Category Archives: Beautiful Legends

Dog days or the long hot days of summer

The dog days of summer

The Egyptian Goddess Sopdet

Dog days – July is the seventh month of the year and traditionally the beginning of the dog day season.

The month was named for Julius Caesar; it was the month of his birth. Before that it was called Quintilis. Quintilis is Latin for fifth – it was the fifth month in the earliest Roman calendar. That began with March – named for Mars, god of war. Quintilis was under the guardianship of the Romans’ supreme deity Jupiter. Nothing related to Jupiter was likely to be sweet and gentle. For them he was the god of the sky and thunder, as well as being king of the gods.

July is on average the warmest month in most of the Northern Hemisphere and the coldest month in much of the Southern. And in the Northern Hemisphere, dog days are considered to begin in early July. The dog days are usually hot and sultry.

A star, a goddess and a tale

Historically the period follows the heliacal rising of the star Sirius, the Dog Star. Heliacal rising is when a star first becomes visible above the eastern horizon for a moment just before sunrise. The most important of such risings in the past was that of Sirius. It was particularly important for the Egyptians but also for the Greeks and Romans.

In Greek and Roman astrology, the dog days were connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. The heliacal rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt.

The brightest star in the night, the Dog Star’s heliacal rising is remarkably regular compared to other stars. The annual flood of the Nile was incredibly important to the Egyptians. If the flood failed, so did the fertility of their crops. But the flood was irregular and the return of Sirius was not. So the they worshiped the star as the goddess Sopdet, guarantor of the fertility of their land.

Oh, that unlovely lethargy!

The Romans blamed Sirius for the heat of the season and attendant lethargy and diseases.  Vergil notes vintners’ efforts to protect their work during the time “when the Dog-star cleaves the thirsty Ground”.  Seneca’s Oedipus complains of “the scorching dog-star’s fires”. Pliny’s Natural History notes an increase in attacks by dogs during July and August and advises feeding them chicken manure to curb the tendency.

Dog days continued to feature in Western medicine.  In 1564, the English, Hope of Health, counselled that purging (bloodletting and induced vomiting) should be avoided during the “Dogge daies” of summer because “the Sunne is in Leo” and “then is nature burnt vp & made weake”  In the 1813 Clavis Calendria, the dog days are a time wherein “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”.  In North America, it became proverbial among farmers that a dry growing season through the dog days was preferable to the trouble of a wet one:

Dog days bright and clear

Indicate a good year;

But when accompanied by rain,

We hope for better times in vain.

T’is the season of the dog

Views on when the dog days start and finish have varied; anywhere from 3 July to 15 August and lasting for anywhere from 30 to 61 days. More recently they have been regarded as the days between July 3 and August 11, ending rather than beginning with the reappearance of Sirius to the night sky.

When I was researching this piece, the quote I found that I liked most comes from the Greek poet Hesiod and written more than two thousand years ago;

“But when the artichoke flowers, and the chirping grass-hopper sits in a tree and pours down his shrill dog days in Greecesong continually from under his wings in the season of wearisome heat, [585] then goats are plumpest and wine sweetest; women are most wanton, but men are feeblest, because Sirius parches head and knees and the skin is dry through heat. But at that time let me have a shady rock and wine of Biblis, [590] a clot of curds and milk of drained goats with the flesh of a heifer fed in the woods, that has never calved, and of firstling kids; then also let me drink bright wine, sitting in the shade, when my heart is satisfied with food, and so, turning my head to face the fresh Zephyr, [595] from the ever flowing spring which pours down unfouled, thrice pour an offering of water, but make a fourth libation of wine.” From <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0132%3Acard%3D571>

Wendy Smith writes articles, poetry and books. You can find all her books on Amazon at this link. In addition she offers life and career coaching. If you would like to contact Wendy email wendy@wisewolfcoaching.com

Amergin, Bard of the Milesians, lays claim to the Land of Ireland

Amergin, Bard of the Milesians, lays claim to the Land of Ireland

I am a stag: of seven tines,

I am a flood: across a plain,

I am a wind: on a deep lake,

I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,

I am a hawk: above the cliff,

I am a thorn: beneath the nail,

I am a wonder: among flowers,

I am a wizard: who but I

Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

I am a spear: that roars for blood,

I am a salmon: in a pool,

I am a lure: from paradise,

I am a hill: where poets walk,

I am a boar: ruthless and red,

I am a breaker: threatening doom,

I am a tide: that drags to death,

I am an infant: who but I

Peeps from the unhewn dolmen, arch?

I am the womb: of every holt,

I am the blaze: on every hill,

I am the queen: of every hive,

I am the shield: for every head,

I am the tomb: of every hope.

Song of Amergin translated by Robert Graves, from The White Goddess, Faber and Faber Limited, 24 Russell Square London WC1. It appears here under the principle of Fair Use.

And here is Celestial Elf’s machinima film of
The Song Of Amergin, A Samhain Story, as referred to in his comment below
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aZsoPRqWqw

Starbucks, Mermaids and Melusine

I became interested in Melusine when an old boss of mine started to calling me by the name.  I never did find out why.

But I did decide to find out more and I’ve always been fascinated by mermaids!

Melusine is a water fairy in European folklore –  a feminine spirit of fresh waters in sacred springs and rivers.  She is usually depicted as a serpent or fish from the waist down – a kind of mermaid.

The “Lady of the Lake” in the legends of Kind Arthur who spirited away the infant Lancelot and raised the child,was just such a water nymph.

Water fairies and mermaids are considered seductive and dangerous to humans, especially men!

There are many Melusine legends. The chronicler Giraud le Cambrien reported that Richard I of England was fond of claiming he was a descendant of a countess of Anjou who was supposed to  be the fairy Melusine. Richard used to tell the tale and finish with a flourish, concluding that his whole family “came from the devil” and would return to the devil.

Richard the First - the Lionheart!

There are many mermaid stories around the world. The first known such stories appeared in Assyria  around 1000 BC.

The goddess Atargatis, mother of Assyrian queen Semiramis, loved a mortal shepherd and unintentionally killed him. Ashamed, she jumped into a lake to take the form of a fish, but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. Thereafter, she took the form of a mermaid—human above the waist, fish below!

A popular Greek legend turns Alexander the Great’s sister, Thessalonike, into a mermaid after she died. She lived, it was said, in the Aegean and when she encountered a ship, she asked its sailors only one question: “Is King Alexander alive?” to which the correct answer was: “He lives and reigns and conquers the world”. This answer pleased her so she would calm the waters and wish the ship farewell. Any other answer would spur her into a rage. She would raise a terrible storm, with certain doom for the ship and every sailor on board.

In British folklore mermaids are considered unlucky!    One tale tells of the Laird of Lorntie who  went to aid a woman he thought drowning in a lake near his house.  A servant pulled him back, warning that it was a mermaid.  The mermaid screamed that she would have killed him if it were not for his servant.

So take care!

Although a mermaid has been very lucky for Disney and it is interesting that the female figure in the Starbucks logo has been likened to Melusine.

Jack Frost and the Icicles

I grew up in a large Victorian house on a hill that had coal fires and no central heating. Oh my word was it cold in the mornings in winter! But it was beautiful for two reasons – fern frost on the windows and icicles hanging from the roof outside my window.

To adults fern frost was simply the result of ice crystals forming on a window pane.

But for me as a child they formed when Jack Frost touched the window pane and the sprite jack Frost was very real.

In Viking legend – he is known as Jokul Frosti, meaning “icicle frost” – in English folklore he is known as Jack. Sometimes he is also known as Old ManWinter!

He is an elf-like figure who personifies winter and its chilling effects! For me Jack had touched the window and the scupture of his fingers were the icicles hanging from our roof!

Beautiful Crystals – the Mermaid’s Aquamarine

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Aquamarine, the gem of the sea, is named with the Greek word for sea water.  Aqua sparkles like the sea and its color is pale to medium blue, sometimes with a slight hint of green. Aquamarine is a member of the Beryl family (which includes emeralds). Its blue / blue-green color comes from ferrous iron – a double refraction of light from different angles within the stone causes it to reflect the two different colors.

Aquamarine is the birthstone for March and legends say that it is the treasure of mermaids coming from their tears; with the power to keep sailors safe at sea. Aquamarine is said to be a particularly strong charm when immersed in water – which is a good thing, since that is when its power is most needed! Aquamarine was also said to have a soothing influence on land, also on married couples. Its power is supposed to help husbands and wives work out their differences and ensure a long and happy marriage, which makes it a good anniversary gift. Traditionally, it has been held as the gem for the nineteenth wedding anniversary. Aquamarine is said also to protect  against the wiles of the devil.

Aquamarine, March’s birthstone, is the universal symbol of hope, health and youth. A traditional protection for travelers, it was said to prevent seasickness, quicken the intellect and enhance courage.Wearing this stone is to enhance one’s personal power and help to project an aura of strength.

Long used by royalty, Egyptian amulets of the XII Dynasty (circa 2000 BC) included Aquamarines carved into the forms of animals. 

Aquamarine is found in Brazil, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria, and other countries. However the majority of Aquamarine comes from Brazil, even though the finest Aquamarine is mined in Africa.

Beautiful Trees – The Wonderful Willow

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There around 400 forms of Salix – deciduous trees and shrubs found on  moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been mentioned in ancient texts from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt as a remedy for aches and fever, and the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about its medicinal properties in the 5th century BC.  Native Americans across the American continent relied on it as a staple of their medical treatments. This is because Willows contain salicylic acid, the precursor to aspirin.  Willows all have abundant watery sap; bark which is heavily charged with the salicylic acid; soft, usually pliant, tough wood; slender branches; and large, fibrous roots.

Willow wood is also used in the manufacture of all kinds of things – boxes, brooms and particularly cricket bats!  But, it is also used for wands – Willow is one of the nine sacred trees mentioned in Wicca and witchcraft, with several magical uses. In the Wiccan Rede, it is described as growing by water and guiding the dead into the “Summerland”, a commonly used term in Wicca to refer to the afterlife.

Willow has many uses in agriculture and has an emerging role in ecology.  But its the Willow’s role in religion, in  folklore and in fiction, including Shakespeare, that is fascinating! It is one of the “Four Species” used in a ceremony on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.    Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called Under the Willow Tree (1853) in which children ask questions of a tree they call willow-father, paired with another entity called elder-mother. Green Willow is a Japanese ghost story in which a young samurai falls in love with a woman called Green Willow who has a close spiritual connection with a willow tree. And as we all know from Harry Potter, there is an old tree on the school grounds of Hogwarts called the “Whomping Willow”. It was planted in order to conceal a secret passageway that Professor Remus Lupin roamed through every full moon when he began his transformation into a werewolf.

Here’s to the wonderful Willow!

Beautiful Trees – The Rowan Tree

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The European rowan (S. aucuparia) has a long tradition in European mythology and folklore. It was thought to be a magical tree and protection against malevolent beings.

The name “rowan” is derived from the Old Norse name for the tree, raun. Linguists believe that the Norse name is ultimately derived from a proto-Germanic word *raudnian meaning “getting red” and which referred to the red foliage and red berries in the autumn. Rowan is one of the most familiar wild trees in the British Isles, and has acquired numerous English folk names, for example, Mountain ash, Quickbane, Whispering tree, Witch wood and Witchbane,   Many of these can be easily linked to the mythology and folklore surrounding the tree. In Gaelic, it is caoran, or Rudha-an (red one, pronounced quite similarly to English “rowan”).

The density of the rowan wood makes it very usable for walking sticks and magician’s staves. This is why druid staffs are said, for example, traditionally, to have  been made out of rowan wood, and its branches were often used in dowsing rods and magic wands.  Rowan was carried on vessels to avoid storms, kept in houses to guard against lightning, and even planted on graves to keep the deceased from haunting. It was also used to protect one from witches.

Often birds’ droppings contain rowan seeds, and if such droppings land in a fork or hole where old leaves have accumulated on a larger tree, such as an oak or a maple, they may result in a rowan growing as an epiphyte on the larger tree. Such a rowan is called a “flying rowan” and was thought of as especially potent against witches and their magic, and as a counter-charm.

In Finland and Sweden, the number of berries on the trees was used as a predictor of the snow cover during winter.

This tree carries a heavy load of folklore but above all it is a truly beautiful tree.

Beautiful Legends – White Buffalo Woman

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For the Lakota (Sioux) nation a sacred woman of supernatural origin  is treated as a prophet or a messiah and is central to their religion. Oral traditions relate how she brought the extended Lakota nation of the Teton Sioux their seven sacred ceremonies.

The Creator sent the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman to teach the People how to pray with the Pipe. With that Pipe, seven sacred ceremonies were given for the people to abide in order to ensure a future with harmony, peace, and balance.

The story goes back two thousand years.  She appeared to two warriors at that time. These two warriors were out hunting buffalo, hunting for food in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, and they saw a big body coming toward them. And they saw that it was a white buffalo calf. As it came closer to them, it turned into a beautiful young Indian girl.

That time one of the warriors had bad thoughts about her so the young girl told him to step forward. And when he did step forward, a black cloud came over his body, and when the black cloud disappeared, the warrior who had bad thoughts was left with no flesh or blood on his bones. The other warrior kneeled and began to pray.

And when he prayed, the white buffalo calf who was now an Indian girl told him to go back to his people and warn them that in four days she was going to bring a sacred bundle.

So the warrior did as he was told. He went back to his people and he gathered all the elders and all the leaders and all the people in a circle and told them what she had instructed him to do. And sure enough, just as she said she would, on the fourth day she came.

They say a cloud came down from the sky, and off of the cloud stepped the white buffalo calf. As it rolled onto the earth, the calf stood up and became this beautiful young woman who was carrying the sacred bundle in her hand.

As she entered into the circle of the nation, she sang a sacred song and took the sacred bundle to the people who were there. She spent four days among the people and taught them about the sacred bundle, the meaning of it.

She taught them seven sacred ceremonies.

One of them was the sweat lodge, or the purification ceremony. One of them was the naming ceremony, child naming. The third was the healing ceremony. The fourth one was the making of relatives or the adoption ceremony. The fifth one was the marriage ceremony. The sixth was the vision quest. And the seventh was the sundance ceremony, the people’s ceremony for all of the nation.

She brought seven sacred ceremonies and taught the people the songs and the traditional ways. And she instructed the people that as long as they performed these ceremonies they would always remain caretakers and guardians of sacred land. She told them that as long as they took care of it and respected it that their people would never die and would always live.

When she was done teaching the people, she left the way she came. She went out of the circle, and as she was leaving she turned and told the people that she would return one day for the sacred bundle. And she left the sacred bundle, which they have to this very day.

From: White Buffalo Teachings by Chief Arvol Looking Horse