When I was preparing my tarotscope for Virgo, hosted by Siobhan’s Mirror, it naturally made me think more deeply about the cards associated with my own birth sign. I’ve privately approached this before, as I’m sure many of you have also. In seeking to understand myself further I collated the cards related to Virgo through astrology and numerology and produced these cards:
In taking the Golden Dawn associations to their completion, we can also include:
For this post, we will be looking at the closer associations to Virgo, and mostly through the Nigel Jackson Tarot because of his knowledge and expertise in the subjects this post discusses. My tarot card meanings mostly relate to the Rider Waite-Smith deck as it gives more room for personal interpretation than the more rigid Golden Dawn and other esoteric decks. All that said though, it is a useful exercise to explore these extra cards to see further detail in your Virgo alignments and personality, as well as incorporating other decks for a richer and wider flavour. I also tend to read with the RSW and the Thoth so sometimes my definitions swing between the two or blend them. If you’re not familiar with esoteric decks, Book T is a great source for tarot card meanings using the Golden Dawn system, and is easy to read.
In tarot, perhaps the best known association to Virgo is of course, the Hermit. That seeker of solitude, spirituality and high attainment in all he does. Of course the different Hermits you come across throughout the myriad of tarot decks now available will carry their own flavour and a change of direction or modification from the ones we know from the Tarot de Marseille, the Rider Waite-Smith and the Crowley-Harris Thoth. One of my personal favourites is from the Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert. Here our Hermit is shown as a more approachable, learned individual in tune and in touch with the sentience around him in nature. He may seek to withdraw, but he is not afraid to show himself to us.
The Hermit is often seen as an internal process of seeking, going within and touching base with our core but the Hermit can also be an external force or individual that enters our lives as a guide or mentor. We may think of this as a life changing, all encompassing experience, and in many ways it is, but it is also appropriate to say that even a small, chance encounter with a bright light can have a lasting effect on us.
The element associated with Virgo and the Hermit is earth – the solid, pragmatic element and as such the influence and help provided by the Hermit is often practical as well as spiritual. Real life happens when you’re not meditating and your tarot patron is only too willing to help guide you toward a better life.
In older decks the Hermit was known as Old Man Time, or Father Time and his image is the same as the Hermit, old, white beard, cloak, often solitary. The differences between them are the lamp and the staff that we see with the Hermit today. Father Time carried an hourglass and a scythe because he was the depiction of Saturn (from the Latin). To the ancient Greeks he was known as Chronos, time itself. There is dispute amongst historians as to whether Chronos and Chronus are one and the same or different personas conflated over the course of history. The full story of the Saturn/Chronos legend can be read here, but in short he represents the passing of time and the culling of life, in particular the harvest. This depiction is more in keeping with the earth element that we associate with the Hermit, and of course the time of year – the end of summer harvest. But how did Father Time become the Hermit? According to Robert O’Neill in his Iconography of the Hermit Cards the change bares the influence of the Renaissance mystics and alchemists.
It is interesting to note the astrological and elemental association of the Hermit and how Father Time fits this more appropriately than the Hermit. Indeed, Hajo Banzhaf in his 1988 publication, The Tarot Handbook, astrologically attributes the Hermit to Saturn in Aquarius and says the following:
“Saturn in Aquarius as striving for wisdom and preserving independence.”
This does seem like a nice blend of the unconventional Aquarian and the maturity and stability of Saturn. It’s also nice to see Saturn here, even if Banzhaf chose to not use this ancient association. It also makes more sense to me that the Hermit could have an Aquarian connection and not a Virgoan one as for a long time I could not see more than an elemental correlation between the Hermit and the sign of Virgo.
The Hermit and Virgo
Aside from the elemental connection that ties them, Virgo can easily be cynical, analytical, a perfectionist and a right royal pain in the rear. Positively, Virgos get things done, they are efficient at practical matters. They like to be the best which is more about competition with themselves than others. They work well with their hands, are often green fingered and can apply themselves to whatever they seek to learn or improve upon. If we juxtapose these two distinct sets of traits though, we can see more than an elemental base connection. They both strive for excellence, they are both interested in attainment, they both seek the top, the Hermit seeks the spiritual high of the mountain top, and Virgo seeks the satisfaction of finishing first, improving their record and being seen as a leader in their field. They also both seek to be of service. Virgo does this in a practical way in life and we can see the Hermit playing this out by holding his lamp from the height of the mountain to show others the way. More on that shortly.
It is often pointed out that Virgo can be summed up as a perfectionist and while that is true (and it’s as much a curse as it is a gift), for my own part, I feel that striving sums us up much more appropriately. Yes, I obsess over blog stats, I’m irritated by images that that are out of alignment, I can’t write in my beautiful new notebooks because they are so damn perfect as they are….. but I strive to make my blog an excellent resource for others, I strive to put my best foot forward so my place in the world can be seen and admired, not for glory (well, my Leo Rising does have a lot to answer for there…) but because it’s important to me that I make a difference. Being a Virgo takes you to many fine lines and sometimes we cross them and this is where we can suffer from having to be the best at every damn thing, including worrying. The most effective worriers I know are all Virgos (all with digestive issues, IBS and food sensitivities) and I think the number nine can give a further indication of why that is.
The mythology behind the constellation of Virgo and its links to the harvest are particularly interesting, especially when you consider the early associations of Saturn to the harvest also. The many associations of goddesses in various states of womanhood (mothers and daughter virgins) helps see how these links have been formed, merged and culturally accepted over time.
The Number 9
No matter where you take your numerological advice from, the number nine and the four corresponding pips of the minor arcana correlate beautifully. Or to perfection (sorry). Manly P Hall in the Secret Teachings of All Ages says the following:
(The following outline of the Pythagorean numbers is a paraphrase of the writings of Nicomachus, Theon of Smyrna, Proclus, Porphyry, Plutarch, Clement of Alexandria, Aristotle, and other early authorities.)
The ennead–9–was the first square of an odd number (3×3). It was associated with failure and shortcoming because it fell short of the perfect number 10 by one. It was called the number of man, because of the nine months of his embryonic life. Among its keywords are ocean and horizon, because to the ancients these were boundless. The ennead is the limitless number because there is nothing beyond it but the infinite 10. It was called boundary and limitation, because it gathered all numbers within itself. It was called the sphere of the air, because it surrounded the numbers as air surrounds the earth.
The 9 was looked upon as evil, because it was an inverted 6. According to the Eleusinian Mysteries, it was the number of the spheres through which the consciousness passed on its way to birth. Because of its close resemblance to the spermatozoon, the 9 has been associated with germinal life.
Nigel Jackson, creator of the Nigel Jackson Tarot, formerly, the Medieval Enchantment Tarot would tell us:
The ancients called the number Nine the “Ennead of Perfection” and linked it with the Nine Muses and, therefore, with the secret inspiration of the contemplative Mind.
He also goes on to confirm the associations that Manly P Hall presented above.
This gives us a glimpse of the contradictions around Virgo and its number 9 which is further explored below. If the Pythagoreans had mixed feelings about the number nine, then modern numerology would show us it likes every number and sees the nine as a completing form. The numerology in tarot is largely taken from the Kabbalah (which is rooted in the Pythagorean system) and sees the nines as the final striving, where the tens have achieved balance. The nines can be seen as the full expression of the suit or element but because they fall short of the perfect ten, are still active forces, they are still doing.
The Number 9 and the Minor Arcana
If we think of nines in the minor arcana we can see this contradiction playing out. The active elemental cards, namely the 9 of Wands (fire) and the 9 of Swords (air) aren’t actually doing much. The 9 of Wands is a little contradictory in that it appears to be standing still. In the Rider Waite-Smith we have a soldier standing firm – in the Crowley-Harris Thoth, we have a battle ready formation of nine staves: mobilised but stationary. The 9 of Swords is in a bed! The activity here is towards oneself, directed inwards but still seated. The passive elemental suits, the 9 of Pentacles (earth) and the 9 of Cups (water) seem to think they have reached their pinnacle, though they have not.
The 9 of Pentacles is enjoying the solitary nature of success (so Hermit-like) and has yet to join the rest of the family, while the 9 of Cups does see one final push from happiness to satiey – enjoying oneself again before joining the family in satisfaction and unity. So the passive suits are still inching forward.
So how does this relate to Virgo?
A Virgo does everything to the max, or, to the nines.. Virgos will recognise themselves worrying all night and not sleeping in the 9 of Swords. They will recognise themselves in the 9 of Wands, ready to do battle but not striking first, they are not aggressors, they are defenders. They find happiness and joy in places others overlook. They relate to the good times of the 9 of Cups.
Virgos take pleasure in their surroundings, in a different way to a Taurean who is in sensory heaven when amongst beauty. Virgo loves their garden because they planted everything and helped it grow; they love their home because every single item on display is not just the result of their efforts, but took hours of agonising deliberation before making a final choice between two vases… The 9 of Pentacles is also a symbol of the result of the striving from the 3 of Pentacles and also the saving of the 4 of Pentacles. Virgo is more at home here than the other nines, naturally.
In all of these cards, Virgos the world over will recognise their likes, dislikes, joy, pain, striving and a whole host of other idiosyncrasies. We could be here all day… Strikingly though, because of the nine and because it’s not the ten, it keeps on going, it doesn’t settle – it’s always ready. This is the gift and curse of Virgo because once it starts, it cannot stop. Being a perfectionist sucks.
The Contradictions in Virgo
For many years I assigned my dual nature to the array of twos in my numerology chart. The two is seen as duality, polarity – it is the one made double, so there are two ones, in my mind, always in conflict, always pushing and pulling for dominance. It was only recently that the screamingly obvious that had been under my nose the whole time came to the fore: my connection to Gemini through the planet Mercury.
Aside from my Moon in Gemini, and some other placements, I also have Virgo repeating itself. More importantly though is the planetary connection to Virgo – Mercury. It is the ruling planet of Virgo and Gemini, the Twins. This then makes sense. Even without Gemini prominently in my astral chart, Virgo alone has a relationship to Gemini. Earth and Air together. In the Platonic system, and expanded upon by the Golden Dawn through their system of elemental dignities, earth and air oppose each other. The Golden Dawn would say they are inimical to each other. No wonder a Virgo (and a Gemini for that matter) can be seen to excel across the board in disciplines and situations in life that appear contradictory.
It makes sense now when we juxtapose the worrier of the 9 of Swords and the composed 9 of Pentacles being one and the same; the tense and en garde stance of the 9 of Wands contrasted with the relaxed and happy 9 of Cups. There is tension in Virgo from its relationship to Gemini, elementally and astrally speaking.
Virgo as the Hermit, Experiencing the Moon and the Sun
The striving nature of Virgo can further be seen in the two major arcana cards that numerically partner the Hermit: the Moon and the Sun. Numbered 18 and 19 respectively, we can see the numerology easily.
- Hermit – 9
- Moon – 18 / 1 + 8 = 9
- Sun – 19 – 10 = 9
The Moon is treated to numerological reduction, where eighteen is separated into single digits and becomes one plus eight equals nine. In the Pythagorean number scale, the number nine is called the ennead which you may recognise if you are familiar with the enneagram of personality definition. Modern numerology counts one through to nine as its core numbers (not including the master numbers of 11, 22 and so on). The Pythagoreans counted ten and called this number the dekad. If you follow astrology, or the Golden Dawn system of astrology associated with the minor arcana numbered cards, you will recognise the root of the word decan, or decanate. Also, related is the decimal, decade etc., all relating to the number ten.
For the Hermit to relate to the Sun, we must also turn to the Pythagorean system of adding the ten to the nine rather than reducing the numbers as with the Moon.
Returning to Nigel Jackson:
Cards XI-XX represent the “doubling” of the Dekad, the cosmic cycles of outgoing evolution and ingoing return symbolized by the ancient Cosmic Lemniscate sign of Infinity. Plutarch actually remarks that “the Pythagorean World consisted of double Quaternion [Tetraktys],” equating to the spiritual and phenomenal realms. In this way the cards are perhaps to be seen in pairs or “dyads,” illustrating key concepts of the mystery-teachings.
Further, he offers the following pairing:
IX-The Hermit/XIX – The Sun: Pilgrimage to the Midnight Sun; transmutation of Lead into Gold.
I find this part really exciting as we now see what the Hermit is striving for – spiritual attainment. Yes, we knew he was about that with his solitary mountain walks, but with the Midnight Sun as his destination and the Philosopher’s Stone as his prize, we get the how and the why.
The most interesting aspect of this description for me is the Midnight Sun. I introduced the notion of the influence of the Renaissance mystics and alchemists in converting Father Time to the Hermit and it is here where we can see this influence. Referring back to the Secret Teachings of All Ages and the chapter called, The Sun, a Universal Deity, Manly P Hall writes:
Apuleius said when describing his initiation (vide ante): “At midnight I saw the sun shining with a splendid light.” The midnight sun was also part of the mystery of alchemy. It symbolized the spirit in man shining through the darkness of his human organisms.
(The record of Apuleius’ initiation can be found in many other esoteric and alchemical texts and discussions, further reinforcing the notion of Renaissance mystics and alchemists quietly having a hand in shaping the tarot.)
Contrast the Sun XIX with the Moon XVIII and we have day and night, further we have a Midnight Sun – illuminating the way. Of course, the Hermit carries a lamp as his guiding light. It shows him the way through the dark and the shadows – which is the Moon landscape with its traps and ghouls and hounds of hell to snare the uninitiated. Hall earlier in this chapter on the sun describes the importance of gold and the sun as being the spirit within everything. The Hermit in the Moon landscape is finding his spirit and raising himself above his lower animal nature to become spiritually enlightened (The Philosopher’s Stone).
If we are to visually understand this then we should see the Hermit in between the Moon and the Sun. This is better thought of vertically to represent the spiritual aspirations of the Hermit.
- The Sun
- The Hermit
- The Moon
This simple explanation and visual depiction is also an essential aid in understanding the worrying nature of Virgo to the exaltation and expression of joy and happiness in life. It is easy then, to correlate the four minor arcana cards that accompany the Hermit. This provides a beautiful visual depiction of the spiritual growth the Hermit is so hungry for:
- The Sun
- 9 of Cups
- 9 of Pentacles
- The Hermit
- 9 of Wands
- 9 of Swords
- The Moon
Initially I felt it appropriate to place the 9 of Pentacles as the highest minor arcana card, but this is wrong. If we start with the Moon, entering the dark and dangerous landscape, we experience the mental torture of the cruelty of the 9 of Swords. We find strength in the 9 of Wands and this comes directly from the Hermit’s staff. Wands are also called staffs in some decks and traditions. The Hermit’s staff is his wand and power accessory. Anyone who remembers Gandalph in the Lord of the Rings will understand the power of the staff. This takes us to the Hermit himself.
Equipped with his staff and lamp, he has navigated his way out of the Moon landscape, found himself and his strength, overcome his own demons and now projects upwards to the safer landscape of the 9 of Pentacles. Here he can rest and enjoy his earthly possessions, the woodland, the flora and fauna. There is respite here and he could easily and happily stay here, but there is another plane to climb and he does this through the 9 of Cups. As a further expression of comfort he could stay here also but he is reaching for the Sun – his enlightenment.
It is an excellent metaphor for life and the struggles we face, depicted succinctly and in a way we can understand. This visual depiction and metaphor does not solely belong to Virgo, of course, this metaphor for life is open to all. I would wager though, that the depth of worry, defence, comfort and happiness is understood by them to a finer degree. We definitely know how to worry and find ourselves lost on the lower two rungs of the ladder. The trick, for a Virgo, is how to know when to call time and move onto the next level without sweating the details. The 8 of Pentacles gives us the clue as to why this may be difficult.
Golden Dawn Astrology Associations
The Golden Dawn refined the system of astrology used in the tarot and it is this system you are most likely to be familiar with when reading correspondences on blogs and in books about tarot. Although Arthur Waite paid no mind to the decans set out by the Golden Dawn (nor the Qabalah) when he created his deck with Pamela Coleman Smith, the decanate system has become associated with tarot across the board and is a useful addition to the meanings and definitions of the minor arcana. The three main cards associated with the Hermit in this system are:
- 8 of Pentacles
- Sometimes called prudence, the 8 of Pentacles talks of studiousness, of working in fine detail, learning new skills. With the Sun in Virgo, this card lays the foundation for all that it is to be Virgoan. This card alone could be seen as the root of the perfectionist gift/curse dichotomy. If you’re going to do something, do it well, right? The key to making this card work effectively is knowing when something is done well. Again, think of striving for excellence rather than perfection and this card comes into its own.
- 9 of Pentacles
- Independence, financial security, enjoying the fruits of your labour – this card is perhaps the most closely related to the Hermit when we think of the solitude involved as well as being amongst nature. However, Venus in Virgo shows us the sensory and pleasure aspect in Virgo and this is where the Virgo curse can hit this card – when the fruits of your labour become solely about the possessions. This is in a different way to the 4 of Pentacles with miserly hoarding of cash. Becoming enchanted with your possessions so that they end up owning you defeats the point and nullifies the efforts made on the way to spiritual enlightenment. This aspect reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor and her penchant for expensive jewels.
- 10 of Pentacles
- Like the stages of spiritual attainment and maturity, these three cards show a progression of life and culminate in the status of head of the family and status in the community. Mercury in Virgo carries with it clarity, authority and forthright decision making. This isn’t just about rulership or overseeing family affairs. This is a pentacle so we can see the rich abundance that life has brought you to, mostly through effort. While there may well be some inheritances or dividends that finally paid up, there is a terrific sense of joy attached to this card and I see it in the form of generosity. Where a younger and maturing Virgo gave what they had in the way of service, the older Virgo can now give monetary rewards and gifts to those who are important to them.
The most striking element that runs through these explorations are the apparent contradictions and depth of landscape that Virgo plays with and engages. As an earth sign, there are practical matters that are foremost in the mind. Money and possessions in the form of the pentacle dictate also, but the lofty spiritual aspirations of the Hermit are also vying for the attention of the Virgoan individual. The push and pull of these can be strong but it must be remembered that being poor is not necessary for spiritual growth. Of course you can follow the Hermit directly if you wish and abandon everything you own to be free, you can become a nun or a monk also. This may not necessarily guarantee your enlightenment. What I believe the Hermit shows us through Virgo is that we can have a rich and varied life that is wealthy, abundant and also spiritual.
Following in the footsteps of the Hermit’s journey from the Moon to the Sun not only gives you a map of the landscape, he gives you the power tools and clarity to arrive safely at your destination. Overcoming the 9 of Swords is key in making this happen – not worrying what other people may think of you, nor worrying about their judgements of your choices and decisions etc.
As you try and synthesize all this information, here is something for you to ponder:
When you fly in a commercial jet, the safety information tells you to put your child’s life jacket on after yours. If you think about this from a Virgo perspective, we often put the other before ourselves but if we reverse this, if we put our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health before others, we are better placed to be a more effective member of the family and the wider community. Virgo needs to learn this. Service is good, it’s pleasing and rewarding but it can only be truly effective for everyone if we take care of ourselves first – which is what the Hermit does and in doing so he becomes a beacon of light for others on the path. Tarot can also help us with this combined journey, but by examining the cards relating to Virgo (or your own sun sign), you can gain a better understanding of the drivers, motivations, pitfalls and help available to make your life more rewarding, to enjoy your possessions, spiritual pursuits and make some sense of your birth sign, birth cards, all those idiosyncrasies and contradictions and how they relate to you.
Featured tarot deck: the Nigel Jackson Tarot, formerly known as the Medieval Enchantment published by Llewellyn, now out of print.