“A star that keenest of all blazes with a searing flame and him men call Seirios [Sirius]. When he rises with Helios (the Sun), no longer do the trees deceive him by the feeble freshness of their leaves. For easily with his keen glance he pierces their ranks, and to some he gives strength but of others he blights the bark utterly. Of him too at his setting are we aware.”
– Aratus, Phaenomena 328 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek astronomical poem C3rd B.C.)
Here in England, it is hard to imagine the importance which the Dog Days and the heliacal rising of the star Sirius (the ‘Dog Star’) had in antiquity. We have finally had a bit of sunshine here in Somerset today, and I escaped my desk to spend a bit of time contemplating the marvellous power of Helios in my urban garden, and then remembered: we are now officially in the Dog Days. It is not always that obvious in the UK though! I also pondered the associations between the Goddess Hekate, dogs and the Dog Days – and indeed the Dog Star “Sirius”. Here are some of my musings and observations on the subject.
What are the Dog Days?
The Dog Days are traditionally the 40 days leading up to the heliacal rising of Sirius, being the period of 3rd July to 11th August. These are considered to be the hottest days of the summer – especially in the regions around the Mediterranean sea, where Sirius has long had a major role in mythology, religion and agriculture. For the Egyptians the rising of Sirius was essential, marking the inundation of the Nile and the start of a new year. Sirius, which was also known as Sothis, was closely linked to the Greco-Egyptian goddess Isis (Aset). Some ancient writers, notably Plutarch, wrote that this star was thought to be the soul of Isis. In her new book Isis: The Eternal Goddess of Egypt and Rome (forthcoming 2016) the author Lesley Jackson writes that:
“The star Sirius is in the constellation of Canis Major (the Great Dog) and is also referred to as the Dog Star. It is the brightest star in the sky but, more importantly to the Egyptians, its heliacal rising coincided with the start of the inundation. A heliacal rising is when the star reappears in the east just before sunrise after being invisible for a period. In Egypt in 3,000 BCE this occurred at the summer solstice; now it is about six weeks later. “At the same time that the Dog-star rises…the Nile also in a sense rises, coming up to water the land of Egypt.” The reappearance of Sirius brought the hot ‘dog days’ of the summer. From the earliest times New Year was considered to start with the inundation because it was so critical to the country. “
Isis and Hekate
Outside of Egypt, Isis became very closely associated with dogs, there was even a statue of Isis riding a dog in a temple in Rome, and there is mention of a dog sitting beneath the throne of Isis in the same region. Lamps and coins with depictions of Isis during the Roman period make further links between Isis and dogs which are likely to have been inspired by her conflation with Sothis. Isis was also accompanied by the jackal-headed Anubis, but because the jackal was virtually unknown to the Romans, they simply referred to him as dog-headed.
“Hekate with three heads and six hands, holding torches in her hands, on the right side of her face having the head of a cow; and on the left side the head of a dog; and in the middle the head of a maiden, with sandals bound on her feet.” (Drawn on a flax leaf)
Hekate is sometimes said to have the face of different animals, including that of a dog and is frequently associated with dogs, depicted with dogs; some also believe that when invoked the sound of barking or howling dogs heralds her arrival.
“Then, earth began to bellow, trees to dance
And howling dogs in glimmering light advance
Ere Hekate came.”
– The Aeneid, Virgil
Sirius can be said to be further linked to Hekate through the story of the goddess Diana and Orion. Hekate and Diana have long been conflated, and some would say that Diana is simply the Roman version of Hekate. It is of course more complex than that, but it is clear that Hekate and Diana’s myths and worship were often conflated throughout antiquity, just as Hekate and Artemis (the Greek Goddess of the Hunt, also linked to Diana) were often conflated. A brief overview of the myth is recounted by the author Payam Nabarz, writing in his book Stellar Magic (2009), where he also shares other interesting snippets of myths associated with Sirius, as well as a modern ceremony:
“The star Sirius or the Dog Star is part of the constellation Canis Major (Great Dog), in Greek myths he was seen as Orion’s hunting dog. After the death of Orion, Diana placed Orion’s dog in the sky at his heel to help with the stellar hunt. The star Sirius is part of the winter triangle; the two other points of the triangle are the star Betelgeuse in Orion and the star Procyon in Canis Minor. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, can be located in the night sky by following an imaginary line from the three stars of Orion’s belt to the left and down. The star Sirius is one of the oldest constellations described by man; the Fire Star is one of the stars in the Babylonian A Prayer to Gods of the Night (circa 1700 BC).”
Isis-Hekate is depicted as one super deity on numerous Egyptian coins. She is pictured as triple-faced, with solar horns and the solar disk later shown on images of Isis, when she usurps the cow-headed Hathor. Hekate, like Hathor, is sometimes depicted with the head of a cow, and sometimes with that of a bull. Both Hekate and Isis are often depicted with serpents, Isis with the uraeus and Hekate a snake, though not a cobra. There are depictions on gem stones showing Isis-Hekate in triple form holding serpents, torches and swords. And completing the association between Hekate and Isis, an inscription found from Kamiros (Rhodes, Greece) is dedicated to Hekate and Serapis, the latter being more often linked to Isis, as a Hellenised form of her brother-husband Osiris.
Hekate is shown holding a child, showing her in the role of “mother” or as “Kourotrophos” (nurse-maid) (see image to the left, of an votive statue of Hekate currently in a museum in Bulgaria) much like the typical depictions many readers will be familiar with of Isis holding her baby Horus (see image above of the bronze image of Isis holding Horus) . The goddesses both share an association with magic, and both goddesses can be described as wisdom goddesses, sharing certain roles in common, notably that of ‘saviour’.
Hekate has strong associations with the stars. Her mother, according to mythology, is the star goddess Asteria, who is linked to shooting (falling) stars, as well as with divination by stars (astrology) and the night sky. Today both Isis and Hekate continue to be celebrated around the world. They also continue to be linked through experiences modern Priests and Priestesses have, and I shall leave you with this example from the essay Following Her Moons (Extracts from a Travel Journal) by Andrea Salgado Reyes in the anthology, Hekate: Her Sacred Fires which I edited in 2010. In it the author writes about an experience she had on 23rd May 2009 in L’Isle-Adam (France); whilst her account is not entirely based on historical accounts of the deities she names, it has validity in the 21st century as an experiential account of how the Goddess is experienced now:
“A presence appears while I am writing some notes for a course. I challenge it, demanding its name. The presence grows stronger until I feel the whole room vibrate with its energy and psychically see a large form appear, as tall as the room is high. It is female and dressed in a simple cream robe. Spontaneous writing:
“I AM the light-bearer, the Luciferian force, the maiden with the shining torch, beloved of the Gods and beloved of the Titans. I am Hekate beneath the Earth, Demeter on the land and I am the mother of all, the sky goddess Isis, Hekate and Demeter are one goddess. Three aspects and one child, the sacred Persephone who represents humankind.”
– Andrea Salgado Reyes, 2009
Sirius A : beryl (stone); dragonwort, mugwort and savin (herbs); and the tongue of a snake.
Sirius B: Agate (stone); marigold and pennyroyal (herbs).
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest Of all,
but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
– Homer in the Iliad
Welcome to the Dog Days!
Hekate Liminal Rites, by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine
Hekate: Her Sacred Fires, by various contributors.
Thracian Magic, by Georgi Mishev
 A star has a heliacal rising when it appears for a brief moment alongside the Sun in the morning, marking its emergence from being invisible due to having been behind the Sun for a season.
 Lesley Jackson is also the author of THOTH: The History of the Ancient Egyptian God of Wisdom (2011) and HATHOR: A Reintroduction to an Ancient Egyptian Goddess (2013).
 The Egyptian Calendar: A Work For Eternity, Bomhard, 1999:26
 On the Characteristics of Animals Volume II, Aelian & Scholfield, 1957:341
 Payam Nabarz is the author of numerous books on mythology and magic, including The Square and the Circle (2016), and Anahita (2012).
 Metamorphoses, Apuleus, C2nd CE