Michaelmas is Coming!

Michaelmas has long turned into one of my very favorite holidays!! If this festival is new or unfamiliar to you, please read on about this day.  September 29th is the special day!

Michaelmas is an autumn festival that to me really opens up the season for the awakening of our souls as the weather gets colder, the light recedes, and we look toward strengthening our own inner reserves, our own inner strength.  I LOVE this time of year!  After the expansiveness of summer (which I personally often find exhausting, LOL), I am so happy to have the cooler weather return and to be more meditative and inward.

Michaelmas, as you can probably guess, is named for Saint Michael.  Michael was one of the four archangels, and is the angel who threw Lucifer out of Heaven.  He is the Angel of Courage, the Angel of the Fight Against Evil.  Take courage for the long, cold winter from Saint Michael!  Saint Michael usually is painted as riding a white steer, carrying a heavenly sword, and slaying a dragon.  Sometimes he is portrayed as carrying scales, because he also has the task of weighing the souls of men. 

The Wikipedia definition cites where Michael fits into Christianity, Islam and the Jewish religions (and more,) here: 

Michael (Hebrew: מִיכָאֵל‎, Micha’el or Mîkhā’ēl; Greek: Μιχαήλ, Mikhaḗl; Latin: Michael or Míchaël; Arabic: میکائیل‎, Mikā’īl) is an archangel in Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition. He is viewed as the field commander of the Army of God. He is mentioned by name in the Book of Daniel,[1] the Book of Jude[2] and the Book of Revelation.[3] In the book of Daniel, Michael appears as “one of the chief princes”[1] who in Daniel‘s vision comes to the angel Gabriel‘s aid in his contest with the angel of Persia (Dobiel), and is also described there as the advocate of Israel and “great prince who stands up for the children of your [Daniel's] people”.[4]

The Talmudic tradition rendered Michael’s name as meaning “who is like El?”, – so Michael could consequently mean “One who is like God.” But its being a question is alternatively understood as a rhetorical question, implying that no one is like God.”

If you would like to read more, here is the link to the full entry:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_%28archangel%29

There are all sorts of things one can look at for this time to celebrate.  We would never explain to small children all I just wrote about Saint Michael, the joy of the festivals with a small child is the DOING, not the explaining!

Some ways to celebrate and lead up to the festival:

  • Start learning Michaelmas songs and verses.  Try Autumn Wynstones and many other traditional Waldorf books for ideas.  You may also have hymns or music within your own religious path.
  • Look for Michaelmas Daisies.  Here is a picture:  http://www.bestgarden.net/Photo_Album/Pages/Aster_novi-belgii.htm
  • Have Harvest Foods. (This used to include roasting a goose – tell me, my European readers, does it still??)
  • Tell stories about Saint Michael  or St. George.  St. George is  the Earthly counterpart to Saint Michael – you could make Saint George tunics (white pillowcases with red crosses sewn on).  Swords and shields are also customary, which makes some Waldorf teachers and parents nervous.    Here is a link of how one Waldorf Kindergarten teacher dealt with this in her classroom:   http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW4007.pdf
  • Stories could include “The Kite” from “Festivals, Families and Food”, any number of Kindergarten Stories from that pink book “An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten.”  For younger children, Melisa Nielsen has a story in her “Before the Journey” book and Suzanne Down has a lovely story called “Little Boy Knight” in her book “Autumn Tales.”   Reg Down has put his Michaelmas story from the Tiptoes Lightly stories on his website here: http://www.tiptoes-lightly.net/DOWNLOADS/tales_FESTIVAL/The%20Most%20Beautiful%20Dragon%20in%20the%20Whole%20World.pdf
  •   I believe there is also a story of St. George on-line at Main Lesson that would be lovely for the Second Grader studying Saints and Heroes. There are also two stories by Irene Johanson in the book “Stories for the Festivals of the Year”, available from Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop or Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore.    If you are religious, perhaps you could read from your own religious texts.
  • You could dye capes from marigolds for the big day.
  • You could make a Courage Salve from Calendulas.
  • You could do something that requires bravery that day – a hike, an obstacle course?   How about a scavenger hunt for Dragon Tears? 
  • Making dragon bread is very traditional. There is a lovely bread recipe and  corresponding story in the festival book “All Year Round”.
  • You can make Michaelmas Candles, see page 143 of “All Year Round”
  • Crafting “shooting stars” and dragons are also traditional.  Try this link:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW3211.pdf 
  • You could make a mobile with a dragon and an angel representation on it. 

Start early, go slow and add things year by year – it does not all have to happen this year!  There should plenty of preparation and work leading up to a festival as well, festivals are not a one-day celebration!

Use this time for your own inner work, what do you need to strengthen?  What resolve will you need as you head into fall?

Much love,

Carrie

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35 thoughts on “Michaelmas is Coming!

  1. I’ve read your post a couple of times and seen a few references to this festival, but am still not sure…is there a specific date? We’re fairly new to the festivals and was looking forward to celebrating some this year. We’re going to skip this one given some theological issues I have, but I’m hoping to take a few of the more traditional elements and fuse them with a general Fall festival like Sharifa Oppenheimer mentions in “Heaven on Earth”.

    • Ah, thank you! I added the date and also a link to one of Steiner’s lecture regarding Michaelmas and the impulse of Michael.
      Thank you so much for stimulating clarity in my thought tonight!
      Peace,
      Carrie

  2. I am determined to incorporate blackberries into the festival this year. According to legend, St. Michael drove Satan into a blackberry bush, hence that is why we eat blackberries at Michaelmas but not afterward. I’m planning on making blackberry crisp with an oatmeal topping.

  3. Oh this was really helpful. I’ve been trying to work out which festivals are important to us and I wasn’t sure about Michaelmas but after reading this I think I’m changing my mind. Autumn is really important to me and my favourite season. Also the comment by Saints and Sinners is fascinating. My Granny always told me not to pick blackberries after December as the devil had got them and now I know where that tale comes from. Thanks for the brilliant blog – I’m learning a lot!

    • Thanks for reading Sara! Glad to have you here! The reference to blackberries can be found in “Festivals, Family and Food” on page 80, and page 191 of “Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions”. Thanks to Saints and Spinners for pointing this out!!
      Many, many blessings,
      Carrie

  4. Oh thank you Carrie for the wonderful resources!
    I have been looking for some verses on Michaelmas to incorporate into our circle time.

  5. Thank you, Carrie, for your wonderful site! It’s been a tremendous resource for me, as I set sail homeschooling my kindergartener. I’ve wondered about which festivals are important and why, and this gives me a good start. We’ve planned to homeschool our son in the Waldorf manner, yet I feel so overwhelmed and underprepared! Whew. Thank you for helping with that.

  6. Thank you for the lovely post! I have been cultivating a tradition of waking up for the sunrise on the solstices and equinoxes, and did my autumnal equinox morning today. Isn’t it just the best time of year? :) The waldorf festivals are a newer twist to me, but they are the same ideas as the celtic/neo-pagan cross quarter festivals. For those who are looking for more ideas on how to celebrate, or a new twist on theological thoughts behind celebrating the seasons try searching for keywords like “solstice”, “equinox”, “wheel of the year”, “pagan celebrations”, “cross quarters”, etc. Also, check out Waverly Fitzgerald’s School of the Seasons for non-religious (or pan-religious) writings on the turning of the year.

  7. These are wonderful ideas. Wish I would have found this a bit earlier, but I can start with one or two of these for this year! Thank you for this great resource.

  8. The Strong Boy

    by

    Christine Natale

    Once there was a little boy who was growing bigger and stronger every day. This little boy liked to play games with the other children, but he did not like to lose. He had a quick temper and he would hit or kick the other children, even when they accidentally bumped into him or tripped him. The other children didn’t like this but they let him play anyway.

    The boy grew a little bigger. Soon he was so big and strong that he could get his way in anything just by being mean and hurting the other children. He liked being so strong. But the other children did not like being hurt, so they stopped playing with him. If he came outside when the other children were playing a game and they saw him coming, they would run away home as fast as they could. The strong boy was left all alone every day. Deep in his heart he was lonely and unhappy but he said to himself, “ I don’t care! I can do anything I want to and no one can stop me!”

    One day the strong boy found a smaller boy playing with a ball.

    “Let me play.” said the strong boy.

    “No. I don’t want to play with you – you’re a bully!” answered the smaller boy. The strong boy grew angry and he hit the smaller boy and took away his ball. The smaller boy ran home crying.

    The strong boy walked off with the ball. Part of him was glad that he had gotten his way but part of him felt very bad, for deep in his heart, he knew that no one liked him. He had no friends and he was all alone and very lonely.

    He took a walk out past the village to a far meadow. There he saw a most amazing sight. A snow white horse was standing in the meadow. The horse was so pure and white and shining in the sun that the boy could hardly look at it. The horse had a saddle and bridle that were beautifully decorated with gold and jewels. As the boy gazed at the horse in wonder, a man came up beside him and laid a gentle hand upon his shoulder.

    “You look like a fine strong young man.” spoke the stranger. The boy looked up into the man’s strong and beautiful face and said, “Yes, I am.”

    “That is a fine thing, “ said the man, “but I can see in your eyes that you have sometimes used your strength to hurt children smaller and weaker than yourself. That is certainly not the right way to use strength.”

    Now the boy felt ashamed and he did not know what to say.

    “Come with me.” said the man, who was dressed in a fine suit of armor that shone like gold, “Let me show you what real strength can do.”

    The knight took the boy by the hand and they walked to the next field. In the middle of the field was a boulder, a very large rock. The knight bent over the rock and began to push on it. The boy could see that it was very heavy and stuck in the ground. The knight pushed and pushed and soon he was able to rock the boulder a little bit. He rocked it and rocked it and suddenly – it rolled over! Right out of the ground. Then the knight stood up and drew his iron sword. With one swift and sure stroke of the blade the knight cracked the boulder in two! The boy saw that the great rock was hollow, like a cave and lined with shining and sparkling crystals! It was the most beautiful thing that the boy had ever seen.

    “Do you see?” asked the knight, “Strength can reveal beauty.”

    They walked farther. They came to another field in which a large flock of sheep were grazing. They soon heard a terrible sound. A mother sheep was bleating pitifully, “Baa – baa!” The boy saw that a great grey wolf was coming out of the forest at the edge of the field and that the lambs were in great danger.

    “Stay here!” commanded the knight. He drew his sword a second time and rushed into battle with the wolf. It was a terrible battle, such as you would not like to see. When it was over, the wolf lay dead. The knight washed himself and his sword at a crystal clear stream. He dried the sword and slipped it into its scabbard.

    When he returned, he spoke,

    “Even a wolf must eat. But this wolf was very sick and he killed all of the time, even when he was not hungry. The flocks were in great danger and also the villagers. I had to put a stop to it. Do you see? Strength can save. Come, there is one more thing that I wish to show you.”

    They returned to the white horse. The knight lifted the boy onto the horse’s back and mounted himself. Then, quite magically, the horse unfurled beautiful white wings. The boy turned his head and saw that the knight was really an angel with wings as well. They flew into the air. Higher and higher they flew until they came to a lovely country above the clouds. The boy could see golden castles shining in the distance. He also saw what appeared to be a huge green and red and brown mountain. But soon he realized that it was not a mountain at all, for it began to move! It lifted a great, scaly head and uncurled a long, spiky tail. It was a dragon! The dragon began to breathe out fire and smoke!

    The knight dismounted and told the boy to stay on the horse and he would be safe. Then he drew his sword for the third time. He waved it in the air and it shot out sparks of lightning through the sky. From every direction came hundreds of angel-knights. They were dressed in golden armor and they carried shining swords. They made a circle around the dragon and they all pointed their swords at him. The dragon lowered his head and slowly slithered far, far away. The knight returned to the boy, joined by several other angel-knights.

    “Why didn’t you kill the dragon?” asked the boy.

    “I have killed many dragons, my boy.” answered the knight, “But only when others are in danger. Today it was unnecessary and the dragon has gone back to his cave. Still, another time it may be necessary.”

    “ And we shall be there to help.” said one of the other angels, who had a lily-flower in his hand.

    “Yes, whenever Lord Michael calls, we are ready.” spoke another angel.

    “Who are you?” asked the boy.

    “ I am Gabriel, the angel of love.” answered the one with the flower.
    “I am Raphael, the angel of healing.” replied the one who spoke second.
    “We are the companions of Archangel Michael, the angel of strength and freedom.”

    “Whenever strength and freedom are joined with love and healing, all evil can be overcome and great things can happen!” added Gabriel.

    “We need to join with others to fight real enemies and overcome real dangers.” said Lord Michael, “ A good knight should never fight with his friends.”

    “I understand.” said the boy. “Whenever strength is joined with love and healing – great things can happen! I won’t forget!”

    Then Lord Michael mounted the winged horse and they flew together back to the earth, to the boy’s own home. Lord Michael bade the boy farewell and the boy promised to remember the angels’ lesson.

    “When you have learned to use your strength wisely and well, you will have a golden sword of your own.” said Lord Michael.

    “ I will try.” promised the boy.

    After that day, the boy learned to use his strength wisely and well. He asked the other children to give him another chance. He played the games fairly and kept himself under control. He did not hurt anyone. If someone bumped him hard, he held his hands tightly and did not hit back. And if someone tripped him accidentally, he held his feet and did not kick back. Soon the other children began to trust him.

    They played many happy games together and the strong boy had many friends. He was quick to protect those who could not protect themselves and the smaller children loved him. Other boys and girls soon joined him and they did many good deeds all through the village, helping people in every way that they could.

    Many years later, the boy and his friends grew up into fine men and women. They traveled far and side, doing great deeds and bringing much peace to the land. They were famous for their good deeds and their battles against evil. You may hear more stories about them when you are older. The boy found his own golden sword and he slew many dragons. And he always taught his knights,

    “When strength and freedom are joined with love and healing, all evil can be overcome and great things can happen!”

    2003 All Rights Reserved

  9. The Shooting Stars

    Once upon a time, at the very end of summer, three little stars looked down upon the earth and they became very distressed, for a change was taking place below them.

    All summer long, people had been spending many warm nights looking up at the beautiful stars, dancing around bonfires and singing around campfires. But now the nights were growing colder, because King Sun was spending less and less time on his heavenly throne and the people on the earth were beginning to stay indoors at night. The animals were put in the barn and the household pets often slept on their owner’s feet at night.

    A change was happening in the plant kingdom, too. Many of the flowers, the stars’ little sisters, began to droop their heads and call to the Earth Mother below to take them to their winter beds. And the little gnomes woke up from their summer sleep and began their journey into the mountains and canyons. They began to be very busy turning the sunlight, moonlight and starlight into gold, silver and jewels.

    The earth was breathing in and all creatures nestled into her and began to forget about the stars. Then the little stars grew very sad and three of the youngest ran to their Seven Sisters, the great Pleiades, who watch over the little stars until they are fully grown.

    The little stars cried, “All the earth is turning away from us!”

    “Yes,” said the Great Stars, “That is the way of the Earth.”

    “But they will forget all about us down there!” cried the little ones, trembling with sadness.

    “That may be, “ said the Great Stars, “But it cannot be helped.”

    So the little stars turned away, come with tears in their sparkly eyes. Then one little fellow, quite fiery and red, who showed great promise to grow up into a beautiful red star declared,

    “Well, I’m not going to let this happen! I’m going down there!”

    “What!” cried the others, “Stars cannot live on earth! That would be the end of you!”

    “I’m not so sure about that,” said the fiery little star, “But in any case, I shall make a great blaze as I go and the people will surely see me and remember to look up into the heavens again.”

    “I will go with you.” sang a sweet little blue star, who was still quite small, but unusually brave for her size.

    “Me too!” piped a sparkly yellow star, “I want to go too!”

    The other stars hung back, still afraid of what might happen. Then, before the Seven Sisters could see to stop them, the three little stars made a great leap and began to fall right out of the sky – first the red, then the blue and right after, the yellow. Down, down they fell, trailing star-fire behind them. It seemed to take a long time and it was a glorious ride while it lasted. But when they fell to earth, all their star-fire had burnt out and they lay on the ground in small holes, quite black and lifeless. And so, it seemed all over with them, even though they had accomplished what they wanted to do, for many people had come out into the night to watch the stars shooting through the sky.

    Soon afterward, something wonderful happened. A young prince who had watched the stars fall, from his high tower, rode out to find what had come down. He found the little red star, red no longer, and carried it back to the castle.

    There the smith put it back into a hot fire, which of course did not hurt the star one bit. Then he took a mighty hammer and beat it into a brilliantly shining iron sword, so sharp and true that it threw sparks when waved through the air. With this mighty sword, that gleamed with a reddish glow, the young prince rescued many people in danger and with its help he became a strong and good king.

    The little blue star was found by a doctor who took her home and used little pieces of her to make a medicine which gave strength and courage to many people who had been weak.

    The little yellow star was picked up by an artist who ground him into his paints. The paints began to shine with a heavenly light and the artist painted many beautiful pictures with them. When people saw these pictures they were reminded of things they had long forgotten about the world of the stars. It gave them great joy to remember again.

    After the stars in heaven saw what had become of their brothers and sister, several more hurled themselves to earth to be of good service to people below. But the Seven Sisters watched over the rest who were needed in heaven.

    And so it is every year at the end of summer, always some brave little stars manage to slip away and come shooting to the earth to bring people strength, courage and love.

    Christine Natale 2003 All Rights Reserved

    • Hi Adrie,
      How little? I really like Suzanne Down’s Michaelmas story…Melisa N also has a little story in her Before the Journey book. Does that help? Michaelmas for little ones is more about bravery and courage for the wee ones rather than the slaying of the dragon, so to speak, so perhaps any story in which the character is brave and strong would do…Tiptoes lightly as well..

  10. Happy Michaelmas everyone!

    Carrie, thank you so much for this incredible blog. There’s so much to assimilate in this wonderful world of Waldorf/Steiner wisdom, and I am gaining the most confidence through your blog. Your write-ups are easy to navigate (not an easy feat in the blog format!), comprehensive, and full of great examples just where I need it (I really appreciate this!). Your blog contains so much valuable information in such a concise and approachable format. I am just so thrilled to have discovered it.

    More on the blackberries…
    According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michaelmas , the old tradition is to not pick the blackberries after Old Michaelmas, which is actually Oct. 11th (or 10th according to some sources). So, it sounds like old traditionalists would have another couple of weeks of berry picking after the Sept. 29th Michaelmas date.

    Does anyone else wonder about the root of this superstition? I’m speculating that by Old Michaelmas, folks had eaten their fill of berries, and young picking-eager hands were better put to other work. :)

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  13. As I understand it, it’s still traditional to eat goose as, according to superstition, it will ensure bounty for the coming year.

    That said, I don’t think very many people eat goose, except at Christmas – but turkey is more popular, although goose is traditional for Christmas.

    If I remember correctly, goose is also traditional at Martinmas and there’s a story about the geese outing St Martin who was trying to hide among them.

    • Yes! Goose is very traditional at Martinmas and your story about the geese outing St. Martin is absolutely on target!
      Love to you from across the pond, ninnynoodlenoo!
      Carrie :)

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    • Reg,
      I am honored! We all love your work, so I feel as if I am speaking on behalf of not only my own family, but parents everywhere.
      Many blessings,
      Carrie

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