The Dog Days in Appalachia

Growing up, the high-time of summer was a fun time, but it was tempered by the superstitions of my mother and grandmother. Between July 3rd and August 11 was the worst time there was throughout the year, when folks had their worst fortunes dealt to them.

During this time we weren’t allowed to go into the woods or go swimming unsupervised, because it was believed you would be more prone to drown and the tiniest cut would fester right mad, leading to a bad infection. We weren’t to go barefoot a lot during this time either. Just the other day, my mother fussed at me for still wearing shoes with a hole in the sole of them. “You’re gonna end up getting gangrene up your foot,” was her motherly retort.

It is called the dog days, according to local folklore because the frequency of mad dogs is higher now than any other time in the year. But originally it was because the Egyptians used the Dog Star, Sirius, as a weather beacon to foreshadow the flood season for the Nile river. The sun and moon in Appalachia were believed to have a large effect on the local weather. Hot days preceded bad thunderstorms, and the phases of the moon bring the fog and frost.

During the Dog Days, the star Sirius goes with the sun, giving more influence to the weather here. The days are long and hot, and often times dry. When they’re not, the mud is moist three feet deep after much rain and it’s humid as hell outside. This time of the year was never seen in a good light and is steeped with superstitions of evil and bad omens.

Meat spoils easier now than ever in the year, and many people believed they would get sick with fever and madness from eating center meats now. Wine and milk spoil and sour, the rate for rabies is believed to be higher, animals are languid, and the changes of catches diseases like tetanus are higher as well.

Any wound, no matter how small, will almost always become infected now, it will take much longer to heal, and will likely leave a scar in its place (in my family’s experience).

The Dog Days were also a time when bad haints or “harnts” were more active. It was always in July that mama would wash the walls with vinegar, water, and pinesol to clean them physically but to also lay a blessing. Folklore advises to wear your socks inside out, wear a cross around your neck, or wear your ball cap backwards to avert both the ill fortune and the haints.

Under the screams of midnight cicadas and the full moon with thunder sounding in the distance, the mountaineer always prepares his brood for the Dog Days. So brave these days as best you can if you’re as superstitious as I and my family are; cause one ounce of precaution is worth more than a pound of cure as I’ve always heard, and you’d be best to listen to these hills.


Author: Jake Richards

Jake (Dr. Henny) follows family practice as a Yarb Doctor and Conjure man in the Appalachian Folk Magic tradition. He follows the legacy of his mother (a seventh daughter), that left behind by his grandfather, a baptist preacher who was a blood stopper, wort doctor, and thrush doctor; his grandmother, who was a knowledgeable woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather who witched for water in Washington County and his great grandmother who taught and worked from her roost at the foot of Devil’s Nest Mountain. Jake is the author of Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia, available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. When he's not writing, blogging, reading the bones or trying for clients: he is either traveling, gardening, sewing, book binding, reading, or sculpting. For questions, readings, recommendations for future posts, interviews and the like, you are welcome to email him below:

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