If you find yourself with a quiet moment one evening this week be sure to get outside after dark and look to the western sky for your last chance seeing several constellations until this fall. The familiar patterns of Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull and Canis Major will all drop below the horizon followed shortly thereafter by Jupiter as we head into the summer zodiac. Speaking of summer skies, if you look to the west later this week you’ll catch a glimpse of Venus making its return for the first time since last May. If you’re a John Gray fan then please note that though this half of the equation is complete, sadly Mars is hiding on the far side of the sun so look for its heliacal rising (eastern horizon, just before sunrise) this fall. Ahem, John Gray, not Christian Grey – that’s a completely different section in the bookstore.
Careful readers will already have noted that the primary star in the constellation Canis Major (come on, Big or Greater Dog) is Sirius, the brightest star in our night skies. It along with Betelgeuse (Orion’s shoulder) and Procyon (Canis Minor) form the Winter Triangle that has graced the southwestern sky for the past two seasons. Sirius is actually a double star with white star Sirius A’s luminosity dwarfing that of the white dwarf star Sirius B (ha, see what I did there?) and their combined presence has played an important role in calendars and cultural references throughout Earth’s civilizations.
If your apparel preference runs to linen shendyts, kalasiris and the occasional leopard skin shawl then perhaps your heritage can be traced to ancient Egypt? In this case you undoubtedly have a resonance with the Sothic cycle of 1,460 Egyptian years of 365 days each that marks the anniversary of when the heliacal rising of Sirius denotes the start of the Egyptian calendar.
Does a tapestry of the prophet Zoroaster grace one of the walls of your living room? If so then you’re likely sending thank you blessings to the rain-making divinity Tishtrya, in the form of Sirius, for giving us a respite from the rain and mist of our winter and spring seasons!
Ok ok, if all you can hear right now is “come on, you can do better than that” then perhaps you’re channeling the last words of Sirius Black before Bellatrix Lestrange blasted him into the Veil in the Department of Mysteries?
Just as it isn’t safe to be a black cat around the autumnal equinox, being a brown dog in the Roman Empire in early July could be hazardous for one’s health. As they headed into the hot summer Mediterranean months, which they called dies canicularis or Dog Days, one can empathize with their beliefs that the seas were boiling, fevers were rampant and that animals were going mad. The more difficult stretch is believing that this was caused by the heliacal rising of Sirius in early July and even more incredulous is thinking that sacrificing brown dogs would somehow ward this off. On the other hand, at home on Vashon island we do have a similar rite involving raccoons…
Yes yes, I’m going to ignore the rebranded name for Satellite CD Radio for now and also spare you the Literature 401 lecture around Dante, Milton and Tennyson. I’m tempted to talk about the Les Etoiles Tarot card, and wow I can’t believe we aren’t talking Freemason references including the one in your pocket under the phrase ANNUIT COEPTIS. Dig out that old VHS tape of Pinocchio and check out what Gepetto has his eyes on when he wishes for a real boy, and while you’re at it recall that Jim Carrey almost met his maker on the Truman Show when the stagelight Sirius came crashing down.
Assuming she doesn’t go all “V’Ger” on us the spaceship Voyager 2 will pass a mere 4.3 light years from Sirius in around 300,000 years, hopefully we’ll get a post card. By that time the Earth’s precession of the equinoxes will have passed through roughly another 11.4 cycles and Sirius will mark the start of dies canicularis sometime in early February. In the meantime, keep an eye on that brown dog during the summer months.
While you’re waiting – think of this as the modern version of the Highlights magazine from the doctor’s waiting room of your youth – make sure you’re geared up for what looks to be a fantastic summer. All our best!