Michael's Fight with the Dragon
Originally appeared in the Austrian Journal Anthroposophie for November 1st, 1923.
Looking back to earlier periods of human evolution, we see that the conception of the Universe has changed both as regards Nature and spiritual things. It is not necessary to go far into the past to see this. Even in the eighteenth century a more spiritual idea of natural forces and matter prevailed than now and spiritual things were pictured in a way that was more analogous to the world of Nature. Only in the most modern times have representations relative to the Spirit become quite abstract and Nature come to be regarded as mere matter, devoid of spirit and impenetrable to human comprehension. Nature and Spirit thus fall apart; we cannot understand the connection between them, for there is no bridge from the one to the other.
For this same reason the magnificent images of the Universe which once played an important part in enabling the individual to grasp his position as a part of the Universe were relegated to the world of airy fantasy to which the thinker could devote himself only so long as he did not offend against scientific exactitude.
One of these Universal images is 'Michael's Fight with the Dragon.' It formed part of the content of the soul and by it the man of those earliest times traced back a line of descent very different from that of his descendants of the present day. Now-a-days the attempt is made to trace the origin of man to beings less human in appearance than his ancestors. We now go back from more spiritual to less spiritual beings. But in earlier times, when retracing the stream of human evolution, men looked for beings of greater spirituality than those of the present day. They beheld a pre-terrestrial condition in which the present form of man did not as yet exist. Beings of finer substances appeared, more spiritual than the human beings of our day. Of such a nature was the Being who, as Dragon, was fought by Michael. He was destined to take human form in later times, but not until 'his time' had come. It was not meant that 'his time' should depend upon the Dragon's will but on the decisions of spiritual Beings higher than himself. It was intended that till then his will should be entirely determined by the will of those higher Beings. But before 'his time' pride awoke in him. He wanted his 'own will' while he ought still to have been subject to higher will. In this lay his opposition to that higher will. But independence of will is only possible for such Beings when it is in substance denser than any then existing. They must, change their nature in order to carry on this opposition. The rebellious attitude of this Spirit was no longer, compatible with life in the spiritual atmosphere in which he found himself and his existence was felt by his fellows in their realm as disturbing, even destructive. This was the feeling of Michael. He remained obedient to the will of the higher spiritual Beings. He undertook to force the rebellious spirit to assume the only form possible for a being with independent will in the then existing condition of the world, the form of an animal, the Dragon, the 'Serpent.' There were as yet no higher forms. Of course the 'Dragon' was not thought of as visible but as a supersensible form.
Such was the scene which arose in a past age before the inner eye of the fight between 'Michael and the Dragon.' It was regarded as a fact enacted before there was any Nature which human eye could see and before man had his present form.
The present world issued from the world in which this event took place. The kingdom into which the Dragon was cast is what we know as 'Nature'; with a materiality which makes it visible to the senses. It is, so to say, the sediment of a former world. The kingdom in which Michael has remained, devoted to the will of the gods, is 'above,' purified like a liquid in which a substance has been dissolved and has formed a sediment. That kingdom has thenceforth remained a world hidden from the senses.
But Nature, apart from mankind, has not fallen under the power of the Dragon. That power was not mighty enough to become densified in visible form. It remained an invisible spirit in Nature and was forced to separate from it. Nature became a reflection of the higher spiritual worlds from which the Dragon had fallen away.
This was the world into which man was placed. He belonged partly to Nature and partly to the higher spirituality. He was thus a kind of dual being. The Dragon was powerless in the world of Nature itself, but over what in man is of Nature, over this he had power. In man Nature shows herself as desire, as animal passion. Into this sphere the fallen spirit could enter. This was the 'Fall of man.'
The rebellious spirit is transferred to the human soul. Michael has remained true to his own nature. When man directs the higher part of his being to Michael, that part which is rooted in the higher spirituality, the inner 'fight of Michael with the Dragon begins in the soul. This thought was still familiar to many in the eighteenth century. Outside Nature was to them the 'Mirror of higher Spirituality.' What was 'Nature' in man was the stronghold of the serpent and the task of the soul was to fight the serpent through devotion to Michael's power.
How must Nature appear to a soul in which such images live? The approach of Autumn must call forth the remembrance of the 'Fight with the Dragon.' The leaves fall from the trees, the budding, blossoming life dies away. Pleasant is the welcome of Nature in Spring; kindly the gifts showered on man as she tends him in the warm rays of the Summer sun. When Autumn sets in she has nothing more for him. The forces of decay penetrate to him through his senses. It is out of himself that he must obtain what Nature had before bestowed upon him. Her power in him grows feeble. He must create for himself spiritual forces to be his help where Nature is powerless to do this. With Nature the Dragon loses his power. The image of Michael, the conqueror of the Dragon, rises before the soul. That image had been dulled while Nature — and with nature the Dragon — were powerful. It now rose from out of the frosty fogs, streaming from the earth.
But the image is a reality for the soul. It is as though a veil which the Summer warmth had drawn, hiding the spiritual world, had now been raised.
Man lives the year's life in its course. Spring is an early benefactor but it entices the human being into that kingdom in which the 'enemy' opposes to the beauty of Nature his invisible power as ugliness. In the beginning of Autumn appears the spirit of the 'strong beauty' when Nature hides 'her beauty' and in doing so drives the enemy into retirement.