The Dog Days of Summer by Carol P. Christ


Sirius in the Sky

 

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity. –Homer, The Iliad

 

The dog days of summer are associated with the reappearance of the brightest star in the sky, the “dog star,” also known as Sirius, just before dawn from July 23 until August 23. This star heralds the days of the most intense summer heat. Though this is the time of the summer harvest in Mediterranean cultures, it a time of death. Energy wanes. The grasses have dried out on the hillsides, plants in gardens will die too unless they are watered. The healthy “sit out” the heat of the day with closed shutters, while those who are old or very ill often give up the ghost. They say that this is also a time when babies are conceived during long and languid afternoon naps.

The Greater Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone were celebrated at the end of this period, and the Greek Orthodox festival of the Dormition (Death) and Assumption (Rebirth) of the Panagia (the Virgin Mary) echoes an ancient rhythm.

This year I have spent most of the dog days in air-conditioned rooms, feeling little inclination to brave the heat of the day even for a refreshing swim in the sea. During this time, Judith Plaskow and I completed the final draft of the manuscript of Goddess and God in the World and submitted it to our publisher: a midsummer harvest!

To be truthful, I also spent many of the dog days days glued to my computer watching reruns of D.C. Banks and Blue Murder. These days of rest were good for the knee I had injured earlier in the summer, which now is almost healed. They must have been good for my spirit as well, for a friend who had not seen me since late spring told me that I looked refreshed and renewed.

In nature, the death days of late summer are followed by rebirth. At the very time when the sun is at its most intense, the days become shorter—first imperceptibly, and then quickly. While sun “stands still” for several months, setting at more or less the same time before and after the Summer Solstice, all of a sudden (or so it seems), the sun sets half an hour earlier. From then on, it sets several minutes earlier each day: a clear indication that fall is on its way. Before long, the rains come and the hillsides become green again.

beachttime in anaxos by Andrea Saris

For me, August 14, celebrated in Greece as the day of the Dormition of the Panagia, marks the beginning of the end of the intense heat of midsummer. Yesterday, on this day, with some trepidation, I packed my dogs into a hot car and headed for the sea. Our favorite tavern was empty and a light breeze coming from the sea tempered the heat. A friend arrived unexpectedly, and—joined by my intrepid miniature schnauzer—we enjoyed a swim so refreshing we didn’t come out of the water until our fingers became wrinkled. Just before sunset my friend and I met again to ascend the stairs to the shrine Church of the Panagia on the Rock to light candles for Rebirth and Renewal, ending our day with dinner by the sea.

As I write the next morning, I feel poised on the edge of rebirth and regeneration. I don’t yet have new ideas in my mind, nor do I have the fullness of energy I know will continue to return as the heat wanes. I look forward to the coming of fall and await new green shoots of inspiration in my life and my work.

carol mitzi sarah

Carol P. Christ leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter).  Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and forthcoming in 2016 from Fortress Press, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Explore Carol’s writing. Photo of Carol by Shanti Jones. Photos of beach at Anaxos by Andrea Sarris.

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Categories: Feminism and Religion, General, Goddess, Goddess Movement

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12 replies

  1. Beautiful post, Carol! I always wondered where the “dog days” metaphor came from. Enjoy your time in the sea!

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  2. Thanks Carol, great to see you again with those wonderful dogs in your arms!!

    The “dog days of summer,” as connected to Sirius makes sense I guess, but I usually remember the panting of dogs, in the summer heat, as the image that comes to mind at this time. Also dogs are famous for, and thus are symbols of unconditional love. In NYC, during the extreme heat, there is a custom which always touches my heart, and which I may have mentioned before, where small grocery stores and clothing shops, etc., place deep, metal, drinking bowls of water on the sidewalks, outside their doors, so that the dog walkers can allow their panting pets to drink from them. Hooray!

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    • Many stores here also put out bowls of water for our dogs, Sarah, and I discovered in one of our parks, a doggie water fountain! I turn on the tap and a cement bowl on the ground fills with water. It drains slowly so the water doesn’t get stale!

      It all feels like renewal, especially in the kindness people show. I love this post Carol. Our climate is changing and getting dry and hot in an area that was rain forest when I came in 1970. I’ve spent a lot of days being thankful for, and hiding out in, my basement suite and the coolness. And soon, new things will be rising up, and hopefully a new Federal Gov’t in Canada. But most of all, new growth within myself.

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  3. A lovely weaving of late summer turning to early autumn – of heat and sun melting into growing darkness and of Panagia merging into Persephone with the bright morning dog star heralding this special time. Thank you Karolina for so perfectly connecting the forces of earth and sky!

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  4. I so enjoy reading your post. We are of the same mindset and after reading this last post I have come to realize that I am not alone in feeling the heat. As I look at my garden I see how right you are about the this being a time of passing. I believe my garden as gone ahead. I too shut myself in during the day only to arise very early before the heat comes my way. I use to say this was a carry over from a pass life not liking the heat. I would say I was burned at the stake in a previous life maybe I was , maybe not, but I wanted to thank you for reminding me that I am not alone in feeling lazy and non productive during this time. In the North we wait so long to have warm weather and now when it comes I run and hide inside. I am not made for heat and humidity and so life goes on.. Thanks again I do enjoy reading your point of view.

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  5. I have always felt that the fall was the true beginning of a new year. I always tied this feeling to the change in the weather. I remember when I had a beach house that the weather would change drastically (where I live we get hurricanes and Noreasters at the end of August). It always felt like the door to summer was slamming shut and saying go home and get back to work. Your explanation of the religious overtones to this time of the year has added another dimension to my understanding of the autumn.

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  6. Beautiful interweaving of the embodied and the cosmic. Thank you!

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  7. Enjoyed – posting on my Facebook page. Thank you.

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  8. Lovely post. I can still remember my mother complaining about the dog days of summer. It was just (in Cole Porter’s words) “too damn hot.” In Ferguson, Missouri, in those olden days, there was so little traffic that the neighbor’s big, brown dog could sleep right in the middle of Chambers Road, a mile or so from West Florissant Avenue (where Michael Brown was shot last year). Now I live in a Mediterranean climate in the Los Angeles Basin, and we’ve had a really hot few days. My Maine coon cats have discovered the air conditioner. They lie on the table right in front of it. I think we’re all waiting for a rebirth.

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  9. So beautiful! And thanks for reminding us that Autumn is a time of beginning and refreshment!

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  10. Lovely post, Carol. It’s so wonderful when our personal stories resonate with the stories of the nature that surrounds us, like the summer harvest of your new book. If we’re attentive it’s often that way.

    The dog days of summer last quite a bit longer in the middle of the North American continent than in your Mediterranean climate in Greece. The renewal — or in our case, the respite from the heat — will come in September. Here the days become shorter, but it takes quite a while for the daily temperatures to reflect this change. Right now it’s really HOT in Wisconsin, and during the last few days I decided to enjoy it (which I sometimes don’t, not really liking hot weather). It’s been in the low 90s, so I dressed lightly and sat out under a big umbrella doing my work outside. As Joyce wrote (above), we in the North wait so long for warm weather. But then often we hide in our air-conditioned houses when it comes. I decided to buck that trend, and I’ve been really happy as a result. Sunshine gives us more than vitamin D, it seems.

    I find the responses to this post fascinating, because they reflect the climatic differences of the women who wrote: Hot, hot weather in NYC, so there are water bowls for dogs; the garden beginning to die and hiding from the heat and humidity that Joyce describes; the Noreasters (in the Northeast of the US?) that come at the end of August in Haddon’s comment; and Barbara’s Missouri dog lying right out in the middle of the street, because no one was out in her childhood Ferguson. It reminds me of Starhawk’s admonition in the 1980s that we should all observe our experience of nature and — in her case — name the full moons accordingly. I haven’t really named the moons, but I’ve been very observant of how Lady Wisconsin shapes my experience ever since.

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