The origin and meaning of the Libra Symbol
Libra symbol is the scales. The sign of Libra is associated with balance, harmony, ethics, relationships and beauty. Interestingly, Libra is the only sign of the Zodiac not represented by a living creature, and from an esoteric perspective is said to be one of the most difficult signs to understand.
The symbology of the scales seems obvious: when we think of scales we think of weighing things in balance, judgement, and justice. This is part of the symbology but as we shall see, when we dive into the deeper, esoteric, meaning of Libra, there is much more to this sign than meets the eye.
Libra Symbol – The Scales
Libra symbol has been associated with scales from earliest times. In ancient Babylonia the name for Libra was Zibanitu – which literally meant ‘scales’. Indeed the Latin word Libra means scales, balance or level.
There is much confusion surrounding the symbology for the sign of Libra, that it might be helpful at this point to point out the distinction between signs and constellations.
A constellation is a pattern of stars. They were given names in ancient times such as Aquila, Scorpius, and Pegasus. There are at least 50 major constellations and many minor ones. They are widely distributed across the northern and southern night sky and have never been described in terms of a wide ‘band’ or belt. Constellations vary greatly in size.
In contrast, the Tropical Zodiac divides the ecliptic (the Sun’s apparent path around the Earth) into twelve 30º arcs known as signs, forming a wide band around the Earth. Although the twelve zodiac signs share the same names as some (not all) constellations, they do not correspond in size or location. The twelve signs of the zodiac are equal in size.
It is important to remember this when considering the myths of Virgo and Libra. For example one myth suggests that the woman in Virgo is the Greek Goddess Astraea, and that she holds the scales of Libra. Another suggests the claws of Scorpio are holding the scales of Libra. While it is interesting to contemplate what this symbolism might mean, it is also important to keep in mind that these myths are referring to the constellations, and not the zodiac signs of the same name.
This is important because the myth of the scales is often used to derive an interpretation of judgement and justice, which may be meaningful up to a point, but when we get to the deeper esoteric symbolism of Libra, the scales might mean something entirely different: that takes us beyond judgement and any worldly ideas of ‘justice’.
The scales of Libra are sometimes depicted tilted to the right and are not necessarily balanced. This could reflect Libra’s underlying spiritual path of continually turning toward that which is right, or in harmony (in other words that which is in right relationship with all that is).
Libra Symbol – Equanimity
The Sun enters Libra at Autumn equinox, one of the two occasions each year when the day and night are of equal length. For this reason the sign of Libra is associated with balance. However, from an esoteric perspective Libra not only invites us to restore balance in our daily lives but also to explore the deeper universal law of harmonics that is arrived at through right relationship.
“Harmony exists wherever there is right relationship. For example, in music there can be ‘consonant’ (congruent) sounds and dissonant (incongruent) sounds. Contrary to popular belief harmony doesn’t happen only when there are consonant sounds, but where there is a balance between consonant and dissonant sounds.”Soul Astrology
To understand how right relationship leads to harmony we can use the example of the musical scale. When notes are played randomly, we hear it as noise. We only hear music when there is some sort of order: in other words, when notes are played in right relationship to one another we hear rhythm, melody and music. Whatever field we are in, it is the relationship between the individual component parts that give a sense of harmony or beauty. Understanding the universal law of right relationship is one of the esoteric themes of Libra.
This leads to another Libra theme: that of choice. The art of choice: knowing when and where to place our attention, is a major theme in Libra. On a worldly level it leads to the study and application of ethics: where we learn the art and science of how to make better choices. On an esoteric, or spiritual, level the art of choosing where to place our attention moment by moment, is part of deeper yogic practices that can lead to full spiritual awakening.
One of the stages that yogis can experience through this process is known as equanimity or calm abiding. This is where the practitioner has fully developed the capacity to rest calmly in his own being, irrespective of what is happening around him. No longer tossed around by the constantly changing events of the outside world, they are able to remain at peace within themselves.
In Esoteric Astrology the Tibetan Master speaks of the ‘reverse wheel’ where disciples (yogis or devout spiritual practitioners) turn away from worldly affairs in order to dedicate their lives to achieving equanimity and eventually full spiritual awakening. For this reason, the Soul in Libra is often said to be in a ‘resting’ phase, as choice is made: to continue on the outer path of worldly pursuits, or to turn inwards and pursue the inner journey of awakening. It is said that, on a Soul level, Libra has a foot in both worlds: the material world and the spiritual, as this choice is made.
The theme of transition, passing from one state to another, is therefore also a Libra theme. In ancient Egypt the sign of Libra was associated with the setting of the sun, death, and the beginning of one’s journey through the underworld or bardo: the journey of the Soul between worlds (after physical death and before one’s next rebirth).
Libra – The Natural Descendant
In one’s horoscope birth is associated with the ascendant, and death is associated with the descendant. If we draw up a horoscope first sign of the zodiac Aries as the natural ascendant, then as Aries opposite sign, Libra is the natural descendant. This symbolizes the descent into the underworld and is the gateway for deeper experiences of death and transformation in Scorpio.
Libra and Choice
One of the major Libra themes is that of choice. We can learn much about the esoteric meaning of choice for Libra in The Labours of Hercules: An Astrological Interpretation by Alice Bailey. In Hercules’ seventh labour, which pertains to Libra, Hercules is challenged to capture a wild boar. On the way he meets a friend. They take a flagon of wine that doesn’t belong to them and get drunk. A fight breaks out in which Hercules ends up killing his two friends. He then continues on his mission, captures the wild boar, tames it, and steers the exhausted boar down the mountain by holding it’s back legs, laughing, and encouraging others to make fun of the suffering animal.
What can we learn from this story, and how does it relate Libra? Hercules quickly forgets his mission and is distracted by worldly activities. (stealing, drinking, fighting, killing). Here we see the Libra theme of choice between staying focused and being distracted by worldly pursuits. On a committed spiritual path, Libra reminds us that we must continuously choose spiritual practice over worldly distractions, until we are fully spiritually awakened.
Although he succeeds in his mission to capture a boar, he lacks compassion and is oblivious to the animal’s suffering. In addition, following his mission, his teacher says:
“Twice you have slain that which you should love. Learn why.”
What caused Hercules to behave like this? The answers to this question are found deep within the mysteries of Libra. Why do any of us give in to temptation and not always do that which is for the highest and best good of all? Hercules makes poor choices because he allows himself to be driven by old habits. Hercules is a warrior and a hero. He is trained to fight and kill. We can see in some of his other challenges, especially that of Virgo (Labour 6) that he often resorts to killing first, as a default solution. This is a difficult habit to break.
The reason Hercules was given this challenge in Libra was not only to capture the wild boar, which he did, but also to witness his own unenlightened behavior that comes from his past habits. In other words, it was an opportunity for him to begin to see his own karmic conditioning, that needs to change if he is to pursue a spiritual path to awakening.
The spiritual path of Libra teaches us all just how hard it is to stay focused on our spiritual path. It is not the objects of temptation themselves that are the problem, but our habits: our tendency to repeat old karmic patterns, that pull us off course and lead us away from making significant progress in our journey of spiritual awakening.
Libra Symbol – The Libra Glyph
The glyph for Libra is thought by some astrologers to be a rudimentary drawing of a pair of scales. It has also been pointed out that the modern Libra glyph is often depicted as the Ancient Greek letter Omega above a horizontal line. The horizontal line can represent the horizon while Omega, as the final letter of the Greek alphabet, is often associated with endings. The word Omega also literally means ‘great’, so the glyph for Libra could be implying that there is a ‘great ending’ of some kind. This would not simply be a reference to death, which is an everyday occurrence and in many spiritual and esoteric traditions is thought to lead to rebirth, but is more likely to hint at a ‘final’ end: the complete end of the cycle of death and rebirth, which happens at the time of full spiritual awakening (enlightenment).
One of the most commonly used Egyptian hieroglyphs for Libra depicts it as a picture of the Sun setting over the earth. As mentioned above this symbolizes the descent of the Soul into the underworld at death.
We can see in much of the Libra symbology that there is a continual theme of a choice between worldly life or a spiritual life, or of some kind of threshold between two worlds. One of the reasons why the deeper esoteric meaning of Libra can be difficult to understand is because for many hundreds of years, the esoteric scriptures were kept secret.
The Greek word eso means within, so esoteric teachings are there to guide us in exploring our inner world, our inner experience, so that we may realize the highest wisdom of enlightenment. They don’t make sense from the perspective of worldly life. They are not there to offer guidance in worldly activities. They are teachings that were originally only given to devout spiritual practitioners: mostly monks, nuns, disciples, and yogis. In other words, spiritual practitioners who had given up worldly concerns to dedicate themselves to spiritual practice until they achieved full spiritual awakening. To try and understand esoteric teachings from the perspective of our ordinary worldly life, is to take them out of context, and this is where misunderstandings can occur. This is why esoteric scriptures were kept secret for many hundreds of years.
When we look at words such as equanimity, the understanding and meaning shifts, depending on our level of consciousness or spiritual practice. We have an everyday understanding of equanimity, yet there is also an ultimate meaning that can only be understood from higher consciousness.
Libra Symbol – The Great End
As we have seen, the deepest esoteric meaning of Libra is ultimate equanimity. This can’t be understood from our everyday level of consciousness because our everyday consciousness experiences everything in terms of polarity: judging all experience as good or bad; right or wrong. The deepest understanding of equanimity arises when we are quite advanced in our spiritual practice to the point where we have fully transcended duality. At this point, when one is able to rest fully in equanimity, all worldly phenomena are experienced as ‘equal’ since it is clear that they do not have the power to disturb the natural state of calm abiding. Realizing this deepest spiritual truth is the spiritual path of Libra.
The purpose of any spiritual practice is to recognize our innate essence of joy, clarity, wisdom, peace and compassion but when we live in the polarity of our everyday mind we believe our happiness is dependent upon things outside of us, for example having a good day and not having a bad day. Breaking the habit of labeling all our experience as good or bad, and practicing mindfulness to return to the pure awareness within which the experience is happening, is an advanced spiritual practice that is designed to cut through the duality of our everyday mind and allow us to glimpse our true nature. This is the applied spiritual practice of equanimity.
The spiritual path of Libra includes the applied practice of equanimity, which eventually leads to the actual experience of ultimate equanimity, and the capacity to rest in our natural state. This spiritual practice eventually leads to enlightenment, which is the end of suffering. Enlightenment is said to end all suffering, because with it comes the end of the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara). The Libra symbol hints at this Great End – the end of all suffering.
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As a professional astrologer, her defining talent is bringing deep insight, clarity and simplicity to complex subjects - in particular Esoteric Astrology and the teachings of The Tibetan through the work of Alice Bailey.
Ruth has traveled extensively in the UK, Ireland, Spain, USA, Australia, Kenya, Egypt, India, Nepal and Tibet. She has lived in England, Scotland, Spain and the USA.
Ruth is author of:
Soul Astrology: How Your Rising Sign Reveals Your Soul Path and Life Purpose
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