As autumn ushers himself in, with these glorious days it is hard to imagine how the life forces of nature are gradually receding and turning toward their long winter sleep.
As the days grow colder and the light shortens each day, we feel a natural instinct to turn inward and gather our harvest stores and our fortitude for the long winter ahead. But this is not a sad time; it is a time to celebrate! We are awakening to our inner life and finding hope in our internal strength and courage.
At The Waldorf School of Philadelphia, like in Waldorf school’s across the globe, we celebrate Michaelmas to find hope and honor the strength of human will, courage and initiative.
In the traditions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the archangel Michael, or Mikail, is a symbolic leader of the force of good over evil and courage over cowardice. The celebration of Michaelmas, which is rooted in harvest festival traditions from the Middle Ages, teaches the importance of overcoming fear and darkness and strengthening resolve for winter.
Rudolf Steiner believed that this time of year, and the Michaelmas celebration, also represented hope. In his printed lecture, Michael and The Dragon, from the Michaelmas volume of the Festivals of the Seasons he tells us:
“As Autumn approaches, Nature withdraws her life into the depths of the Earth; she takes away all sprouting and blossoming far from the sight of man. What she leaves to his view bears within it no fulfilment; therein lies hope, hope for a new Spring to come. Nature leaves man alone with himself. Then begins the time when it rests upon man to prove by his own forces within him that he is quick and alive and not dead.
The picture of “Michael Triumphant” can be there; it can live in man. … he must not lose himself [in Nature] but be able to rise up in Autumn in the strength and might of his own spirit-being. Then will the picture of Michael Triumphant live within him.”
While we are not as connected to the cycle of nature as we once were, each of us, and each student, must face their own difficulties and dark times in life, both internal and external. Therefore, we celebrate Michaelmas with our students through verse, songs, and dramatizations of the legend of Saint Michael slaying the dragon.
In a play students enact, a destructive dragon is tamed by St. Michael and the people of the town suffering under the dragon’s fiery, uncontrollable wrath. It is a story that parallels our own human challenges and it speaks to children in a deeply symbolic way — feeding their innate need for truth and justice and empowering them to find the courage to take on and defeat their personal dragons.
This year, we celebrate Michaelmas on Thursday, September 27th, to find a spirit of renewal within and the bravery and determination to face our uncertain futures and unknown dark times.
Michaelmas, Michaelmas, the time to show both courage and form,
Look well around you, inside you must wake.
Trees may shake, I shall stand the storm.
– C.A. Lindenberg