Jill Smith’s Zodiac Journey: Virgo

Isle of Lewis

Photo: Mhairi Law

So, here I am at the beginning of my Journey round the Zodiac, visiting places on Lewis and Harris which are special to me, and where I feel a connection to each particular time of year.

The Journey is very much how I experience the different times of the Zodiac year and the Elements of each sign – EARTH for Virgo, Capricorn and Taurus; AIR for Libra, Aquarius and Gemini; WATER for Scorpio, Pisces and Cancer and FIRE for Sagittarius, Aries and Leo. Sometimes the traditional signs are referenced, sometimes not. Family members’ birthdays as the year turns are important for me to mark and to feel that they are with me.

Each action will bring together many aspects of my life, like an entwining of many strings – old ritual performances, small ceremonies I carry out alone at special sites, special objects, memories of old friends, and new ideas this turning cycle has awakened in me.

I have tie- and sew-dyed 12 circular cloths, one for each sign, in the colours of the Elements. These are not spiritual colours, just brown for Earth, blue for Air, green for Water and red for Fire. A few of these reference the traditional Zodiac signs, but not all. I have also dyed four outfits, one for each element, which I will wear throughout, along with other scarves and cloths with special significance. These are a return to the dyeing and making of costumes which I carried out in the ‘70s and early ‘80s when I was a celebratory Performance Artist, largely at the East Anglian Albion Fairs.

I was very excited to be asked by Fruitmarket to carry out this Journey, and overjoyed when the photographer Mhairi Law of Island Darkroom agreed to document the whole project. I am already greatly enjoying working with her.

I am beginning with Virgo largely so the Journey will end with Leo 2024, the Fruitmarket’s actual birthday.

To me VIRGO represents the harvest, the earth’s bounty, the Harvest Mother.

The Achmore circle is part of the extensive Callanish complex, or sacred landscape. It is a perfect circle with simple geometry, unlike some of the more complex circles, so may have been one of the earliest to have been erected. Although the stones themselves are now lying flat, outwards from the centre, some still in the peat, the site is on an impressive high plateau overlooking the range of hills known as the Sleeping Beauty. From this vantage point she appears to be pregnant, so I feel that it must have been a place for the Neolithic farmers to celebrate their harvest, with the full-bellied Earth Mother on the horizon before them.

Although my birthday is in August, I have often celebrated it at this site with friends and a Corn Dolly. In 2012, for my 70th birthday I held a celebration/picnic here, and the action for Virgo on this new Journey echoes part of that event.

I invited friends and neighbours to join me for this event as this was the ‘launch’ of the whole project.

The weather in the Hebrides is very changeable, but we were blessed with a good evening with not too much breeze (though enough to keep away most of the midges) and the pregnant Sleeping Beauty, who is often hidden by cloud, was clearly visible on the horizon.

I wore my Earth outfit, but on this occasion also wore the skirt and top from 2012’s birthday celebration. The skirt had originally been worn for my youngest daughter’s wedding, and the top, made from floral scarves, was given to me by Eveon Gaines in Talley Valley, Wales in the ‘80s. Round my neck I wore a special necklace made for me about 8 years ago by my dear friend, the late Poppy Palin, and a pendant given to me recently by my neighbour Trish Bell of Hebrides Craftzing.

In the centre of the circle I placed my Corn Dolly from 2012. Her basic structure is made from some ash branches I brought with me from my garden in Glastonbury when I returned to Lewis in 2008. Her face and spiky hair I made in a workshop with the basket-maker Dawn Susan. To her hair and arms I added ears of wheat gleaned from English field edges many years ago, fixed on with the string I had used to tie-dye the round cloths. Her skirt is fabric given to me when I gave birth to my youngest son Taliesin in a tipi in Talley Valley in 1984, and was tied at the top with two small scarves, one silk, one batik-dyed cotton, in which I often wrap special objects for small personal ceremonies. The ‘horn of plenty’ and other corn-made objects pinned to her skirt I have acquired over many decades.

In front of her I laid the dyed brown Virgo cloth, which has 4 leaf-like patterns on it, and the wooden Virgo sign – one of 12 I have painted to reference those I left in a circle round the land on my ‘84/’85 Gypsy Switch Journey – and placed a pregnant Glastonbury Tor goddess figurine by the sculptor Phillipa Bowers. I weighted the cloth down with an Aboriginal women’s digging stick brought to England from Australia in the ‘80’s by the late Lynne Wood and left in my care.

Around her I laid out a large white spiral. This was partly formed with some very old rope which I have used for over 50 years to delineate labyrinths, spirals and even patterns and hair on a 60ft sculpture of the Sleeping Beauty I once made at a Glastonbury Festival.

As this was the beginning of the Journey I honoured the directions of East, South, West and North with coloured ribbons for Air, coloured candles for Fire, jars of coloured Water and naturally coloured stones for Earth. Most of these I had also used in my 2012 birthday celebrations.

My group of friends gathered. I walked the spiral and beside the Dolly laid my own gifts: flowers from my garden, a beetroot I had grown in the community polytunnel, a photo of apples from a tree I bought my daughter Saffron almost 10 years ago, fruits I recently picked from East Anglian hedgerows with all of these shared between a basket in which a special friend once sent me flowers, and a polished coconut shell given me by Saffron and her husband. I then stood behind the Dolly. One by one my guests walked the spiral, offered their own gifts and took from a box a chocolate cup-cake iced with the Virgo sign – the Dolly’s gift to them in return. The box was wrapped in a scarf given to me by my eldest son and eldest grand-daughter. Each person then walked out of the spiral to join the others. I was especially happy when two young boys who had come with their Dad walked the spiral in turn.

At the end I too walked out of the spiral, bringing the remaining cakes for any people who hadn’t walked in. We all rejoiced a bit and shared food we had brought.

After a while I wound up the spiral, put everything away and everyone gradually left. It had been a lovely, gentle gathering. A beautiful start to my Journey, everything exactly as I had visualised it. I felt close to several friends who once had connections to the circle and have since died.

I felt I had shifted into a different reality, and that whatever else I do, for the coming year I shall be in the reality of the Zodiac.

Jill Smith, Isle of Lewis, September 2023. 

See also www.jill-smith.co.uk 

Main images: Mhairi Law



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