The Michaelmas festival honors St. Michael, the mythical Dragon-slayer astride a white steed, who bears a mighty iron sword flashing like a meteor. Michael’s legend symbolizes the autumnal resurgence of human strength, willpower and striving to overcome our inner Dragons – laziness, greed, doubt, fear of the future – who may have crept over us unnoticed during summer’s dreamy warmth and forgetfulness. Rudolf Steiner assigns to the figure of Michael and his battle with the Dragon a central significance in our age. The name “Michael” means “he who is like God,” and is sometimes pronounced with three syllables – Mi-cha-el – to make the “el” (God) audible.
In the Earth’s summer “outbreathing,” we rejoice in nature and identify with her blossoming and fruiting processes; we may want summer to last forever. Now, as fall begins, nature starts to die all around us, the Earth starts “breathing in” all her creatures, and it would be easy for us to give in to the Dragon of despondency, even despair, at the approach of darkness, cold and death. It is now that our human will-forces are most strongly needed: we must now stand up, separate ourselves from nature, oppose the Dragon of death forces which would pull us back down to Mother Earth, and wield our swords of light-filled, clear consciousness as we go forth into the darkness of winter.
There is something of a New Year’s feeling at Michaelmas, and indeed it is the season of the Jewish New Year and the solemn Day of Atonement. The school year is beginning, vacation is past, and many cultural endeavors begin anew. L. Francis Edmunds writes:
“It is in the autumn, with nature on the wane, that the human year properly begins. As the sap sinks in the trees and the leaves begin to fall, so the sap of our inward nature, our thinking spirit, commences to rise with growing clarity into consciousness. It is then we realize that, standing within nature, we yet draw our inmost being from other realms. Here lies the special character of Michaelmas. The imagination of Michael and the Dragon carries us immediately into a realm hidden from outer seeing.
“What, then, is the Dragon in our time? He works in every influence which undermines the worth of human living, promoting distrust, disbelief, egotistical greed in every form. He makes evil a fact in daily life. The call of Michael today is to the human [higher self] – which the Dragon dismisses as mere illusion – to awaken, by inner effort of will and selfless devotion to strengthened thinking, so that the power of thought may become a Michaelic sword of light, to pierce the darkness and come to grips with Satan, that old deceiver, the falsifier at all times of heavenly truth and revelation.”
Asleep is the soul of Earth in summer’s heat,
While the Sun’s outward glory rays through the realms of space.
Awake is the soul of Earth in winter’s cold,
While the Sun’s inmost being lightens in spirit.
Summer’s day of joy for Earth is sleep;
Winter’s holy night for Earth is day.
– Rudolf Steiner