
Mercury’s other summer sign, Virgo escorts us out, just as Gemini escorted us in. What does it do?
It gathers, it integrates, it digests, it picks up the pattern, the essence of the tale. Having picked up the essence, she carries with her what can never be taken away, and what she does with it is her business. The myth of Virgo is often linked to figures such as Ceres, the Roman grain goddess (Virgo is often depicted with a sheaf of wheat). This fits in with the theme of harvest, but I am more inclined to look to her daughter Proserpina.
Marina Partridge gives an interesting exposition on Proserpina and Persephone (her Greek form). The familiar story is the innocent girl who strays from her mother collecting flowers, only to be pounced upon and carried off (and/or raped) by her uncle Pluto who takes her to the underworld to be his queen. Ceres goes wild with grief, nothing grows. Eventually Jupiter and Mercury intervene to secure Proserpina’s return, but she has meanwhile eaten pomegranate seeds in the underworld, and according to the laws that govern these things, she cannot now leave. A compromise is agreed, whereby Proserpina will spend winter in the underworld with Pluto as queen, and the rest of the year above with her mother.
In the above myth it seems pretty black and white. Bad guy Pluto steals innocent daughter from wronged mother Ceres, but you can’t always get what you want etc. But in the black and white myth Proserpina is a pawn with no volition of her own, rather she seems an extension of her mother, with no choice or will, only to be under the sway of her mother or her new “husband”. People have read other things into the myth though, which make it a lot more interesting. Marina Partridge above relates her name to the latin “serpere”, meaning to crawl forward (though the name can also be linked to a root meaning “to emerge” in the sense of growth), and she links this with an association between Proserpina and serpents. It’s already getting a bit more interesting.
Ovid relates that it was Venus who instigated the whole affair through getting her son cupid to inflame Pluto with love for Proserpina:
“……….shoot your speedy arrows to the heart
Of the great god to whom the last lot fell
When the three realms were drawn. Your mastery
Subdues the gods of heaven and even Jove,
Subdues the ocean’s deities and him,
Even him, who rules the ocean’s deities.
Why should Hell lag behind? Why not there too
Extend your mother’s empire and your own?
………My power grows less, and less the power of Love.
Do you not see how Pallas and Diana,
Queen of the chaste, have both deserted me?
And Ceres’ daughter, if we suffer it,
Will stay a virgin too – her hope’s the same.
So for the sake of our joint sovereignty,
If that can touch your pride, unite in love
that goddess with her uncle”
Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by AD Melville.
Proserpina is out gathering flowers in Sicily, when Pluto leaps out of Mount Etna on four black horses, and smitten with cupid’s arrow, he carries Proserpina off. As has been noted elsewhere though, some modern commentators have read into this not a rape, but something more complex, an elopement of sorts, a choice. It is certainly more palatable to think this, but also a lot more interesting, for Proserpina starts to emerge as a figure in her own right, not just a cipher owned by parent or husband, but as her own, willed self. She does, after all, become queen of her realm.
This version is not without some justification, if you accept that stories do change and get altered to suit the conventions of society over time. There are hints that could back this up, though we are dealing with possibilities. In some forms of the myth Proserpina eats the pomegranate seeds that bind her to the underworld of her own volition, and there is an inference that she may have done so in full knowledge of the consequences. Also in some forms of the myth, when she is released to be reunited with her mother, she tells her that she loves her husband.
Proserpina could have been one with her mother, never truly differentiated, always the daughter, like the crops that grow from and become one with the Earth. What Proserpina became was separate but in relationship, and unlike her mother. Queen of her own realm, beloved of the King of the Underworld. Rather like “The Lovers” card, which shows an older woman, a younger woman, and a younger man, but switched around, so the protagonist is the young woman, and the choice is hers, between the life of her mother, and a life that could be her own, with her lover.
Ceres was the great Mother, but Proserpina was her own woman, capable of choosing the red when she wanted it, or instinctively knew that she needed it. Proserpina is Virgo, not in the modern sense of virginity, but in the sense of being her own.
Proserpina is so much like us, feeling our way to being ourselves, choosing instinctively, those overwhelming things that will change us towards being who we really are. We can all remember those times of awakening power in our adolescence when we didn’t know what we were doing, or what was coming, but we sensed the power of the divine humming in the dusk, and in our flesh. Probably nothing happened, but we were waking up to the power of the world, and the way the fish might swim, or the snake move with muscular motion, to the forest, beyond the garden.
It is Virgo that chooses the road she will take out of Eden, or back there again. Virgo will gather, and sift, and select, and find the way to be herself.