Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Virgo the Maiden

As Spring turns to Summer, the constellation Virgo reclines in the south after sunset. Virgo is lying on her back holding an ear of wheat in one hand and a dove of peace in the other. It's difficult to make out her silhouette in the sky - many of the stars are dim, and really don’t look much like a maiden. But her brightest star, Spica (pronounced SPY-ka), makes up for this obscurity. Spica is one of the most beautiful blue stars and easy to locate.

First find the Big Dipper in the northern sky. Trace down the arc of the handle and continue that curved line out in the sky. This should take you to a very bright, vaguely orange star called Arcturus. Now straighten out the line a little more and continue it until you hit Spica farther in the south. And there is Virgo. There is a catchy saying to remember all this. "Follow the arc to Arcturus then hit a spike to Spica." All right, it’s not that catchy...

The majority of the cultural myths - from Greece to India - describe Virgo as a maiden, virgin, or symbol of purity, innocence, and justice. The ancient Greeks likened her to the daughter of Zeus and the goddess of justice. She lays in the sky next to another zodiac sign, Libra the scales to mark her association with the scales of justice.

The ancient Egyptians thought Virgo represented the great goddess Isis. Isis had an ear of corn in her hand instead of wheat. Isis was the creator of the Milky Way, the band of fuzzy stars that form the heart of our galaxy, when she was up in the sky. One day, Isis was chased by a monster just as she was about to eat some corn. In the chase, she dropped the corn which scattered around the dome of heaven making the Milky Way - or should I say, "The Corny Way."

The Milky Way - Rightclick to open in new window
The Arabs initially included Virgo in a giant Lion constellation and some called it the Barking Dogs, but many groups seem to have changed it to conform with the Greek myths. Virgo is "Al Adhra al Nathifah," the Innocent Maiden.

And in India, the Hindus believe Virgo to be Kanya, the maiden and mother of the great Krishna.