Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 1, number 9
June 30, 2003, second day of the Lotus Moon
- Living in Season: Dog Days
- In My Library: Books on Stars
- Lammas Packet Available!
- Coming Soon: Flower of the Month!
- Subscribe - Unsubscribe
Welcome to my semi-monthly newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. Please forward this newsletter if you enjoy it.
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Summer Solstice Update
Thanks to the two readers who sent me loving descriptions of happy hours spent at Caprilands, the herb garden created by Adelma Grenier Simmons, who I mentioned in the last newsletter. Heres the link if you'd like to experience it as well:
I'm happy to report that I made it to Mount St. Helen's for the pilgrimage I've been promising to do for the past five years.
The summer solstice wine tasting I attended was great fun. We burned dried rose petals and my Christmas tree in a bonfire and toasted our accomplishments with Limoncello, a delightfully sunny lemon liqueur my friends brought back from a recent trip to Italy. I believe Limoncello will become a part of my summer solstice celebration for years to come.
However you celebrated the Summer Solstice, I hope it was marvelous!
Living in Season: Dog Days
You can read all about the Dog Days in my calendar on July 2nd (yes, the July calendar is posted!) although scholars disagree on exactly what date they begin, offering dates as early as July 4th and as late as August 18 (when the sun enters Leo). So many dates but all linked to one thing: the heliacal rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.
Sirius is the dog tag around the neck of the dog depicted in the constellation Canis Major, which leaps up to the left of Orion the Huntsman (some say he is jumping up at the Hare at Orion's feet). You can find Sirius by following the line made by the three stars in Orion's belt, down and to the left. If you're a savvy star-watcher (I'm not), you're now saying "but Orion is only visible in winter!" That's true, the Egyptians were observing its heliacal rise when it rises with the sun.
According to Allen, this happened at the summer solstice and the same time as the rising of the Nile waters. The Dog Star was depicted in Egyptian temples, often under the name of Isis, sometimes called Isis Sothis. For the Egyptians, the appearance of Sirius was a blessing. But the Greeks viewed its appearance with foreboding, for it was accompanied by searing (from the same root as Sirius) heat that parched the crops, drove dogs mad and made men weak.
Arthur Waskow describes this period most beautifully in his opening paragraph on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish festival which occurs at the height of summer's heat (Aug 7 this year):
It is the heart of summer: hot as a furnace, dry as the tomb. A shower, a breeze are forgotten memories. The earth is panting in exhaustion almost as if the birthing of her harvest has gone awry, as if the birth-pangs will go on forever but there will be no fruit. And people are exhausted, too; their freshness and fertility, warmed and eenewed by the sun of spring, has wilted as the sun grew still hotter. We feel burnt out. The whole world is being put to the torch.
The Greeks considered this period especially dangerous for men. Since men were hot and dry, they were easily dessicated by the heat of summer, while women, naturally cold and wet, were likely to be more lascivious and thus dangerous to their weakened men.
When I first started researching the Dog Days, I was somewhat scornful of this notion. It seemed ridiculous, not to mention misogynistic. But when I stopped to consider the place of this period in the cycle of the seasons, I realized that there might be good reason to acknowledge and honor burn out.
Normally we think of being burnt out as bad, something that needs to be corrected. But burn-out is actually part of the natural balance, putting an end to a period of intense work, ceaseless giving to others or expanding achievement. It's that hollow feeling you get when you've accomplished a big project. It's the deep exhaustion that overtakes you when you think about opening your email.
Perhaps, as Waskow suggests, the Dog Days provide a chance to examine where we are burnt out, where we need to regroup and gather our resources, and an opportunity to nurture ourselves by withdrawing from too much activity rather than pushing forward.
Lately I've been making lists of everything I have to do each day and the very absurdity of these lists (sometimes 50 items long) might be seen as a paean to burn-out. Maybe I should light a bonfire with these lists. Consider where you are burnt-out. What tasks, projects or commitments have taken all of your strength? How might you symbolize that depletion with a ritual?
Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy, Beacon Press 1982
In the Library: Star Books
Because I live in a big city (Seattle), I don't see many starsthe city lights are just too bright. Thus, my star knowledge tends to be intellectual rather than practical, astrological rather than astronomical. I am sure some readers can refer me to better resources than those I currently consult. Still I'll let you know about the two I used to look up infromation on Sirius for the article above.
Star Names: Their Lore & Meaning by Richard Hinckley Allen, Dover 1963
I inherited this book from my mentor, Helen Farias, and thus it is full of her wonderful scribbled notes. Allen has compiled a comprehensive list of every star and its myths and names. It's peppered with quotes and covers the names of the stars in many cultures and traditions. For instance, Sirius is the Eagle to native Australians, the Deer-slayer in Sanskrit and the Arrow in Persian.
Find the Constellations by H A Rey, Houghton Mifflin 1976
Yes this is a children's book illustrated by the artist who did Curious George but it's my favorite reference. Great star maps and clear explanations about how one can discern the shape of a dog in a cluster of faint dots in the night sky.
While researching this newsletter I came across these two great web links:
Sky Watchers Diary, written by David Batch for the Abrams Observatory, a wonderful day by day account of what to look for in the night sky:
The starlore section of Mything Links, the amazing compendium of folklore and mythology compiled by Kathleen Jenks:
It's not too soon to order your Lammas packet if you want ideas for celebrating this most obscure of the seasonal holidays. This packet contains directions for making wheat weavings and lavender wands, a picture quiz to help you identify wild grains, recipes for mead and methlegin, my favorite rosemary bread recipe, instructions on how to cultivate natural yeast, the words to Brigg Fair, Sir John Barleycorn and the Ripe & Bearded Barley and much more.
To order go to our Store. $9 +$2 shipping for the print version, $7 for email.
Coming Soon! Flower of the Month
While researching flowers for this newsletter and my midsummer packet, I decided to add a new feature to the website: a flower of the month page, which will provide information on the folklore, mythology, natural history, medicinal uses and symbolism of the selected flower. Look for information on the flower of Julythe lotus or water lilyin mid-July. I'll let you know when the page is up!
Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2003.
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