“Spring and Summer require of man that he give himself up to Nature; man lives his way out of himself and into Nature. Autumn and Winter would have man withdraw into his own human domain and set over against the death and decay of Nature the resurrection of the forces of soul and spirit. Spring and Summer are the time of man’s Nature-consciousness; Autumn and Winter are the times when he must experience his own human self-consciousness.” – lecture by Rudolf Steiner, Michael and the Dragon, found compiled in Festivals and Their Meaning IV Michalemas.
Michalemas is often celebrated in Waldorf Schools and around the world as a festival of courage. Indeed, as the darkness descends and the days become longer, we hope we can take in the sunshine and strength of the meteor showers of August, the growth of summer, for strength and fortitude into the darker spiraling days of autumn and winter. Autumn and winter can be an time of intense personal and spiritual work; just as children’s physical bodies often grow during the summer and as we go back to school we remark how tall all of the children have become, this time can now be the time of spiritual examination and growth for us as we move forward in our purpose in the world. Our special day is September 29th for this festival, but the season of Michaelmas itself extends for months.
Of course, none of this is directly told to the children, but they sense this idea of courage and growth with the Michaelmas festivals, the songs about “a knight and a lady”, the taming of the dragon at school or in their homeschool group. This is based upon St. Michael, one of the four archangels, and who was the angel who threw Lucifer out of Heaven. He is seen as 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….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
And indeed, on this Sunday, the 29th, the Western Church celebrates The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and the Jewish religion begins the beautiful holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
Some traditional ways to celebrate Michaelmas with children include:
- 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.
- 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,
- 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.
For adults, the work of this season is deeper. If you are a parent, I urge you to pray and meditate over your children and their growth toward goodness, kindness, beauty, truth, responsibility and duty, and most of all self-control and compassion towards others. It is a wonderful time for spiritual growth as a family in whatever way this is meaningful to you all as we will be heading into a season of Light for the world.
For my own personal spiritual work, I have a book I am working on out of my Epsiscopalian traditions – “The Four Vision Quests of Jesus” by Rev. Steven Charleston, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, who is an Episcopalian priest ordained at the Standing Rock Rservation and who has served as the director for Native American ministries in the Episcopal Church. (Link on Amazon)
Rudolf Steiner said in the lecture “The Michael Imagination” found in “Festivals and Their Meaning IV Michalemas”, “We must learn to know this process as the expression of the inner conflict of Michael with the Dragon; we must learn to raise this process into consciousness. Something has then come about to which the Michael Festival may be linked. But it must first be there, be fully understood, inwardly, deeply understood. Then it will be possible to celebrate the Michael Festival in the way a festival drawn from the cosmos can be celebrated by men. Then we shall have the knowledge which is really able to see something in iron other than what the chemist of to-day or the mechanic sees in it. Then we shall have what teaches us how to take in hand the iron in our own organism, in the inner part of our human nature. Then we shall have the majestic picture of Michael in battle with the sulphurous Dragon, of Michael with the flaming sword of iron, as an inspiring impulse to what man must become, if he is to develop the forces of his evolution for progress and not for decline.”
May we all be learning and progressing forward for the goodness and beauty of our children and their generation, and for the progress of all of humanity.
Many blessings for a happy season of strength,