The weather is cooling off noticeably, and signs of autumn are evident in nature around us. Goldenrod lines the sides of roads, mushrooms are popping up everywhere, and leaves are beginning to change color and fall to earth. In Waldorf schools around the world, this time is celebrated with a beloved festival, Michaelmas (“mikel-mas”).
Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, gave many lectures about the cycle of the year and the festivals that humans have created both to mark the turning of the seasons and to acknowledge spiritual truths. He indicated that a festival celebrated around the Fall equinox would be very important in this time of human evolution. He specifically spoke about late September as a time to recognize the important task each one of us bears responsibility for: finding a balance in the constant struggle between each individual’s lower nature and higher, true self. Another of our modern tasks is to find our own path to a relationship with Spirit, through our individual inner striving and desire for connection.
In summertime, we are drawn to the blissful enjoyment of earthly pleasures, to a more relaxed attitude and free-spirited existence. As the days grow colder and summer gives way to fall, we must begin calling our souls out of the heights of summer and down to a more grounded rhythm.
In the Michaelmas festival, we are offered the image of the Archangel Michael, representative of all our highest potential as human beings, battling and taming (but not forever vanquishing) the Dragon, which represents our baser tendencies and instincts at best, and at worst, all of the greedy, corrupt, hateful, and violent acts humans are capable of. Living our lives based on our highest ideals takes courage, and this festival celebrates our intention to do just that. If ever we needed to find our inner resolve and courage to stand up in the face of evil, we certainly could each use some support in that area right now!
On the Earth…lives the expelled power of evil, of darkness…the dragon. He seeks to distract and divert us from the spiritual realm, and to chain us to the material world. Daily we can witness his rampages in violence, destruction, hatred, lies, and much more, and can have a clear sense that great exertion, strength, and alertness are required to oppose these forces. But in these inner and outer efforts, we can count on the help of spiritual beings if we do not close ourselves off from them. – Freya Jaffke
For the children, (and adults) it is a time to pull the summer expansiveness into more focused activity. In early childhood, we are working with the children to develop their will capacities, which originate in physical limb activity. Young children are in constant motion, and we support them in channeling this energy into satisfying and meaningful tasks. Older children continue to develop their capacity to find the strength within to engage in purposeful, will-based work. The ability to create beautiful, useful objects with our hands is a hallmark of humanity, one that Waldorf Education endeavors to keep alive, and which is woven throughout the curriculum. Likewise, tasks such as gardening and hiking allow the children to feel the energy flowing all the way to the tips of their fingers and toes, enlivening and strengthening their will. The ability to use the will to guide the limbs into these types of worthwhile movements eventually matures into the capacity to decide on a course of action and follow through with the necessary steps to achieve the goal at hand.
The ideas shared above are for us as adults to ponder and take into our inner beings: if we carry this mood with us during the festival time, which extends into October, it will be nourishing to the children. Simple images and activities of acts of will, inner strength, courage, and initiative bring the mood of Michaelmas into school and into the home–and all can be brought through story, song, or real life experiences. Perhaps your family can work together to harvest vegetables, pick apples, bake bread, rake leaves, build something new. The color golden, which represents truth, courage, and compassion; and the color red, which symbolizes fire, strength, and power, can also be brought to decorate the home and support the festival mood.
A much-beloved part of our Michaelmas community festival is the baking (and eating!) of dragon bread. Here is a link with instructions (and also a fun sword napkin-ring craft), and here is a recipe for our AWS Early Childhood’s gluten-free kneadable bread dough.
And here is a story; Michael and the Star Children, which, though geared toward Early Childhood, will surely be nourishing to the soul of all.
May each of you find the courage and resolve to go forth in our modern world with love in your hearts and fire in your bellies!
Sunflower Kindergarten Teacher
Early Childhood Chair