Put The Virago Back In Virgo!

Nearly everyone conflates the zodiac sign of Virgo with Virgin, specifically the winsome maiden holding the sheaf of corn. But there are rogue etymologists who say Virgo comes from Virago and I concur. If you think it means ‘loathsome shrew’ or tyrannical tart, wait up!

Virago means brave woman, with additional connotations of impeccable judgment and heroism. It comes from vigorous or ‘virile’ because saying a female had male qualities was high praise or patriarchally, the only compliment you could really offer.

Still, it went from a positive word in Latin to a slur in other cultures. Alexander the Great’s mother – Olympias – was routinely derided as a virago. The first woman known to openly enter politics,  she evidently bumped off rival politicians and the sort of people that today we’d call stakeholders.

But that was considered normal in those days. Olympias earned her ‘virago’ title by being an unconventional mother and flat-out refusing her allotted role of ‘virtuous matron.’ She got into hot debates with everyone, strode around wearing a battle helmet, and alienated her husband by insisting she’d slept with Zeus/Jupiter. A worshipper of Dionysus, she also liked to sleep with her companion snakes.

Over the subsequent centuries, militant women who self-identified as viragos became a quietly persistent phenom. Think ‘Ayra Stark from Game of Thrones.’ They learned to fight early and like the Amazonians (also viragos, apparently) remained single on purpose. That was the original meaning of ‘virgin’ – to not be bound to a partner or the then onerous obligations of the wife/mother role.

Years later, Queen Elizabeth 1 of England – who was Virgo – was referred to as “that dread virago.” Cleverly, she ran with it, having herself depicted as a warrior queen and refusing to marry. In fact, her successful rule meant that the term basically rebranded and returned to its original positive meaning.

Shortly after Elizabeth’s rule, Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba (modern day Angola) was described admiringly as “a cunning and prudent virago, so much addicted to arms that she hardly uses any other exercise and so generously valiant that she never hurt a Portugese after quarter was given and commanded all her servants and soldiers alike.”

Then it flipped back to being an insult/thing men feared their wives would become. Everyone from the Suffragettes to Margaret Thatcher copped it.  In 1973, when Virago publishing began, the author Anthony Burgess insisted that “virago” was “a shrew, an ill-tempered female scold.” Then, apparently oblivious to his shrewish tendencies, he called the founders ‘chauvinist sows.’

Monks and missionaries painstakingly rewrote history to remove or radically mute the dragons, snakes, priestesses, and infinite wealth of womanly deities. Confused by females who did not seem to ‘fit in’ – they had no husband or obvious father – they sidelined or demonized them. Part of that process saw the Virgo duality split into a singularity. Naturally, they retained the virgin, turning her into a morality icon in the process. Read the extraordinary ancient poem-prayer-spell Thunder, Perfect Mind for a sense of the original:

I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.

But virgin meant self-contained and referred to the sort of person who regardless of their sexual activity or lack of it, could be completely fulfilled by a spiritual and/or intellectual life. Additionally, conceiving and birthing children without needing to have sex was a goddess power, along with going to hell and back. It’s called parthenogenesis.

A whole lot of surmisals sprang up about Virgo because, in some old mosaics, she is depicted as holding something that art historians and archeologists surmised as “probably a distaff for spinning.” Sure but maybe it was a dagger or a measuring rod, a la Seshat, the Ancient Egyptian female counterpart to Thoth.

A measurer, scribe, and timekeeper goddess, she knew everything. Her rituals involved wheat cakes and bowls of flame, symbolizing the fire of knowledge. She was the patron of female writers and librarians as well as the keeper of the keys to the back entrances of the underworld.

The “distaff” could also be the rod and ring (of leadership) held by Ishtar, the biblical ‘whore of Babylon,’ a goddess whose legend encompassed sacred harlotry, warrior power, the pursuit of her rapist, and grain. The original virago, a hymn to her praises her “wild, ferocious and virile antics. She dances around gods and kings in her manliness.”

Like Demeter and Isis, she represented fertile crops but no way were their stories boiled down to a simple virginal symbol of virtue holding a wheat-stalk. FYI: In the oldest stories, Persephone – another Virgo-associated goddess didn’t get attacked and taken to hell. She ran it.

All this considered, is it time to start referring to Virgo as symbolized by the Virago, thus invoking all of the archetype’s depth and complexity?

Some Virgo Viragos

Melissa McCarthy

40 thoughts on “Put The Virago Back In Virgo!”

  1. Virago Moon sextile Sun Uranus here. I am happy to be of service. To my children. Not to any bogus authourity figure male or female. Fuq that. And I have a very green thumb Pegasus – I can grow anything, anywhere. I’m cool with the sheaf of wheat and not marrying some egocentric bully. Here’s to the girls.

  2. kikikookaburra

    Hmmm.. so what’s this mean for understanding the Pluto in Virgo generation? ( I snuck in at 29′)
    Not just the clean-up gang for the ecological trainwreck of the post-war fifties, rather, raining hell on the church-state patriarchy ? Interesting that during the Pluto in Virgo 60’s and 70s was when women finally got some financial freedoms, ie can get credit sans marriage, and the religious fundajellicals started to push back hard on women’s bodily freedoms.
    Harvey Milk rose and was slain in this time. Not a woman but definitely a virago Spirit, along with many men and women who refused to tow the line of the militantly ” conservative” Christian right. And in that struggle was borne the rainbow flag we now associate with freedom of sexual and gender expression. And isn’t Virgo co-ruled by Chiron, referred to by some as the Rainbow bridge?
    But the 60’s and early 70’s popular narrative is usually drug-fumigated meanderings or ” lostness ” in hippie culture and cock rock legend, with some civil rights protests tacked on in the background.. the Virago is still under pressure to be tamed. …..

  3. “Amazonians (also viragos, apparently) remained single on purpose. That was the original meaning of ‘virgin’ – to not be bound to a partner or the then onerous obligations of the wife/mother role“

    This explains so much why I’ve worked my Virgo rising so hard in my thirties. My goal now, to piece together a comforting, midlife, cancerian landing.

    Lest we not forget (I don’t care what sign or trait she exuded) Thatcher was a twat. An entire generation & class destroyed because of her leadership & party. To wit, Suffragettes turned in their grave.

    1. When i get asked if i’m married my reply is ‘I FORGOT TO’. Too busy exploring the planet stars moon myself & other cultures. Besides all white-goods were square shaped like in the song about little boxes =boring.

  4. thank you so much for this post Mystic, never sat the “normal” virgo archetype comfortably amongst all the Virgos have known, it didn’t ring true, made us out to be in service or waiting for men. never been a sexy sign or witchy sign but the shadow work space holding deserves merits. so gratitude for this post, it’s given much clarity [+ added to lived context] my virago sun is literally on top of Saturn & conjunct mercury, plus Venus, lilith, MC, north node all Virago. chart looks like a clusterfuq!
    Grandmother {virgo sun / taurus moon} got her m.cycle license at 65 yo to buy a Virago motorbike to burn up and down the highway on her own. so Virago has always been woman warrior here. she never made but lived her decisions.

    1. Have been reading The Secret Teachings of Mary Magdalene, so different from church teaching & history yes HISstroy to quote the old femme cliche. The Mary’s were the pillars of all that went down.

      1. Yes indeed they were the pillars and ridiculed for it just to satisfy the then said hierarchy which has become mutated history.

  5. LOve this it makes so much sense. Virgos that i know are nothing like the Virgin the symbol it is meant to denote. Virago in it’s ancient meaning as above works for me & the many Virgos i know/have known.
    Also like the ‘childless with suss father’ finding satisfaction in writing & intellectual pursuits. So on!
    This Mars in Virgo can see 10 pens in front of me. There are 6 in next room & 8 in the room after. My love of Radipiographs & Isographs know no limit. They are now 200+ dollars but still have some old ones that were 35 back in the day but lack the all magical nib.

  6. Well, well… So Virgos are more than spinsters and hypochondriacs? This is a very refreshing take on Virgo attributes! I’m Virgo Sun with Gemini Rising, and I’ve taken on their usual roles throughout their life. I think what many miss when Virgo females are chided for not assuming “traditional” or subservient roles is this frees them to do all the other amazing things they contribute to the world!

    1. The many Virgo’s i know all have a green thumb, so good at making things grow as they seem to have a strong affinity for nature, guess that’s where the sheafs of wheat in many depictions of the virgin are symbolic of their nurture nature.

  7. “Ability to create children without having sex…patron to librarians…learned to fight early”. I identify bits from my Virago Ascendent. 🙂

  8. Amazing and empowering information. All the Virgos I know fit this concept of virago so much more than the historical propaganda of Virgo. Bravo yet again Mystic!

  9. Excellent read and the evidence stacks up. It’s also suits the changing tide.

    Oh, and I really like the new log in image. Only recently saw it so it might not be new.

    Edit – and that poem is epic! A bit over halfway through I felt like I was invoking something and was only reading in my mind…mmm, so I’ll read it in two sittings.

  10. Chaotic and weird quadruple/stellium Virgo here dropping by to say THANK YOU for this post. No angel wings here, I feel like an earthy Aquarian/Piscean.

  11. I think you may have almost outdone yourself with this epic post. I have a Virgo moon conjunct Asteroid Magdalena and I’d be fascinated with anything else you research. Am going to have fun reinterpreting my chart with this information. Plus, I’d also assumed that Virgo men were a bit lacklustre too based on the posing with a wheatsheaf symbol. Might have to revise my prejudices there

  12. Thank you Mystic. I’m pretty tired of the “anal” or “tidy” label. Definitely identify with the Virago. Loved the “Will you swear it was a chemise” says it all really………….

  13. As a Virgo moon (+ Minerva and Lilith), fkn YES. Also, wondering if the words virgin and virago could be derived from the same root?

  14. Quadruple Cappy

    Really enjoyed reading this post; the old newspaper excerpt particularly amusing, thanks Mystic x

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