On Michaelmas

We are approaching Michaelmas, a very important festival from an anthroposophical standpoint and one which can be understood to speak to people from all religions. Michael is the “time spirit” of our age, He who brings an impulse both of the strong and free individual, but also of our relationship to our fellow human beings. He is often referred to as a bringer of a brotherliness, of an international relationship between human beings of all nations. It is Michael who can help us navigate that difficult path between being a fully incarnated ‘I’ and being receptive and open to ‘the Other”, without falling into Egotism on the one hand, or losing oneself in another person, on the other hand. To be truly human is to learn to walk this path.
Here is a short blog entry of mine on Michaelmas and Martinmas, another important Fall festival some of you might be interested in. Those of you who are new to Michaelmas (and how it is pronounced!) might care to read this.
Here is something written by AC Harwood, one of the founders of Waldorf (Steiner) education in Britain. This passage is from his forward to the section on Michaelmas in the book The Festivals and Their Meaning, an anthology of Rudolf Steiner’s writings on this subject:
We see the traditional picture of Michael overcoming the dragon taking on a new and universal dimension and becoming an imagination written in the stars no less than in the human heart. We learn too of the mystery of the substance which has given modern civilization its form – the omnipresent substance of iron. The splendid meteor showers of the early Autumn become to the imaginative eye the flashing sword of Michael, with which he cleanses from the cosmos the sulphurous heat of summer, the macrocosmic counterpart of the blood of the human being.
And here is an excerpt written by Steiner. He has been talking about the dying forces of the Earth as the summer turns toward fall:
Nature has need of death in her life; man can also live this dying through with her. Thereby he enters only more deeply into the inner being of Nature. In his own organism man experiences his breathing process and his blood circulation. They are for him his life. The germinating life of the spring is in reality as near to man as his own breathing, it entices him out into Nature-consciousness. So too the death and decay of Autumn is in reality no further away from man than his own blood; it steels self-consciousness in him…..The Festival of Self-consciousness, bringing man near to his true humanity – wherever the leaves are falling, there it is solemnized, man only needs to become conscious of it. It is the Festival of Michael, the Festival of the Beginning of Autumn. The picture of “Michael Triumphant” can be there; it can live in man. In summer man is received lovingly into Nature; but if he would not be deprived of the center and balance of his being, he must not lose himself in her, 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.

Posted on September 23, 2008 in Seasons and Festivals

  • Kyla Levi says:

    Hi Donna,
    When would the southern hemisphere celebrate Michaelmas? And other festivals for that matter. Is there a resource for us here?
    Warm Wishes,

  • donna says:

    Oh boy – this is a really complex issue! Anthroposophists have been struggling with finding a right view toward celebrating festivals in the Southern Hemisphere since they got there! And the conversation is far from over.
    From my point of view – and this is also one of the views expressed by other anthroposophists – the Earth is One Earth. There are certainly differences between the hemispheres, but they are neither truly opposite nor are they separate. There is also One Cosmos. Thus a festival such as Michaelmas has a reality which is expressed in our material world, in the Earth and though the Earth itself is different from one area to the next, the spiritual forces, at essence, are not.
    I think what makes it difficult for people in the Southern Hemisphere (as well as people living, for instance, in desert regions such as Arizona or Texas in the Northern Hemisphere) is that the bulk of resources available to people in anthroposophical or Waldorf communities are written from a Northern European or north of North American point of view. So when one reads of the leaves falling and turning color and of other natural phenomena and their correlation to the seasons, one can feel that without them, one cannot celebrate a festival such as Michaelmas, that if it is not revealed by the natural phenomena where one lives, then it must not be happening at all!
    I have never lived in the Southern Hemisphere (though I did live in Florida and though its winters were not like those in NYC where I grew up, they were discernible) and so am not familiar with how the seasons turn and how the Earth reveals the festivals there. But I am sure that though Nature in the Southern Hemisphere is totally unlike Nature in Mid Atlantic USA,for instance, that surely there is something which can be experienced which shows how the Cosmic world is turning through the One cycle of the year.
    And ultimately, it comes down to how each human being works with and experiences the spiritual reality of festivals within him or herself. Perhaps we even have it too easy here in the North of the Northern Hemisphere where I am. Perhaps I would be more challenged if I lived in the Southern Hemisphere to feel within myself the inward gesture of Michaelmas and the search for my own sense of ‘I’ when around me Nature was moving in a more outward fashion. I don’t know. That is a question for each of us to work with.
    I am sure there are many books and articles available in places like Australia which deal with this question. You could contact Waldorf bookstores in Melbourne or Sydney and see what they have available. Or maybe you are in South Africa or New Zealand – there are large anthroposophical communities in both of these countries which will have resources available. Or in South America. It would be lovely if you were able to let us all know here if you found anything useful so that others with your question could also share!

  • Dana says:

    I come from a Neopagan background (Christian before that) and we had holidays keyed to the seasons. Our solution for the Southern Hemisphere problem was that folks in the SH celebrated the holidays keyed to the seasons as well. So Beltaine in the NH was Samhain in the SH. It worked out pretty well. The calendar is a human invention, after all, and it makes more sense to celebrate the seasons as they are rather than force half the globe into celebrating something that is not there.

  • donna says:

    Yes – the calendar is indeed a human invention but if a religious calendar is indeed a reflection of real events happening in the spiritual worlds, then it is not arbitrary but instead a reflection of spiritual truths. If Michaelmas is a real event in the spiritual worlds which has ramifications for human beings, then it effects all of us, whereever we are.

  • Ozgilbert says:

    Having moved the the southern hemisphere myself, this question has occupied me for the last 25 years, and I it is only recently that I have come to terms with it when reading an article in “Das Goetheanum”, September 2007.In this excellent article by Michael Debus – unfortunately only in German – he argues that Christ died in April for the whole world, whether one lived in Israel, Japan or Mexico. It is this event that is remembered and commemorated every year, whether one lives in Israel, japan or Mexico. And since this event happened for the whole of the Earth, the commemoration and celebration can also happen at the same time for the whole world, regardless of the season one is experiencing. The happening of a world event is remembered and commemorated as world event the world over at the same time. Consequently, the other festivals are also celebrated at the same time the world over. This means that the question is not: “When do we celebrate Michaelmas, etc”, but “how.” And the answer to this question is as wide and open as the cosmos itself.

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