Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy Dog Days – Summer is almost upon us. I have never been a Summer person – I love the cool weather (one of the reasons I fled North to Maine), tend to be a bug magnet, and I’m a private person who doesn’t enjoy sharing my lakefront retreat with my neighbors and their Summer guests. But June (truly still late Spring in Maine, which lasts until at least mid-July most years), and especially the Solstice, now holds a special meaning for me. I’ll celebrate my third wedding anniversary on June 18, and the anniversary of our Handfasting on the Solstice.
I can hear the murmurs in the back from the non-pagans who are reading along – what the heck is a Handfasting? And why do we describe Summer as the “Dog Days” anyway?
When I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, I used to imagine it was because dogs got really hot in the summertime, and I pictured them on their backs, exhausted, as their tongues lolled from their mouths and they lay there, panting and practically comatose. We’ve all seen dogs like that. And probably friends and family the same way. I remember one day when I was pregnant with #2 kid (who just celebrated her 29th birthday) and it was 92 degrees. All I could do was put #1 kid down for a nap and lie on the bed, naked, with a fan blowing on me and groaning. Air conditioning is impractical in many Maine houses. Though if the climate continues its upward spiral it may become mandatory, nonetheless.
Anyway, Dog Days have nothing to do with hot dogs (though who doesn’t like a snappy red Jordan’s while camping out in the Summer? Don’t all raise your hands at once..). The dog days or dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer; roughly July 3 – August 11. They were historically the period following the rising of the star system Sirius in conjunction with the sun, which Greek and Roman astrology connected (logically) with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The nickname goes back to ancient Egypt and Greece. Sirius is called the Dog Star because it’s the largest and brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (“Big Dog”), which symbolically represents one of the two hunting dogs (along with Canis Minor or “Small Dog”) that follow Orion as he travels across the sky. Sirius is often referred to as the “Rainbow Star” by the astronomy set, because, as shown here in this spectacular 2017 photo taken by Amanda Cross of the U.K., even though we perceive it as blue, it’s often photographed exhibiting a constantly changing spectrum, as the atmosphere splits the light from the star.
Yes, I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley. (Sorry)
Interesting story of how Orion and his dogs ended up in the night sky (where they’re usually seen in the winter in the Northern Hemisphere): Orion was a great hunter, but the Gods don’t like braggarts. When he boasted that he could hunt and kill any animal on Earth, Gaia sent a giant scorpion to defeat him. His arrows couldn’t penetrate the scorpion’s hard carapace, and he jumped into the sea to escape it. There Apollo tricked his sister Artemis (also a strong hunter) into killing him. When she realized what she had done, she placed him (and his loyal and faithful hunting dogs) into the Winter night sky in remembrance. And that scorpion? Put into the night sky in the Summer, so that the two will always remain separated to avoid unpleasantness between them. As someone whose sun sign is in Scorpio, I have always felt a special affinity with this story.
So, Summer is the beginning of the Dog Days, when Sirius rises along with the sun. And the Solstice (June 20 or 21, depending on the year), the midpoint of the year, marks the beginning of Summer. It also marks the high point of the solar year, when the sun ends its period of “waxing” into our lives – making an appearance for longer and longer days – and begins to “wane” – when the days become shorter and the nights longer. It’s the day that some witches see as the apex, the culmination of the building of the sun’s power, followed by a slow wind-down to slumber at the Winter Solstice. Many of us choose the Solstice as the day to celebrate abundance and joy, to draw in happiness much as we use the full moon (a similar, monthly peak waxing of the emotional moon) to perform spells of building and drawing what we want to us. Although Ricardo and I chose to be married in a civil ceremony on June 18, a Saturday on which our friends could join us, we chose the following Monday, the Solstice that year, to join together Spiritually. This was our Handfasting ceremony. Lucky for us, it was also the evening of the full moon, so our Yin and Yang energies were similarly at their peak. Just like our love and connection!
Similarly to a wedding, a Handfasting is a traditional ceremony during which a commitment is spoken between two people in the presence of witnesses. In some cases, the witnesses may simply be the person who performs the ceremony and the Spirits who are always by our sides, and the Spirits of the earth, sky, water and fire. A circle is cast to the four directions, to the earth and to the sky. Anyone with benevolent intentions and positive wishes for the couple is invited to witness and join in the ceremony. The couple may each have words to impart to one another, and the celebrant may have some loving words of hope and joy to encourage the couple to appreciate their union. The culmination of the ceremony is a literal handfasting, during which the couple’s hands are tied to one another with a rope or other binding as a symbol that they are joined together in this life and all lives to come. As always, our ceremony was non-traditional, and we each made promises to one another while our wonderful priestess friend tied us to one another with many bindings hung with symbols and charms, with each ribbon and rope a symbol of a different aspect of our lives that we wanted to share together. Although our physical entourage was sparse (most of our friends and family were unable to make it on a Monday evening), the Spiritual presence was overflowing and awe-some. Traditionally, the Handfasting is repeated a year and a day later, to confirm and finalize the commitment. Our second Handfasting also coincidentally (or not!) fell on the Solstice the following year, and was well-attended by our wonderful friends and family members, and just as beautiful.
June is a time of many new beginnings – weddings (and a few Handfastings), graduations, the Dog Days of warm weather to come – and, ironically, the beginning of the end of the sun’s journey and slow descent into Winter’s sleep. May this June be a time of warmth and joy for you and yours.
And, to my Twin Flame – I love you, and thanks for becoming a part of our lives.
PS – GO BRUINS!!!