Thursday, October 11, 2012

Old Michaelmas Day

Old Michaelmas Day is either today or was yesterday (10 or 11 October), opinions vary. After our calendar was revised in the mid 18th century 29 September became "New" Michaelmas.

Michaelmas is a festival in honour of St. Michael. He holds the scales of Libra (left), appropriately enough for the date, and because he is honoured as the administrator of cosmic intelligence. Archangel Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, in legend he defeated Luficer and he's seen as a protector against the dark of night. For people of mediaeval times the long nights of winter were very much darker, the oncoming cold more dangerous than for we spoiled 21st century dwellers in the lighted warmth of our homes. Martinmas comes along a month later, on 11 November, to honour St. Martin. (The suffix -"mas" comes from an old English word maesse, meaning festival, feast day or mass)

In past centuries in Britain, as well as being religious festivals and celebrations of the changing of seasons, Michaelmas and/or Martinmas marked Quarter Days when rents were due and accounts had to be settled. These times were also when servants and farm workers were hired by farmers, land owners and "the gentry" for the coming year at The Hiring Fairs, sometimes called Mop Fairs because servants with certain skills, (carpentry, cooking, etc) seeking employment, would carry a mop.

Agricultural workers who wished to move from their current farm would stand together in a town's market-place where a fair was being held. Farmers needing extra or replacement labourers, shepherds, grooms, ploughmen etc. would come to take their pick. Workers would travel for hundreds of miles to attend these fairs in market towns throughout the country. My own two grandfathers, both born in the south of England: Suffolk and Wiltshire travelled, in their youth, mostly on foot from the south to Yorkshire in the north, some two to three hundred miles, to find work on farms there. That's how I came to be a Yorkshirewoman.

As well as The Hiring Fairs, at this time of year there were funfairs in certain towns and cities; it's a tradition that lives on in some locations. In the city where I was born, Hull, a huge funfair is held annually around 11th October: Hull Fair. It celebrated its 700th anniversary in 1993!
Here, as it was in 2006:

Michaelmas has its own named variety of Aster: the Michaelmas Daisy ~~

Old Michaelmas lore:

So many days the moon is old on St Michael’s day, so many floods after.
Traditional English weather marker

Harvest comes as long before Michaelmas as dog roses bloom before Midsummer.
Traditional English weather marker

On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on the blackberries.

(So they should not be picked later!)
Traditional Northern Irish saying.

St Michael’s rain does not stay long in the sky.
Traditional French.

If it does not rain on St Michael’s and Gallus [Oct 16], a dry spring is indicated for the next year.
Traditional English.

Finally, a bit of advice from Rudolf Steiner on how to approach this time of year:

People must learn once more to “think” the spiritual “together with” the course of nature. It is not admissible today for a person merely to indulge in esoteric speculations; it is necessary today to be able once again to do the esoteric. But people will be able to do this only when they can conceive their thoughts so concretely, so livingly that they don't withdraw from everything that is going on around them when they think, but rather that they think with the course of events: “think together with” the fading of the leaves, with the ripening of the fruits, in a Michaelic way, just as at Easter one knows how to think with the sprouting, springing, blossoming plants and flowers.


mike said...

I usually learn new information from your posts, Twilight. I was surprised that Michaelmas is a secular event in England...I always thought it only had religious connotation. Is there anecdotal evidence that the blackberries are unfit for consumption this late in the season (mold or other spoilage)? I have followed the beliefs of R.Steiner for some years, particularly since vintners are now producing biodynamic wines and Europeans are desiring biodynamically grown produce. He proposes an Earth philosophy that is simply healthy and sustainable, whether one believes his original philosophy.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Oh, I'm happy to know that. :-)
Yes the title Michaelmas is also given to the first academic term of the year in some universities and schools in the UK; also it's the name of the first of four terms into which the legal year is divided by the Courts of England and Wales.

I doubt there's any evidence that blackberries (we used to call them brambles) are affected by the date - more by the weather in any particular year, I'd guess.

I'm not familiar with Steiner's work - the link to theosophy always puts me off otherwise excellent individuals of that era. But, as you say, his simple philosophy of living in rhythm with the Earth can't be criticised - it does kind of echo the Native Americans way of life - before Europeans came and spoiled it all. ;-)

Chomp said...

Really interesting to be noticed that date changement

Twilight said...

Chomp ~~ The calendar revision from Julian to Gregorian threw up quite a few awkward changes, especially for astrologers.