“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.
Persephone, Michaelmas and the Need for Living Thinking
As the days grow short again, and the year cycles around to the season of autumn, we stand once more in the autumn of the year. The fruits have of summer have ripened, and nature has given us of her abundance.
In Greek mythology, the richness of summer was brought forth, year after year, by the goddess Demeter. She is the archetypal earth-mother, and from her womb spring all the gifts of nature.
In time, Demeter brought forth a beloved daughter, Persephone, fathered by Zeus. The god of the underworld, Pluto desired this beautiful child, kidnapped her, and took her to Hades, his underworld kingdom. Demeter deeply grieved her absence, and forbade any living thing to grow on the earth. In time, Persephone was released, but because she had eaten pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she was now compelled to live part of each year in the underworld. Her return in springtime enables vegetation to spring forth anew, having lain in the depths of the earth through the months of winter.
Yet when the time comes for her to return to the underworld in the autumn, the forces of nature withdraw, and the world turns brown, gray and bleak.
As with all true mythologies, this tells a story that is true on many levels and resounds in harmony with other creation myths. Just as the Bible tells of a paradisiacal past in the Garden of Eden, Demeter reigned during the Springtime of humanity. Then, when human beings left the Garden of Paradise, are were “exiled” to walk in the earth, told we would need to earn our food with the fruit of our brow.
Still, even in our exile, Nature continued to give generously to us, and we lived in the sweet Summertime of the planet.
We have now stepped into a new world age. The return of Persephone each spring becomes less certain each year, for Demeter, Natura, has grown old. Increasingly, we can see that we have harmed her and wounded her, and her illnesses are many.
The myth of Persephone also speaks of the human soul. We humans are children of both Heaven and Earth. And as we took our first steps on earth in the innocence of the Garden, we lived with the blessed confidence of hunters and gatherers, trusting that Nature would provide.
Now, however, it is our higher selves that have been kidnapped by the spirit of materialism. Our souls are held hostage by the forces of the underworld, surrounded by the forces of death and evil, even as we go about the affairs of our daily lives.
This is the root cause of our current societal and environment ills. All around the globe, the shadows of Mordor—as the dark kingdom is named in The Lord of the Rings—is spreading, manifesting in the rise of hate and fear-mongering in many segments of our national psyche. We need not look far to see the seeds of fascism sprouting. We see, too, the tragedy of the refugees who dare to seek a land of light, escaping the violence of war zones and famines, and we see eco-systems devastated by climate change, melting ice caps, melting aquifers.
Emil Bock, a noted theologian of the Christian Community movement, called his age—the decades following World War II–the “Autumn of Earth Evolution.”
Yet because I believe in the mystery of mid-winter, the mystery of the spirit-birth of Christmas and the infinite possibilities of the human being, I face these days with steadfastness and courage. I know that evolution must take its next step—can only take its next positive step—if we human beings learn something new as a result of going through these dark times.
Where can we human beings turn for a new vision in this age?
With all of its microscopic and macroscopic intelligence, the natural sciences will not solve for us the urgent questions of morality we are facing. Nor can any religion that asks for blind faith give us a sure light to guide us through this darkness.
In this age, we can turn our gaze to another cosmic imagination, the presence of the Archangel Michael, the ruler of our age. He has been recognized and celebrated in many cultures under many names since the most ancient of days, for he has committed himself to supporting the evolution of human beings, the children of the universe.
Michaelmas, the annual feast day honoring his activity, is September 29. It falls rightly in the fall, shortly after the equinox, for he is the bearer of the spiritual forces that we need in this cosmic Autumn season. He, who believes deeply in the human being, is the archetypal hero of the knight who fights the demonic dragon that lurks everywhere in hate, death and destruction. In contemplating his bearing as a cosmic protective being, we can perceive the shortcomings of our own thinking. When our thoughts are “automatic,” non-creative and reactive, they bear none of the spirit consciousness that we are capable of. In this age, we are charged with the challenge to learn how to cultivate cosmically accurate thoughts with our consciousness. We must learn to reach beyond mere earth-thoughts and develop the capacity to understand things with the insights of the Gods. Michael-inspired thoughts and actions defend and protect the cosmic intelligence, in heaven as well as on earth.
Rudolf Steiner wrote that “the first creation has come to an end: the new creation begins with the Human Being.” Having lived with these powerful words for decades, I understand that only when we humans learn to transform the evil and death-bearing forces that live in our own souls can we create participate in creating a future as infinitely beautiful as the Garden once was.
And to do that, we must take hold of all the things that have been given to us “for free” by virtue simply of having been born. We must sanctify our bodies, we must transform the shadows in our feeling life, and we must learn to think in a completely new way. The old way of thinking can lead only to an increasingly death-affirming world. unless we can warm our thoughts with love and compassion.
What we must learn now is to “think with the heart.”
We must learn to how living thinking must become a practice that replaces automatic thinking. We must learn to warm our thoughts with love and compassion, born in our hearts as a result of our journey through the dark halls of Hades.
This is the message of this season, Michaelmas. In this year, with so much social-political-economic-ecological chaos, there is no place left to turn but to the deep resources of the heart, to those seed-forces that can be fructified by the very real love and wisdom of the universe. Such living thinking is literally not capable of being self-deluding and self-serving: such thinking shows us the way to actions that will sanctify this human race.
In this season of Michael, we can focus our meditations on the courage and insights we need to live rightly in this season of world-autumn. We will discover the right way to find the Sun forces that live on the earth, in the soul.
This, my favorite autumn poem, speaks of the beautiful and awful tumult we are all compelled to live through in this season of the Cosmic Autumn.
World dust, whirled dust, tossed and torn from trees,
No more do they labor for life,
no more shelter of green glade,
shade of apples under leaf,
Lifted in air they soar, no longer leaves.
What, wind that bears me, am I about to be?
Will water draw me down amidst its multitudes?
Earth, will I return?
Will I return to the trees?
Or by water go further from myself than I now can know