Service without Self-Sacrifice.
That’s our emerging archetypal theme for this astrological month of Virgo. As we leave behind the Piscean Age, which embraced self-sacrifice (a very Piscean notion) as well as service to the world (its Virgo counterpart), we have to shine a new light on the subject of service, because we are being called to service – to bring our talents, inspiration and imagination together to re-create our society, heal Nature and reject war as a means to peace.
In these past few thousand years, service always included self-denial: sexuality and pleasure, independence and wealth were foresworn so the ego’s attention stayed focused on spirit. So many people took oaths of ‘obedience, poverty and chastity’, seeing their service as a duty to their Deity. Mother Theresa and St. Francis of Assisi are inspirations to us. As they well should be.
However, when we see that sexuality, pleasure, independence and wealth are not bad ‘in and of’ themselves, allowing ourselves those experiences no longer prohibits us from being of service to our fellow sisters and brothers. While taming the senses and appetites is a necessity for greater consciousness and free will, we have to balance them with work and service. It is time to bring Heaven to Earth, combining Spirit and Matter; that means, let’s enjoy life while serving others.
That’s the theme of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Mistress of Spices. Both the 1997 book and the 2005 movie explore this idea of service and sacrifice.
Virgo: Healing, Service and Our Authentic Talents
But first let’s look at Virgo’s lessons and initiation. There’s alchemy involved in Virgo’s lessons, the union of opposing energies and the transformation of those energies through self-knowledge into a new sense of wholeness and Self-consciousness. Virgo is the sign where we work to perfect ourselves, not by being perfect but by coming to understand how we see ourselves, what we value, how we process life, what our emotional body feels like and where our creative impulse lies. We weave ourselves together in Virgo, discerning what is us and what is not us.
When we apply ourselves to discovering what we can do, we want to put that purpose to work. In doing so we see how our talents can be of services to others. A time of apprenticeship is a learning time, and that’s what Virgo wants to do. Learn as much of her craft as she can and continue to perfect it as a master craftsperson. When we create like this, we are always of service, even when we work for ourselves.
Virgo symbolizes the Virgin of Life, coming at the time of year when we gather in the harvest of our creations. The Egyptian goddess Isis was associated with Virgo because the end of summer is the time of year when the Nile floods and new life returns to the land. This aspect of Isis is not the Goddess as Lover, but as the Mother who carries her child in her lap, symbolizing the manifestation of the potentials of life. A new creation occurs! New insights are born and new solutions generated.
That is the magical side-effect of Virgo’s initiation into meaningful service! Something new emerges, something deep and true. A problem is solved, a wound is healed. That is also the message of our movie this month – a new truth emerges when we seek to heal a wound and allow a new potential into our lives.
Virgo’s ability to discern what’s happening in the moment and then to find a solution that works is the essence of service to others. There is a joy to this work, a flexibility that is open to incorporating each experience into a new whole. Virgo concentrates on doing her job well and is humble enough to offer her mastery to the world. Being of service gives us the opportunity to perfect ourselves and our craft.
The Mistress of Spices
This sensual, colorful movie is a delight to the eyes; not only are Aishwary Rai and Dylan McDermott outstandingly good-looking, but the spices that inhabit the shop and our imaginations are exquisite beyond compare.
The Mistress of Spices is a story of two people who are chosen as children to walk the Piscean spiritual path. The young woman follows her path into Virgoean service; the young man rebels against his mother in anger, forgets his calling and walks a Virgoean path of aloneness and disconnection. When they meet as adults, their opposing paths collide and they find themselves attracted to each other. On an unconscious level, their souls know they can heal each other. But each has been wounded, and so they have to learn to trust their hearts again instead of the inner beliefs they’ve learned to live by.
The story begins with Tilo, a young Indian girl with the gift of prophecy. While her ability to see brings her fame and fortune, it also brings tragedy. Pirates want to profit off her talents and they come and kidnap her, killing her parents. We know that someone with this kind of spiritual power needs to learn how to control it, and soon learns that it really can’t be used for personal power and gain. That’s what happened with Tilo and her family. Tilo has to learn the lesson of offering selfless service to others.
She takes this path when she leaps into the ocean, escaping the pirates. She eventually washes ashore on a magical island, where First Mother has gathered young girls to teach them how to care for and understand Spices. She teaches these girls so they can go out into the world and keep the magic of India alive for those Indians who have immigrated to foreign lands.
First Mother warns the girls that serving the spices demands that they give up their lives for the spices. The path of their service demands self-sacrifice. They are charged with three rules when they go out into the world to be of service: They must never use the spices for their own desires, they can never leave their shop and they must never be touched. The girls must be free of personal desires; if they fail in their duty, they are told that the spices will punish them.
Here is the old belief that serving others entails self-sacrifice. It is true with regard to the issues of power and control. Serving others can’t be about the ego, because then you don’t listen to what others really need. If power and domination are the end-game of spiritual powers, we walk a dark path indeed. Since these powers are very real, they need to be used responsibly and in service to the world.
But the Piscean vision of service has been one of self-sacrifice – of the body, of the emotions, of one’s very freedom. The First Mother’s rules are very much like a nun’s vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These rules bind women’s lives until all that is left for them is service. This form of service constellates when a Virgo gets so consumed with work that there is nothing else in her life. She must make things perfect and perfection is a hard taskmistress.
When these young ‘mistresses of spices’ must remain so virginal that they are literally ‘untouchable’, the Virgo archetype is clearly out of balance. Virgo’s virginity has nothing to do with sexuality, but rather with having your own sense of purpose. Virgo’s true virginity is fresh and full, bringing with it a sense of ‘belonging to oneself’ in the midst of endless possibilities. Our old beliefs about virginity and service are being questioned here. Do these old rules and beliefs still serve a purpose or is it really a matter of consciousness and choice?
Tilo finds her place in Oakland/San Francisco, where she runs a Spice Emporium. People come to her with their problems and joys, and she listens to what the spices tell her is needed. And so she counsels and cooks and helps them get through their lives. She believes that each person has their own special spice. Her spice is sesame, the spice of nourishment, which is what she gives to all who come into her spice shop. And while she might not be happy, she is content. Until the day she looks out her window and sees Doug, an American architect, working outside her shop.
Giorgio Di Iorio
Giorgio Di Iorio
Something in his spirit calls to her because the spices pick up on it. The fiery red chilies in her shop speak to her through their fierce vibrations. This happens before Tilo even sees Doug – a sure indication that they are meant to meet and interact and hopefully figure out the reason they have been brought together. Red, a primary color, is the color of blood, hot chili peppers and roses; these beautiful chilies symbolize the energies of attraction, passion and love, anger and energy. All those desires are sizzling in the air around Tilo and the chilies manifest that energy not by talking with her but by dancing!
But she’s afraid, because she’s never been in love before. And needless to say, it’s forbidden to a Mistress of Spices! Tilo’s test is upon her. Her overwhelming feelings come up against the ‘rules’; rules that say that if they are broken, she will pay the supreme price – loss of her connection to the spices. New instincts arise in her and her test is to understand them and integrate them into her life.
First she tries to ignore the attraction, but its energy begins to flow out into her interactions with the rest of her customers. She flows with a sense of service, love of Doug transformed into love for all. This attraction is a crossroads in her life’s journey. She must test her beliefs against her own instincts and desires. So first she pours the energy into her work, thinking it will dispel the attraction. In truth, Tilo is caught up in the experience and the spices know it.
Once again, the chilies sound the alarm. Are they the cause of Doug crashing his motorcycle outside her shop? If it’s a test, she can’t help herself – she calls him into the shop so she can bandage his hand. When she touches him, she sees him making love with another woman. This image sparks her desire, and soon Tilo is filled with confusion; she can’t find the right spice to serve his needs because her own emotions are now involved. She refuses to admit that the chili is his spice when she looks for his spice. The spices speak to her but her own mis-reading of what she saw in him keeps her from listening to them. She is the one who shuts down on the spices, refusing the truth.
Frantically searching for his spice, she finally choses Holy Basil, a spice for remembrance, hoping that he’ll remember her and come back to see her. But he doesn’t, at least not right away. Tilo wanders through her days, lost in desire, until desire burns away and she remembers her service.
As she worries about repressing her feelings, Tilo gets more and more confused about what her people need, until it seems that the spices no longer talk to her. Forbidden desire clouds her judgment - she longs for love she’s been told she can’t have. We all know how that feels, trying to deny our feelings because of the rules. Rules that should only guide our steps not control them. Tilo is coming to a crisis point. Will she give into her desires or turn her back on them so she can continue to serve her people? Or will she find the third way, a new way that contains both the opposites yet transcends them?
Determined to forget Doug, Tilo works to regain her equilibrium so she can communicate with the spices again. And just as she once again achieves it, her tests continue. Doug returns to her shop and tells her that the spice she gave him made him remember something important he’d forgotten. The lesson Tilo is learning is not to have expectations about how the spices will accomplish their healing. A good lesson for us as well!
Doug remembered the first time his mother took him to the Indian reservation to see his great-grandfather. His beautiful mother had never revealed their Native background to him because she was fleeing from it. This grandfather was some kind of medicine man, and he wanted to give Doug the choice of learning about the ancient ways. But his mother refused to let him learn. He never forgave her and left home as soon as he could, never speaking to her again. But he forgot he had a choice – he forgot his heritage until Tilo gave him the spice.
Tilo’s service to him was this remembering. She put him in touch with a rejected, but important part of himself. She gave him back his choices. But in giving him those choices, she also opened herself to doubting the rules imposed by First Mother and the spices. Did she have choices too? I think her early prophetic experiences and their consequences made her afraid to make those choices. This is where sacrifice comes into the picture. She was willing to sacrifice her desires because of her guilt over her parents’ death and perhaps misuse of her power. And now those old choices are catching up with her. Is guilt a valid reason for self-sacrifice?
Tilo’s guilt builds when all her careful spice choices for her customers seem to go astray. Lovers break up, families aren’t talking, a young boy gets into bad friendships and her friend gets hurt. Tilo is sure that the spices are punishing her customers because she is falling in love with Doug. But she can’t stop, because she cares for him and wants him to heal. Virgo service is often very compassionate and caring.
When he finds out that his mother has died, Doug needs to see Tilo, sensing she will heal his pain. And so she does – how can she not try to heal him when he is remembering who he is! He tells her, “I didn’t have a clue of what I wanted ‘til I met you. I want to start over. I’m not rooted like you.” Tilo responds, “When the roots are too strong they can strangle you.” Both of them are trying to find their way to a new vision of life, one that has meaning and one that is free. They are teaching each other what they themselves have learned. And because of the exchange, both meaning and choice will grow and change.
Since she has never been out of the shop, Tilo finally accepts Doug’s invitation to go out with him, knowing she is stepping over a line. She leaves her shop, telling the spices, “I’m not leaving you spices. I’ll be back!” And she has fun! But before she returns, she discovers her friend Haroun has been beaten up and her shop has been vandalized. First Mother appears to her and tells her she has broken too many rules and must return to the Island. Is it really First Mother or her own guilt?
Tilo agrees to return, but she has also changed enough that she decides to have her one night with Doug before she goes. She also discovers that she has made a difference in her clients’ lives, for they are all changing in ways she couldn’t foresee. Despite her confusion, she got it right!
Tilo lets the chilies stir her desire. She leaves behind her old self to experience her new self just this one time. She covers her body with spices, finally liberating the beautiful woman inside the servant. And she dresses in red, no longer afraid of the passion within her. She has tamed her desires, so she can choose her desire.
First she goes to see Haroun, who is not only recovering but who has fallen in love. Then she goes to Doug’s home and lives her dream. After though, she leaves him to return to her store and to exile at the Island.
There she builds a magical fire of chili peppers that will take her back to the Island and the Mother. But when she tries to return, she is stopped by the spices. They will not abandon her, even if she doesn’t follow the old rules. They have chosen her and will allow her to choose both love and service.
Chili peppers are a great symbol for these lovers, not only because they initiated this test of passion but because they also symbolize fidelity, breaking old negative patterns and most importantly, Love!
Mistress of Spices is a marvelous story about the transformation of the archetype of Service. Do we really need to give up all the joys of life to serve our sisters and brothers? Do we really need to be ‘untouchable’ for our service to be pure and humble? Do we really need to give up love to serve the world?
Being of service is part of the human experience just as love and sexuality are. This new path of service is big enough to include our wholeness. Our Virgo journey wants to unite body, mind and spirit. When we do, our service will be inspired and true!
From the Bard’s Grove,