Much to Rachel Patterson's disappointment, this blog is not about Sirius Black...
The Stars have held a fascination for mankind since the beginning of our existence, and none more so than brightest star in the sky, Sirius, also called the Dog Star due to its role as the dominant star in the Canis Major (Great Dog) constellation.
In the Northern hemisphere it can be spotted ascending in the East before dawn from the first week of July until around August 12th. Usually the only other objects in the sky brighter than Sirius are: The Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury, although Sirius often outshines Mercury too.
Sirius is 8.6 light years away from Earth and one of our closest stars after the Sun. The name 'Sirius' derives from the Ancient Greek 'Seirius' which means 'glowing' or 'scorcher'. The Dog Star is classically depicted as Orion's dog, following the hunter across the night sky.
Because of its brightness, Sirius has been an object of reverence and wonder to ancient people throughout history. Many ancient cultures have related this star with either a dog or wolf and it has also been associated with many deities.
For the ancient Egyptians, Sirius was the most important star in the sky and the foundation astronomically of their entire religious system. The heliacal rising of Sirius occurred just before the annual flooding of the Nile during the Summer, when the rich fertile waters brought new life and vegetation to the arid river banks. The ancient Egyptians also based their calendar system on the rising of the Dog Star and associated many of their deities with it, including Osiris, Isis, Sopdet and Anubis.
In ancient Chaldea (present day Iraq) Sirius was known as the 'Dog Star that leads', and in ancient China ' The Celestial Wolf'. In Assyria and Akkadia it was known as 'Dog of the Sun'. The star's celestial movements were observed and revered by the ancient Greeks, Sumerians, Babylonians and countless other civilizations.
The ancient Greeks noted that the appearance of Sirius heralded the hot dry summer, the time of droughts and searing heat that they feared caused their crops to wilt men to weaken and women to become aroused! They called this time 'The Dog days of Summer' as it was believed that the brightness of Sirius added to the heat of the Sun, bringing the most oppressive time of the year.
The indigenous tribes of North America also associated Sirius with canines, the Seri and Tohono O'odham tribes described it as ' the dog that follows mountain sheep'; the Skidi tribe of Nebraska knew it as 'Wolf Star' and the Alaskan Inuit called it 'Moon Dog'.
The Inhabitants of Ceos offered sacrifices to Sirius and Zeus to bring cooling breezes and would await its appearance in Summer. If it rose clear and bright it foretold good fortune, but if it was misty and faint it foretold pestilence. Coins found on the island dating from the 3rd century B.C. feature dogs and stars.
Just as the appearance of Sirius in the morning sky marked Summer in Greece, it marked the onset of winter for the Maori, whose name 'Takura' described both the season and the star. It was also an important star for navigation for the ancient Polynesians in the Pacific Ocean.
Sirius has been important in astronomy, mythology, religion and occultism for thousands of years all over the world. It has been associated with divinity and regarded as a source of knowledge and power. One source I found stated that the Star card of the Rider Waite tarot deck depicts Sirius, I couldn't find any proof of this, but I believe it's possible. If you are up before dawn this Summer, take a look out to the East and see if you can spot the brightest star in the sky.