Michaelmas

I admit to not being an Anthroposophist! As a non-believer, I have an open mind on the festivals which are advertised on the websites of Steiner schools. Michaelmas approaches – it is at the end of September, and most of us might assume it is to do with Autumn, harvest – onions, or runner beans, perhaps.

So I had a look in the Rudolf Steiner archive to see what Michaelmas is meant to be in anthroposophy. I searched hard for something relating to Autumn, and at last I found it; from

The Festivals and Their Meaning IV Michaelmas

The Significance of the Impulse of Michael

This is the great and powerful picture given us in the approach of autumn, so that from out of what happens in the cosmos we read the admonition: Nature consciousness must change in man into consciousness of self. But for this he needs the strength to overcome with his qualities of soul and spirit the inwardly death-bringing quality of animal-like Nature. For this he is given guidance when he looks out into the phenomena of the cosmos; to this he is guided by what is revealed in the figure of Michael, with his positive gaze and the flaming meteor-sword in his right hand. And Michael appears to us in that fight with the animalised desire-nature of which, also, a picture emerges from the loom of life. If we wish to paint this whole Imagination, we cannot paint it in any humanly arbitrary way; it can be painted only out of what is given by the cosmos. And the only way to picture the sulphurous element in it, rising into the heights with the elemental spirits in yellowish reddish shades, is in the figure of the Dragon, which takes shape from out of the sulphur. So that above the sulphurous Dragon, in whose burning head, as I might call it, is exhibited the desire-like process, above this Ahrimanised and sulphurised Dragon, we have Michael in the form I have described to you.

So there you have it.

It couldn’t be much further from the harvest festival we celebrated at my children’s primary school. Not much mention of vegetables here.

I must admit that whilst happily attending harvest festivals at primary school and joining in the songs, I never agreed with the idea that a deity had provided all the bounty displayed on the harvest table, but rather the hard work of the gardeners.

So you may say it doesn’t matter that parents are thinking something completely different about Michaelmas from what the school staff are thinking. (They are more concerned with Michael the archangel and the sword and the dragon.)

The staff are probably quite happy to let parents sit and think it is all about the harvest.

Some Steiner schools even have separate festivals which parents are not invited to, as well as those for families. Strange, huh?

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15 comments

  1. Geoff

    You make an interesting point about harvest festivals here Helen, and the passage that you have chosen highlights the dificulty of understanding Steiner texts. They are often incredibly challenging to comprehend which is a truth widely recognised. He has the ability to take a simple point and make it obscure. You may say that is deliberate . . .

    And it just so happens that the Wynstones Michaelmas festival is open to parents this year and maybe I will report back to this site with my observations of what actually happens rather than refering to obscure quotations from a century ago.

    Actually, I would like to thank you as the result of my engagement with this site is a keener ‘looking’ at what I have taken for granted. I will be acting with a more curious mind to ascertain what the festival is all about.

    • Helen

      Steiner followers often say how difficult his text is to comprehend,(I think to imply that anyone who hasn’t studied it is lacking in important knowledge). It is just all his nonsense, made into lectures etc.
      I would no more examine his writings with a view to awarding them status as “meaningful” than those of any other mystic.
      What interests (and worries) me is the way anthroposophy is interpreted and practiced in schools.
      Anyway, with regard to Michaelmas, I would be interested to hear about the festival, and especially the one which is not for parents, if that is possible.
      I wonder if you have ever seen dragon-shaped bread rolls, as mentioned by MarkH in his post?

      • Geoff

        I think the main issue is that Steiner was seeing through a different paradigm to you. And much of that paradigm was spiritual in nature.
        I say that is a problem based on two observations that I make when reading your writings and those that you reference.
        Firstly, that you have a strong reaction to anything that whiffs of spiritual.
        Secondly, that your paradigm is the reductionist/scientific one. And it is clear to me that you think that there is no possibility of there being anything outside of that paradigm. So, if someone is able to see the world through a different lens, then you ridicule them and call them a ‘fruitcake’.
        It is a common problem and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Cult of Science’. Anyone who steps outside of that paradigm is ‘not one of us’.
        Hmmm . . .
        . . . I fancy some fruitcake now that you mention it. Maybe I’ll bake one tomorrow and take it into school tomorrow

  2. Helen

    Yesterday the Wynstones web page on festivals was illustrated with a child’s drawing of Michael with his sword. Today it has an unrelated image of some woodwork. I wonder if the content of the Michaelmas festival itself will also be changed this year.
    http://www.wynstones.com/aboutus/festival
    They are having separate festivals for parents to join in with, I see.
    The colour for Michaelmas is red. I suppose this ties in with the “elemental spirits in yellowish, reddish shades”, mentioned by Steiner.

  3. Helen

    Gregoire Perra;
    “Students celebrate – every year, in late September – the victory of St Michael over the Dragon. They enact the legend of St George rescuing a princess. Little by little, through connections only students immersed in Waldorf education are likely to make, they come to understand that the Dragon is an allegory of the materialism of the modern era, and Michael is the spiritual force that can confront it, delivering the human soul (the princess) who was about to be devoured by the monster. This is in fact an implicit reference to a key element of the doctrine of Rudolf Steiner, which is that a spiritual battle took place in 1879 between the forces of darkness and the forces of light embodied by the Archangel Michael. Thus this small pageant condenses doctrinal elements that Steiner describes at length in his books. It is the same for all the so-called Christian festivals celebrated in these schools: in fact, esoteric Anthroposophic teachings are presented as allegorical and symbolic form during ritual ceremonies integrated into school life.”
    From The Anthroposophical Indoctrination of Students in Steiner Waldorf Schools.
    English Translation from WaldorfWatch
    https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/he-went-to-waldorf

  4. doktorcecilia

    I went to a Steiner school for twelve years. I must admit that for me it was perfectly clear that the Michelsmas was about the fight between the good, human-angel Michael/the prince and the evil nature/dragon. What I did not understand until recently (15 years after quitting Steiner school) was how this was anthroposophy. It never occurred to me that Michelsmas could have anything to do with harvest though. I wonder what my parents’ picture was. As I remember it, they were not welcome at the “festival”.

    • Helen

      Thank you, it is interesting to hear about it from an ex Steiner student.
      Harvest is the only Autumn celebration in most English schools, and this is the “meaning” advertised on a local Steiner school website; a seasonal festivaI that reflects the rhythms of nature. I don’t know what most parents think it is about – the Steiner schools usually make a point of saying they do not follow one particular religion, and any link to Christianity is not mentioned at all.

  5. Helen

    From what you say, Cecilia, the children have a very clear understanding of the anthroposophical Michaelmas festival.
    So many Steiner students say they know nothing about anthroposophy – in reality they just don’t know they know.

  6. Jiminy

    I perfectly understand what you mean with that Steiner text, is not accesible (I agree it must be nonsense). From my experience through Steiner schools I have to agree that they not just embed stories into festivals, but they also read tales, fables and poems to children, and the children are even encouraged to read in the classroom (brainwash!). All these materials and festivals are full with stories and characters that have morals based on being corageous and brave, sensible and gentle, and respectful and understanding (I regret being taught such nonsense). The teachers (if they are serious about their work) even take as a personal quest to embody all these morals (!), because they expect the children will pay attention to them for something higher than just the power relationship between the roles teacher–student (who these teachers think they are? unbelievable). Sometimes I wondered how much better my education would have been in a mainstream school.

    • Jim

      You’re quite right, because of course mainstream schools don’t use stories, poems and so on to convey messages about human relationships and it is well known that all the teachers are just money grubbing materialists. They have nothing better to do than let their pupils learn and express themselves freely instead of teaching them the benefit of producing identical pictures using the proper prescribed colours. Some of these pupils even leave school believing that the heart is a pump and that the continents do not float on the sea. And if they fall ill they have to take medicine rather than being allowed to reap the karmic benefits of their illness. Yes, a truly shocking state of affairs.

      • Little Thoughts

        Aha! if what you are saying is true and if what I am saying is true too, and I have never encounter what you are describing then: could it be that within the Waldorf educational movement every school is diferent? OMG!!!!

        In all honestly, if there are students who are being taught what you are describing, I agree with you: shame on their teachers! but since my experience has been none of the above I can only assume that not all the schools, nor the teachers within the Waldorf movement are all the same as it seems to be implied accross this page. How many schools have you visited and have you asked them the tough questions?
        I have a little and my impression is that everyschool is different, some take Steiner texts more literal and some re-interpret them into a modern world view, which does not include the things you are complaining about.

        • Jim

          I was chiefly responding ( in like tone ) to the implication in your first post that mainstream schools do not do the things you approve of, when of course they do. Some better than others naturally but as you say schools of all sorts vary in their application of their stated principles.

          As you will know schools of all kinds are far less open to visitors than they used to be because of safety concerns, so I cannot claim to have visited many recently. I did visit a local Steiner school when my own child was young ( and at that time I knew nothing about Steiner so had no prejudices ). It was not a happy experience. Whilst there were attractive aspects to the school I found that despite all its talk about being ‘child centred’ it seemed very controlling and anti intellectual. I particularly remember the rather creepy similarity between the artwork displayed and the surprising absence of books. When I asked about that and was told that early reading was discouraged I knew it was not the education for our child.

          That was quite a while ago but I have friends who have had similar experiences recently at the same and other schools. One buried her misgivings and went ahead with the enrolment process but withdrew after being subjected to what she found a humiliating home inspection.

          If your experience was different them I’m glad for you but there does seem ample reason to be concerned about Steiner education. And that does not require us to be blind to the occasional failings of mainstream schools.

          • Little Thoughts

            The tilte “Steiner” or “Waldorf” schools exclusively means that they apply the “Steiner” curriculum. Every school has complete freedom on who they contract and partial freedom on how they teach it.
            If in the school you visited, wether Steiner or not, you found teachers who do not inspire you confidence, you did the right thing: don’t send your children there. I would do the same thing if I had children myself.
            I thing the main confusion with Steiner schools is that they are all called similarly and if one gives a bad experience all people think all the other schools must give the same bad experiences. It sounds like prejudism i.e. if a Spanish man does something bad to me, I will hold grudges against all Spanish people I’ll meet.

            Steiner education is just a pedagogy, some schools apply like in the 19th century and some schools update it to the 21st century. It is up to each school, they are independent.

            Your friend got a “humillating home inspection”? waw, that’s crazy. As far as I know the main class teacher visits each parents house to build a relationship with the parents and learn about the childs environment to further gather what best strategy to use to engage the childs motivation in the classroom. If that turned into a “humillating home inspection” could be because: a) the teacher is a judgemental person and hence he is not a good teacher, b) the teacher is a nice person and just asked the right questions but the parents where not properly explained what is the point of the visit and the questions.

            You seem to have made the right choices for your child and that is the most important thing. There is always a right school for each child. Nonetheless, this website is full of biased information of people full of grudges and prejudism, there is not trace of unbiased judgement. The whole point of the site is to fearmonger, how mature is that: what will be next fear against inmigrants or jews?

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