Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


 When the Golden Age was coming to a close, men and women slowly forgot their virtuous ways, and the gods, one by one, left the earth. The last to leave before the light of the soul was eclipsed was Astraea, the starry virgin of the zodiac. Symbolizing purity and justice, she remained as long as she could, but when the brazen forces began to appear, she departed with dignity, leaving humanity to pursue its earthbound longings. The virgin is depicted in various myths as leaving the world by abduction into the underworld or by falling into the clutches of the Great Dragon. As Astraea, Persephone, Isis, Ishtar or Virgo, she is the pure vessel made clay, the fresh waters tainted with the "monsoon's muddy torrents". Both her departure and her involuntary descent are linked up with the fall of spirit into matter and the heroic struggle of the imprisoned soul to maintain its link with its divine origin. Kanya Kumari, the Virgin Maiden, was degraded in time to an idol of debased worship, but her purity shines at the side of Shiva in a beatific state of boundless potential energy.

 Virgo is related to the Buddhist nidana called sparsa or contact with the outer world. This is the stage in the wheel of life which ushers in the activities of the lower sheaths of the soul. Sparsa literally means 'touch'. The soul, equipped with senses and sense-organs (including the mirroring mind) contacts the world through the astral medium. Namarupa, name and form, as well as sadayatana, the sensorial and mental sheaths, cohere through sparsa, symbolized in Buddhist tradition by a man and woman embracing. Out of this arise the coordinated sensations in response to external stimuli, which we call emotions. The lower mind learns to analyze, codify and restrain these emotions, and this effort gives rise to the mental powers of judgement and reasoning which might be misused in the servile reinforcement of irrational cravings.

 Behind the concentrated manifesting power lie the six primary forces in nature which are synthesized in the heavenly virgin Kanya, the mahamaya of objective existence. These six are the shaktis which, in their unity, become seven and are represented by the Akashic-astral light, or that substratum in the cosmos and in man which contains within itself all potential energies and ever remains on the verge of birth or precipitation. The first of these powers is Parashakti, the supreme force which includes light and heat. The second is Jnanashakti, the power of knowledge, which under material conditions permits the interpretation of sensation, memory, anticipation, generalization and the notion of self through the connection of remembered ideas. Liberated from gross material conditions, the power of knowledge is responsible for abilities such as clairvoyance and psychometry. The third power is that of the will - Ichchashakti - while the fourth is Kriyashakti, the ability to produce phenomena through deep concentration on an idea. Kundalinishakti the fifth power, is the force that moves in a serpentine path, combining attraction and repulsion, the effects of which are electricity and magnetism. It is the universal life principle and continually adjusts internal to external relations, providing the karmic basis of reincarnation. The last primary force is that of Mantrikashakti, which resides in letters, speech and music, and which echoes through the astral matrix the power of the manifested Logos, the ray that illuminates the virgin womb of matter. Kanya, containing the six shaktis, is symbolized in the two triangles of ascent and descent, the crown in their centre representing the seven facets of her unified essence, and the triangles indicating the elements of fire and water.

 Virgo is the link between the immortal soul and the astral body in man and as such, it governs the cerebellum and sympathetic nervous system as well as the viscera. The electrifying impulses contained within the ocean of life are transmitted to the lower sheaths of man's being, and his ability to assimilate only their pure essence is symbolized in the natural functioning of the digestive organs. Thus the soul touches the world, and because of this contact Virgo is associated with the earth, although in a different way than in Taurus, which is related to the manifesting Word and the cow's milk of Akasa and symbolizes a more formless and non-specific contact with matter. The trials of the soul in the sign of Taurus differ from those experienced at this critical stage where the soul has actually submerged itself in dense matter.

 In the Egyptian Book of the Gates, the sixth division in the sun's pathway is that of the kingdom of Osiris where souls must be judged before they can enter. This judgement has as a standard of balance Thoth-Mercury, and the issue that must be weighed is how far the soul has succeeded in mastering the passions of the house of Leo and in withholding sense-perceptions. Thoth, being bound as a mummy, suggests that the soul is being weighed in the balance of the lower mind, indicating that Virgo presides over the negative house of Mercury. This gate of judgement is related to Virgo in the guise of Astraea, goddess of justice. The Greeks and Romans believed that after her departure from earth, she rose to take her place among the twelve gods of the zodiac where she rests near the scales of Libra. In the Middle East, Virgo was known under various names designating aspects of Ishtar and was often considered a deity of the harvest, symbolized by the ear of corn or wheat she holds in her hand. The Akkadians believed she disappeared every year on the Errand of Ishtar - the descent of the goddess into the underworld in search of her bridegroom. In Germanic tradition she was maeden, which appellation in time became commonly fixed upon the serving-maid. Indeed, the old Attic name of Kop or 'maid' carried with it connotations of service which were originally bound up with religious ritual. A characteristic of good and faithful service to others is associated with Virgo, and the emblems which show the virgin riding the lion indicate that the soul, after fiery assertion, has become cognizant of the wider world and seeks to establish a balance.

 The glyph of Virgo is variously interpreted in Greek, Jewish and Christian traditions. Some see in it the Hebrew Yod or ו which symbolizes the active power or agent, the wand or rod of Moses and Hermes. This Yod was then connected with the serpent of Scorpio to produce a familiar glyph that suggested the ancient occult link between the two signs. Some have interpreted the glyph as representing the first syllable of the word Παπθενος or Parthenos, a name of Astraea emphasizing her virginal nature. Another interpretation suggests that the glyph may be the initials 'MV' of the Virgin Mary, pointing to the similarity of the Christian virgin to those of older astrological origin. The Akkadian legend of the Errand of Ishtar describes the difficulties experienced by the virgin goddess as she descends into the underworld in search of her bridegroom. As she passes through the gates of the nether regions, she is stripped of her powers and finally stricken with disease, which symbolizes how the soul becomes painfully enmeshed in physical experience and sensation. Ishtar, having lost her innocence, is only saved by the messenger of Ea who heals her with the waters of life. This restores her crown, the synthesis of her six unified powers. Thus, in this myth, the chaotic astral light is made whole and pure and the goddess restored to her bridegroom's side. In the underworld of darkness and forgetfulness, the soul gains painful but necessary experience symbolized by the cultivation or consumption of the ear of corn or sheaf of wheat. In Egyptian tradition Osiris, in the sixth stage of the underworld, is accompanied by twelve gods who bear large ears of corn which are actually members of his body. The corn is consumed as divine food by the dwellers of this region who, with its power, enter the realm of experience through contact with the outer world. The corn, a symbol central to the Eleusinian Mysteries, represents the vesture that will feed life on earth as well as the cycles of life and death which accompany all evolution.

 Through these complex myths the virgin is connected with the cycles of the soul: sowing and harvesting, as well as the cyclic balance between spirit and matter, virginity and fertility. As the supernatural worlds passed away and the natural or delusive worlds began evolving along the descending microcosmos or the arc of the great cycle, Virgo became Virgo-Scorpio. Adam Kadmon, the pure, androgynous, spiritual man, manifested from his side the pure virgin powers which eventually fell into generation in the sign of Scorpio. Man in the world finds himself within a physically engendered body and vaguely perceives the virginal power which resides within him and was responsible for pushing him forth into the world. But he somehow intuits that this virgin, to whom he gives a female form, holds within her many veils the key to his self-understanding and salvation. Perhaps he dimly recalls within the memory of his soul what was generally accepted in ancient occult traditions; namely, that when the work of the separated Virgo and Scorpio are completed, they will become one again in the perfected man. In the meantime, the Yod of Virgo ideally acts as a restraint upon the passional tendencies of the serpent of Scorpio. In his present condition man must look to this cosmic mother in order to escape the snares of the matter-bound Eve.

Wherein the Son of Heav'n's Eternal King,
Of wedded maid and virgin mother born . . .

 It is a great mystery how a virgin can be made fertile and still remain pure. The Tunja Indians of the northern Andes believed that the sun assumed human flesh in the body of a virgin, causing her to bear that which was conceived from the sun and yet remain a virgin. This archetypal idea, so widespread in the world, is partially explained by the ancient Greeks. Virgo was Parthenos, the maid, ruled by Demeter, the Mother Earth. As her daughter, Parthenos was called Persephone and, being ruled by her, was subject to cycles pertaining to the earth. Thus the virgin daughter, abducted by Hades into the underworld, was compelled to spend half the year under the earth before rising again to its surface (see The Eye, Hermes, March 1976). In her agricultural aspect, she was represented by seed corn, which is reaped in the autumn, stored underground for three months, and then sown in the earth to appear once more in the spring. Virgo as the earth is fertilized by the rain and in her womb the seed germinates, yet she also grows anew and virginally fresh every spring as though for the first time. The mother becomes a virgin and the virgin a mother through endless cycles of appearance and disappearance. These cycles echo vast sidereal periods marked by the appearance and disappearance of Virgo over the horizon of the ecliptic. The Virgin marks the coming and going of gods on this globe and holds the key to the door of the ancient Mysteries. The worship of Demeter and Persephone continued at Eleusis for ages and marked the high point of the Mysteries during the third sub-race of the Fifth Race. Eratosthenes identified Virgo with Isis, who clasped in her arms the sun-god Horus, the last of the Divine Kings. She is the prototype of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus at her breast, alluded to by Shakespeare as "the Good Boy in Virgo's lap". In keeping with the fertility attributed to her nature, the constellation of Virgo comprises the densest nebular region in the heavens, with more than five hundred nebulae in this celestial stable of nativity. Of the stars marking the fixed points amidst these churning vortices, the most brilliant is Spica, the Wheat Ear of Virgo, held in her hand. Homer called it Hesperus, the brightest star that shines in heaven, while Isaiah called it Lucifer or Phosphorus, names identifying it as both a morning and evening star and emphasizing the inherent duality of the forces in this sign.

 As a symbol, Virgo has always been associated with the birth of a god or demi-god, a supreme expression of the dynamic consciousness of Divine Will. The ancients held that Mercury, the messenger of the gods, was created in this constellation. Hence Virgo was often depicted with a caduceus as well as wings. From the lap of the celestial virgin, he who interprets and mediates was thought to have sprung forth and begun his sacred task. He was called by the Gnostics logos spermatikos, 'the Word scattered throughout the universe', and was believed to contain an unlimited capacity for transformation and penetration. When she is cast down into the world and stripped of her purity and virtue, he becomes her bridegroom and restores the crown to her. By tracing the levels of these symbolical relationships, the cosmic mystery unfolds through the descending layers of the mother's garments, providing the archetypal pattern for all subsequent virgin-births.

  Behold, a virgin shall be with child,
And shall bring forth a son,
And they shall call his name Emmanuel,
Which being interpreted is,
God with us.
      The Gospel According to St. Matthew

 In Greek mythology it is said that when Astraea forsook the earth at the beginning of the age of bronze, Zeus carried away Aquarius (Ganymedes), and when he had safely secured him, he threw Astraea head downward, back to earth. Cast out of heaven, the virgin disappeared below the southern horizon. This is curiously substantiated by the zodiac at Dendera, which has three figures of Virgo in three positions upon its face. The Secret Doctrine teaches that these figures between the Lion and the Scales indicate that the equinoxes have processed within the plane of the ecliptic three times since the beginning of Egyptian zodiacal records. To use the metaphor of the Greeks, this would mean that Zeus had cast Astraea or Virgo below the horizon three times where she remained, inverted, within the Dragon's Pit until she again rose up, marking the end of another phase of evolution. Like Persephone who disappears beneath the earth in an annual cycle, Virgo also disappears below the celestial equator but in a much vaster cycle.

 Recent myths and larger cycles record and echo cosmic events that marked even greater changes affecting life upon the earth. Occult commentaries on the Stanzas of Dzyan show how the earth lay on its side three times since the middle of the Third Root Race. In those times as now, as the earth revolved around the sun, the days and nights during the two equinoctial periods were of equal duration. But during the solstice periods, the northern and southern hemispheres alternated in experiencing months of total darkness and light, accompanying the struggles of tribes of men living out the collective Karma of the great global Races. The positions of the three zodiacal virgins of Dendera recall the first three divine or astronomical Dynasties who taught the Third Root Race, later left the Atlanteans and redescended to earth during the third sub-race of the Fifth Race to save humanity and to reveal the mysteries of their birthplace in the sidereal heavens. The carrying away of Aquarius by Zeus represents the ascension of perfected men at the end of an evolutionary age, while Virgo's falling toward the South Pole or Pit marks the defilement of the soul but also the eventual birth of a new spiritual impulsion.

 Virgo or Kanya, containing the six primary forces represented by the astral light, governs the invisible region surrounding every globe and corresponding to the linga sharira in man. This region, hovering next to the earth itself, is the Great Dragon, or what Paracelsus called the sidereal light. Metaphysically, it is ether and is said to contain the realization of the potency of every quality of spirit. It reflects every condition, good or evil, expressed in life and is the basis of spiritual and human worship of nature. The Secret Doctrine teaches that the six forces of the sidereal light are actually "the six Hierarchies of Dhyan Chohans synthesized by their Primary, the seventh, who personify the Fifth Principle of Cosmic Nature, or of the 'Mother' in its Mystical Sense." Thus the powers of the messenger of the gods have their origin in the cosmic Dhyan Chohans who are living conscious entities at the head of each of the shaktis which emanate from them.

 The birth of divine wisdom can take place within the faithful devotee who treads the path of true knowledge of Jnanashakti. Through long ordeals of trial and effort, he who cultivates the power of spiritual will may tap the primary force of Ichchashakti which enables him to develop the deep unwavering concentration necessary to direct Kriyashakti. But before this is possible, he must have mastered the effortless control of the vast energies of Kundalinishakti, whose serpentine forces achieve a perfect balance within the caduceus of his being and resonate harmoniously through the uttered power of Mantrikashakti. The Logoic light accompanying the Word will expand through the heat of the supreme force of Parashakti in the mighty heart of one who approaches selfless perfection. With the cool synthesis of these vast forces in nature, the crown of Kanya is achieved, signifying total purity of soul in its clear reflection of Daiviprakriti, the Light of the Logos. The perfected man who wears upon his head the crown of Virgo belongs to the arcane ranks of those who think, feel, move and breathe with the breath of Divine Will. Through Virgo, the cold flame of the radiant, formless realms of highest Akasa becomes the dispersed fire of the astral light; the cold Virgin becomes the Mother. As the layers of her garment reach ever closer to the earth, the heat of fertile liquification ensures the irrigation of the fields of life. The corn and the wheat stalks will bring forth a harvest and the illuminated soul will experience the joyous interplay of the varied powers within and without its sacred tabernacle.

 Every patient pilgrim-soul passes beyond the psychic and astral planes of nature and seeks the supreme source of the cosmic forces reflected in the lower avenues of human experience. Moving along the highly sensitive pathways of the nervous system, which acts as transmitter and transformer within the astral body, the noetic levels of the electrical source of nervous energy are sensed. Pushing back to more cosmic and causal planes, the immortal soul may eventually reach beyond the fire of electricity to the cold flame of Fohat. The sacred connection between Kanya and the human nervous system is a pure reflection of invisible nature in which the divine Flame or Light of the Logos is radiated through the holy Builders of the universe and through the thickening layers of the Virgin-Mother. The fact that Kanya is also associated with the viscera demonstrates how the manifestation of the same light and energy appears as the vaishvanara fire by which food is digested. All food should first be offered to Bhagavan before it is eaten, so that it may become transmuted into higher forces. This act of consecration facilitates the sacrificial transformation of the earthly harvest into the sacred corn of the body of Osiris. It requires the cleansing and spiritualizing of all that is touched through the contact of the six primary powers with the world and a drawing in of the Buddhic essence of these to the inmost centre of one's being where the six are unified and made pure and whole. If the immortal soul persists in this heroic endeavour, it can elevate the entire astral matrix within which all manifested life evolves and thus provide a powerful spiritual impulsion to material nature and human evolution.

Hermes, September 1977