The Star of Summer

Celebrating the dog days

While our brothers and sisters in the southern hemisphere are experiencing the middle of winter, those of us here in the northern hemisphere are approaching the “dog days” of summer. This is a period between early July on into the first days of September, when summer is at its hottest—and from the record-breaking temperatures we’re seeing, it’s getting noticeably hotter. You might think that the term “dog days” refers to a dog that is suffering from the heat of this period, tongue hanging out, panting away, seeking to dissipate the heat of his body with scarcely any relief.

Actually, the term refers to the constellation Canis Major, meaning the “greater dog.” It’s during this period that you can begin to see this constellation rising in the predawn sky following the constellation Orion, the warrior, as he begins his annual voyage across the heavens. Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and in the constellation Canis Major, is the leader of the pack. Often referred to as the Dog Star, Sirius beckons the other stars to follow, tracing the same trajectory as Orion, both constellations moving to a celestial rhythm elegantly coordinated by the hand of the Creator as they move on their annual march across the sky.

In addition, there are two holidays that occur during the dog days of summer. They are Lammas and Lughnasad (pronounced LOO-na-sa), occurring on July 31/August 1. In my book Sacred Ceremony, I describe the meaning of these two quarter days holidays.

“Lammas means “loaf mass.” It’s a celebration of the bread made from the first grains to be harvested and signals the initiation of the harvest season. Lughnasad comes from the Irish God Lugh, who is both a Sun God and a God of Grain. His name means “Bright or Shining One.” His name and association with the harvest reflects the two strongest elements of this season. He loved games and competitive sports to keep up the physical strength and vitality of his followers, so the festivities in his honor included these kinds of activities.

“This also marks the death of Bel, the Corn King. During the festivals, corncakes were made in the shape of the Corn King’s body and consumed along with ale made from the first crop of corn. This was a ceremony to honor the King who gave his life so that the people could have food—an early Communion ritual.

“There are no secular holidays during this seasonal shift that we have in common, so the field is wide open as to how to honor and celebrate this holiday. It seems the main way to celebrate this seasonal marker is to take a vacation, which may be the remnants of this festival.
“Regardless, what’s called for is to celebrate the themes of the first harvest, coupled with the intensity of the sun’s light and heat. It’s a playful time, so a vacation during this season is congruent with the theme of ancient festivals. The key here is to get outdoors and be active, since we’re still enjoying the residual heat of summer, in spite of the barely discernible shorter days.”

It is the season of the harvest, and you can honor this season with some simple ceremonies. Here are some ideas, again from Sacred Ceremony:

“Bake some bread and break some bread, with friends and family. Although bread is generally available throughout the year, you can create a ceremony around the baking and the sharing of this bread. Bake it from scratch if you’re so inclined, or else you can purchase it pre-made, ready to bake. Either way, invite a few friends and family over, perhaps in the late afternoon when it cools down. Let the smell of bread offer its enticement to your guests. Once it’s done, set it out with great flair, and have available butter, honey, and jams, and make a feast of the fresh-baked bread. You can add any other elements to this ceremony but make fresh food the central piece.

“Ask your guests to bring fresh foods, such as organic fruits and salads, ones that preferably are grown locally and are in season. Include these along with fresh grains and nuts as part of the table. Let this fresh food feast be dedicated to the bounty of the Earth, the nourishment She provides for us all.

“An appropriate alternative is to have a picnic, one where you bring these items to share in a feast. Let the centerpiece be these representations of the early harvest, as this is truly the central theme of this holiday.

“You can include in the ceremony a ritual feeding of one another. Before the full meal takes place, each person takes some grapes, wedges of apple, or slices of fresh bread. You create the sacred circle, and the host explains the purpose of this part of the ceremony, that the joy in giving and receiving are the same. Sharing food is the most elemental and basic way of giving and receiving.

“The guests are then asked to close their eyes and imagine they haven’t eaten for a couple of days. As this idea sets in, the host turns to the person on their left and feeds them, slowly and deliberately. The task of the recipient is to receive very slowly and chew very slowly, savoring each bite with gratitude. The person who first received the food, then turns to the person on their left, and does the same. This proceeds around the circle until everyone has had a chance to experience it.”

These are some ways you can enjoy these holidays and perhaps even create your own ceremony as a way of acknowledging this season of the harvest. Be sure to periodically observe the night sky and watch as over the next few months Orion makes his way across the celestial dome followed closely by his loyal Dog Star and their companions forming Canis Major.

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