By the time writing first appeared (around 3100 B.C.E.) ancient Egyptian life centered around no less than three calendars. The lunar calendar, the civil calendar, and the Sothic calendar. These calendars were based on the celestial patterns of the moon, the sun, and the star Sirius, respectively.
The Lunar Calendar
The moon with its regular cycle became the oldest time keeper. Coinciding with a woman’s menstrual cycles, it was the perfect instrument to keep track of her and the animal’s fertile times and to record the patterns of life. No wonder the goddesses Isis and Hathor were associated with the moon.
The Solar Calendar
The civil calendars were solar based and used the movement of the sun across the sky to signal the approaching seasons. When roaming the countryside, chasing game, and gathering food gave way to the practice of agriculture, it became more important for our ancestors to master the signs of the growing seasons than to follow animal migration patterns.
Early agriculturists began to look up at the sky in an effort to learn when to prepare the ground, when to plant, and when to reap. Unlike lunar calendars, solar calendars marked the solstices (the longest and shortest days of the year), as well as the equinoxes (when the days and nights were of equal length).
In addition, seasonal changes that affected the growing season were predicted by observing the rise of certain constellations, particularly those constellations that followed the ecliptic (the apparent path of the sun through the heavens). Thus, the appearance of the twelve zodiacal constellations formed an important part of the civil and solar calendar.
Correcting The Inconsistencies
Because the moon cycles didn’t exactly match the sun cycles, five intercalary days, called Epagomenal Days, were eventually added to the calendar year. In Egypt those five days honored the births of the great neters (Supreme Deities) Osiris, Horus, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys. Even after the Epagomenal Days were added to the solar calendar, it was still inexact because the true year is actually a few hours longer than 365 days.
To determine exactly when the seasons would change and when to sow or harvest, the Egyptians began to track and observe all the heavenly bodies, including the moon, the sun, the constellations, and the brightest, most visible stars. By watching the sky over the years, people began to notice that just before dawn near the summer solstice, the rising of the Dog Star Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens.
The rising of this star was a better, more reliable predictor of the coming of the flood season than the solar calendar alone. When the star appeared, the flood waters flowing from the southern mountains and highlands appeared soon after. By observing Sirius, preparations for planting and sowing could be made well in advance. In addition, the regularity of the rise of Sirius most closely resembled the true length of the year.
The Sothic Calendar
The brilliant star Sirius, appearing in the constellation we know as Canis Major, was ancient Egypt’s most important star. The Egyptians called the star Sopdet and equated it with Isis, the powerful goddess of regeneration.
The Greeks called the star Sothis, later developing a so-called Sothic calendar that kept even more regular track of the years and the seasons, being most nearly 365.25 days. Even then the calendar still wasn’t perfect.Incremental changes were occurring due to the rotation of the earth, the tilt of the earth, and the procession of the equinoxes.
The Civil Calendar
By divine decree laid down in the mists of prehistory, the Egyptian priest-king swore never to alter the civil calendar, even though its solar-basted calculations were not keeping up with the changing seasons. The reason for this seemingly irrational adherence lay in the fact that the year had been divinely established by the god of wisdom and time, Thoth.
Thoth’s laws were the laws of the gods, and divine laws were considered unalterable. The real reason may have been that astrologer priests were tracking an even larger arc of time – a procession not of the sun and moon, but of the equinoxes – that resulted in a kind of calendar of the ages.
When the Greeks arrived in Egypt, however, they saw little value in maintaining such a cosmic calendar when the civil calendar was so woefully out of alignment. Once they established themselves as kings, the Ptolemaic Greeks believed that the time had come to alter Thoth’s divine law. They coerced the priests into adding an extra day every four years to even out the true calendar. The result created the leap year, which we use even to this day.
How The Egyptian Calendar Works
At first Egypt’s calendar seems hard to understand because we are conditioned to our own notions of month and season derived from the Romans. Really, the ancient Egyptian calendar is fairly simple. The year has twelve months, the months have three weeks, and each week has ten days. This represented the basic system of the lunar year.
Tacked on to the end of these 360 days were the five Epagomenal Days, added to create the 365 days of the solar year. The Epagomenal Days signaled the end of the year and were followed by the new year’s celebration, just as New Year’s Day follows New Year’s Eve in our calendar. But, whereas we begin counting in the winter month of January, the ancient Egyptians began counting at the rise of the Dog Star Sirius, which occurs in the middle of our summer.
This system makes perfect sense because the new year signaled the beginning of a new agricultural cycle. When the Dog Star rose, the Nile flooded, and the parched earth was refertilized The sacred actions of the Nile River – its flooding, its retreat into its banks leaving fertile soil, and its eventual low flow creating drought conditions – determined not only the major festivals of the pharaoh and his people,but the three seasons of the year.
The Three Seasons
The ancient Egyptians did not celebrate four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter as we do. Rather, their three seasons were uniquely timed to the particular agricultural requirements in their geographic region. The three seasons were:
- Ahket – Innundation
Also called the Red Season, it extended from mid July to mid November, when most of the river valley and Delta were underwater.
- Pert – Sowing
Also called the Black Season, it extended from mid November to mid March, the equivalent to our spring, which the Egyptians called the Coming Forth.
- Shemu – Harvest
Also called the White Season, it extended from mid March to mid July when crops were harvested. By season’s end, everything was dry and the fields were scorched.
From: Feasts of Light
The phrase “Dog Days” refers to the hottest days of summer. The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days: the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius.
The rising of Sirius does not actually affect the weather (some of our hottest and most humid days occur after August 11), but for the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the season of the Nile’s flooding so they used the star as a “watchdog” for that event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time.
More about the Dog Days can be found here: Dog Days of Summer
Although Midsummer Day occurs at the summer solstice, or what we think of as the beginning of summer, to the farmer it is the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvesting, and an occasion for celebration.
The most common other names for this holiday are the Summer Solstice or Midsummer, and it celebrates the arrival of Summer, when the hours of daylight are longest. The Sun is now at the highest point before beginning its slide into darkness.
Celebrating Midsummer Day
Although it’s also the feast day of St. John the Baptist, it features pagan traditions such as bonfires, fire walking, and a carnival atmosphere, all of which took place on Midsummer Eve. Certainly, it’s a night of magic and soothsaying as well, for as Washington Irving said, this is a time “when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad.” After Midsummer Day, the days shorten.
In Sweden and Norway at the Solstice, people made wheels of fortune. Some of the wheels were wrapped in straw, set on fire, and rolled down hill. Other wheels were decorated and kept. These were used in two ways: One, the wheel was rolled away from a person to take away misfortunes; two, it was rolled toward a person to bring all kinds of good fortune.
Variations on the Midsummer celebrations:
People around the world have observed spiritual and religious seasonal days of celebration during the month of June. Most have been religious holy days which are linked in some way to the summer solstice.
- Scottish Pecti-Witans celebrate Feill-Sheathain on July 5th.
- In the Italian tradition of Aridian Strega, this Sabbat (Strega Witches call them Treguendas rather than Sabbats) is known as Summer Fest – La Festa dell’Estate.
- Scandinavians celebrate this holiday at a later date and call it Thing-Tide.
- In England, June 21st is “The Day of Cerridwen and Her Cauldron”.
- In Ireland, this day is dedicated to the faery goddess Aine of Knockaine.
- June 21st is “The Day of the Green Man” in Northern Europe.
In Lithuanian tradition, the dew on Midsummer Day was said to make young girls beautiful and old people look younger. It was also thought that walking barefoot in the dew would keep one’s skin from getting chapped.
It was customary to honor all men named John on this day by fixing wreaths of oak leaves around their doors. This is usually done in secret, and John must guess who did it or catch the person in the act, in which case he must give the person a treat.
Midsummer Celebrations in Ancient Times:
The solstice itself has remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since Neolithic times. The concentration of the observance is not on the day as we reckon it, commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the pre-Christian beginning of the day, which falls on the previous eve. Other names for this time in the Wheel of the Year include:
- Alban Heruin (Caledonii or the Druids)
- Alban Hefin (Anglo-Saxon Tradition)
- Sun Blessing, Gathering Day (Welsh)
- Whit Sunday, Whitsuntide (Old English)
- Vestalia (Ancient Roman)
- Feast of Epona (Ancient Gaulish)
- All-Couple’s Day (Greek)
Ancient Celts: Druids, the priestly/professional/diplomatic corps in Celtic countries, celebrated Alban Heruin (“Light of the Shore”). It was midway between the spring Equinox (Alban Eiler; “Light of the Earth”) and the fall Equinox (Alban Elfed; “Light of the Water”). “This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year…” The days following Alban Heruin form the waning part of the year because the days become shorter.
Ancient China: Their summer solstice ceremony celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.
Ancient Egypt:In Ancient Egypt, summer solstice was the most important day of the year. The sun was at its highest and the Nile River was beginning to rise. Special ceremonies were held to honor the Goddess Isis. Egyptians believed that Isis was mourning for her dead husband, Osiris, and that her tears made the Nile rise and well over. Accurately predicting the floods was of such vital importance that the appearance of Sirius, which occurs around the time of the summer solstice, was recognized as the beginning of the Egyptian New Year.
Ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.
Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. “It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames…” It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire’s power, “…maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished.” Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun’s energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest.
Ancient Rome: The festival of Vestalia lasted from June 7 to June 15. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.
Ancient Sweden: A Midsummer tree was set up and decorated in each town. The villagers danced around it. Women and girls would customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual, intended to bring rain for the crops.
Information collected from various sources
“These are strange and breathless days,
the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”
The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as sunrise, which is no longer true, owing to procession of the equinoxes.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional period of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3rd and ending August 11th, coinciding with the ancient heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. These are the days of the year with the least rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere.
These canicular days get their name from the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. At this time of the year Sirius disappears into the Sun’s glow. Both heavenly bodies are in conjunction, rising and setting at around the same time. Ancient stargazers thought that the heat from Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens, combined with the heat of the Sun produced the hottest weather of the year! Even though Sirius is hotter than our Sun it is much too far away to warm our planet.
In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days ran from July 24th through August 24th, or, alternatively, from July 23 through August 23rd. The period was reckoned as extending from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction of Sirius (the dog star) and the sun.
The Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather. In many European cultures (German, French, Italian) this period is still said to be the time of the Dog Days.
Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time:
“Dog Days bright and clear indicate a happy year.
But when accompanied by rain, for better times our hopes are vain.”
The ancient Egyptians saw Sirius as a giver of life for it always reappeared at the time of the annual flooding of the Nile. When the star sank in the west and disappeared from the night sky, it remained hidden for 70 days before emerging in the east in the morning. This was viewed as a time of death and rebirth. The Egyptians copied this period in their funeral ceremonies. When a king died, his body was mummified, then interred in a pyramid or other tomb. By custom, burial took place 70 days after death, when the king was “reborn” in the stars.
Sirius was astronomically the foundation of their entire religious system. It was the embodiment of Isis, sister and consort of the god Osiris, who appeared in the sky as Orion. This is the period of time Sirius disappears from the sky — sequenced in the myth when Isis is hiding until the birth of her son, Horus — eventually the star reappears after Horus is born — resurrection.
On the first day of Sirius’ reappearance the ancient Egyptians expected an abundant harvest, if the star appeared bright and clear. If Sirius appeared dull and red, a poor harvest would result.
The Dog Star, Sirius is also known as our Spiritual Sun, esoterically the cosmic heart of our physical Sun. During the Dog Days when Sirius disappears into the Sun’s glowing light, it could be said that our physical Sun is embracing our Spiritual Sun! After such a celestial union a rebirth or resurrection can be expected.
Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813:
“the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”
The 1552 edition of the The Book of Common Prayer, way the “Dog Daies” begin July 6th and end August 17th. This corresponds very closely to the lectionary of the 1611 edition of the King James Bible (also called the Authorized version of the Bible) which indicates the Dog Days beginning on July 6th and ending on September 5th.
A recent reprint of the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer contains no reference to the Dog Days. In the Southern Hemisphere, they typically occur in January and February, in the midst of the austral summer.
Honoring the Dog Days
- Themes: Fertility; Destiny; Time
- Symbols: Stars; Dogs
- Presiding Goddess: Sopdet
The reigning Egyptian Queen of the Constellations, Sopdet lies in Sirius, guiding the heavens and thereby human destiny. Sopdet is the foundation around which the Egyptian calendar system revolved, her star’s appearance heralding the beginning of the fertile season. Some scholars believe that the Star card of the tarot is fashioned after this goddess and her attributes.
Note: The dog days and the dog star Sirius are also associated with the Egyptian Goddess Hathor..
To Do Today:
The long, hot days of summer are known as “dog days” because they coincide with the rising of the dog star, Sirius. In ancient Egypt this was a welcome time as the Nile rose, bringing enriching water to the land. So, go outside at dawn, and welcome the Sun. Make an offering of water, and whisper a wish to Sopdet suited to her attributes and your needs. For example, if you need to be more timely or meet a deadline, she’s the perfect goddess to keep things on track.
If you’re curious about your destiny, watch the eastern region of the sky in the evening and see if any shooting stars appear. If so, this is a message from Sopdet. A star moving on your right side is a positive omen/ better days ahead. Those on the left indicate a need for caution, and those straight ahead mean things will continue on an even keel for now.
Nonetheless, seeing any shooting star means Sopdet has received your wish.