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Musing on Mutables: Pisces
The Rhythms of the Universe: Sagittarius
The Wings of Virgo
Riding the Wind: Gemini
Sources and Acknowledgmetns
About the Author

Virgo's Wings and Other Musings on the Mutable Signs by Lynn Bell

Sometimes I imagine looking at the symbols of the zodiac for the first time. This is hard to do, because we've grown so used to seeing them, not just in newspaper columns, but in the oddest places: cereal boxes, billboards, mobile phone logos. Among the more mysterious symbols are those of the mutable signs. Did something move in you when you first saw the half-man, half-horse of Sagittarius, or the conjoined twins of Gemini? In Europe, where I live, the strange creatures of medieval imagination still leap in cathedral stone. Since most people were unable to read or write, these images had great power to evoke all kinds of ideas, stories, myths. They still do. I wonder how many of us first came to astrology through fascination with some of it's imagery?

Where, we may ask, are the fish of Pisces going? Imagine following the ribbon from one fish to the other, stretching as far as the farthest ocean. We understand there is a connection, but what is it meant to be? When fish swim in schools, their movements are perfectly choreographed; a very subtle guidance system, called the lateral line, runs down their sides, picking up the movement of other fish. Acoustic communication runs throughout this underwater ballet, a system of staying in touch at a distance. As each fish swims, it rides the watery spiral of the fish in front of it, and with its fins, sets another tiny vortex in motion for the one behind. In this way, the individual both receives the wave and re-generates it for the rest of the group. Pisces tells us something about the mysterious connections we see in nature, the flocking of birds, the gathering of herds, the swimming of shoals. The seven-year passage of Uranus in Pisces may reveal more about how each of us connects perceptibly, but invisibly, to the whole. Human beings have their own invisible dance, their comings and goings, and these patterns are felt, and used, by those who have planets in this sign.

However if we look closely, we see that the fish of Pisces are headed in opposite directions. Just imagine, if all fish simply followed the current, the mouths of rivers would be packed with fins. Pisces doesn't simply drift, as we know from images of salmon pushing themselves upstream to spawn. Other species, pike and trout, also move against the current, sometimes slipping away to rest, dropping down into deep places in the river; or settling behind piers to shelter before taking on the current once more. It is in the very nature of this sign to go both with and against the flow.

It might be said that Pisces are asked at a certain time in their lives to go against all logic and reason and plunge into what seems mad, dangerous and even impossible to accomplish. When the time comes, going against the current may be essential for any kind of creative life. This process is neither predictable nor straightforward, there is a certain amount of drift, of time spent in the shallows, days that may seem wasted or misspent, and then a powerful push against the current, against expectation. Even then, Pisces find a way to edge around the current, to use the spiral differently and move against the river.

What is hardest though, is feeling two pulls simultaneously, something common to all the mutable signs. Beyond the choice of ocean or river, of letting go or pushing through, the sense of being tugged internally toward more than one way of being can be almost overwhelming. There is a Piscean whirlpool, that can exhaust these signs and keep them circling over and over again, as they try to respond to more than one inner directive. Whatever choice they make, they never lose the sense that it might have been otherwise. Pisces, like the other mutable signs isn't really focused on a goal. These are signs of journeying, of learning through an ever changing, constantly shifting sense of self and the world.
Pisces symbol

Again, look at the iconography of the sign, the back-to-back fish seem unaware of each other, their eyes are focused on the faraway. The fish of Pisces are connected, but not through seeing in the usual way, an extra-sensorial perception that is typical of mutable signs. Their attention is on what is shifting, what is out of sync. They notice the odd colored bird or the crooked sign. They are aware of slippages between worlds, of mutations and inconsistencies, and their attention is drawn by things at variance with the norm.

A friend of mine, who has Gemini rising and a Pisces Mercury, often wakes in her dreams to another world. The man beside her is not her husband, her house is not her house, her town is not this town. She used to be frightened, but after many years of this, is persuaded that she only has to choose this other life and she will wake up into it, not into this one. Her experience of in-between has an extraordinary realness. These signs give an ability to feel for the spaces between worlds, to slip in and away. In her everyday life she moves between languages as a translator.

Mutable signs are often in movement, but they are not really about action. That is the realm of the cardinal signs, bringers of new direction, the makers and shakers of the astrology world. In fact cardinal used to be called 'moveable'. Confused? Think about mutable signs as the movement between things. They go back and forth, weaving realms together. One of their older names, common, means "shared by all or many" from the Latin word communis. They share both fixed and cardinal in their natures - and are always blending the two. They are the 'O' blood-type of the astrological world. You can take them almost anywhere with almost anyone. They move above and below, inside and out, here and there, between you and I; for different directions converge at the center of these signs. For those who are strongly fixed or deeply directed, this may look aimless, wasteful, and ill conceived. Think of it this way, pollen is dispersed, seeds are scattered, and new growth comes into being. We no longer pay much attention to the fertile wind behind the fruit, or the floods that bring the rich mud of spring. The rivers are dammed and the fruit is engineered, our meat is packaged, not hunted, and few of us offer seeds to a freshly ploughed field.

Chinese philosophy speaks of two basic energies, the creative and the receptive, and these give rise to all things through movement and change. This is the Tao, the one constant in the world. They built their understanding of the world using the mutable principle as the center. When the mutable is disregarded or undervalued a culture can be wrenched between the constant need for action - the cardinal principle - and the desire for permanence - the fixed principle. It can be a rather uncomfortable ride.

The Rhythms of the Universe

A slightly different model of the world is found in Hindu cosmology. Three modes, called gunas, are believed to underlie all existence; Tamas has to do with stability and grounding but also with inertia and darkness. Rajas is dynamic, active and unstable, but leads to experience and evolution; while Sattwas is calm, clear, balanced, and brings understanding and illumination. Although it may be tempting to draw parallels with fixed, cardinal and mutable, the astrological qualities come without notions of hierarchy. Perhaps they shared a common source in the far distant past. Sattwas may give us a clue to the true nature of mutable, since intelligence is key to both Gemini and Virgo, while illumination and understanding are at the core of the two Jupiter-ruled signs, Pisces and Sagittarius. These signs have a light touch, a quickness and adaptability that often come from clarity and intelligence. Calm, however is not a word that usually leaps to mind!

The astrological qualities do have different rhythms. Fixed is steady and sustaining, nurturing and powerful. Cardinal is active and energetic; it moves things forward, while mutable is syncopated, jazzy and irregular. In symphonies books, and film, an alternance of these different rhythms or modes moves the story along; balance comes through the blending of the three qualities. Too much mutable increases the irregular rhythm, builds levels complexity agitation, confusion- it's one way of thinking about oppositions and squares in these signs: Hunting for a High.

The oldest term for these signs, double-bodied, reflects their mixed nature, two streams mingle, the active and the fixed. It may look jumbled and confused to those from other, more straightforward tribes, but it isn't easy to be in more than one place at a time, or to contain these contradictions. The mixed animal and spiritual nature of Sagittarius jumps out at us from the image of the centaur. The division here is between high and low, base and refined, physical and spiritual, between here and there. I'm often perplexed by the way my French colleagues speak about this sign. They almost always describe it as socially conformist and materialistic. They mistrust its confidence, its self-assurance, and mistake it for self-satisfaction and puffery. For them Sagittarius, and Jupiter its ruling planet, are the ultimate symbols of bourgeois contentment, of keeping up with the Jones, a self assurance that leads to blindness about the true condition of the world. They would point to president Jacques Chirac, with both Moon and Sun in this sign as a perfect illustration of this. On the other hand most American or English texts laud the seeker, the philosopher, the adventurous spirit. They would speak of high-mindedness, of generosity and humor, and perhaps even a rough lack of pretence, a clumsy directness and sincerity I find these two wildly different perceptions fascinating, because both are probably true. Think of the medieval stereotype, an overfed, lustful monk swilling back the wine.

A man on a horse in ancient times had enormous physical and psychological advantage over anyone on foot. Add his height to an already imposing animal and imagine the status and authority of a rider, as well as his speed mobility and power. In many ways Sagittarius begins life with an advantage of some kind and yet always maintains a vivid connection to nature, to the body, to appetite or physicality. The symbol of the centaur held great ambivalence in ancient thought, there was something disturbing and shameful about this animal self. Both the desire to distance oneself from biology, and the need to acknowledge it, are literally embodied in this image. Sagittarius aims high but may consequently fall low, sometimes into hypocrisy or pretense, if they lose touch with themselves, and cannot bear to face who they really are.

The archer shoots many arrows, and the mutability of this sign functions in other ways as well. It ruled the hunting time of the year, when forests were rich with game, A hunter never knows what he will find- he may go looking for deer but come back with rabbit, or not come back at all. This seeking and hunting for God, for meat, for ideas, for experience thrums at the center of the sign. Sagittarius has its fiery attention on what is out in the world. Sagittarians may become confused by the split between the human, animal and divine within themselves, instead of hunting for god they may track down the latest Vuitton bag or a sleek and powerful car, anything that will keep them ahead of others. A lack of awareness can make them look ridiculous, which may be one reason so many Sagittarian authors, from Jane Austen to Mark Twain, enjoy wry slaps at the pretensions of the self absorbed. Sagittarians must never lose sight of what they really are, of the animal component of human nature.

The Wings of Virgo

Virgo looks carefully at the world around her and under her feet, if Sagittarius is up, her direction is down. The grain she holds tells us of her earthy nature, her fertility, her capacity for renewal. We are reminded of the parallel between the earth and feminine fertility, and the contrast between powerful goddesses and our later, chaste images of the virgin. But there is another clue to the double nature of Virgo, she has wings. Virgo is an angel come down to earth, caught in material form. She is weighed down by her task, to bring the divine to all that surrounds her; it is so overwhelming, so enormous that all her attention is on a small square of perfection, for if she looked up she might be discouraged by the difficulty of the task.

Look at the old images, the skymaps and planispheres of the Renaissance; Ptolemy mentions the southern and northern wings of the constellation in the Tetrabiblos, those wings have been there for a long time. I wonder when she lost them in modern astrological thinking? Her duality has become invisible much as Cortez's ships were invisible to the Aztecs, a fault in our seeing and interpretation of the sign. The collective unconscious throws up a reminder now and then, a tease; think of Sally Field as the Flying Nun.

Traditional Images of Virgo
ähren Madonna Compori Virgo
Medieval depiction of Virgo holding feather Virgo in starmap: Bode, 1801

Images from later star maps show Virgo holding a feather plucked from one of her wings, its tip is shaped for writing. We could say that her winged nature brings ideas into the world. She is the muse, she is the writer, she invents solutions for practical problems. Her other hand holds the sheaf of wheat with it's bright star dangling towards the ground. Virgo is bringing spiritual energy down to earth, infusing matter with spirit, with ideas, and the mystery of life contained in the seed. It is easy to see the Virgin Mary in the constellation, and it must have been hard for astrologers to address this sign during the rule of an all-powerful Church. It's symbolism is also close to the Fall, to Eve, the apple and the tree of knowledge.

The tension in Virgo involves the pull between the sacred and the mundane, between divine and earthy. Virgo is highly sensitive to the potential in each seed, in each idea, and suffers when faults appear. No, no, she seems to say, not like that! She moves both towards and away, waiting for the right time. All those seeds she holds, when to plant them? In what field ? At what time? This sign tells us that what is planted and what is harvested comes from the purity of our choices.

There is another kind of mystery in the symbol of the sign, for once a virgin gives herself to a man she has changed forever. And yet, without this change, whether sexual or psychological, no life is possible. Each woman holds many seeds, is potent in her power to give life, and yet she is obliged to come down to earth in order to do so, and to accept the imperfections of the world.

In some drawings Virgo holds the scales of the next sign, Libra; where we weigh and judge. All virgins must choose, for there are many different women inside each of us. Virgo is the sign of Eve, but also of Ishtar and Isis, and all the other goddesses- their unearthly beauty is glimpsed occasionally in women of the sign like Sophia Loren or Raquel Welch. Virgo is profoundly mysterious, between virgin and whore, servant and goddess, Virgo asks us to choose who we will be, to claim our power to create life.

Riding the Wind

Mutable signs are the bridges between worlds; they find the way through in unsettled times, come up with solutions, adapt to change. Gemini is the fastest of them, and the lightest, true to its airy element. While Mercury feels directed and focused in Virgo, it seems totally free in Gemini to ride the wind, simply to find out where it will go, and the movement of Gemini has this quality of sudden gusts and whirls, shifts in all the many directions of the compass. The twins of Gemini are often shown with their arms around each other's shoulders, whether in sweet complicity or ready for combat. Since Gemini moves so easily and freely between people and ideas it can be hard to see the other side.


Few Geminis show their dark moods to the world, but the myth of Castor and Pollux tells us they spend half of their time in the underworld, and half in paradise. Mercury loves the twilight times, the dappled light. Not all is revealed in this sign, it hides by showing you more than you can take in, by playing the old shell game, giving a momentary glimpse and then moving things around so quickly that you come up empty. It has words for everything except what it really feels inside. Gemini is the sign of the divided self, the awareness of our multiple nature, of good and bad and everything in between. It connects this inner split to some of our closest relationships, and the unsavoury side of the sibling bond comes through the myths of many cultures. Set chops his brother Osiris into pieces and sends them down the Nile, his brothers sell Joseph into slavery, Ereshkigal kills her sister, and only reluctantly brings her back to life. Gemini may never be whole or grown up before a passage into the shadow side. One image of the twins in Vezelay cathedral shows them connected from the ribs down. There is the feeling of another self emerging, already conscious, with eyes to see, ears to hear and hands to touch the world, but not yet able to stand separately or alone. What is really inside me? A dawning sense of otherness brings us into relationship, and Gemini bridges the gap between self and other, between inside and out. Who other than mutable signs can bring all our worlds together? In their back and forth, their contradictions and conflicts, comes the possibility of choice and the promise of a larger awareness, with eyes to see all experience as part of an undivided whole.

Sources & Acknowledgements:

During the writing of this article I had a conversation with Rob Hand on the nature of mutable, and an e-mail exchange with Bernadette Brady about the constellation of Virgo. Lee Lehman and Deborah Houlding both answered e-mail queries concerning William Lilly. I am grateful to all of them for these exchanges.

  Charles Carter, Essays On The Foundation of Astrology, Theosophical Publishing House, London, 1978

Liz Greene, Star Signs for Lovers, Arrow Books, London 1980

E.C. Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1991

William Lilly, Christian Astrology Regulus Publishing, Exeter, 1985

Lindsay River and Sally Gillespie, The Knot of Time, Harper & Row, New York, 1987

Ptolemy, Le Livre Unique d'Astrologie, Trans. Pascal Charvet, Nil Editions, Paris, 2000

  Pisces Dave Cassandra, "Great Expectations, Spawning patterns of Great Lakes Walleyes" In-Fisherman, April 2, 2004

"Animals and Sound in the Sea" University of Rhode Island, Office of Marine Programs.

Paul E. Maslin "The Sensory World of Fishes"

Parmlr hearing Institute, Loyola University "Lateral Line Physiology and Anatomy"

MIT News, December 1, 2003 "Scientists pinpoint how fish save energy by swimming in schools"

  Virgo John Flamsteed, Atlas Celeste, 1776, Linda Hall Library
Deborah Houlding "Star Lore of the Constellations : Virgo the Maiden"


Lynn BellLynn Bell has been an astrologer for nearly thirty years. She has been a regular tutor at the Center for Psychological Astrology in London since 1995, and is a guest lecturer and teacher for many other schools in Europe. Lynn has an active consulting practicing in Paris France, where she has lived for many years. She has spoken at many of the major astrological conferences: UAC, ISAR, the AA, Sep Hermes in France, The World Congress in Switzerland, the FAA Congress in Australia. She is the author of Planetary Threads (CPA Press, 1999), and Cycles of Light (CPA Press, 2005), and is co-author of The Mars Quartet, (CPA Press, 2001). Lynn also teaches for Wisdom University's New Chartres School, Caroline Myss's CMED; and Heaven and Earth Workshops in Bali.

© Lynn Bell. Published online August 2008. This article was published in The Mountain Astrologer magazine, Aug/Sep 2004.