“This week”, I excitedly told a friend, “the 2nd, 5th, and 7th grades began rehearsing our Michaelmas play – please come see it!” The friend looked puzzled. “What’s Michaelmas?” He’s not been the first to ask.
Michaelmas is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, which appears in the Western Christian calendar on the 29th of September. Since it falls near the equinox, it is associated (in the northern hemisphere) with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. In medieval England, studied by 7th grade last year, Michaelmas marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of preparations for a long, dark winter.
As one of the principal angelic warriors, Archangel Michael is traditionally depicted holding a sword of light, weaving and upholding the web of cosmic intelligence and protecting beings from the darkness of night.
The celebration of Michaelmas commemorates not only Archangel Michael but the archetype he represents; the archetype of courageous leader who transforms evil through wisdom and inner strength. This persona appears in the mythology of many cultures. Ancient Eastern texts tell of Indra, leader of the gods and wielder of a lightning thunderbolt, while ancient Babylonians celebrated Marduk, who slew the dragon Tiamat and created heaven and earth from the monster’s body. The English tale of St. George battling a dragon dramatically depicts the Michaelic impulse, as do stories in modern times of individuals who fight against injustice and the darkness of ignorance.
So, why do Waldorf Schools around the world celebrate Michaelmas? Having been a Waldorf student and now a Waldorf teacher, I have a continually growing appreciation for the importance of setting an intention at the beginning of each new year.
As we familiarize ourselves with each other and welcome new students, it is valuable to nurture those qualities of community and self that are good, helpful, and kind. Michael displays for us an essential human activity – self-development. He shows us the possibility of inner transformation. We all have our own dragons – our lower, less noble aspects that lurk within and sow disharmony. The children named aloud some of the dragons they grapple with: jealousy, frustration, impatience, laziness, fear. And we as teachers are not immune to dragons! We strive daily to bring our best to the children and serve as examples so that as a school community we can evolve together. Michaelmas is a reminder of this process of striving toward our full human potential. It is a reminder to keep our inner light alive despite adversity and to harvest the fruits, the gifts, each has to bring.
And so our intention is set: we will work to overcome antipathies and fears, recognize self-centeredness, and meet fellow human beings with interest and respect.
Parents, siblings, friends – please join us in celebrating Michaelmas!
September 27, noon-2:00 – in the school garden
We will present our fall school play – Taming the Dragon
Following is a shared meal, please bring potluck dish to share!