Druids, Wiccans and Pagans are preparing to celebrating the festival of Samhain over the three days of 31st October to 1st November. One year comes to an end a New Year is born. This same theme is repeated at the Winter Solstice on December 21st/22nd, with a candle being lit after a period of time in contemplation in darkness. In some ways the gap between Samhain and the solstice is like the journey between lives, with the death of the year occurring at Samhain, only to be reborn at the solstice. In another way, though, the New Year begins on 1st November, and then on the morning after the solstice there’s another sense of beginning. Since many of us will celebrate Guy Fawke’s night or Thanksgiving and then Christmas with our families and then the secular New Year celebrations, the season we are entering now really is one of festivities and celebrations. I know for us here it feels as if the new year takes forever to take off – starting 1st November like a jumbo trundling down the runway and then finally lifting off on January 1st.
On the other side of the Indo-European arc the festival of Diwali this weekend, on 17/18 October, has some resonances with Samhain, particularly in Jainism, where it is celebrated for three days and marks the ending of one year and beginning of the next. Whereas Samhain is associated in Europe with the death of vegetation as Winter sets in, in Jainism it marks the time of the death and attaining of liberation (moksha) of Mahavira, the last of the 24 founders or illumined spiritual teachers known as Tirthankaras.
Here is President Obama giving a Diwali message. He talks about cultivating a habit of empathy – a great idea!