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Michaelmas - A Festival for our Time

“When I conquer within me fear and wrath, Michael in heaven casts the dragon forth”

Michaelmas is celebrated by Waldorf schools around the world and is one of my favorite seasonal festivals. Festivals mark the seasons for children and establish the rhythm of the year. Many Waldorf schools celebrate Michaelmas by telling stories and legends of Michael. The children may participate in an all school pageant with a great enactment of Michael’s battle with the dragon. Then the children often spend the day playing games which require great courage, strength, and teamwork. This event is often followed by a picnic where beautiful dragon bread is shared amongst the community. Some charter schools now call this the Festival of Courage.

But where does Michaelmas come from? Why do we celebrate this day?

Harvest festivals are celebrated at different times of the year by cultures all around the world, giving thanks and gratitude for the Earth’s bounty. Michaelmas is traditionally celebrated on September 29, near the autumnal equinox. In the Northern Hemisphere this is a time when the warm hazy days of summer are changing to crisp, cool autumn air. The seasons start to change. The leaves on the trees are ablaze with color as the days get shorter and we start turning towards the darkness of winter. A new school year has begun and brings with it a newly invigorated focus and clarity.

The month of September also brings with it 3 major meteor showers. Wherever you are in the world you are likely to see the night sky filled with shooting stars. Whether we are aware of it or not, our atmosphere this month, and the very air we breathe, is filled with iron, an important source of energy, strength, growth, and vitality.

The cool autumn air, meteor showers at night, the bounty of harvest, and the image of Archangel Michael come together to form this wonderful celebration of Michaelmas.

Michaelmas has its roots in the pagan harvest festivals of the Middle Ages and celebrates the Archangel Michael. Michael is the only angel who is mentioned by name in all three of the sacred texts of the Torah (Judaism), the Bible (Christianity), and the Qur’an (Islam). He is a symbol of courage, goodness, and truth.

Time and again Michael’s courage and strength prove good will always overcome evil. There are many legends of Archangel Michael. He is credited with casting Lucifer and the rebel angels out of heaven. Michael sent them down to earth in the form of dragons. Although he could have, he did not slay them. Instead, he held them at bay with his sword of light and tamed the dragons.

In our society today we live in a time of extreme polarity and divisiveness. But, the legend of Michael and the dragon is not an “us against them” story. For the dragon is not an external being, it lives within each of us. Celebrating Michaelmas is about finding the courage to look deep within and find our own pure goodness and truth. In this way we find the strength to overcome our own inner dragons.

Michael offers 4 gifts to humanity: strength, courage, the will to do deeds, and love. The dragons we all face are fear, greed, and judgment of others. We must not slay our inner dragons or we would not live in freedom. Instead, Michael teaches us that we must find the strength to overcome them.

Michaelmas is not just for the children. It is an important celebration for us as adults too. At this time of year (which I often call “dragon season”) the inner dragons tend to rear their heads when we least expect it. It is important for us to find extra compassion in our hearts, compassion for ourselves, and compassion for our colleagues, family and friends. You may find yourself, and those around you, have very short fuses. Taming dragons is hard work and each of us is on our own unique journey of inner development. It is a time to think before we speak, act, or react. And when we see someone whose dragon is lashing out, we can silently send them extra strength, courage, and love to overcome.

Michaelmas reminds us all that as the days grow darker we can find our own light within to shine brightly. We each have the power to stand with confidence in the face of life’s challenges. In every moment we have a choice. We can choose to act with courage, love, and imbue all our deeds with kindness, even when it is hard.

Brave and True:

Brave and true I will be

Each good deed sets me free.

Each kind word makes me strong.

I will fight for the right,

I will conquer the wrong.

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