The Festivals and Their Meaning IV:
Michael and the Dragon I
This article was first published in Das Goetheanum, a weekly periodical edited by Albert Steffen. Presented in two parts, it is from Volume 3, Numbers 8 and 9, 30th September and 7th October, 1923. It was first published in English in the quarterly journal, Anthroposophy, Michaelmas 1927, Volume 2, Number 3.
When we turn our gaze back into earlier times of human evolution, we are inevitably struck with the change that has come about in the pictures man makes for himself — pictures, on the one hand, of Nature, on the other hand, of Spirit. Nor do we need to go back very far to observe the change. As late as the eighteenth century the forces and substances of Nature were thought of in a much more spiritual manner than they are to-day, while spiritual things were conceived more in pictures taken from Nature. It is only in quite recent times that men's ideas of the Spirit have become so utterly abstract and their ideas of Nature been referred to a spirit-estranged matter that human perception cannot hope to penetrate. For the human understanding of the present-day Nature and Spirit fall apart, and men can find no bridge that shall lead over from one to the other.
The consequence is that sublime world-pictures which in past times had great significance for man as he sought to comprehend his place in the Universal Whole have passed completely into the region of things deemed to be no more than airy fancy — mere fancy to which man could only give himself up so long as an exact science was not there to forbid him. Such a cosmic picture is that of Michael fighting with the Dragon.
This picture belongs to a time when man traced back his own evolution quite differently from the way that is taught to-day. To-day as we follow the history of man back into primeval times, we look to find beings less and less human, from whom the man of the present day is descended. We pass from more spiritual to less spiritual beings. In earlier times it was different. Then as men traced back the evolution of mankind, it led them to more spiritual conditions of existence than prevail to-day.
They looked back to a pre-earthly condition when the present form of man did not as yet exist. They pictured to themselves beings in the existence of that time who lived in a finer substance than that of which man is composed to-day. These beings were ‘more spiritual’ than the men of to-day. Of such a nature was the Dragon-being whom Michael fights. He was destined one day in a later age to assume human form. But he must bide his ‘time.’ The time did not depend on him, but on the decree of Spirit-Beings who stood above him. Until that time it was for him to remain entirely within the will of these higher Spirit-Beings.
But now before his hour was come, pride was begotten in him. He wanted to have an “own will” in a time when he should have been still living in the higher Will. Thus did he set himself in opposition to the higher Will. Independence of will was only possible to such beings in a denser matter than then existed. If they persisted in opposition, they must needs change and become different beings. This being found it impossible any longer to live in the same spirituality. His fellow-beings felt his existence in their realm as disturbing, nay even destructive. Michael felt it so. Michael had remained in the Will of the Spirit Beings. He undertook to compel the opposing being to assume the form which was alone possible for an independent will at that stage of the world's development, to assume that is, animal form, the form of the ‘Dragon’, of the ‘Serpent.’ Higher animal forms had not yet made their appearance. This ‘Dragon’ was of course not even then imagined as visible, but as super-sensible.
Such was the picture the man of an earlier time had in his mind of the fight of Michael with the Dragon. For him it was a fact that had taken place before ever there was a Nature visible to the human eye, before even man was, in his present form.
The world we know has proceeded from out of the world in which this event took place. The kingdom into which the Dragon was driven has become ‘Nature,’ and is now so constituted as to be visible to the senses; it is, as it were, in substance the deposit of the earlier world. The kingdom in which Michael has preserved his spirit-devoted will, has remained ‘above’ — purified, like a liquid from which a substance once contained in solution has been deposited. It is a kingdom that must still continue invisible to the senses.
Nature however, considered apart from man, has not succumbed to the Dragon. The power of the Dragon was not strong enough to come to visibility in Nature. It remained in her as invisible Spirit. The Dragon had to sunder his being from Nature. She became a mirror of the higher spirituality from which he had fallen.
Into this world Man was set. He was able to partake in Nature and in the higher spirituality. He became thus a kind of double being. In Nature herself the Dragon remained powerless. In Nature as she comes to life in man, he retains his power. The Nature man receives into himself lives in him as desire, as animal lust. Into this sphere the fallen spirit has entrance. And so we have the ‘Fall of Man.’
The Adversary has found his abode in man. Michael has remained true to his nature. When man turns to Michael with that part of his life which has its origin in the higher spirituality, then there arises in the soul of man the inward fight of Michael and the Dragon.
As recently as the eighteenth century such a conception was still current. External Nature was still to many men the mirror of a higher spirituality, Nature in man still the seat of the Serpent, which the soul must fight through devotion to the power of Michael.
And now, when conceptions of this kind were living in a man's soul, how must he look out upon external Nature? The time of the approach of Autumn must needs recall the fight with the Dragon. The leaves fall from the trees, all the flowering and fruiting life of the plants dies away. In gentle and friendly guise did Nature receive man in Spring; tenderly she cherished him through the long Summer days, nurturing him with the warmth-laden gifts of the Sun. When Autumn comes, she has nothing more to give him. Her forces of decay press in upon him, through his senses he beholds them in pictures. From out of his own being man must give himself what hitherto Nature has given him. Her power grows weaker and weaker within him. From out of the Spiritual he must create for himself forces that shall help where Nature fails. And with Nature the Dragon too loses his power. The picture of Michael rises up before the soul — Michael the opponent of the Dragon. That picture was dimmed, when Nature, and with her the Dragon, was all-powerful. With the oncoming of the frost, the picture looms up again before the soul. Nor must we think of it merely as a picture, it is a reality for the soul. It is as if the warmth of summer had dropped a curtain before the spiritual world, and this curtain were now lifted. Man partakes in the life of the year, he goes with it in its course. Spring is his earthly friend and comforter; but she enmeshes him in that kingdom where the ‘adversary’ sets the ugliness of his invisible power within man over against the beauty of Nature. 1See also The Cycle of the Year as Breathing Process of the Earth, 5 lectures, Anthroposophical Publishing Co.
With the beginning of autumn appears the spirit of ‘strength in beauty’ the while Nature hides her beauty, driving the adversary too into concealment.
With such thoughts and feelings did men of ancient times keep the Festival of Michael in their hearts.