The Alchemy of Harvest

Virgo must surely be the most misunderstood and undervalued sign in the zodiacal wheel. For beyond the popular image of an innocent virgin, secretary or nit-picker, lies an experienced mistress of purification, discernment, and sexual control. Virgo is the only woman in the Zodiac and one of only three remaining in the whole heavenly sphere. Two of them were chained in the Greek cosmos – Cassiopeia & Andromeda – but Virgo remained free, as the sole representation of the Goddess in the constellations of the night sky. To the Greeks, she was Demeter, with her wheat sheaf, or ear of corn, overseeing the grain harvest and holder of the key to the secret of agriculture. To the Egyptians she was Isis with her child Horus and in the Christian cosmos, Mary with the Christ child. She is a virgin in its older meaning, certainly, as one who owns her own body and chooses when and with whom to unite! Virgo marked the Summer Solstice around 5000BC, and her departure from there is said to have coincided with the end of the Golden Age.1 She left in disgust, some say, at how humanity had fallen from grace. So, like the mystery school initiates who invoke her return, we are re-imagining her on The Alchemical Journey this month as the Great Goddess that she once was, as we invite her qualities into our lives.

The Virgo phase represents a critical moment in the alchemical year, when the crop must be cut down in its prime, harvested and its essence extracted. In the human life cycle, Virgo represents the rite of passage, where we find out what we’re really made of. This is marked in traditional societies by being cut away from familial roots, through circumcision or ablation, or other initiation rite. We experience Virgo whenever we are examined, judged, cut down to size, as wheat is sorted from chaff. Just as our Leonine experiences have helped us realise and express our confidence and creative potential in life, so our Virgoan ones have set us to task. The harvest goddess shapes and moulds our spontaneous impulses into practical, useful, sustainable projects that serve the greater good. She strips away our indulgences, hones our creative instincts and transforms our promises into everyday miracles, like golden wheat being turned into the food that nourishes a community.

Virgo is ruled by Mercury the wily magician, whose skill and cunning knits together the fabric of life into a seamless dance, his magic embedded in the details of life. Our task in Virgo, then is to sweep, to clean, to tidy, to order, to polish, to wax, to sharpen, to distill, and to become still ourselves as we perfect the ordinary tasks of life. Through bringing mindfulness to our repetitive actions, honouring time, work and our body’s rhythms, we actually open up the possibility of transcending those ritual structures, and entering a liminal space between worlds where transformation can occur.

This puts me in mind of the 1970s rite of passage film, The Karate Kid, in which a young American wannabe is trained by a Japanese zen master, so that he can stand up for himself against a local bully. In one classic sequence, as part of the boy’s karate training, he is set a series of menial tasks, waxing his teacher’s cars, painting his garden fence, sanding the floor. This goes on for days with no apparent connection to karate, until the boy eventually snaps and accuses the old man of exploiting his trust just to get his household chores done. His frustration then turns to revelation in an extraordinary scene, when he suddenly realizes that in the embodiment of these repetitive actions he has actually learned a series of powerful karate moves which are now second nature to him. As with the alchemists, as they attempt to imitate and perfect Nature’s own creative process in their laboratories, these repetitive trials offer the ritual service necessary to precipitate our inner gold.

In the Glastonbury Zodiac, Virgo is “Old Mother Cary”, her figure drawn by the River Cary, a name suggestive of the Celtic harvest goddess, Ceridwen, mother of Taliesin. The river which rises at the springs of “our lady” paints her flowing robe at Wheathill, her swollen belly at Babcary and her breast at the bronze age barrow, Wimble Toot. She holds her sheaf of wheat at Keinton Main-de-Ville, where her hand rests.2 These associations continue to enchant our journeys into this landscape temple, which meets us with new synchronicities on every walk.

If you’d like to keep following the journey, please join our mailing list, as I will continue to post a monthly article online. You’ll now find on our website a YouTube film about The Alchemical Journey, superbly crafted by Kevin Redpath & Tim Knock. We have two events lined up in September. On 12th /13th September, Anthony Thorley and I are running a weekend for the Isle of Avalon Foundation, entitled “Living the Glastonbury Zodiac”, where we’ll be exploring the origins of the Zodiac and how we can work with it practically in our lives. We’ll be walking in two of the zodiac figures. Our next Alchemical Journey workshop is for Libra, on 19th / 20th September, “The Alchemical Wedding: Beauty, Balance & Partnership”. Happy harvesting!

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