September 29th is known in the Christian world as the feast day of the Archangel Michael. Michaelmas is one of the “ Big Four" Waldorf festivals. The “ Big Four” festivals, Michaelmas, Christmas, Easter and St. John’s Tide take place near the cardinal points in the year, the solstices and the equinoxes.
Michaelmas takes place near the equinox, a time of balance, with equal day and equal night. The work equinox means equal night, “equi + nox."
The Archangel Michael is an important figure in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In the world of Waldorf, he is said to be the guiding force of our times. Michael appears in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Michaelmas (pronounced mikel-mas) is a season, the season of the final ripening and harvesting of the earth's bounty and in which the earth begins to inhale her forces, which marks the turning of the year from the long hot expansive days of summer towards the dark cold contraction of winter. Plants wither, leaves drop, the last ripened fruits, nuts and vegetables are taken in, feasted upon and put up for the cold days ahead. The geese are heading south. We are in the season of Michaelmas.
As parents we begin to bring out the layers of clothing for physical warmth, cook up warm soups, stews and roasts and imbue our stories for children with light and warmth to carry us through the cold and dark days to come. An afternoon cup of tea brings warmth to body and soul in that moment of the day of quiet just before the shift towards dinner, bath and bed. A fire, either outdoors or inside warms body and soul.
When our family lived on the equator, autumn heralded in a marked change in the year, the storm season began with high swells on the sea, strong winds, heavy rain and typhoons. It was the time of year when we avoided certain crossings across the waters for it was likely to be rough. TIt was a time for pulling in a bit despite the heat. The days grew shorter by thirty minutes and we noticed it.
Michaelmas is the first of the festivals typically celebrated in Waldorf schools with stories about Michael, shooting stars, courage, balance and strength. The grade school often performs a play with a dragon. The older child might use a scale to balance deeds over the course of time.
For the young child, Michaelmas is a harvest festival, a time to savor the harvest, roast vegetables, polish apples, cut them in half to discover the stars within and celebrate through song, story and food the gifts and wonders of nature and all her beauteous bounty. Michaelmas is also a time for purposeful work.
" My nice red rosy apple has a secret midst unseen;
You’d see if you could slip inside, five rooms so neat and clean.
In each room there are hiding two seeds so shining bright;
Asleep they are and dreaming of a lovely warm sunlight.
And sometimes they are dreaming of many things to be
How some day they’ll be hanging upon a Christmas tree"
For the adult Michaelmas is a time to recognize the seeds of our own capacities and the inner dragons that obstruct our own path as well as the outer dragons of materialism, greed, stuff...what is our relationship to the material world? How do we enliven the swords of our imagination? How do we imbue it with spirit? How are we becoming human?It is so hard to talk about Michaelmas as it is not about words or intellectuality, but about our thinking imagination, our deeds, our capacity to become more fully human.
- For Rudolf Steiner, more on the imagination of Michaelmas, here
- For Reflections from Lynn Jericho on Michaelmas, here
- For Reflections from Danielle Epifani on Michaelmas as the Festival of Human Becoming, here