The Michaelmas Festival
September 15, 2022
The Michaelmas Festival is celebrated each year on the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. This time of year, we recognize the power of the spirit known as Michael and his victory over the forces that would drag us down. We invite you to explore Rudolf Steiner’s teachings on the battle of Michael and the Dragon, the Michaelmas Festival, and the importance of the seasons in our soul development.
There arose a revolt of divine spirits seeking free will prematurely before men came into human form.
There are forces among us who do not belong to the earthly realm. They were banished by Michael from the heavens for revolting against Divine will.
[A]mong these spirits, whose real cosmic destiny was to remain identified with the will of the divine spirits, there arose a number of beings that wanted to disassociate their will, as it were, to emancipate it, from the divine will. In superhuman pride, certain beings revolted because they desired freedom of will before the time had come for their freedom to mature; and the most important one of these beings, their leader, was conceived of as the being taking shape in the Dragon that Michael combats — Michael, who remained above in the realm of those spirits that wanted to continue molding their will to the divine-spiritual will above them.
The super-sensible Dragon was banished to the earthly realm where he did not belong.
He was not animal and not human. He did not fit any existing form, so he remained invisible and appears supersensibly as a Dragon.
[W]hen the soul's eye is directed to what physical nature embraces, it beholds this inherently contradictory form of the Adversary, of him who is like an animal and yet not like an animal, who dwells in the visible world, yet is himself invisible: it beholds the form of the Dragon. And in the whole genesis of the Dragon men of old saw the act of Michael, who remained in the realm of spirit in the form suitable to that realm.
Now the earth came into being, and with it, man; and it was intended that man should become, in a sense, a twofold being. With one part of his being, with his psycho-spiritual part, he was to reach up into what is called the heavenly, the super-sensible world; and with the other, with the physical-etheric part, he was to belong to that nature which came into being as earth-nature, as a new cosmic body — the cosmic body to which the apostate spirit, the Adversary, was relegated. This is where man had to come into being. He was the being who, according to the primordial decree that underlies all, belongs in this world. Man belonged on the earth. The Dragon did not belong on the earth, but he had been transferred thither. Ibid.
The battle with the Dragon moved from the outer cosmos into human nature.
After being defeated by Michael and his army, the invisible Ahrimanic powers return to the earthly realm and reside there. When man took human form on earth, the dragon took up residence in man himself through our interaction with nature.
The Dragon, the Old Serpent, was cast out of heaven down to the earth, where he had no home; but then he erected his bulwark in the being of man, and now he is entrenched in human nature. [ . . .] [B]y taking outer nature into himself through nourishment, breathing, and perception, man creates within himself a sphere of action for the Dragon. Ibid.
The Dragon and leagues of Ahrimanic beings repeatedly attack Michael and his army but are always defeated.
In The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness, Steiner discusses a great war in the spiritual worlds that occurred from the 1840s until the autumn of 1879. Although tethered to the earth, the Ahrimanic spirits repeatedly rise up to wage war in the heavens. This has occurred many times, since before mankind took human form here on earth. Michael and his army always win and the Dragon and his followers are again relegated back again to the earthly realm. Each battle has a different impact on humanity. One result was human freedom. Other results were increased human materialism, which continues today.
With the Dragon now entrenched in human nature, mankind must fight those inner forces that would hinder our spiritual development. We do this through what in German is known as our Gemüt or in simple English translation—our “mind.” But Gemüt is more than just thinking; it is more akin to feeling or heartfelt thinking.
In our soul life we distinguish, as you know, thinking, feeling, and willing from one another; and especially in connection with feeling we speak of the human Gemüt. Our thinking appears to us cold, dry, colorless—as though spirituality emaciating us—when our thoughts take an abstract form, when we are unable to imbue them with the warmth and enthusiasm of feeling. We can call a man gemütvoll only when something of the inner warmth of his Gemüt streams forth to us when he utters his thoughts. And we can really make close contact with a man only if his behavior toward ourself and the world is not merely correct and in line with duty, but if his actions manifest enthusiasm, a warm heart, a love of nature, love for every being. This human Gemüt, then, dwells in the very center of the soul life, as it were.
Thus, applying our Gemüt to Michaelmas, our struggle against the Dragon involves our alliance with the forces of Michael.
So the content of the human Gemüt can be this: The power of the Dragon is working within me, trying to drag me down. I do not see it — I feel it as something that would drag me down below myself. But in the spirit I see the luminous Angel whose cosmic task has always been the vanquishing of the Dragon. I concentrate my Gemüt upon this glowing figure, I let its light stream into my Gemüt, and thus my illumined and warmed Gemüt will bear within it the strength of Michael. And out of a free resolution I shall be able, through my alliance with Michael, to conquer the Dragon's might in my own lower nature.
Michaelmas is the profound continuation of Easter within Man’s own Soul.
Steiner discusses how we do not randomly add festivals to the calendar because one group or another think they would be nice to celebrate on this or that date. The festivals have deep spiritual meaning. Christmas needed the birth of the Christ; Easter, His death and resurrection. For Michaelmas, mankind carries on the Easter thought into his own soul. While Easter represents the death and resurrection of Christ; Michaelmas represents the reverse in mankind: the resurrection of Man’s own soul and then physical death.
What does Easter represent in the year's festivals? It is a festival of resurrection. It commemorates the Resurrection realized in the Mystery of Golgotha through the descent of Christ, the Sun-Spirit, into a human body. First death, then resurrection: that is the outer aspect of the Mystery of Golgotha. One who understands the Mystery of Golgotha in this sense sees death and resurrection in this way of redemption; and perhaps he will feel in his soul that he must unite in his Gemüt with Christ, the victor over death, in order to find resurrection in death. But Christianity does not end with the traditions associated with the Mystery of Golgotha: it must advance. The human Gemüt turns inward and deepens more and more as time goes on; and in addition to this festival that brings alive the Death and Resurrection of Christ, man needs that other one which reveals the course of the year as having its counterpart within him, so that he can find in the round of the seasons first of all the resurrection of the soul — in fact, the necessity for achieving this resurrection — in order that the soul may then pass through the portal of death in a worthy way. Easter: death, then resurrection; Michaelmas: resurrection of the soul, then death.
This makes of the Michael Festival a reversed Easter Festival. Easter commemorates for us the Resurrection of Christ from death; but in the Michael Festival we must feel with all the intensity of our soul: In order not to sleep in a half-dead state that will dim my self-consciousness between death and a new birth, but rather, to be able to pass through the portal of death in full alertness, I must rouse my soul through my inner forces before I die. First, resurrection of the soul — then death, so that in death that resurrection can be achieved which man celebrates within himself.
Indeed, we are "born again" by taking the risen Christ into our soul while living. The Michael thought, "the resurrection of Man's own soul" continues the Easter thought of the death and resurrection of Christ. With these two thoughts, we find the force to die in Christ and be born again.
It would become the whole disposition of the human soul to permeate the cosmos, to unite itself with cosmic worlds, if once the Michael thought could awaken as a festival thought in such a way that we were to place a Michael festival in the second half of September alongside the Easter festival; if to the thought of the resurrection of the God after death could be added the thought, produced by the Michael force, of the resurrection of man from death, so that man through the Resurrection of Christ would find the force to die in Christ. This means, taking the risen Christ into one's soul during earthly life, so as to be able to die in Him — that is, to be able to die, not at death but when one is living.
Then that which we need will be present in life. For these are one, and they will once again weave religion, science, and art into oneness, because people will understand how to conceive the trinity. Such a thing could actually become an impulse which singly and alone would be able, in the present condition of humanity, to replace the descending forces with ascending ones.
For Michaelmas to have meaning, our thoughts about spirit must be as powerful as our thoughts of the material world.
Through alliance with Michael, we can overcome the Dragon, the world and even death. For this, we need thoughts of spirit to grip us a powerfully as the material world.
This ability to rise to the point at which thoughts about spirit can grip us as powerfully as can anything in the physical world, this is Michael power. It is confidence in the ideas of spirit — given the capacity for receiving them at all — leading to the conviction: I have received a spiritual impulse, I give myself up to it, I become the instrument for its execution. [...]
If you will imagine this thought developed in the human Gemüt as great confidence in spirit, if you will consider that man can cling firm as a rock to something he has seen to be spiritually victorious, something he refuses to relinquish in spite of all outer opposition, then you will have a conception of what the Michael power, the Michael being, really demands of us; for only then will you comprehend the nature of the great confidence in spirit.
Thus, we celebrate the joy of the Michaelmas Festival as a remembrance of our ability to align with the forces of Michael through our will together with our heartfelt thinking—our Gemüt. We can thereby overcome the world just as Christ did. In doing so, we will no longer remain chained to the material realm like Ahriman but be confident in our death that we will continue to evolve spiritually as intended.