The other morning Kid1’s teacher cheerfully greeted us with the news that the children would be celebrating the festival of Michaelmas. The children would be polishing their golden swords in perpetration for the event, and dyeing golden capes. There would be a great pageant, and Archangel Michael would come and slay a dragon.
She was totally serious. I tried my best not to look at her like she had two heads.
Mick-who-mas? I went to a decidedly secular public school (that’s not exactly true, football was a religion even if our team was lousy), and being raised a Christian Scientist we were not raised with the concept of hierarchy of angels, and we certainly didn’t have archangels that slew dragons.
I feel like I missed out. Dragon-slaying archangels sound really cool.
Eventually she sent home a handout explaining it (there are excerpts below), and I looked up the short version on Wikipedia:
- Michaelmas is still celebrated in the Waldorf schools, which celebrate it as the “festival of strong will” during the autumnal equinox. Rudolf Steiner considered it the second most important festival after Easter. Easter being about Christ (“He is laid in the grave and He has risen”). Michaelmas being about man once he finds Christ (“he is risen, therefore he can be laid in the grave.”) meaning man finds the Christ (risen) therefore he will be safe in death (laid in the grave with confidence)
I think it comes down to this: do I feel the ideas and ideals set forth in the stories have merit?
On some level, I think they do. Most children enjoy a story of good triumphing over evil, and dragons are pretty cool. It think that using stories to acknowledge that people have inner struggles between their “dark” and “light” sides is healthy and helpful (1).
The sentiment that “we celebrate the strength of our inner light to conquer the darkness within the human soul,” I understand the sentiment and appreciate the nod to the fact that there are these inner struggles (2). The idea does not strike me as Christian, as this idea depends on the individual, and not some higher power lifting them out of the darkness, but I could be wrong – I’ll need to read up on Steiner’s views.
The handouts also leave out any mention of Archangel Michael’s association with any sort of higher power, being or deity. Michael is merely a symbol of “the awakening of self-hood, the fire and courage of one’s own inner forces“ prevailing over the inner darkness (the dragon). I’m fine with symbolism, as long as it is not taken to conspiracy-theory level extremes.
I liked the underlying message about appreciating the natural world, the earth, the seasons. The idea that we should take a few moments and allow the “intense blue of the sky” to “inspire us to star gaze and ponder the beauty of the night sky’s heavenly order” is wonderful, and as darkness arrives earlier and the stars come out before bedtime, we will set aside a few minutes each evening to do just that.
I see no harm in acknowledging and celebrating the rhythms of the year, the passing of time, the changing of the seasons, and I think I would prefer to have the Archangel Michael and his golden sword take on a dragon than the Great Pumpkin rise over the Halloween Candy aisle.
I am a knight, brave and true,
Bringing love to all I do.
I am a knight, kind and strong,
Courage fill me with your song
* * * * *
Preamble to the Michael Meditation, Rudolph Steiner
We must eradicate from the soul all fear and terror of what comes out of the future. We must acquire serenity in all feelings and sensations about the future. We must look forward with absolute equanimity to everything that may come and we must think only that whatever comes is given to us by a world-direction, full of wisdom. It is part of what we must learn in this age: namely to live out of pure trust, without any security in existence, trusting in the every present help of the spiritual world. Truly nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us, let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, every morning and evening.
Excerpts from the Michaelmas handout from Kid1’s teacher:
- Michaelmas is named after the Archangel Michale, who by tradition is the defender against the power of evil and darkness. This festival celebrates the power within each of us that strives to overcome the dark and cold “winter” qualities in the soul. Michaelmas can be imagined as the image of Michael, the heavenly warrior in shining armor, astride a horse pure and white as snow. With his fiery sword, he fights and overpowers the dragon, which personifies the dark forces which threaten humanity.
- The Michaelmas festival comes at harvest time, with the date given as September 29, though it is truly a season and not only a day to celebrate. As the days grow shorter at summer’s end, and we feel the air about us stirring, the whirling winds break summer’s drowsy spell and we enter the season of harvest. Dusk closes in earlier at night and the dawn lingers later in the morning. As we gather together ripened corn, fruit, and late summer flowers, the bounty of the earth, we recall that Michael was thought by old tradition to be the harvester of human souls. Russian icons decrepit him holding scales. He weighs the merits of all our earthly deeds.
- Take the family on an autumn walk through orchards and fields to see the longer shadows and the flying falling leaves, to feel the dry crisp breezes, and experience the characteristic fragrances accompanying the culmination of summer’s bounty. The colors of the leaves changing to reds and golds fill one’s heart with wonder at the mystery of the crowning beauty of nature’s harvest. The intense blue of the sky at this time inspires us to star gaze and ponder the beauty of the night sky’s heavenly order.
- “Fall cleaning” makes as much sense as “spring cleaning.” We purify our homes, in anticipation of the inner cleansing of self that we may undertake in preparation for the rebirth of light at the Winter Solstice.
- Stories of the Archangel Michael are told. These stories speak of courage and wakefulness in the face of danger. In them, evil is often portrayed as a dragon. This evil is overcome by the awakening of self-hood, the fire and courage of one’s own inner forces.
- Make lanterns to carry the light of the summer sun into the nights that grown longer each day. Glowing candles are a symbol of the light that can shine from our inner strength of thought and will. We celebrate the strength of our inner light to conquer the darkness within the human soul.
- This acknowledgement is a refreshing departure from the Christian Science approach put forth in Filled up Full and other similar books, which encourages children to suppress and deny any “thoughts not from God” – the idea they could possibly be mad or sad or bad.
- This also reminds me of Kumaré’s be your own guru philosophy, you have what you need, you just need to recognize it, and some of Buddha’s teachings about our inner struggles to stay on the Noble Eightfold Path (I should probably read some more about Buddhism, I like it and it has allegorical demons and elephants).
Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_%28archangel%29 – Guido Reni‘s Michael (in Santa Maria della Concezione church, Rome, 1636)