Nicola here. Yesterday, September 1st, was the official start of autumn, at least according to the meteorologists. Here in the UK the days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler and there is a misty haze lying over the fields on fine mornings, and dew on the grass. It's back to school, back to work, after the long hot days of summer. The harvest is being gathered in; it doesn't feel quite like full blown autumn yet but you can feel the change in the air.
For me this summer will always conjure memories of my two hot dogs, Angus and Ethel the guide dog puppy, lying on the cool stone floor as they slept away those sultry summer days. Often I found the heat made me sleepy too. The "dog days of summer" seems a perfect description for those weeks even if originally it didn't derive from dogs at all, except in an astronomical sense.
It was the ancient Egyptians who associated the rising of the summer sun with the rise of the star Sirius, the "dog" associated with the constellation Orion, the hunter. The Greeks and the Romans picked up on this lore, connecting the dog star with heat, fire and fever. In the Iliad, It was seen as a harbinger of evil. So strong was the tradition of the "dog days" that the term was used officially in Anglo Saxon times to measure the period from the middle of July to the end of August, and was referred to in the Book of Common Prayer.
In 1729 a book called The Husbandman's Practice recommended that men should "abstain all this time from women" during the Dog Days and "take heed of feeding violently." The book observed that the heat was so great that people would sweat at midnight as much as at midday and if you were injured you were likely to be doomed since you would get a fever and die. Cheerful stuff!
In Iceland they even had a "King of the Dog Days." Jorgen Jorgensen was a Danish adventurer who sailed to Iceland in 1809, declared the country to be independent of Denmark and set himself up as its ruler. He promised to reinstate the parliament, the Althing, and establish a liberal society in the spirit of those emerging in Europe and the Americas. However it all ended badly after barely two months when he was arrested by the British for breaking his parole as a prisoner of war. The dog days of his rule were over.
The idea of the malign summer days became deep rooted over the centuries and the association with dogs continued. The folklore was that in the summer dogs would go mad and snakes go blind, that eggs would be addled and liquids turn poisonous. You could be "dog-tired" or "sick as a dog" or even "go to the dogs." Intriguingly there is a suggestion that this relates to the dual way in which dogs were viewed, both as man's best friend but also as the bringer of disease. In the Greek and Roman worlds the dog was the bringer of health but also death, the restorative "hair of the dog" but also the "hound of hell." Hekate, the earth Mother goddess was responsible for diseases and their cure. her symbol was the dog and apparently she took the summer off, allowing fevers and infection to rule in her absence.
Now that autumn is here, the dogs are waking up again. Angus is enjoying racing around the fields and Ethel is continuing her Guide Dog training with trips on the train and the bus, puppy class, and visits to interesting places. All sorts of clubs and societies and courses are starting up again after the summer break. It's a busy time.
How have you spent the dog days of summer? And if you are in the southern hemisphere, what has the winter been like for you? If the summer brings us the dog days, which animal best represents the other seasons? Does the raccoon represent the scurrying days of autumn and the wolf the remoteness of winter? And what about Spring?