Illustration of Knight Michael slaying dragon representing Michaelmas Festival in Waldorf education

Living with the Spirit of Michaelmas

The hot summer sun that lingers over the start of the school year is beginning to soften, and there is a chill in our mornings now. Road trips and sunscreen are giving way to school bedtimes and thick socks. In our kindergartens, the children are gathering and preserving the summer fruits for sharing throughout the winter months. The third graders have tucked in their winter wheat—tiny seeds of hope that new life will follow the death of winter. The school hallways are filled with the clear ringing of children’s voices singing Knight Michael songs.

Michaelmas illustration for Waldorf education

“Brave and true I will be,
Each good deed, sets me free,
Each kind word makes me strong.
I will fight for the right!
I will conquer the wrong!

Sword of Michael brightly gleaming,
Down to earth its light is streaming,
May we see its shining rays
In the Winter’s darkest days.”

A Time for Meaningful Transformation

This is also the time of year the children hear the story of St. George and Dragon, in which the courageous knight must tame the dragon to save the village people. Many of us sense how this story speaks to the necessity of man to tame our personal inner dragons: desire, fear and doubt, indifference and anger, live within us all. They stand between who we are, and what we want to become. We need to consciously meet these parts of our lower selves with satisfaction, courage and trust, interest, forgiveness and love. All around us in the world, we are faced with what happens when human beings cannot make these transformations. Our personal relationships suffer, violence spreads, and we become indifferent to the Earth's environmental crisis.

Many of us strive to make these transformations throughout the entire year. So why is it that we celebrate St George, otherwise known as St. Michael, at this particular time of the year?

Why Michaelmas Matters in Waldorf Education

In the Waldorf school, we are familiar with the image of Michael wielding his mighty sword over the dragon. In medieval art, he was just as often pictured with a set of scales in his hand, and he was known as the “the balancer of souls.” So it is not arbitrary that we celebrate Michaelmas on September 28th, just after the autumnal equinox. In this balance point in the year, we come to the moment in which we must leave Nature's light behind and step into the darkness.

At first, this brings a welcome change. We are ready for the coziness of extra layers, richer foods, inside time with friends and family. But by February, the darkness overcomes many of us. We find ourselves depressed, or have difficulty following through on our intentions. We lack inspiration and there is a drudgery to our days. Close quarters may lead us to become irritable and short tempered with our loved ones. The dullness of Nature begins to take over our inner life. How can we overcome this?

The spirit of Michael becomes our guide at these times. He shows us that through consciousness, we can seek out things that inspire us, bringing color and joy back into our days. We can find small ways to develop our discipline and our ability to follow through. We can strive for compassion and understanding for the people around us. By connecting to our highest selves, we can balance what surrounds us in the inner world. With strength and courage, we become a little bit closer to taming the dragons within. If we are to be successful in this, we must come to know the spirit of Michael now, in his season, as he shepherds us into Nature's darkness.