Days of Awe

Virgo as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825.

ONE TIME WHEN I WAS ON MUSHROOMS Richard Pryor took possession of my body and proceeded to give a lecture to me and my friends on the origins of hot peppers and the true meaning of wheat.

He explained that how hot peppers got hot was terrible things were done to them, especially with fire—they were horrifically burned, in sick and twisted ways—which led to great strife and suffering on the part of the peppers. He continued that indeed the only way for a piece of matter to transmit heat and energy is for great heat and energy to have been transmitted into it. All of this was communicated not the way I am writing it now, but in the voice of Richard Pryor, in sentences like Richard Pryor’s, in the cadence of Richard Pryor, because, I guess, it really was Richard Pryor, or whatever, I was on drugs. In any case, I remember thinking at the time that Richard Pryor probably knew something about heat, not only because of the way his art transmuted agony into ecstasy, but because he once famously lit himself on fire with a freebase pipe, and when his wife tried to leave him he said he tried to kill his car. With a gun. So she couldn’t get away. I love Richard Pryor. But what I’m trying to communicate here, and what my friends and I were supposed to understand, Richard Pryor said, was that hot peppers absorb violence and return it to the world as pleasure. The way each pepper absorbs its calamity in its own way is its particular assimilation of atrocious suffering: This is the process that creates all spice on earth. And, in turn, all flavor, all pleasure. Suffering is not to be abjured or avoided. It is to be fully passed through; even if it kills you. If your suffering kills you then you pass through that.

As for wheat, he called it “slave food.” Look at the iconography of any totalitarian or slave culture on the planet he said, from the Babylonians to the Egyptians to Stalinist Russia to the Scientologists to the Nazis and you’ll find wheat stalks. Wherever you see wheat stalks, a malevolent state is trying to fool you into gratitude for bread, to anesthetize you, to make a grateful slave of you, he said. At this point I grew excited, wondering if these metaphorical or symbologic insights could be carried into faddish realms of neo-Paleo anti-agricultural discourse. I had a vague memory that at one point in Yazidi scripture the Peacock Angel, Melek Taus, eats wheat, which so distends his belly with flatulence that Satan himself has to poke him in the butt to bring relief. I mused materialistically on the rise of celiac and gluten-free everything, on the decline of the staff of life, on Monsanto and “amber waves of grain.” I found myself thinking too of various interpretations of the Virgin—from Demeter and Ceres to the Virgin Mary to the Virgo of Western Astrology—and these many kinds of virgins’ depictions holding, you guessed it, not just any ear of grain—but the very holy and so-ubiquitous-as-to-be-truly-mysterious wheat stalk.

Some of that totalitarian wheat courtesy of my first NYC subway ride in five months. (Photo: Ariana Reines)

The Sun entered Virgo on August 23, Mercury entered Virgo on September 5, and the Virgo New Moon occurs this Sunday, at 2 PM EST. For Jews, the September new moon marks the beginning of the two-day New Year’s celebration, Rosh Hashannah—literally the head of the year—and the beginning of a sequence of celebrations for rejoicing, atonement, commemoration, and judgment known as the Days of Awe. In secular terms, Virgo time is back-to-school, and, in those civilized European countries where all classes of people vacation in August, back-to-work—the new year before the New Year, setting the tone for now until next fall, just like the Vogue September issue.

Rosh Hashannah commemorates the sixth day of creation, when God created first animals, then Adam and Eve. The first appearance of animal and human beings on the plane of manifest creation is cognate with Virgo in the zodiac: Not only is she the first adult human in the celestial bestiary, but she is also the sixth sign of the zodiac, and Virgo is as much about the care and nurturing of the body of the planet as it represents the care and health of the human. Virgos are also known to be animal lovers, especially the cuddly domestic kind.

If I seem to be deviating from common & cliché descriptions of the Virgo archetype as detail-oriented, service-oriented, uptight, upright, perfectionist, etc.—it’s only to return these to a sense of proportion with the divine totality. As this Virgo new moon withdraws to the radiance of the source, it is out of divine hunger and divine hunger alone that all of her careful work, her practiced discernment, and her commitment to excellence find their form.

Rabbis will tell you that the moon represents the spirituality of the Jewish people, while the sun represents the infinite creator. When the moon is new, it is not visible in the sky, but has instead returned to the source, renewing itself at the font of universal creation. If the new moon is a time our spirituality withdraws into the darkness and mystery behind manifest life, it likewise represents the rhythm by which the totality pulses its radiance into us. Of course, many religions and cultures on the planet know this, and mark it with their own metaphors and holidays. I’m weaving the Jewish tradition into mainstream Western astrology because it happens to be my tradition. You no more need to be a Jew to meditate on your sins and on your longing to renew the world than you need to be a Virgo to find yourself, at this time of year, trying to get your act together.

In examining our yields with this Sunday’s new moon, we must look back to last September to examine not only our consumption of neurotoxic inflammatory junk food & our capacity to transubstantiate suffering into pleasure—but in looking back, we are also practicing a new level of discernment, one vital enough to carry us through the convulsions and trials of the year to come.

Examining our yield since last September, it’s a good moment to take a long hard look at the inflammatory neurotoxins you absorbed, and contrast it with the real nutrition. What has been nourishing you? What made you sick last year, and over what or with what are you still sick? From what have you healed? And as for hot peppers—they are not mere victims. Since last September a tremendous outpouring of pain and anguish, with the hashtag #MeToo, has poured out. I mention #MeToo, and indeed all hashtag feminism, specifically because iconographies and mythologies of the Virgin—insofar as she represents both the intact, inviolate, inviolable woman and also service to the state and to the divine—are apposite to the matter. By the time Libra season comes, American women’s right to reproductive healthcare and to basic control of their own bodies—and by extension, their sexualities—will have met its gravest test yet.

William Blake, Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam and Eve, 1808, pen and watercolor on paper, 19 7/8 x 14 15/16”. From Milton’s Paradise Lost. 
This Blake watercolor says pretty much everything I have to say about what Mars and Venus will be up to around the new moon and indeed, throughout the month. On the one hand, there’s a side of romance that is utterly rebellious—it subtracts the lovers from the social order and some of the satanic compulsions of it. On the other hand, romance does involve illusion, distortion, and delusion. Be especially watchful of how emanations from the collective unconscious influence your own capacity for self-deception on 9/11 and 9/12. Venus enters Scorpio on the day of the new moon—a heavy metal realm where she isn’t terribly comfortable, and where her smoothing harmonizing capacities are somewhat blunted. At best, she offers the wisdom of graceful surrender. Think Persephone in the underworld. By the time the sun enters Venus-ruled Libra on 9/22 there will be all kinds of judgment in the air. Sometimes our judges are righteous; sometimes they wish us only the very worst. When Chiron retrogrades into Pisces on 9/25, yet another octave of your weltschmerz enters your perception: All religious and secular talk of wounds and suffering, every discourse of healing—all this doesn’t exist to induct you into some hellacious victim identity. After all, nobody seems to feel more victimized than the creeps running things these days. Your wounds exist to marry you to the world.

Are women priestesses of Aphrodite? Are we the mere vessels of necropatriarchy, chattel of the state? Is a furrow in the earth not connected to the female sex, as the Babylonians thought, and is the fertility of the planet not connected to the health of its women? Virgo at its best represents divine excellence at a human scale. At Virgo’s most afflicted, it can be a body-obsessed, health-obsessed, narrow-minded and perfectionistic energy. Virgo also represents the promise of and the imperative to health, and the care and cultivation that all health—mental, physical, planetary—requires.

On Sunday evening, Jews will be casting their sins onto moving bodies of water. Pagans will be goddess dancing. Schoolchildren and students will be preparing for week two in the present phase of their learning. It’s a good time to avoid bitter foods and rancorous thoughts, even as you look back and forward on things that make you shudder. And it’s a good time to get in touch with something that Virgo sometimes loses track of: your sense of humor.

Richard Pryor, “Live on the Sunset Strip,” 1982

Ariana Reines is a poet & playwright. She astrologizes at