In all of constellation mythology, few legends are as misunderstood as the Virgo myth.
By most accounts, the typical interpretation of Virgo mythology is a series of goddesses from various cultural mythologies that combine to create the myth of "Virgo the Virgin". I believe, however, that this view is inaccurate.
The word "virgo" is Latin, means "self-contained" which is for us is better interpreted as "self-sufficient". In astrology, those born under the sign of Virgo are said to behave in an individualistic, self-sufficient manner. Their nurturing comes from a place of not needing others to find fulfillment for them, but being able to create for others because they can already create for themselves.
The virgo myth should not be interpreted as a woman who is a virgin, but rather a nurturing woman who is a mother to all of the earth. Immaculate conception aside, we all know that mothers can't also be virgins.
So why the confusion? Part of it is a long-standing misinterpretation of the word itself. In fact, I am willing to bet that other mythologists reading this are already preparing a fiery debate about whether or not I am interpreting the virgo myth correctly based mostly on the assumed meaning of the word. I mean, "Virgo" sounds like "virgin", so they must be the same thing, right?
I don't think so. By all accounts, Virgo is seen as the "Great Goddess", which is a somewhat vague description to begin with, though very accurate. A look back at the history of the Virgo myth across cultures suggests reasons as to the change in how a "Great Goddess" would be viewed.
Most of the goddesses who were linked to Virgo were considered fertility goddesses, or goddesses of the harvest. This resonates with the view of Virgo being the caretaker of mankind through her fertility. This includes Ishtar (Babylonian mythology), Isis (Egyptian mythology), Ceres (Roman mythology), and Demeter (Greek mythology). The constellation Virgo is thought to be a woman holding a spike of corn, thus reinforcing the Harvest Mother mythology.
In one well-known Greek myth, the goddess of the Spring season Persephone is kidnapped by the god of the underworld Hades. Upon discovering this, the young goddess's mother Demeter, being the goddess of the harvest, decides to ruin the harvest in her despair. Long story short, the Spring goddess got to return for six months a year to aid her mother in the harvest. This coincides with the constellation Virgo being visible for only the months of March through August.
The story of Ishtar (Babylonian mythology) is similar, except that it was her husband Tammuz (the god of the harvest) who was taken to the underworld where she followed only to be trapped there as well.
Interestingly, many of the other mythological female figures who were believed to represent Virgo include Dike (Greek mythology), Astraea (Greek mythology), and Erigone (Roman mythology), all of whom represented Justice. Once you realize that Libra (the scales of justice) is the next sign in the zodiac following Virgo, suddenly things begin to make more sense.
But there is another explanation. From early Babylonian mythology, the grain goddess Nidoba is often considered to be the first incarnation of Virgo, which is consistent with the view of Virgo being the self-sustaining, life-giving caretaker that most Virgo mythology follows. However, over time, worshipers of Nidoba moved toward the worship of god Nabu (Babylonian mythology) instead. Nabu is the god of wisdom and justice.