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Dogs through History

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DOG STARS OF THE HEAVENS

Canis Major

In Greek mythology, Canis Major (Great Dog) and Canis Minor (Little Dog) is The Great hunter, Orion's, two hunting dogs. Canis Major is one of the most striking constellations in the heavens. Look for Sirius, 'The Dog Star', the brightest star in the heavens. Legend has it that Sirius is the diamond in Canis Major's collar. Sirius is said to mean 'scorching' or 'sparkling' because it is nearest to the sun at the height of summer. In the constellation, Canis Major is said to be crouching, ready to pounce on Lepus, The Rabbit. In olden days, people thought Sirius, the Dog Star made the days hotter. The saying 'dog days summer' comes from this belief. The stories from Homer and Hesiod's pens associated the Dog Star with the sun because the sun enters that part of the sky in the summer months. Unfortunately the Dog Star while being the brightest star of all is associated with the coming of death and pestilence. This might be because drought and disease could have been at their height at that time of year.

In modern times, Sirius The Dog Star is thought of as a winter star that accompanies Orion on his journey across the heavens.

The Egyptians celebrated the rising of the Dog Star as the beginning of the year as it could coincide with the annual flooding and renewing of the Nile. In Egypt Orion was the celestial symbol of Osiris, god of resurrection. Sirius was the symbol of Isis, goddess of fertility. Legend tells the story of the tears that Isis shed over the death of her husband, Osiris, added to the already melting snows coming down the mountains to cause the Nile to overflow each year. As this happened it was said that the light of the star blended with the morning sunlight.

Greek mythology has many stories relating to the Dog Star, Sirius, alpha Canis Majoris. The Athenian New Year began with the appearance of Sirius. He was seen as a two-headed dog and sometimes was confused with another two-headed beast called Orthrus. Orthrus was the tyrant Geryon's watchdog whose job it was to guard his master's castle.

Legend tells of a great race between Canis Major and a fox. Canis Major won and was heralded as the fastest creature in the world. It is said the Zeus himself placed the dog in the sky to celebrate his victory.

Sirius has a white dwarf star companion in the heavens. It is a very dim twin star called 'The Pup'. The Pup orbits Sirius every fifty years. Legend has it that the two love to play in the heavens and are faithful and loyal friends.

CANIS MINOR

Trailing behind Orion and Canis Major is the second of Orion's dogs, Canis Minor. This Dog Star is much smaller than its mate. Canis Minor was the favourite of Helen of Troy who preyed for the dogs' immortality and as a result he was placed among the stars.

Canis Minor does have a principal star called Procyon. The name means 'before the dog' indicating that it rises in the sky just before Sirius, the Dog Star in Canis Major. The Mesopotamians viewed Procyon with great affection and they knew him as, 'The Star of the Crossing of the Water Dog'. This is because the star can be seen near their 'River of Heaven', the Milky Way.

Procyon, Sirius in Canis Major and Rigel, (the star that represents Orion's foot), form a bright right angle in the heavens. From the northern hemisphere, Canis Major and Canis Minor can be seen in the winter sky, between November and April in the southern sky. South of the equator they can be seen in the northern sky between December and April. Sirius from Canis Major, Procyon from Canis Major and Betelgeuse from Orion form the Winter (equilateral) Triangle in the sky.

Dogs in Mythology

British mythology depicts the dog as a faithful and loyal companion. It serves its master well and is prepared to defend that person to the death. King Arthur's faithful companion Cabal, is but one dog that symbolises the relationship between humans and dogs that has survived through the centuries.

The belief that dogs possess the ability of second sight is not new. It is suggested that dogs can see spirits and apparitions while having the ability to sense that death is near. Two such circumstances occurred that are well documented in the history books. The explorer, Lord Carnarvon, discovered Tutankhamen's tomb, a tomb that was supposed to have a curse placed upon it and directed at anyone who violated that tomb. When Lord Carnarvon became ill and died, it is reported that his faithful dog also died within a few hours of his master's demise. It is said that just before Abraham Lincoln was assassinated his dog started howling and running wildly around the White House.

In medieval times a howling dog was considered to be an omen of misfortune or death. If a dog howled when a baby was born, it signified that that child would have an unhappy life or be susceptible to the darker side of its nature. Howling outside a house would cause great concern to the occupants as this again was considered to be an ill omen. In Ireland a rural belief is that if a strange dog digs up someone's garden it foretells illness or death, while in America, a dog that sleeps with its tail out straight behind it and with paws upturned is an indication that bad news is coming. The direction the tail is pointing, it is said, shows the direction from which the bad news will come.

While many stories represent bad omens, so too are there a plentiful number that suggest the dog and its behaviour are linked to good fortune. Beliefs like, if a dog runs under a table then a thunderstorm is on the way go back through history. Some say that if a strange dog follows you then this is a sign of good luck. If a black and white dog should cross someone's path then this indicates that the business that that person is engaged in will have a good outcome.( It is interesting that cats also have been endowed with the ability of being able to herald good or bad luck in different circumstances and colours to the dog).

The famous cure for a hangover is named 'the hair of the dog' this saying developed from an activity in medieval times and was supposed to be a cure for a bite from a mad dog. The belief was that if the person who was bitten by a mad dog, either ate some of that dogs hairs with a slice of bread and some rosemary, they would be protected. Another version was to bind the wound with some hairs from the dog and some herbs to gain the protection. Today it is the saying associated with the attempted cure for feeling ill after an excess of alcohol had been consumed after a good night out.

The French Court was well known for its association with poodles in the eighteenth century. At a time in that country's history when flamboyant dressing and status was all important the poodle was very popular. The style and superficial values of the Court were developed and shown off in the way these dogs were groomed and the 'over the top' style has been connected with a lack of faith in things important in life . In Germany, history tells of the burial practices for the clergy who could not keep their vows. Traditionally their gravestone had the symbol of a poodle on it. The clear link with the poodle is unknown but it is suggested that the dog's ability of second site was granted to the unfortunate clerics in death. Another suggestion was that it symbolises 'lack of faith', as suggested by the interpretation of the French Court's fondness for flamboyant poodle grooming practices.

Dogs mentioned in horror stories deserve a mention here. The classic book, 'Hound of the Baskerville's' was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was suggested that the headless 'Yell Hounds' who appear at twilight, influenced his writing. Such hounds are associated with the hunting of a person's spirit or soul. Indeed through history, much has been recorded about the 'black dogs' or 'fairy dogs' who have also been known to lead people to safety.

Legend associated with the hunt goes back as far as stories from ancient Greece. The Goddess Diana was associated with spectral hounds who were hunting for lost souls. Diana was supposed to ride on the back of one of the great hounds as the pack flew across the mystical sky.

Prince Rupert (1619-1682) owned a dog named Boy. Apparently those people around the Prince thought the dog was possessed by a witch's spirit. The legend says that the witch, travelling in the form of a dog ensured the Prince's victory in all his battles. This was because the dog was always at the Prince's side. Prince Rupert was a commander in King Charles the first's cavalry. The Prince's first major defeat when the dog was killed on June 1st 1644, at Marston Moor. The defeat after the dog's death convinced all those who had been suspicious about a witch's presence that they had been right after all.

In the sixteenth century, only the Imperial Family of ancient China were permitted to own a Pekinese. To honour Queen Elizabeth the first, the Emperor sent a dog and bitch to England accompanied by a royal princess. The dog enjoyed playing on the ship's deck but the bitch was kept in the princess's cabin. Five puppies were born during the crossing and they were housed in a beautiful little ivory box. The ships crew thought the princess was a demon in disguise and that the ivory box contained jewels. A great storm blew up and the princess was taken on deck. Some of the crew took this as an opportunity to steal what they thought was treasure in the box. The dog bit one sailor and in revenge the sailors cast the princess and the box over the side.

After the storm the princess's body was washed up at Land's End and found by a local man. The puppies were also found drowned. The little bitch was alive but close to death. It is said that the little bitch watched the man dig a grave for the princess, he buried her, the puppies and the box together. He laid a line of daisies in the shape of a cross on the top and gently placed the little bitch on top and there she died.

The ship had made port and the sailor who had been bitten suddenly died. Those who knew of the princess's grave did not go near as they feared the spirit of the 'Daisy Dog' haunted it.

Over the years it is said that people who stumbled on the princess's grave were bitten and later died. The spirit of the dog, known as the 'Daisy Dog' is forever sworn to protect his royal mistress, the bitch and the puppies meant only for the imperial Family and the Queen of England.

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