Have you ever heard of star lore? You possibly have, but haven’t even considered that star lore is the name for mythical stories about stars and constellations. It’s a fun subject to delve into, and the summer months are a perfect time for it.
You may have stood outside on a hot summer night and gazed up at the myriad of stars shining across the galaxy. It’s difficult to get the full impact of such an activity if you live in the city or a suburban area, with all the competition of man-made lights. But if you live in the country, or ever get the chance to go camping, you’ll be amazed at the awesome sight overhead.
Orion is an easily identifiable constellation, once you locate the three small (from this distance!) stars that make up his belt. They lie at a slight diagonal, so you can hardly miss them. The Dippers, too, are fairly easy to find. But many of the constellations are a bit trickier to the untrained eye. There are books available with star charts that can help if you’re interested in becoming an amateur astronomer.
What made me think of this is the time of year. This time, between early July and mid-August, is known as the Dog Days of Summer. As a child, I didn’t understand the reference, so I asked my parents what it meant. I think my mother made some vague comment about the extreme heat being something only a dog could love, but my dad explained in a bit more detail. According to my dad, it all goes back to the myth of the Dog Star, Sirius.
Sirius is the brightest star in the summer sky, at least here in the northern hemisphere. One reason it appears so bright is because it is so close to earth, whereas many of the other stars are a lot farther away. Sirius, as it happens, is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. To my untrained eye, it appears that Sirius is located right where a collar might encircle the dog’s neck. Others may see it differently.
There are many myths surrounding the constellation Canis Major. Some ancient civilizations thought the constellation resembled a hunting bow with an arrow – aimed roughly at Orion. Some of them refer to this constellation, which resembles the shape of a dog, as being one of Orion’s hunting dogs. Others also saw it as a dog, possibly one that belonged to other gods or goddesses, or that it was the fastest dog in the world and a god sent him up to the heavens as a reward for his great speed. Whatever the beliefs, people have, in the past, recognized that when Sirius appears shortly after sunrise, the hot, dry days of summer are upon us. Some even offered red dog sacrifices to appease the gods during this time. Yuck!
I’ve read several middle grade books lately that integrate the stars and even some of the myths surrounding them. One is Winter Sky, by Patricia Reilly Giff. Another one that I just finished is The Same Stuff as Stars, by Katherine Paterson. Wish You Weren’t, by Sherrie Petersen, a fellow indie author, also deals in star lore, and you might want to check out Cycles, by Lois Decker Brown, and The Candle Star, by Michelle Athearn Isenhoff. You can find those last two FREE on Amazon. And if you’re into picture books, look for The Little Moon Princess, by Y. J. Lee. All of these books feature astronomical bodies and are lovely reads.
I hope you all have an opportunity to observe the bright lights up in the heavens, and possibly learn more about them, along with all the other constellations that are out there. If you’ve already explored these distant bodies, I’d love to hear of your experiences. Sharing our knowledge and life experiences is a great way to open doors of friendship and expand our minds and hearts.