“Who is like God?”
Here in California, the heat of a brutally hot summer has finally subsided. The fields have long been brown, and the soil dry and caked. The air is thick with dust and, in places, with the smoke of fires. We welcome the approaching gentleness of autumn, even as we long for the relief of rain.
Autumn, the time of the dying-away, is the season known as Michaelmas. At this time, we can draw inspiration from the deeds and the archetypal virtues of the Archangel Michael. He has been known even since pre-Christian times as a protector of humanity, who helps us find the courage to face darkness and fear. In the west, through the Middle Ages, he was called upon as the standard-bearer of knights, those who have the courage to “face the dragon.”
Let’s to a moment to peel back the layers of this mythological language.
The legendary dragons of the western cultures, as known in numerous stories, are greedy, fiery beasts who seek to steal hidden treasures and gold from humanity.
They also capture fair maidens, or even princesses, and take them away to their caves, holding them prisoner until they could be rescued by a brave knight.
What story is this telling? I see in this legend the conflict between everything in us that is divine (the knight, the gold, the princess) and that which is beastly. True, so-called dragon forces live as real forces in the power of volcanoes and earthquakes, and are re-created by humans in our destructive technologies. They also live in human society, and they rage there, as war, oppression and repression.
Yet, we human beings are complicated beings, and we must soberly admit that the powers of evil do not only live outside of us: they are closer than our own skin. Dragon evil lives in our souls, when the untamed desires and untransformed selfishness in us reign. Evil lives there, where we speak violence and cruelty to one another, and when we act out of our selfish values.
In the language of mythology, of knights and dragons, the true knight is the human being who takes upon himself the task of overcoming his own lower self, so that he may tame his dragon nature. This must be done with courage and strength, yet the one who wields this power must have discovered how to do so with sober focus, and dedication to higher purposes.
And what of the maiden? In former times, it was sufficient to speak of the knight as the man, and the besieged maiden as the woman. She was the pearl within the oyster shell, the pure and chaste soul whom the knight vowed to protect and serve through noble deeds. Her story speaks the child-self inside of us who still dreams of God and longs to be united with spirit.
Now, however, it is clear that each one of us is both male and female in our spiritual nature. Each of us has a fierce and focused dragon-fighting self we can call upon as we do our inner work. Girls as well as boys must be empowered to be fierce as well as kind.
Likewise, men as well as women must seek for the best, the highest, the purest forces. The dragon is seeking to steal these forces, the sun-forces that have been offered to humanity as symbolized by the gold. And in the maiden he is seeking the Divine Feminine. The innocent child within us is in danger of losing her way because of the dragon forces of the beast.
And when the knight and the lady work together, the dragon can be subdued.
In powerful language, Rudolf Steiner has written that the fundamental task of our present age – the age of the Consciousness Soul—is to come to terms with Evil. We may not be able yet to overcome evil fully, because in its cosmic dimension it is far greater than we are. Yet, if we can recognize it, we can see the contrast between our lower selves and our higher selves. Thus continues our personal evolution towards God.
At no other time of the year as in the autumn are we so dramatically confronted with the need to deal with the dragon forces. This year, in 2017, we see with even greater clarity the forces that are besetting and besieging our better selves. Even the apocalyptic earthquakes and hurricanes of the past month, in the lunar cycle that followed the great North American eclipse can be seen as outer manifestations of dragon forces in human life.
And in our inner lives, much is shifting. There is so much confusion around us, and so much goodness possible to us. Where do we stand?
And so I return to the title of this Michaelmas essay: “who is like God?” These words are actually the literal meaning of the name “Michael.” This message is especially timely now, for this is the age in which human beings have been increasingly liberated from blind obedience to God. This is the age in which each must choose to follow the dark paths or the paths of love. Michael, hero of the dragon-slayers, is also known as the inspiring spirit of this present age. He bears the signature of courage, commitment, valor, honesty. He will never appear to anyone in a body of flesh-and-blood, telling anyone how to act. To do so would violate the fact that each human must take on his or her own spiritual path in this age, without being compelled by any outside authority.
It is said that Michael lives “in the supersensible realms immediately adjacent to the physical world.” We cannot see him with physical eyes, but we can look for him in forms of light and thought. We can apprehend Him in contemplation and meditation. He is known as the “Countenance of Christ:” in every thought, deed and gesture he urges us to seek forego power and seek love, life and light.
In the last years of his life, Rudolf Steiner spoke with great urgency, of the need to align modern civilization with Michael. He tells that Michael has already won the battle with the dragon in a spiritual dimension, but that what will happen with humanity is truly up to us.
With powerful images, we read that, although Michael will never compel humans to any deeds, he will always help us to think living thoughts. Thus, what is asked of us, is constantly to be aware of what pictures we hold in our minds, what motives drive us, what values we espouse. He can help humans on the level of consciousness. And in this knightly quest, we will feel that the power of the true Christ lives in our hearts. By learning to weigh the gold of each thought we entertain against the sun-gold of our loving hearts, we can evolve, to be like Gods.