Archive for the astronomical time Category
This seven day period begins with Christmas Eve.
This seven day period sees the Winter Solstice on Dec 21 – also known as the pagan festival of Yule.
Yule is the time of the winter solstice, when the sun child is reborn, an image of the return of all new life born through the love of the Gods. Within the Northern Tradition Yule is regarded as the New Year.
The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world.
Ancient people were hunters and spent most of their time outdoors. The seasons and weather played a very important part in their lives. Because of this many ancient people had a great reverence for, and even worshipped the sun. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word yule is thought to have come. At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.
The ancient Romans also held a festival to celebrate the rebirth of the year. Saturnalia ran for seven days from the 17th of December. It was a time when the ordinary rules were turned upside down. Men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants. The festival also involved decorating houses with greenery, lighting candles, holding processions and giving presents.
The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.
It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.
Many of these customs are still followed today. They have been incorporated into the Christian and secular celebrations of Christmas.
This week sees on Dec 7 Al-Hijira, the Islamic New Year which marks the migration of the Prophet Mohammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina.
Al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year, is the first day of the month of Muharram. It marks the Hijra (or Hegira) in 622 CE when the Prophet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, and set up the first Islamic state.
The Muslim calendar counts dates from the Hijra, which is why Muslim dates have the suffix A.H. (After Hijra).
It’s a low-key event in the Muslim world, celebrated less than the two major festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.
New Year rituals
There is no specific religious ritual required on this day, but Muslims will think about the general meaning of Hijra, and regard this as a good time for ‘New Year Resolutions’.
The start of Islam as a community
The date marks the beginning of Islam as a community in which spiritual and earthly life were completely integrated. It was a community inspired by God, and totally obedient to God; a group of people bound together by faith
By breaking the link with his own tribe the Prophet demonstrated that tribal and family loyalties were insignificant compared to the bonds of Islam.
This Muslim community grew steadily over time, unifying the many tribes that had made up the Arab world beforehand.
Earthly and heavenly power
Islam now developed as a combined spiritual and earthly community, with political and military power working hand in hand with spiritual power and guidance.
At the same time the community developed the religious and ethical codes of behaviour that still provide the foundation of Muslim life.
Dec Wed 8
Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Christian )
Celebrated by Roman Catholics who remember Mary’s conception as being without sin, therefore, immaculate.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary, the mother of Christ, was conceived without sin and her conception was thus immaculate.
Mary’s sinless conception is the reason why Catholics refer to Mary as “full of grace”.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated by Catholics on December 8th each year.
Bodhi Day (Buddhist )
On Bodhi day some Buddhists celebrate Gautama’s attainment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, India.
The beginning of the ecclesiastical year on the Sunday closest to November 30. Advent is the season before Christmas – In Western Christendom, four Sundays are included. In Eastern Christendom, the season is longer and begins in the middle of November.
Nov Tue 30
St Andrew’s Day (Christian )
Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, Greece and Russia. The flag of Scotland is the Cross of St. Andrew. St Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was originally a fisherman and became the first Apostle.
Saint Andrew’s Day is November 30.
Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, Greece and Russia and was Christ’s first disciple.
There are around 600 pre-Reformation churches in England named after Saint Andrew, in contrast to Scotland’s handful of churches of all denominations named after the saint. Nevertheless, it was Scotland that adopted Andrew as its patron – probably because, Saint Andrew being the brother of Saint Peter, it gave the Scots considerable political leverage with the Pope in pleading for help against the belligerent English!
In Greek Andrew means ‘manly’. St. Andrew’s biographical details are simple: he was born between AD 5 and AD 10 in Bethsaida, the principal fishing port of Palestine. His parents were Jona and Joanna; his brother was Simon. Jona, along with his business-partner and friend Zebedee and his sons James and John, was a fisherman.
Andrew had a strong sense of curiosity. He would have gone to the synagogue school at the age of five to study scripture and then astronomy and arithmetic.
Later, on the banks of the Jordan, Andrew met John the Baptist: he was the first disciple and the first apostle. It was he who brought the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus before the feeding of the five thousand.
According to the apocryphal ‘Acts of Andrew’ he is said to have travelled to Asia Minor and the Black Sea. In the city of Synope he is believed to have suffered great hardships and the house he was in was nearly burnt down. He returned twice more to Asia Minor and Greece, even travelling as far as Hungary, Russia and to the banks of the Oder in Poland.
In Greece, Andrew forced his way through a forest inhabited by wolves, bears and tigers. Finally, in Patras, he was given the choice of being offered as a sacrifice to the gods or being scourged and crucified. By his own request the cross was diagonal. He, like his brother Peter, felt himself unworthy to be crucified on the upright cross of Christ.
He hung for three days on the cross, fixed not by nails but by rope round his hands and feet. Even in his last agony, he continued to preach. So ended the life of Saint Andrew. What happened to his body, however, is the next part of the story.
Andrew’s bones come to Scotland
How did the bones of Saint Andrew come to Scotland? There are two versions – the first a pious fable. In this, Saint Regulus (later known as Rule), a Greek monk and keeper of St Andrew’s relics at Patras, was told in a vision to set hide some of the relics until further instruction. A few days later, the emperor Constantine removed the remaining parts of Andrew’s body to Constantinople.
An angel again appeared and told Rule to take the bones he had hidden and go west by ship. Wherever they were shipwrecked he should lay the foundations of a church. The angel foretold how pilgrims would travel to this shrine from all parts of the West to receive health of body and soul.
Saint Rule’s ship was driven ashore by a storm onto the headland of Muckross in Fife, into the little village of Kilrymont (later St Andrews). Halfway between the Castle and the harbour is said to be Saint Rule’s cell.
At the time Saint Rule landed, the Apostle appeared to the Pictish King, promising victory to his enemies. In gratitude, the King confirmed the dedication of St. Regulus Church to God and Saint Andrew.
This is, one suspects, an arresting fable that telescopes more mundane and complicated historical fact. A second (and probably more reliable) explanation says that the bones were brought to St Andrews about 732 AD by Acca, Bishop of Hexham (near Newcastle), a well known venerator of Saint Andrew.
Around the year 832AD (although some say 735 AD) the Northumbrian King Athelstane is said to have camped at what is now Athelstaneford in East Lothian, before his battle with the Picts under King Angus mac Fergus. Saint Andrew appeared to Angus in a dream and promised victory. During the battle, a saltire cross was seen in the sky, putting heart into the Scots (note, this was not jumbo-jet vapour trails or even necessarily a cloud formation!).
Athelstane was killed at the ford over the Cogtail burn. In gratitude, Angus gave gifts to the church of Saint Regulus at St Andrews. He then ordered the Cross of Saint Andrew to be the badge of the Picts.
However, this foundation story of a more stable kingdom in what would become Scotland is almost certainly modelled on the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great’s victory at the Milvian Bridge, Rome in 312 AD at the banks of the River Tiber when he became convinced of the power of Christianity by seeing the symbol of Christ (the Chi Rho – the Greek letters Χ Ρ, the first letters of ‘Christ’) in the rays of the setting sun.
Whatever route the bones of Saint Andrew may have taken, we do know that in AD 908, the only bishopric in Scotland was transferred from Abernethy (the royal residence) to St Andrews. Subsequently, the town rapidly became famous as a pilgrimage site.
Increase in popularity
During the reign of Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret, devotion to Saint Andrew became nationwide and Andrewmas was made a national festival. Scottish soldiers fighting in the Crusades honoured Saint Andrew as Patron of Christian Knighthood.
In 1318 St. Andrew’s Cathedral was dedicated and became known as the Canterbury of the North. It was the largest church in Scotland before the Reformation. In 1411 Saint Andrew’s University was founded and sixty-one years later, the See of St. Andrews was raised to Metropolitan status.
At the Reformation, the great Morbrac (reliquary) which carried the bones of the saint and weighed one third of a ton, was destroyed. The street games, the festivities, the fireworks and the processions with evergreens, which used to take place on 30 November, were banished for ever.
Andrew’s significance to the Scots
What, in practice, did Saint Andrew mean to the Scots? When, in 1603, the new King James I and VI tried to make one united flag, the Scots resisted because the saltire cross had been given an inferior position in the design. Scottish ships at sea persisted in flying the Saint Andrew’s Cross.
The Union Jack was the official flag from the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. But, while the red Lion Rampant is the proper Royal flag for Scotland and the Thistle the national badge, official heraldic decrees state that the national flag and arms of Scotland are the Saint Andrew’s Cross.
Saint Andrew is patron of Russia and Greece but has special significance for the Scots. The Declaration of Arbroath (1320), written by Scottish clergymen to Pope John XXII, was an appeal to the Pope against the English claim that Scotland fell within the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York.
The Declaration argues that the Scots were a distinct people who had long enjoyed the protection of Saint Andrew, brother of Saint Peter. Saint Andrew is described in the Declaration of Arbroath as “our patron or protector”.
At the Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling in 1314, the Scottish soldiers had worn the white cross of St Andrew on their tunics and before the battle began they knelt in prayer, invoking his protection.
Four years later Robert the Bruce, at the dedication of St Andrews Cathedral on 5 July 1318, placed a parchment at the High Altar expressing nation’s thanks to the saint.
William Wallace’s battle-cry was “St. Andrew mot us speed” (May Saint Andrew support us). Prior to the disastrous Scottish defeat at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, a great many Saint Andrew’s crosses were made at the Boroughmuir in Edinburgh.
The Blue Blanket flag gifted to the Trade Guilds of Edinburgh also bore the Saint Andrew’s Cross, while Scotland’s largest ship, the Great Michael, was full of Saint Andrew’s Crosses, as were the Honours of Scotland.
Mary, Queen of Scots’ forces carried the saltire at the battle of Carberry; many Jacobite flags in the ’45 Uprising also displayed the saltire. It soon became incorporated into the official badges of Scottish regiments. There was even a Saint Andrew coin issued by Robert II and a bawbee Scots halfpenny marked with the same cross.
Movement of relics
In modern times, the bones of Saint Andrew once more returned to Scotland. In 1879 the Archbishop of Amalfi in Italy (where the bones had been brought in 1453 after the fall of Constantinople) sent to Edinburgh what was believed to be the shoulder-blade of St Andrew.
At St Peter’s, Rome in April 1969, Pope Paul VI gave another relic – part of the skull of the saint – to Cardinal Gordon Gray, at that time Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. “Peter greets his brother Andrew,” were the words of the Pope to the Archbishop. The relics of the Apostle are today displayed at St Andrew’s altar in the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Mary in Edinburgh. At St. Andrew’s Cathedral by the shore at Patras, Greece other parts of the skull of Saint Andrew are cherished in a place of honour.
While it is permissible to be sceptical about the authenticity of relics, there can be no doubt about the value of an annual celebration of St. Andrew as representing strength and curiosity, two qualities which are by tradition very much part of the Scottish psyche.
Saint Andrew was a ‘networker’ – a fisherman but also the one who brought the Gentiles (non-Jews) to Jesus and preached about him as far as the Black Sea. The saltire cross is a multiplication sign – reminding us that it was Saint Andrew who brought the little boy and his loaves and fishes to Jesus. Perhaps Saint Andrew was good at shaming those who had hidden their food to share it with the 5,000 others?
Dec Thu 2
Hanukkah (Jewish )
Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights and marks the restoration of the temple by the Maccabees in 164 BCE. Hanukkah is celebrated at roughly the same time as Christmas, but there is no connection at all between the festivals.
Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It dates back to two centuries before the beginning of Christianity.
The festival begins on the 25th day of Kislev and is celebrated for eight days. In the western calendar Hanukkah is celebrated in November or December.
The word Hanukkah means rededication and commemorates the Jews’ struggle for religious freedom.
The festival marks the phenomenal victory of a group of Jews called the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, the most powerful army of the ancient world.
At the end of the three-year war, the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the temple.
When the Maccabees rededicated the temple, they discovered a single cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest still intact.
When they came to light the eight-branched temple candelabrum, the menorah, they had enough oil to last only a day.
But the menorah miraculously stayed alight for eight days. This became known as the miracle of the oil.
Lighting the Menorah
It is because of this miracle that candles are lit from right to left during Hanukkah.
On day one, the first candle is lit; on the second night Jews light two candles, and the pattern continues. By the eighth night, all eight candles are alight. They are lit from a separate candle, the Shamash or servant candle.
During Hanukkah Jews follow simple religious rituals in addition to their regular daily prayers from the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book.
They recite three blessings during the eight-day festival. On the first night, they recite three and on subsequent nights they say the first two.
The blessings are said before the candles are lit. After the candles are lit, they recite the Hanerot Halalu prayer and then sing a hymn.
Traditional Hanukkah foods
Potato pancakes and deep-fried doughnuts are traditional Hanukkah treats.
Fried food in particular reminds Jews of the miracle of the oil and the candles that burned for eight days after the Maccabees won back the temple in Jerusalem.
Dairy products are often eaten during Hanukkah. The tradition has its roots in the story of Judith (Yehudit) who saved her village from the Syrians by making an offering of cheese and wine to the governor of the enemy troops.
Judith encouraged the governor to get drunk. After he collapsed on the floor, she beheaded him with his own sword and took his head back to the village in a basket.
When the Syrian troops discovered their governor had been beheaded, they fled.
It is customary to play games at Hanukkah. The most common game uses a dreidel and is a popular way of helping children to remember the great miracle.
A dreidel is a spinning top with a different Hebrew letter inscribed on each of its four sides.
The four letters form an acronym that means: ‘A great miracle happened here.’
The stakes are usually chocolate coins but sometimes pennies, peanuts or raisins are also used.
Each player puts a coin in the pot and takes it in turns to spin the dreidel. The letter on which the dreidel stops determines each player’s score.
Other games include trying to knock other players’ dreidels down and trying to spin as many dreidels as possible at any one time.
The exchange of gifts or gelt is another old and cherished Hanukkah custom that dates back to at least the Middle Ages, possibly earlier.
Gelt is the Yiddish term for money. Modern day gelt includes saving bonds, cheques and chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.
Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was one of the greatest religious innovators of all time and the founder of the Sikh religion.
Guru Nanak’s birthday is celebrated by Sikhs on April 14th by the Nanakshahi calendar. (The date according to the lunar calendar changes annually but is usually in November.)
Nanak’s religious ideas draw on both Hindu and Islamic thought, but are far more than just a synthesis. Nanak was an original spiritual thinker and expressed his thoughts in extraordinary poetry that forms the basis of Sikh scripture.
Little is known about the life of Nanak, but Sikh tradition has a much-loved set of stories or janam sakhis which relate various incidents from his life, and include many of his important teachings.
Nanak was born about 40 miles from Lahore (now in Pakistan) in 1469. Sikh traditions teach that his birth and early years were marked with many events that demonstrated that God had marked him out for something special and was keeping an eye on him.
His family were Hindus, but Nanak soon showed an advanced interest in religion and studied Islam and Hinduism extensively. As a child he demonstrated great ability as a poet and philosopher.
One famous story about Guru Nanak tells of his rebellion at the age of eleven. At this age Hindu boys of his caste would start to wear the sacred thread to distinguish them. Nanak refused, saying that people should be distinguished by the things that they did, and their individual qualities, rather than by a thread.
Nanak continued to demonstrate a radical spiritual streak – arguing with local holy men and sages, both Hindu and Muslim, that external things like pilgrimages, penances, and poverty were of far less spiritual importance than internal changes to the individual’s soul.
He worked for a while as an accountant but while still quite young decided to devote himself to spiritual matters. He was inspired by a powerful spiritual experience that gave him a vision of the true nature of God, and confirmed his idea that the way to spiritual growth was through meditation and through living in a way that reflected the presence of the divine within each human being.
In 1496, although married and having a family, Nanak set out on a set of spiritual journeys through India, Tibet and Arabia that lasted nearly 30 years. He studied and debated with the learned men he met along the way and as his ideas took shape he began to teach a new route to spiritual fulfilment and the good life.
The last part of his life was spent at Kartarpur in the Punjab, where he was joined by many disciples attracted by his teachings.
The most famous teachings attributed to Guru Nanak are that there is only one God, and that all human beings can have direct access to God with no need of rituals or priests. His most radical social teachings denounced the caste system and taught that everyone is equal, regardless of caste or gender.
Nov Tue 23
Niinamesei (Shinto )
Labour Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday in Japan and originally a harvest festival. Late summer and autumn feature many aki matsuri, autumn festivals, often thanking the kami for a good harvest. Different shrines countrywide hold their own celebrations on varying dates.
This national holiday is marked on 23 November. Nowadays it is celebrated as a labour-thanksgiving day.
It was originally a harvest festival in which rituals were performed by the Imperial family to give thanks for a good crop yield.
Nov Wed 24
Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur (Nanakshahi calendar) (Sikh )
Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth Sikh Guru and is honoured as a champion of religious freedom. He was executed in 1675 for refusing to convert to Islam.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, 1621-75
Born in Amritsar, Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth of the ten Gurus who founded Sikhism.
He’s honoured and remembered as the man who championed the rights for all religious freedom.
He taught liberation from attachment, fear and dependence. Strength should be gained through truth, worship, sacrifice and knowledge.
During the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, Islam was imposed on the people. Hindu temples were demolished and turned into mosques, higher taxes were charged to non-Muslims and the Emperor persecuted those who would not conform to Islamic law.
Guru Tegh Bahadur spoke out amid this persecution. He refused to convert to Islam and in 1675, he was beheaded in Delhi. The site of his execution was later turned into an important Gurdwara.
He’s also remembered for his poetry, much of which is included in the Guru Granth Sahib.
He married Bibi Gujjari and they had one son: the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.
He founded the city of Anandpur which later became a centre of Sikhism.
Bahá’u'lláh, which means the glory of God in Arabic, was born Mirza Husayn Ali in 1817 into one of Persia’s most noble and privileged families.
In his early life he had a relatively limited education (which was normal for the class from which he came). He learned horsemanship (he was known as a fine horseman), swordsmanship, poetry and calligraphy (he was also renowned as an excellent poet and calligrapher).
His Islamic education was strictly non-technical, but despite this, his knowledge of Islam (and of other religions) was far beyond what could have been expected of someone from the wealthy governing class.
This is important because Bahá’u'lláh used his limited education to reinforce his claim to divine revelation. He argued that since he had not spent years studying the Qur’an and Arabic, how else could he be able to write as he did in Arabic? And there is no evidence to suggest that he devised his writings through his own intellectual thoughts.
Contact with the Báb
In 1844, just 3 months after the Báb’s declaration, Mulla Husayn carried a scroll of the Báb’s to Bahá’u'lláh.
On reading it, Bahá’u'lláh recognised the claims of the Báb and at the age of 27 became his follower.
From then on, although they never met, Bahá’u'lláh and the Báb were in constant correspondence and when the Báb knew that he would soon die, he sent his pens, seals and papers to Bahá’u'lláh.
It was at Bahá’u'lláh’s explicit instructions that the remains of the Báb were removed from Tabriz to Tihran and hidden in a place of safety.
Two years after the Báb’s death, Bahá’u'lláh was imprisoned in Tihran, accused of taking part in the attempted assassination of the Shah of Persia.
He was put in stocks and, for three days, given neither food nor water.
Other Bábis were imprisoned with him and as they sat in chains, Bahá’u'lláh taught them to chant prayers which were heard by the Shah.
Nov Sun 14
The second Sunday of November is marked by ceremonies at war memorials and cenotaphs to remember those who gave their lives in conflicts.
Nov Mon 15
Shichigosan (7-5-3 festival) (Shinto )
A festival to give thanks for children. Often celebrated on the nearest Sunday to the 15th to allow working parents to take part.
On this day parents take boys of three and five years old and girls of three and seven to give thanks to the gods for a healthy life so far and pray for a safe and successful future.
The festival of Shichigosan is named after the ages of the children taking part – seven (shichi), five (go), three (san).
Nov Wed 17
Eid-Ul-Adha (Muslim )
Festival of Sacrifice marking the day after Arafat. The Day of Arafat is the most important day in the Hajj ritual. This is a four day holiday
This is a four-day public holiday in Muslim countries.
The festival remembers the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to.
God appeared in a dream to Ibrahim and told him to sacrifice his son Isma’il. Ibrahim and Isma’il set off to Mina for the sacrifice.
As they went, the devil attempted to persuade Ibrahim to disobey God and not to sacrifice his beloved son. But Ibrahim stayed true to God, and drove the devil away.
As Ibrahim prepared to kill his son God stopped him and gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead.
Ibrahim’s complete obedience to the will of God is celebrated by Muslims each year.
Each Muslim, as they celebrate, reminds themselves of their own submission to God, and their own willingness to sacrifice anything to God’s wishes.
During the festival Muslims who can afford to, sacrifice domestic animals, usually sheep, as a symbol of Ibraham’s sacrifice. (British law insists that the animals must be killed in a proper slaughterhouse.)
The meat is distributed among family, friends and the poor, who each get a third share.
Diwali comes at the end of October or early November. It’s a festival that Sikhs, Hindus and Jains celebrate.
Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is the most popular of all the festivals from South Asia. It is also an occasion for celebration by Jains and Sikhs.
The festival of Diwali extends over five days. Because of the lights, fireworks and sweets involved, it’s a great favourite with children.
The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, although the actual legends that go with the festival are different in different parts of India.
The date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar so it varies in the Western calendar. It usually falls in October or November.
Diwali is a New Year festival in the Vikrama calendar, where it falls on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartika.
Business people regard it as a favourable day to start a new accounting year because of the festival’s association with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
Diwali is also used to celebrate a successful harvest.
A row of lights
The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights.
Diwali is known as the ‘festival of lights’ because houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally fueled by mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them.
The lamps are lit to help the goddess Lakshmi find her way into people’s homes. They also celebrate one of the Diwali legends, which tells of the return of Rama and Sita to Rama’s kingdom after fourteen years of exile.
In India oil lamps are often floated across the river Ganges – it is regarded as a good omen if the lamp manages to get all the way across.
Fireworks are a big part of the Diwali celebrations, although in recent years there has been a move against them because of noise and atmospheric pollution and the number of accidental deaths and injuries.
For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619.
The Sikh tradition holds that the Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned Guru Hargobind and 52 princes. The Emperor was asked to release Guru Hargobind which he agreed to do. However, Guru Hargobind asked that the princes be released also. The Emperor agreed, but said only those who could hold onto his cloak tail would be allowed to leave the prison. This was in order to limit the number of prisoners who could leave.
However, Guru Hargobind had a cloak made with 52 pieces of string and so each prince was able to hold onto one string and leave prison.
Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind by lighting the Golden Temple and this tradition continues today.
The Festival of Lights
The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights.
Diwali is known as the ‘festival of lights’ because houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called Diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally fueled by mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them.
In towns in India (and in Britain) electric lights are often used in Diwali displays.
In India oil lamps are often floated across the river Ganges – it is regarded as a good omen if the lamp manages to get all the way across.
Like Christmas in the West, Diwali is very much a time for buying and exchanging gifts. Traditionally sweets and dried fruit were very common gifts to exchange, but the festival has become a time for serious shopping, leading to anxiety that commercialism is eroding the spiritual side of the festival. In most years shopkeepers expect sales to rise substantially in the weeks before the festival.
Diwali is also a traditional time to redecorate homes and buy new clothes. Diwali is also used to celebrate a successful harvest.
Lakshmi, wealth and prosperity
For many Indians the festival honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
People start the new business year at Diwali, and some Hindus will say prayers to the goddess for a successful year.
Some people build a small altar to the goddess and decorate it with money and with pictures of the rewards of wealth, such as cars and houses.
Hindus will leave the windows and doors of their houses open so that Lakshmi can come in. Rangoli are drawn on the floors – rangoli are patterns and the most popular subject is the lotus flower. This because images of Lakshmi traditionally show her either holding a lotus or sitting on one.
There is much feasting and celebration, and the Diwali lamps are regarded as making it easy for Lakshmi to find her way to favoured houses.
The goddess Kali is celebrated at Diwali in the Bengali and Oriya areas of India.
Some Diwali legends
Two of the legends of Diwali show the triumph of Good over Evil and tell of the destruction of two monsters that preyed on humanity.
The killing of the demon Narakaasura
The demon Narakaasura was the evil king of Pragjyotishpur, near Nepal. He ruled with a reign of terror, abducted 16,000 daughters of the gods and stole the earings of Aditi, mother of the gods.
The gods asked Lord Krishna for help and after a mighty battle he killed the demon, freed the girls and recovered the earrings.
The rescue of the 16,000 girls is said to be the origin of the story that Krishna had 16,000 wives. After his victory Krishna returned very early in the morning and was bathed and massaged with scented oils. Taking an early morning bath with oil is still a Diwali tradition.
The killing of the demon Ravana
Ravana, who had ten arms and ten heads, was the wicked king of the island of Sri Lanka, who kidnapped the wife of Rama. Rama had been in exile for 14 years because of a disagreement as to whether he or his brother should be the next king in Ayodhya.
After a great battle Rama killed the demon and recovered his wife. Rama’s return with his wife Sita to Ayodhya and his subsequent coronation as king is celebrated at Diwali.
When Rama and Sita first returned to Ayodhya it was a dark moonless night and they couldn’t see where they were going. Their people put little lamps outside their houses so that the new king and queen could find their way, thus beginning the tradition of the festival of lights.
The 11th of November is Armistice Day
This day commemorates and marks the end of the First World War on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. At 1100 on this day people in the UK pause for 2 minutes of silence to remember those who gave their lives in past conflicts.
All Hallows’ Eve falls on 31 October each year, and is the day before All Hallows’ Day, also known as All Saints’ Day in the Christian calendar. The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.
The name derives from the Old English ‘hallowed’ meaning holy or sanctified and is now usually contracted to the more familiar word Hallowe’en.
A brief history of the festival
In the early 7th century Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome, formerly a temple to all the gods, as a church dedicated to Saint Mary and the Martyrs, and ordered that that date, May 13, should be celebrated every year.
It became All Saints’ Day, a day to honour all the saints, and later, at the behest of Pope Urban IV (d. 1264), a day specially to honour those saints who didn’t have a festival day of their own.
In the 8th century, on November 1st, Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel to all the saints in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Gregory IV then made the festival universal throughout the Church, and November 1st has subsequently become All Saints’ Day for the western Church.
The Orthodox Church celebrates All Saints’ Day on the first Sunday after Passover – a date closer to the original May 13th.
Hallowe’en and Samhain
It is widely believed that many Hallowe’en traditions have evolved from an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain which was Christianised by the early Church. Pronounced sow-in, Samhain is a Gaelic word meaning ‘end of the summer’. This festival is believed to have been a celebration of the end of the harvest, and a time of preparation for the coming winter.
It is widely accepted that the early church missionaries chose to hold a festival at this time of year in order to absorb existing native Pagan practices into Christianity, thereby smoothing the conversion process.
A letter Pope Gregory I sent to Bishop Mellitus in the 6th century, in which he suggested that existing places of non-Christian worship be adopted and consecrated to serve a Christian purpose, is often provided as supporting evidence of this method of acculturation. (See related links.)
Encyclopaedia Britannica states that this date may have been chosen “in an effort to supplant the Pagan holiday with a Christian observance”.
The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions also claims that Hallowe’en “absorbed and adopted the Celtic new year festival, the eve and day of Samhain”.
However, there are supporters of the view that Hallowe’en, as the eve of All Saints’ Day, originated entirely independently of Samhain and some question the existence of a specific pan-Celtic religious festival which took place on 31 October/1 November.
All Saints’ Day
All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day or Hallowmas) is the day after All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en). It is a feast day celebrated on November 1st by Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
It is an opportunity for followers to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. As part of this day of obligation, followers are required to attend church and try not to do any servile work.
All Souls’ Day
All Souls’ Day is marked on 2nd November (or the 3rd if the 2nd is a Sunday), directly following All Saints’ Day, and is an opportunity for Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholic churches to commemorate the faithful departed. They remember and pray for the souls of people who are in Purgatory – the place (or state) in which those who have died atone for their less grave sins before being granted the vision of God in Heaven (called Beatific vision).
Reasoning behind this stems from the notion that when a soul leaves the body, it is not entirely cleansed from venial (minor) sins. However, through the power of prayer and self-denial, the faithful left on earth may be able to help these souls gain the Beatific Vision they seek, bringing the soul eternal sublime happiness.
A 7/8th century AD prayer The Office of the Dead is read out in churches on All Souls’ Day. Other rituals include the offering of Requiem Mass for the dead, visiting family graves and reflecting on lost loved ones. In Mexico, on el dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead), people take picnics to their family graves and leave food out for their dead relatives.
Whilst praying for the dead is an ancient Christian tradition, it was Odilo, Abbot of Cluny (France) who, in 998AD, designated a specific day for remembering and praying for those in the process of purification. This started as a local feast in his monasteries and gradually spread throughout the Catholic Church towards the end of the 10th century AD.
The Orionid Meteor Shower
Late at night in this seven day period you will be able to see the star pattern Orion. Between 11 o’clock and midnight, if you look towards the east, and then a little to the south, you will see the constellation of Orion the Hunter rising over the trees and roof tops on your horizon. Some exciting astronomical events will start to happen in this part of the sky from October 15 – 25, a meteor shower, or shooting stars.
To find Orion in the clear night sky look for three stars in a row which marks the hunter’s belt. The shooting stars you might see this week are called the Orionid meteors, because they appear to come from the hunter’s club formed by a scattering of faint stars. The shooting stars of Orion are bright sparks of ice, dust and small stones burning as they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere. They are fragments left floating in space by a comet called Halley’s comet. If you are lucky enough to see a few of these shooting stars, you will see they glow with varied colours. Some make a long trail in the night sky. This is called the meteor’s train. Looking forward to the night of October 21 is a night when you can expect to see up to 30 shooting stars per hour, however the almost-full waxing gibbous moon makes 2010 an unfavorable year for watching this Orionid meteor shower, and the moon is leaving only a narrow window for observing Comet Hartley 2 at its brightest around now.
Comet 103P Hartley from as seen from a four inch telescope, October 6th, 2010.
The comet passed within 0.12 AU of the Earth on October 20, 2010, only eight days before coming to perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on October 28, 2010. In early November the comet will be visible around midnight without interference from the Moon.
The Deep Impact spacecraft, which had previously photographed Comet Tempel 1, is now being reused by NASA to study Hartley 2. The initial plan was for a flyby of Comet Boethin. However, astronomers found that Boethin was too faint to be observed, and its orbit could not be calculated with sufficient precision to permit a flyby. NASA retargeted the spacecraft toward Hartley 2 instead.
Deep Impact is a NASA space probe launched on January 12, 2005. It was designed to study the composition of the comet interior of 9P/Tempel, by releasing an impactor into the comet. At 5:52 UTC on July 4, 2005, the impactor successfully collided with the comet’s nucleus. The impact excavated debris from the interior of the nucleus, allowing photographs of the impact crater. The photographs showed the comet to be more dusty and less icy than had been expected. The impact generated a large and bright dust cloud, which unexpectedly obscured the view of the impact crater.
The Deep Impact mission was planned to help answer fundamental questions about comets, which included what makes up the composition of the comet’s nucleus, what depth the crater would reach from the impact, and where the comet originated in its formation. By observing the composition of the comet, astronomers hoped to determine how comets form based on the differences between the interior and exterior makeup of the comet. Observations of the impact and its aftermath would allow astronomers to attempt to determine the answers to these questions.