As I am writing this – on September 29th – the sun is illuminating a slate-gray sky. Through a veil of gently falling raindrops I can see a rainbow forming before my eyes, framed by the blood-red foliage of the maple in front of our house.
The air is cool, crisp and clear, filled with golden colours and the scent of wood-burning fires. In the stores squash, apples and pears are on display, and pots of mums and asters are lining the stairs to inviting porches in front of brightly-lit windows.
It is fall! There is no denying it. Inside we have started to burn a fire against the night chills. Blankets and sweaters are kept handy to warm the limbs; hot tea or hot chocolate are prepared to warm the belly and the heart; a good book and good conversation warm the soul. And despite all the sorrow for a summer gone there is a wonderful expectancy in me as well.
Traditionally fall has been a time of hard work and often of struggle: the harvest had to be brought in; dues had to be paid to landlords, masters of the mansion, the king; accounts had to be balanced; food had to be prepared and stored for winter (and before freezers and canned veggies that was hard work); houses had to be repaired and improved; and in many cases the soul and spirit had to be prepared for the dark season, too.
In medieval times September 29th was celebrated as the Christian feast of Michaelmas on the British Isles and other places. It was the day of Michael, the Archangel that lead the fight against the dragon in heaven and whose name was the war-cry of the angles in their fight against Satan. Since it was celebrated so close to the fall-equinox it also became an autumn festival, celebrating the harvest with an opulent meal and asking for support for the fields prepared for a new cycle of growth. Michael was praised and asked for support in the struggles that lay ahead: personal efforts, fights with nature, wars and disputes of all kinds.
But Michael had been venerated for centuries before. He had been the Angel of Healing or the Heavenly Physician. Legend linked him to healing waters, and the sick would sleep in churches dedicated to him to support the healing process. He was seen as the protector from the darkness of night and evil, and for some he was (and still is) the Archangel who accompanied the souls of the dead to judgement.
Today Michael has taken a prominent position in the lives of many people. His traditional task as defender of the people has been expanded and he now is seen as the angel of careers, courage, achievements, ambitions, motivation, and life tasks. Many people moving on a spiritual path experience Michael’s protective energies as the guardian energy in their personal lives.
But what happened to Michaelmas? Well, as far as tradition goes, in the 18th century Michaelmas was stricken from the list of holy days of obligation, those high holidays of the Christian faith that require the faithful to participate in the Mass and abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body” (canon 1247 of the Code of Canon Law). In other words, it became a day like any other day. And as it goes with things that aren’t “officially required” any longer – Michaelmas ceased to exist for all intents and purposes.
But there are still some who mark that special day. It is not usually celebrated by feasting on a fat goose and specially baked breads any more. It has gone back to being more of a spiritual celebration.
Michaelmas now is a time to reflect on the struggles that we had this past year and to prepare for the year ahead. It is a celebration of will-forces, dedication, and intent. In the time of harvest we take the fruit of past labour off the fields and prepare the land for a new growth cycle. During the time of Michaelmas we can become aware of the fruits of our own past labours – inward and outward in the world – and prepare the soil of our hearts and souls for new growth and new gifts.
During Michaelmas Archangel Michael is most often referred to as the One Who Fought the Dragon and the analogy to our own dark side, the inner temptations, and personal “ghosts” is relatively easy to make. But there is also the energy of the Heavenly Physician, the Protector of the Sick, the Patron of the Warriors and the Angel of Repentance, Righteousness, Mercy And Sanctification that is associated with Michael. And all of these qualities are needed when we want to look at our past accomplishments with honesty and integrity.
At one point in life we all need the support of the Warrior-Angel in our struggles, be they inside us, such as the struggle to overcome an addiction or another unhealthy pattern, or outside us, such as a struggle with a life-threatening illness or another tragedy. As the priest-kings of olden days, Michael the Patron of Warriors and Heavenly Physician, can help us on many levels in such situations. But around the time of his holiday, as autumn approaches and we begin to move inside, it is the Angel of Repentance, Righteousness, Mercy And Sanctification that we might need to focus on more than at any other time in the year.
The Jewish faith celebrates Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, during the 7th month of the Jewish calendar – a time that corresponds roughly to September/October in the Gregorian calendar. Yom Kippur is a day set aside to “afflict the soul,” to atone for the sins of the past year, to show repentance, and to ask for forgiveness. This can be a difficult task, as it requires the individual to face his/her trespasses on other people’s lives throughout the year and there possible impact on these lives – and on ones own. But it is also a very cleansing activity. It allows the individual to leave behind a burden, to make amends, and to move on to a new cycle in his or her life.
Michaelmas offers such an opportunity to everyone. Since the Archangel Michael is acknowledged as the leader of the host of angels – and therefore quite an important figure – by the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, and because he has become a symbol of courage and just strength in many new spiritual streams, his holiday offers the opportunity for reflection, repentance, and forgiveness to people of many faith and all walks of life.
So, if you can find a quiet moment in the coming days to sit down alone or with friends, to reflect on the year just past and the fruit of your labour, and to project into the future, onto that which you want to create and cultivate in this new cycle of growth, invite Michael, Angel of Repentance, Righteousness, Mercy And Sanctification and Patron of the Warriors into the circle. You might be surprised by the clarity, safety, and support you experience. I will be doing this, too. And while I am at it I will also ask for forgiveness from Michael himself for all the times I didn’t listen, all the times I called on him because I didn’t want to do the work, and all the times I took his help for granted. It’s his holiday after all; a time to be honest!
By the way, Thanksgiving falls very close to Michaelmas this year. If you don’t have the time to sit with Michael before, invite him to your Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sure he’d be delighted.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you – and a glorious, golden fall!