Dog Days and a Full Moon

In Roman mythology, Ceres was the goddess of agriculture and grain crops. We get the word "cereal" from her name.

This month’s full Moon occurs on Tuesday, August 24.

August, originally called Sextilis by the Romans, was later named Augustus in honor of Augustus Caesar. For many Roman territories, this was the time to gather harvests and celebrate. At three times during August, the Romans honored the god Vulcan: on August 17 at the Portunalia; on August 27 at the Volturnalia; and again on August 23 at the Volcanalia. This last festival was held outside the city boundaries and was to ward off accidental fires, a real threat in such closely-packed and fire-prone towns. Vulcan was not the only deity honored during these festivals. The goddess Juturna (deity of fountains) and Stata Mater (who puts out fires) were invoked as a counterbalance to Vulcan’s fires which included volcanoes or any other fires.

The Celtic feast called Lunasa or Lughnassadh was the celebration of harvest and new grain for bread probably celebrated on August first. In Old English this became Lammas, or “Loaf Mass,” the festival of the wheat harvest, the first harvest festival of the year. It was customary to bring to church on that day a loaf made from the new crop, and many English tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August.

In the Chinese calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the full moon of the eighth month. In the Chinese calendar, the harvest moon is usually in September. In America, that harvesting moon is typically in October.

This moon is also called the Dog Moon. That term comes from the “Dog Days” (Latin: diēs caniculārēs) being the hottest, most sultry days of summer.

In the northern hemisphere, that is between early July and early September. (In the southern hemisphere, it is between January and early March.) This name comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, was somehow responsible for the hot weather.

The Romans considered Sirius to be the “Dog Star” because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). Sirius is also the brightest star in the heavens besides the Sun.

“Dog Days” was used even earlier by the Greeks and appears in Aristotle’s Physics.

The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as sunrise (heliacal rising). It might surprise you to know that that is no longer true, owing to the precession of the equinoxes.

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time “when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.” (Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813)

In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days extended from July 23/24 through August 23/24 and some European cultures still refer to this time as the Dog Days. The American Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the ancient heliacal (at sunrise) rising of Sirius, and marks these as the days of the year when rainfall is at its lowest levels.

Some Native American tribes knew the August full moon as the Full Red Moon because, it can appears reddish as it rises through any sultry haze.

Tribes that fished in areas need the Great Lakes called it the Sturgeon Moon because that large and important fish was prevalent during this month.

It was more likely to be known to the New World settlers who measured the year and season based on the crops and flowers. It is commonly called the Grain Moon. Other names include the Mating Moon, Woodcutter’s Moon, Chokeberry Moon, Corn Moon, and Barley Moon.

In India today, Hindu people still honor the elephant-headed god Ganesha, the deity who removes obstacles and brings good luck. Flowers and dishes of rice were set before his statues, but it is considered unlucky to look at the Moon during this festival.

Published by


A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

One thought on “Dog Days and a Full Moon”

Add to the conversation about this article

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.