Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Supplement ~ Old Michaelmas

Old Michaelmas Day falls this weekend (10 or 11 October), opinions vary. After our calendar was revised in the mid 18th century 29 September became "new" Michaelmas for modern times.

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. We must not forget that, for folk in mediaeval times, the approaching long nights were very much darker and 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, in honour of 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 for the coming year at The Hiring Fairs, in some cases called Mop Fairs because servants with no particular skills (carpentry, cooking, etc) would hold a mop.

Agricultural workers who wanted to move from their current farm would stand in the town's market-place where a fair was being held, and farmers needing extra or replacement labourers, shepherds , grooms, ploughmen etc. would come to take their pick. Workers travelled for miles to attend these fairs in market towns throughout the country. My own two grandfathers born in the south of England, in Suffolk and Wiltshire both travelled as young lads, mostly on foot, from the south to Yorkshire, (a journey of 2 or 3 hundred miles, I guess) to find work on farms there, and that's how I come to be a Yorkshirewoman.

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

Some 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 proverb

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

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


anthonynorth said...

An excellent post, this. I've gone quite deep into St Michael concerning his role in Dragon lore. He crops up time and time again, and it seems to many that the dragon is the land itself, and the slaying of the dragon, the move from nature worship to Christianity.
We can find out so much history from folklore.

Twilight said...

anthonynorth ~~~ Thank you, AN!

Yes, he and St George have a lot in common dragon-wise. :-)
I had assumed that the dragon represented the devil and powers of darkness, but the idea you mention works too.

WinkGamer said...

Such an interesting article! Thanks for the insight.

Twilight said...

Wink Gamer ~~~ Glad you enjoyed it.