Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Dog Days: Sleeping on Bones, Rabies in the Water, and More

I wrote a bit about Dog Days a couple weeks ago, but here's more on this odd topic: my Two Lane Livin' article last month.

It’s hot. Steamy hot, and even the dogs prefer the coolness under the deck to their usual place under the porch ceiling fan. 

We call this time of year Dog Days, generally accepted as those days between July 3 and August 11. But why dog days? 

At our house every day seems like dog days to me-they get treats, they sleep when they like and have their food delivered to them, they get petted and fussed over whenever they want, and they do little if any actual work. Seems like a pretty good life to me!

Originating in the Mediterranean area, the term came into use because the hottest weather of the year usually occurred at the same time of year that the dog star Sirius rose just after sunset as part of the Canis Major constellation.  

Homer, the early Greek poet, wrote that, “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.”

The ancients associated dog days with evil. Dogs went mad, they claimed, the seas were turbulent, storms were fierce and damaging, and disease spread quickly. Some believed that snakes went blind, wounds would not heal properly and people were generally on edge and cranky.

In England dog days began on Saint Swithin’s Day, July 15th, and people looked to that date for weather predictions for the next six weeks, which was harvest season. Rain on Saint Swithin’s meant at least 40 more days of rain and bad luck for the crops. “Dog days bright and clear indicate a happy year – but when accompanied by rain, for better times our hopes are in vain.”

A few other strange beliefs connected with dog days: when putting on socks, you should know that you should always put on the left one first, because it prevents getting a toothache (maybe this explains the verse in the song Old Dan Tucker, who dies of a toothache in his heel?). But people believed that the right sock should be put on first on the first of the dog days or else they risked falling and breaking their leg.

You should never let a child sleep on a bone during dog days--very unlucky at this particular time of year. Children should also not be allowed to sleep on a grave and in Texas they were kept out of the sun during dog days for fear that the heat caused strange illnesses. They were warned not to go barefoot either because of potential diseases in the soil.

It is dangerous to go swimming in dog days, people in the Ozarks believed, because the green scum on the water might convey rabies. (Untrue of course, but how did this idea start in the first place?) People did not cut their hair and would put off having surgery during dog days.

Snakes are more likely to strike during dog days, some say, but others contend that snakes are less likely to bite because the heat makes them languid. Dog days were blamed for Cows catching diseases, hogs getting cholera, henhouses becoming lice-infest, tickbites more numerous and all sorts of other unpleasant events.

To sum up: put your socks on correctly, don’t swim in slime-infested water or let your children sleep on bones or graves, get rabies shots for your pets, be mindful of snakes.  You are now forewarned, so go out and enjoy the rest of your summer!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

1 comment:

Beth Brown said...

I love reading and hearing lore! Thanks for clearing up questions about dog days! I can't wait until the 11th when better air is ushered in :)

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