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The Autumn Festival of Michaelmas

Summer’s haze vanishes when September arrives. This is the time we establish our rhythms for the year; in many respects, it is more of a New Year than January 1. It is a time of separation and individuation. The cool, pristine air wakes us from our summer daze and our thinking becomes more precise.

The autumn is a rare time in many parts of North America. The trees are ablaze with splendid color: the scarlet maples, the twittering yellow birches and the blazing sumac are but a few examples. The evening skies come alive in the accented air. Darkness starts to wrap around us and we repair to the indoors: to the comfort of our homes. Our thought life also goes inward. The dreamy mood of summer is replaced by a new vigor that seems to aid us in our tasks, to focus.

Beyond external phenomena, what does all of this mean?

Ancient intuitive wisdom placed a festival at each of the four turning points of the solar year. In the autumn, this festival has, in some traditions, been named after a mythological figure, the archangel Michael, the heavenly warrior.

Michaelmas is a festival of inner strength and initiative.

There are many legends of Michael, the most notable being of the confrontation in heaven with the rebellious angels, led by Lucifer, who sought to overthrow God. The forces of Michael cast them out of heaven and held them in control in their earthly form as dragons. Michael does not slay the dragon, but, using inner force, is able to hold it at bay, within his control, at the tip of his spear.

If we examine this story, we can begin to find meaning, with Michael as an archetype.

The dragon is not an external reality, but rather lives within each of us. It is characterized by cold, dead, rationalistic and pragmatic thinking that informs reactive and conditioned emotions that drive ritualized and prescriptive action. This is alive within every mortal as a potentially ‘evil’ force or rather as the force of unconsciousness. Michael’s message to humanity is not to try to slay the dragon within ourselves, for we would not live in freedom if we did. But rather, our challenge is to transcend it with awakened consciousness and to live in this presence, this state of ‘awakened beingness’. It is thinking which is the portal of this form of consciousness and when activated, it finds a clarity and selflessness, as well as the strength of will needed to follow a moral path in life.

Michaelmas is a festival of inner strength and initiative. It is a time when we, through our higher being, can face our anxiety and fear, for it is our task to awaken the human spirit, the eternal within.

2019 Chalkboard drawing by Mrs Thornton

Good versus evil. It is this battle that rages within each individual on earth, in whom this drama is enacted. Michael versus the dragon is its mythological picture and it serves as a spiritual gesture, an inspiration, toward true freedom.

However, the prevalent self-centredness promoted by consumerist culture mostly sees only the first rough steps toward becoming free individuals, without recognizing the more evolved counterparts of responsibility and love (compassion).

What, then, is the picture of society that stands behind our drive toward free individuality? We are struggling amidst the unsettling realities of the crumbling forms of social order—our justice systems, governments, marriage, schools, churches—all once rocks of stability, now shift treacherously under the feet like slippery sand, while the world of finance consolidates its hold on human consciousness. We must fend for ourselves, yet we are not truly free to do so.

No longer can we be sure what we hear is truthful. Out of our own initiative and strength we must give direction to our lives. The “new forms” we create and the discernment of what is really “true” both in the present and in the past, lie fully on our own individual shoulders. In the creation of “new festivals”, there exists a powerful mystery involving the unfolding of community-building and spirit-focusing.

In the legend of Michael, we find the offering of four gifts: strength, courage, the will to act, and love, to those who are willing to undertake self-transformation and look towards that which is divine in every human being.

Both the battle with the dragon and its transformation are uniquely individual. They reside within our thinking life and we are the only ones to have access to them.

At Waldorf schools encircling the globe, the children hear stories and legends of Michael. On or around September 29, the teachers in many of our schools lead their students out onto the fields, where they see an enactment of Michael’s battle with the dragon. Then, each and every child participates in feats of skill and courage and a pageant unfolds. This event is often followed by a large picnic with all families invited. This “new festival” intends to engender the awakening of consciousness through the “will” using thinking for rightful deeds.

Adapted and edited by David Hesketh from the original article by David Mitchell “Why Do Waldorf Schools Celebrate Michaelmas?”

Dragon-bread made by our Nature Kindergarten Class last year
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