The ancient wonder and veneration of the dog star Sirius
Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, has been the object of wonder and veneration to ancient peoples throughout the whole of human history.
Sirius is also known as the "Dog Star", reflecting its prominence in its constellation, Canis Major (Greater Dog). Curiously, ancient cultures with no apparent connection have universally associated the blazing Sirius with either a wolf or a dog. In ancient China, the star was identified as a heavenly wolf. In ancient Chaldea (present day Iraq) the star was known as the "Dog Star that Leads". In Assyria and Akkadia, it was said to be the "Dog of the Sun”. Several indigenous tribes of North America referred to the star in canine terms: the Seri and Tohono O’odham tribes of the southwest describe the Sirius as a “dog that follows mountain sheep”, while the Cherokee paired Sirius with Antares as a dog-star guardian of the “Path of Souls”. The Skidi tribe of Nebraska knew it as the “Wolf Star”, while further north, the Alaskan Inuit of the Bering Strait called it “Moon Dog”.
The name Sirius is derived from the Ancient Greek ‘Seirios’, which means ‘glowing’ or ‘scorcher’, and artefacts of ancient civilizations have shown that Sirius has been of great importance in astronomy, mythology and occultism for thousands of years. In the ancient Vedas this star was known as the Chieftain's star; in other Hindu writings, it is referred to as Sukra, the Rain God, or Rain Star. The heliacal rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt and the "dog days" of summer for the ancient Greeks, while to the Polynesians it marked winter and was an important star for navigation around the Pacific Ocean. The star’s celestial movement was also observed and revered by Sumerians, Babylonians and countless other civilizations. The star was therefore considered sacred and its apparition in the sky was accompanied with feasts and celebrations.
In Ancient Egypt, Sirius was regarded as the most important star in the sky. In fact, it was astronomically the foundation of the Egyptians’ entire religious system. Ancient Egyptians held Sirius in such a high regard that most of their deities were associated, in some way or another, with the star. The Egyptian calendar system was based on the heliacal rising of Sirius that occurred just before the annual flooding of the Nile during summer.
In 1971, the American author Robert Temple published a controversial book entitled The Sirius Mystery where he claimed that the Dogons (an ancient African tribe from Mali) knew details about Sirius that would be impossible to be know without the use of telescopes. According to him, the Dogon understood the binary nature of Sirius, which is, in fact, composed of two stars named Sirius A and Sirius B.
Still today, we see that Sirius forms an important part of religious beliefs and spiritual practice. The Dog Star remains the central focus of the teachings and symbolism of many secret societies and esoteric schools still in existence today.
From the dawn of civilization to modern times, from remote tribes of Africa to the great capitals of the modern world, Sirius was, and still is, associated with divinity and regarded as a source of great knowledge and power. But what is it that makes Sirius so special? Is it simply due to the fact that it is the brightest star in the sky? Or is it also because humanity has an ancient, mysterious connection with it?