Nearly everyone knows a little something about astrology — even if it’s only where to find the daily horoscope section in the local newspaper. Whether you truly believe the stars control your destiny, think it’s all bunk, or just like to have fun with it, the 12 signs of the zodiac are part of our cultural heritage. Over the next year, the Farmers’ Almanac will introduce you to the facts and mythology behind each constellation in the traditional Western zodiac. This month, Virgo.
Virgo is the sixth constellation of the zodiac. Its name is the Latin word meaning “virgin.” It is the second largest constellation in the sky, after Hydra.
The astrological symbol for Virgo is ♍, and the constellation sits in the sky between Leo to the west and Libra to the east. Other nearby constellations include Crater, Corvus, Hydra, and Boötes. In fact, an old bit of poetry describes how to find Boötes and Virgo by following the handle of the Big Dipper: “Follow the arc to Arcturus, and speed on to Spica.” Arcturus is the brightest star in Boötes, while Spica is the brightest star in Virgo.
The constellation itself consists of Spica and four outer bright stars – Zavijava (Beta Virginis), Porrima (Gamma Virginis), Auva (Delta Virginis), and Vindemiatrix (Epsilon Virginis) — in addition to several fainter stars. The traditional rendering is a curved line with two other bent lines rising up from it, said to represent a woman carrying two large sheaves of wheat.
Virgo is notable for containing several bright galaxies, including M49, M58, M59, M60, M61, M84, M86, M87, M89, and M90, some of the deep sky objects identified primarily by French astronomer Charles Messier during the 18th Century. Virgo contains so many galaxies, in fact, that all of the galaxies located within and around the constellation are collectively referred to as the “Virgo cluster.”
In Greek mythology, Virgo is alternately associated with both Astraea, the virgin goddess of justice holding the scales (the constellation Libra) in her hand, and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. To the ancient Babylonians, the constellation represented Shala, the goddess of war and grain. During the Middle Ages, Virgo was often associated with the Virgin Mary, as well.
Astrologically, the Sun resides in the house of Virgo from August 23 to September 22 each year. People born during this period have Virgo as their Sun sign. Proponents of astrological determinism believe that people born under the same Sun sign share certain character traits. Virgo people are most often described as organized, intelligent, practical, detail-oriented, helpful, reliable, charming, and gentle.