The anthroposophical festival of Michaelmas is upon us, celebrated in Steiner schools and other anthroposophical institutions all over the world. The celebration of Michaelmas goes back much further than Rudolf Steiner of course. It is the historical Christian feast of Saint Michael, also known as the Archangel Michael. Falling on September 29th, in bygone times it was one of the “quarter days” which evenly marked time through the year as one season merges into the next. It was a time not only for celebration but also for hiring new servants, calling in debts or renewing contracts. The word Michaelmas is still in use in legal circles and in the older British universities as the name for the first term of the academic year.
For Steiner, Michael had particular significance. He is in fact an ‘Archai’ – a spiritual being one level higher than an Archangel. Here’s Roy Wilkinson on Steiner’s hierarchical view of the spiritual world:
“One stage further developed than man are the Angels. They have no physical body and no need to incarnate. The Angels have the task of watching over man and guiding him in certain matters for which he himself does not as yet have the capacity… We speak of a Guardian Angel, or Guiding Spirit.
The Archangels are not concerned with individuals but with groups of people, e.g. nations. The expression ‘folk-soul’, although generally used in an abstract sense, can be taken to indicate a reality.
The next rank is that of the Archai, the Primal Beginnings or the Spirits of Personality. Whereas Angels are concerned with individuals and Archangels with race, the Archai have the guidance of a whole epoch as their mission. The expression ‘Spirit of the Times’ can also be taken as a reality. The Archai have the task of guiding a particular period which is not restricted to a particular people.”
Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Spiritual World-view, Anthroposophy by Roy Wilkinson, pp 197-198
Of what relevance is this to education? Well, the importance of sleep is often emphasised by Steiner educators, not only for its restorative mental and physiological benefits and the consolidation of learning but also because sleep gives us the opportunity to connect directly with the spiritual world. As Kevin Avison puts it in his Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers:
“Recall is a fundamental part of the Morning Lesson…. without active recall the teacher cannot claim to be including the spiritual world, the activity of the night, in the lesson. Recall time is the moment in the lesson when what is beginning to individualise itself in the child through their unconscious communication with the hierarchies (especially the Angels, Archangels and Archai…) during sleep can express itself.”
Avison, Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers, p42, SWSF 2007
Avison also recommends communing with the angels “when nothing seems to be working”:
“Wrestling meditatively with a few paragraphs from Allgemeine Menschenkunde [Study of Man] will also help, especially when accompanied by the angels of the children (interest in every detail of their development) and your own work with those Beings that concern themselves most closely with education.”
Avison, Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers, Appendix I, p86, SWSF 2007
It would be worrying if a naive Steiner teacher took any concerns to the angels before turning to more experienced colleagues or a child’s parents.
For anthroposophists, the Archangel Michael was elevated to an Archai when the current ‘Age of Michael’ began, very precisely, in late November 1879. It is expected to end in 2239, when another of the seven Archangels will take their turn as the spirit of the next epoch. Michael’s previous reign coincided with the life of Christ, which for Steiner was an especially significant period in human history. Dorit Winter, Director of the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training, talks especially eloquently of the significance of this for education:
“For Rudolf Steiner, the connection between Michaelmas, Michaël, and the Christ Impulse was straightforward… When we celebrate Michaelmas, we are celebrating the Christ Impulse. As teachers we should not have any doubts as to what we are doing. We are not celebrating the story of St. George and the Dragon. George (who was claimed by the church as a saint, and thus deprived of his cosmic heritage) and the story of the dragon he slays to save a village are earthly cloaks for mighty, cosmic, spiritual realities.
But then, our entire Waldorf curriculum is an earthly picture of mighty, cosmic, spiritual realities. Or should be.”
“The Chariot of Michael”, Dorit Winter, in “And who shall teach the teachers?”, Waldorf Research Institute, 2007
She goes on to explain the purpose of Steiner education as a means to bring about the next transformation in human consciousness. As is to be expected in the second Age of Michael, this will be nothing less than the second coming of Christ:
“so sensitive are our schools to the sting of the epithet “religious” that, in our attempt to avoid it, we become removed from our source, anthroposophy, let alone its source, the Christ Impulse. It is not far-fetched to say that anthroposophy is the Logos of the consciousness soul, and its garment is Waldorf education.
Here is Rudolf Steiner’s picture for this: “Michaël needs, as it were, a chariot by means of which to enter our civilization… By educating in the right way we are preparing Michaël’s chariot for his entrance into our civilization.”
In other words, as the entire lecture cycle (The Younger Generation, from which these words are taken) makes clear, Waldorf education is the vehicle for Michaël, the “Messenger of Christ,” the “Herald of Christ.”
This is heady, fantastical stuff from authoritative figures in the world of Steiner education. It is very hard to reconcile this kind of Messianic fervour with the way the schools outwardly present themselves. I think all the quotes here demonstrate that we are far removed from the realms of merely personal belief. You might now understand why Steiner schools take the ancient festival of Michaelmas so seriously.