Friday, September 30, 2011

Celebrate Michaelmas!

September 29th is known in the Christian world as the feast day of the Archangel Michael.  Michaelmas is also an important season in the Waldorf community. It's the first festival celebration in the school year at Waldorf communities in the northern hemisphere. 

Michaelmas is one of what I call the “ Big Four" Waldorf festivals. 

The “ Big Four”  festivals are: 
  • Michaelmas
  • Christmas
  • Easter and 
  • St. John’s Tide
Each takes place near one of the cardinal points in the year - the solstices and the equinoxes.

Michaelmas takes place near the autumn 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 education, anthroposophy and medicine 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 gathering in, the harvesting of the earth's bounty. It's the season 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. That 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 during the new school year at Waldorf schools. It is celebrated with stories about Michael. Stories of shooting stars, courage, balance and strength are told. The grade school students often perform a play with a dragon. The older child might use a scale to contemplate the balance of his or her deeds over the course of time, and take stock.

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. Michaelmas is a festival of strong will, of inner strength and courage.
  • 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
  • Reflections from David Mitchell on why we celebrate Michaelmas, here
From Garrison Keillor of The Writer's Almanac on Minnesota Public Radio:

"In the Christian world, today is Michaelmas, feast day of the archangel Michael, which was a very important day in times past, falling near the equinox and so marking the fast darkening of the days in the northern world, the boundary of what was and what is to be. Today was the end of the harvest and the time for farm folk to calculate how many animals they could afford to feed through the winter and which would be sold or slaughtered. It was the end of the fishing season, the beginning of hunting, the time to pick apples and make cider.
Today was a day for settling rents and accounts, which farmers often paid for with a brace of birds from the flocks hatched that spring. Geese were given to the poor and their plucked down sold for the filling of mattresses and pillows.
Michaelmas was the time of the traditional printer's celebration, the wayzgoose, the day on which printers broke from their work to form the last of their pulp into paper with which to cover their open windows against the coming cold — the original solution for those who could not afford glass yet had more than nothing — and the advent of days spent working by candlelight.
In the past, the traditional Michaelmas meal would have been a roast stubble goose — the large gray geese that many of us only get to admire at our local state and county fairs. Today, when most poultry comes from the grocery store in parts and wrapped in plastic, a roast goose can be a difficult luxury to obtain, but any homey, unfussy meal is a fine substitute — especially with a posy of Michaelmas daisies or purple asters on the table.
In folklore, it is said that when Michael cast the Devil from Heaven, the fallen angel landed on a patch of blackberry brambles and so returns this day every year to spit upon the plant that tortured him. For this reason, blackberries would not be eaten after today, and so folks would gather them in masses on Michaelmas to put into pies and crumbles and preserves. And they would bake St. Michael's bannocks, a large, flat scone of oats and barley and rye, baked on a hot griddle and then eaten with butter or honey or a pot of blackberry preserves.
Whether you recognize Michaelmas or not, you can still greet what comes with the symbols of today: gloves, for open-handedness and generosity; and ginger to keep you warm and well in the coming cold."

Blessings on your season of Michaelmas! May your dragons be met with grace.


  1. wonderful, thanks for sharing xx

  2. I linked this onto my post about our Michaelmas festival. I hope that's okay! Please let me know if you want me to remove it. Thanks, Barefoot Mama


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