Aug 18, 2018

Pumpkins, Protection, and a Mad, Mad August

Summer 'Dog-Days' are from mid-July to mid-August. Our ancestors noticed Canicula, the Roman dog star, was in conjunction with the Sun - attributing mad dogs, irritable shedding snakes, and all sorts of vile behavior to Dog Days. Ponds stagnate, poison-ivy thrives, and the fetid air maddens us now with gnats, hungry mosquitoes, and flies; all of us enveloped in a humid miasmic cloud that hangs over these hills.

-Linda Ours Rago, Blackberry Cove Herbal, Traditional Appalachian Herbalism

I counted eight pumpkins, and felt a flutter of excitement in my belly. There were years when I wouldn't grow them because my allotted garden space was minimal and pumpkins were impractical - the plants took up too much room and their many fruits were more than I could use. But as the years raced by I arrived at this magical age when I realized that what was practical was less important than what brought me joy. I decided that life is too short not to grow pumpkins.

The tomatoes that were in my basket a moment ago are as crimson as the sun in its attempt to shine through the wildfire smoke. How many suns and moons have burned red this summer...I've lost count now. The wind changed direction and blew a thick haze into town this morning, like fog rolling in off the ocean. It settled in, right to the ground, and I can barely see the neighbour's house across the road. I'm covered in falling ash as I pick my way through the garden beds, examining the crops and tugging at invading grasses.

I've been having my breakfast in a cornfield since the beginning of August. It somehow seems right that the first day of the golden month would mark my appearance in the middle of an acre of corn, crawling through rows on my hands and knees, talking to the plants and the birds who watch this strange creature moving through the field. My farmer friend is losing her battle with weeds this year. Black nightshade, and a few other vigorous self-sowers, took over the spaces between the cornstalks and some of her successive plantings are being dwarfed by the invaders. She can't keep up so I've volunteered my first hour or two at daybreak, until my back gives out or until the sun rises too high and hot - whichever happens first. Then I wander back down the hill into my day, stopping at the small help-yourself farm stand to buy eggs for my breakfast.

In the last week we've come through another eclipse, a half dozen planets in retrograde, and meteors streaking across the night sky. In my area there are forest fires, large festivals luring the masses into our small towns, and hundred-degree days which, when all stirred up in the cauldron of The Valley, serves up its own sort of madness. I've had trouble getting enough sleep, have found my brain a bit foggy, and, courtesy of the smoke, I'm waking each day with squeaky lungs and a sore throat. These dog days are wearing on me, but I'm making my way through them with as much easy living and small, meaningful magics as possible.

Though we now identify the 'dog days' as the most stifling weeks of summer, most folks understand that the phrase originated with the yearly reappearance of the dog star, Sirius, which some ancient peoples associated with calamity and ill luck. The length of these days of discomfort (and possible devilry) could be anywhere from three to six weeks and could start as early as the beginning of July or run into late August.

Here in The Valley, we are weary from the smoke and ash of wildfires (though thankful that the flames did not swallow peoples homes like they have in previous years). The creeks are dry and the hillsides brittle, and we could sorely use some rain. Our dog days are not over yet. But we do what we can to keep our spirits up. It's a good time to keep up with your spiritual work too, refreshing the wards on your home and land. I keep my altars fed and watered, the spirits I work with honoured (even on the days when I'm too tired to think of ritual or libations), and there are a few protections that have been employed, both to thwart the 'mad-dog' energy and to shield from some of the more criminal activity that increases in our area during the tourist season.

Your favourite floor wash recipe is a wonderful helper for stagnant energy (and can only benefit the house after a dusty summer). If you are feeling 'bitten' by the summer blues or working to bump up your spiritual safeguards, tossing some dried, crushed-to-powder eggshells in your mop water might be in order (if you are unsure about this practice, research Cascarilla and the folklore associated with eggs). I keep any broom-straws that shed from my working broom and I will add one to my mop bucket when cleaning with floor washes to prevent any unwanted guests treading over my floor.

If you are not against calling on saints (or in this case, saints who are also angels) then Saint Michael can be petitioned for protection. Some practices involve hanging or tucking his image over your front door (slipping a small prayer card behind the lintel can be an inconspicuous way of doing this). There are also various amulet-type charms such as equal armed crosses fashioned from particular trees (rowan crosses with red thread, for example) that can be enlisted for their protections on homes or persons. I like to make use of what the land around me offers up. Last year I listened to an insistent prodding to twine some late-season raspberry canes into a delightfully prickly swag that lives over my door. It has been a wonderful guardian ally for my home.

The land is beginning to pull back its energy, no longer bursting outward in fireworks of colour and lushness but plodding along through scorching sun and the floating soot from wildfires. There are signs, in the tansy and goldenrod nodding on the roadsides, the deepening hours of darkness, and the quail families coming together now, legions of them running down the road or pecking and scratching through the underbrush, that speak to cooler days and the deep amber light that late summer brings.

I'm hoping for an early autumn this year - rains and winds to quench the fires and dry land. The charms or protections you weave now will see you into new seasons, and you can add to them with the next tide's harvests or found treasures (a door wreath or swag is perfect for this sort of work).

How have you fared this summer? Were the balmy months friendly to you, or did you wilt and melt and find solace in shade or swimming holes? The weather man reports that the heat has not had its last run at us. The hundred-degree afternoons should be finished now, but the days still linger in the nineties and we are yet moving very slowly during the mid-day hours.

I'm wishing you so many more pleasant days of summer - less madness and more ease. And if you are one of us who attempt to court the fall days in with apples and home-grown pumpkins, who tempt the cool breezes to come soon, then I wish you all the brisk mornings and crisp nights you desire.

Witch Notes: Further Reading

This beautiful post, from Hecate Demeter on her August days.

A good look at spiritual house cleansing with plenty of floor wash ideas, from New World Witchery.

Spiritual Cleansing, Draja Mickaharic

Protection & Reversal Magic, Jason Miller

Communing With the Spirits, Martin Coleman
*Though this may seem like a strange recommendation, it references ancestral spirits (which some of us work with in our homes) and charms and such for keeping trickster spirits away.

All photos mine except the photo of the night sky, courtesy of Robert V. Ruggiero via Unsplash.


Laura said...

Eight pumpkins? Wow! When I grew pumpkins the most I ever had come full was one. But oh how wonderful it was to watch those vines twirl over everything.
It hasn't been cool enough for me to open the windows at night yet, but I'm hoping for it soon.

Birgit said...

Jen! :)

"[L]ife is too short not to grow pumpkins." Oh, I really, really like that! :) This year I didn't get around to grow pumpkins, but, you are so right, Jen. Next year I want to grow at least a few of them. :)

July and August have been very, very hot in Munich, too. Actually, today I have felt worn out nearly all day, but your post has been like a fresh breeze!

I hope you have a wonderful late summer -- and may autumn come to us all quickly! :)


Rue said...

Sending cool breezes, Laura...

And sweet pumpkin dreams!

Rue said...

Ah, Birgit! I was thinking of you not long ago. I hope your temperatures become more fair and you get all the rest you need. Thanks for popping by to say hello!

Riverton Witch said...

What a beautiful read. I wish you the very best summer and may the madness pass for you too, along with the haze of apocalyptic smoke. Best wishes Rue!

Unknown said...

Such a beautifully written post! <3

Mary xx

Rommy said...

I've had as a lovely a summer with my family as I can remember, though I too am losing a battle with bind weed in my postage stamp of a yard.

Rue said...

Bind weed is the devil - I'm constantly pulling it out of the perennial bed. I'm glad to hear your family has had a delightful summer though!

dre said...