Strange though it may seem, on July 4 the earth will be at the farthest point away from the sun in its orbit, its aphelion. This is not really surprising, however, since our distance from the sun has no bearing on the temperatures prevailing on earth. As is well known, the latter depend on the inclination of the axis of the earth, not whether we’re at the aphelion or perihelion (farthest from and nearest to the sun). Thus, during summer, the sun favors the northern hemisphere, its rays fall more vertically and we have summer, whereas the southern hemisphere has winter.
The changes of the seasons were of immense importance for people in ancient times, especially after the appearance of agriculture, since sowing, harvesting and other agricultural pursuits depended on them. Because of these farming activities, July was also called the Thresher, because it was in this month that cereals were threshed. In the olden days, before modern machinery, farmers would clear the weeds from the threshing-floor, which was dressed with stones or, more commonly, earth and was situated so as to catch the most of any winds that blew.
As the Greek poet Georgios Drosinis (1859-1951) writes in one of his poems: ‘On the well-swept, weeded threshing-floor, the stooks, the blond-haired braids, will be spread out’.
The threshing-floor was circular in shape and had a wooden beam in the center, around which plodded the animals which would thresh the ears of corn. The oxen, horses, donkeys or mules which were used would be yoked together and ambled round a central column thus trampling on the ears. Very often a flail was used to loosen the husks. Thereafter, a winnowing-fan or shovel was used to separate the wheat from the chaff, with the help of the wind. In Greece, during the winnowing, it was bad luck for a woman spinning with a distaff to be present at the threshing-floor, because ‘she’s a mischievous sprite and drives away the wind so that they can’t winnow’.
One person associated with winnowing is the Prophet Elijah who is master of the winds and whose feast we celebrate on 20 July. The month is, in fact, sometimes known as ‘Saint Elijah’s’. He’s also linked to rain and to the peaks of mountains, which is why there’s often a chapel dedicated to him in such places.
[…] The Prophet Elijah isn’t the only saint we celebrate in July. Many of the great feasts in the month are dedicated to ‘healer’ saints, beginning, on the first, with Saints Kosmas and Damianos, the Unmercenary Doctors who lived in the 3rd century. Their voluntary activities infuriated the governor of the province to such an extent that he demanded they renounce their faith and, when they refused to do so, he had them tortured and then beheaded.
Following this, on the seventh, we have the feast of Saint Kyriaki the healer, and on the seventeenth that of Saint Marina who revives sickly children. In Thiseio, in Athens, it was the custom for those with such children to spend the whole night awake and to change the children’s clothes before her icon.
The feasts continue with the blessed martyr Saint Paraskevi, who, according to tradition, cures eyes. She’s commemorated on the twenty-sixth of the month. The next day, we commemorate another doctor who practiced medicine without charge and who was beheaded in the year 305. This is Saint Panteleimon, whose capacity is clear from the saying: ‘Halt and lame, go to Saint Panteleimon’.
As the anthropologist Linda Papagalani aptly remarks: ‘Religious folk tradition keeps alive the miraculous blessing of the saints. With prayers, rituals and offerings the faithful attempt, with a mixture of devotion, faith, fear and personal benefit, to ensure the support of the divine forces’.