The lush green growth of early summer is looking frowsy and starting to wear. Tree leaves spotted with brown and nibbled by insects. The wildflowers are going over a little, though I can still find mugwort, lady’s bedstraw, pink clover and rosebay willowherb in the field margins. A few heads of meadowsweet linger on, while yarrow, nipplewort, yellow hawkweed and blue skullcap begin to seed. Deadly nightshade and woody nightshade bloom in the hedgerows and the white trumpet flowers of bindweed rampage throughout the hedges. I can hear the crickets in the grass, rubbing their back legs together to make a chirping sound.
Birds such as jays, jackdaws and finches are swooping down to feast on the gleanings in the harvested fields. The young birds are maturing, and there are pheasant chicks in the woods. The cuckoo is silent now and the young birds, reared by strangers, will leave soon leave for warmer climes. This is the month when birds fall silent as they go into moult and gain their new coats ready for winter. The only sounds to be heard are a few notes from the goldfinch, though the robin recovers first and by the end of the month most birds will be back in song.
This is the time of summer ripeness and I have an abundance of fresh produce from the vegetable garden, including tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, baby carrots, broccoli, cabbage, beetroot, cauliflowers, fresh salad, courgettes, beans and peppers. It’s a time of harvesting and weeding, barbecues and picnics, or just sitting back with a cup of tea and watching all my hard work paying off.
We start to move into the sign of Virgo, and for the ancients, the themes of the constellation echoed what was happening in the physical world. Virgo is the largest of the zodiac constellations, visualised as a maiden holding an ear of wheat in one hand and a palm branch in the other. She represents the harvest goddess presiding over the sky at the time of the grain harvest. Most of the fertility and harvest goddesses of the Mediterranean and Middle East are in some way associated with Virgo including Ishtar (Babylonian), Isis (Egyptian), Ceres (Roman), Demeter and Persephone (Greek) and Erigone (Greek), as well as the Christian Virgin Mary.
Virgo’s brightest star Spica (‘ear of grain’) was associated with the Sumerian goddess Shala, entitled ‘Lady of the Field’. The heliacal rising of Virgo’s third brightest star, Vindemiatrix (‘wine gatherer’) similarly announced the time to pick the grapes. Aratus called it the ‘fruit-plucking herald’. 
Virgo is only visible from spring to later summer, and many fertility goddesses have myths associating them with a lover or daughter who dies with the harvest and who returns in spring after the goddess has fetched them from the underworld – the seasonal disappearance and re-appearance of Virgo may have been seen as a heavenly representation of this. For example, in the story of Ishtar and her consort the vegetation god Tammuz, Tammuz died in autumn and was taken to the Underworld. The grieving Ishtar travelled there to secure his release, but she was taken prisoner. During the period of her absence (i.e. while Virgo is absent from the sky) the earth was unfruitful and barren. When the gods saw this, they secured her release.
© Text and Illustration Anna Franklin, 2020
 Aratus, Phainomena, (3rd century BCE), Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library