Misunderstood Dragons

Musings on Michaelmas, inner darkness, and dragons

This fall marks three years since I was first introduced to the festival of Michaelmas, and I find myself processing my feelings around the issue. My children love stories about dragons, and most of the books we have on their shelves come to a harmonious conclusion where the dragon(s) and people can live together, or at least have a truce.

This is all well and good, but the knight is good, the dragon is evil. Evil must be defeated, right?

Yes, but not all dragons are evil, let’s not make generalizations. Some dragons are good, some grow gardens, others come to the aid of princesses, some plow farm land, and some open BBQs with the knight that tried to kill them.

If dragons and knights (or angels in the case of the Archangel Michael) are used in stories to acknowledge that people have inner struggles between their “dark” and “light” sides where do the alternative stories leave us?

Instead of defeating evil lets have it over for lunch, perhaps we can work through the evil and come to realize it isn’t really that evil after all. Where do we draw the line? Is attempting to kill the knight an irredeemable offense? What about kidnapping a princess or torching villages? At what point has the dragon gone too far? What if the dragon isn’t really evil, what if it is merely misunderstood? It might be a good dragon.

Do good dragons do bad things? Does that make the dragon bad? Are dragons inherently bad, or just misunderstood?

How does this apply to us? Outside the zoo you are unlikely to encounter a dragon in your day-to-day so these dragons must be allegorical. In nature, light may triumph over darkness, at the Winter Solstice, but good triumphing over evil is far more subjective. Don’t rush to judgment, talk and try and work out your differences. Try to be guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience.

Maybe I’m over-thinking all this.

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Archangel Michael, Dragon Slayer

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)[11]

I’m sti401px-Guido_Reni_031ll sorting out how I feel about Steiner‘s views on Jesus, and Christ as a “Representative of Humanity,” and I’m a little unsure about how I feel with the introduction of angels and archangels.

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.


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