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.
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 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.