This is the feast day of St. Michael and all the Angels. It is the most ancient of all the angel festivals. The Anglican church celebrates all angels, both name and unnamed on one day. Roman and Orthodox Churches separate them into two categories (with the unnamed angels having their feast day on October 2nd).

From fairly early on, Michaelmas was an important holiday, the religious or Christian equivalent of the autumn equinox. In England, it was considered the start of a new quarter. It marked the start of a new business year, a time for electing officials, making contracts, paying rent, hiring servants, holding court and starting school. Obviously we still see the remnants of this in the timing of our elections and school year.

This is also a time when the weather is known to change. In Italy, they say “For St. Michael, heat goes into the heavens.” In Ireland, people expect a marked decrease in sickness or disease. The Irish also consider this a lucky day for fishing:

Plenty comes to the boat on Michael’s Day.

Barolini records a nursery rhyme about hours of sleep:

Nature requires five,
Custom gives seven,
Laziness takes nine
And Michaelmas eleven.

michaelmas-processionMichaelmas became the fixed date for the feast otherwise associated with Autumn Equinox or the harvest. As early as 1014, the laws of Ethelred in England prescribe a three day fast for all Christians before the feast. Servants weren’t allowed to work during these days. Michaelmas was a time when rents were due, and rents were often paid in food. The traditional rent for Michaelmas was a goose.

Eating something rich like goose at this turning point of the year brings good luck. In Nottingham they say “If you eat roast goose on Michaelmas day, you will never want money all year.” In Norfolk, they say, “if you don’t baste the goose on Michaelmas Day, you will want money all year.” In Yorkshire, they use the condition of the meat of the goose to predict the weather:

If the goose breast at Michaelmas be dour and dull
We’ll have a sour winter, from the start to the full.

Fitzgibbon says the Irish used to stuff the goose with potato to cut the grease and absorb the flavor. This is like the traditional onion sauce served with goose in the 18th and 19th centuries and made from onions cooked in half milk and half water, with a slice of turnip, then mixed with butter, nutmeg, cream, salt and pepper and mashed. Apple sauce is the most common topping today.

In Italy, where this is clearly considered a harvest festival, they say “For St. Michael all the last fruits of the year are honeyed and ripe.”

Cosman says that it is traditional to eat ginger on Michaelmas. She mentions ginger ale, beer and wine, gingerbread, ginger snaps, fish baked with ginger and two ginger desserts: charwardon (made with large succulent wardon pears, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger) and ginger caramels with curls of ginger-root shavings on top.

Michaelmas daisy is the name given to flowers of the aster family which bloom at this time. I’ve seen it applied mostly to purple asters but Barolini says she used to pick yellow Michaelmas daisies on the beaches near Rome. She also made a yellow sponge cake called “Margherita” (daisy) on that day.

st-michaelSt Michael

Michael is a warrior angel often pictured poised with a sword over a dragon (or demon) that he tramples underfoot. Other times he rides a white steed, and carries a three-pronged spear in his right hand and a three-cornered shield in his left. He cast Lucifer and the other evil angels out of Paradise. Thus, in the Middle Ages was invoked as the patron of knights and warriors and in modern times, of military personnel and the police.

He’s been honored since ancient times as a protector. Most of his churches are on high places, for instance, Mont St. Michel in Brittany, the church on the tor at Glastonbury, the church on the tumulus at Carnac. They were often built on the sites where Lugh, the Celtic God of Light, was worshipped earlier.

Although all angels are sent as messengers from on high, Michael has a special task. He’s sent to fetch the souls of those who have died for judgement. For this reason he is also considered the patron saint of all trades that use scales which mean he looks after pastry chefs and weighers of grain.

My friend Carolee Colter translated this Litany of Saint Michael from the French prayer card she purchased while visiting Mont St Michel in Brittany:

Saint Michael, archangel, pray for us.
Saint Michael, chief of all the angels, pray for us.
Saint Michael, filled with the wisdom of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, very glorious prince, pray for us.
Saint Michael, strong in combat, pray for us.
Saint Michael, terror of demons, pray for us.
Saint Michael, vanquisher of Satan, pray for us.
Saint Michael, our support in the fight against evil, pray for us.
Saint Michael, prince of the celestial militia, pray for us.
Saint Michael, faithful servant of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, messenger of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, angel of peace, pray for us.
Saint Michael, guardian of Paradise, pray for us.
Saint Michael, support of the people of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, guardian and patron of the church, pray for us.
Saint Michael, benefactor of people who honor you, pray for us.
Saint Michael, whose prayers reach to heaven, pray for us.
Saint Michael, who introduces souls to the eternal light, pray for us.
Pray for us, Saint Michael, archangel.

For more information about St Michael, see the images and information at the Saints Preserved website.

Elegba: In the voodoo tradition, Michael is equated with Elegba, the messenger god. All ceremonies begin and end with petitions to Elegba, the god of the crossroads, whose shrine is behind the door.

Barolini, Helen, Festa: Recipes and Recollections of Italian Holidays, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich 1988
Cosman, Madeleine Pelner, Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar of Celebrations, Scribners
Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Fitzgibbon, Theodora, A Taste of Ireland: Irish Traditional Foods, NY: Avenel Boosk 1978, p 105Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987
Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, Penguin 1955
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, Yearbook of English Festivals, H W Wilson 1954
Teish, Luisah, Jambalaya, Harper San Francisco 1979
Tickle, Phyllis, Ordinary Time

The photo of the procession is from a delightful article about reviving Michaelmas traditions written by Alys Hurn for Gardens Illustrated.

The painting of St Michael is by Guido Reni and was created in 1636.

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meskel-crossIn Ethiopia, the Feast of the Holy Cross is celebrated on the 27th rather than the 14th of September (the 28th in leap years; “Meskel” means cross. People build huge structures called demera in a meadow, basically teepees made of logs and decorated with yellow flowers. There is a feeling of spring in the air (even though Ethiopia lies north of the equator, the summer rainy season is called “winter” because it’s so cold.) In the late afternoon, the priests bless the demera, and everyone circles them three times (for the Trinity). At sunset, the demera is lit on fire. Then the people feast and sing and dance into the night. The following day, they draw a cross on their forehead with the charcoal from the demera fire, but this is not a solemn day but a day for feasting and visiting.

meskel-fireLevine, Donald, Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture, University of Chicago Press, 1965, p. 62
Perl, Lilia, Ethiopia: Land of the Lion, William Morrow 1972, pp.72-3

The photos were found at the Sandford School site.

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Michaelmas Eve

In the Scottish highlands and islands, an unblemished ram lamb called the Michael Lamb is killed for tomorrow’s feast. Women make special cakes called struan Michael or Michaelmas cakes, from equal parts of all types of grain grown on the farm, kneaded with butter, eggs and sheep’s milk, marked with a cross and cooked on a stone heated by a fire of sacred oak, rowan and bramble wood. A piece of the cake is thrown into the fire as a tithe to St. Michael’s opponent, the Devil. Other cakes are made for special people, for the family and for the community. Cranberries, bilberries, brambleberries, caraway seeds and wild honey are baked into the cakes. Clearly part of the purpose of this charm is to take the bounty of the farm’s harvest and use it to fashion an offering of thanks. I found a recipe for 5 Grain Struan at the Better Baking site which traces its origins to the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides).

It is OK to steal horses on the eve of Michaelmas so the men sit up and watch their horses.

In Surrey, this day is known as Crack Nut Day and nuts are cracked and eaten in churches (see September 14). In Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, people build bonfires on the Eve of Michaelmas and scatter grain for the wild birds to bring luck to the farm.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987


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Ss Cosmas and Damian

800px-beinwunder_cosmas_und_damianAccording to legend, these two twin Arabian brothers who were famous healers, were martyred in Syria because they were also Christian. Some scholars believe they inherited some of the qualities of the Dioscuri, the twin sons of Zeus (also known as Castor and Pollux, the twins of the constellation Gemini).

Popular throughout the Middle Ages, Cosmas and Damian were known as the “holy moneyless ones” because they cured without charging for their services and invoked as the patron saints of doctors (which seems contradictory). For many centuries, invalids made a pilgrimage to their shrine where they would fall asleep and the brothers would appear to them in dreams, diagnosing and curing them. One famous miracle that was recorded in many versions, told of a man who went to sleep in a church dedicated to Ss. Cosmas & Damian who dreamed that the saints replaced the diseased flesh of his thigh with a thigh from a black man recently buried in the churchyard (one of the earliest transplants?). When he awoke, with his leg healed, the corpse of the black man was exhumed and it was noted that his thigh was missing.

In Sicily, bakers make special bread called pace rimacinato, shaped like the two brothers, hand in hand, on their feast day.

For more information and beautiful art see the Saints Preserved website
Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin, 2nd edition 1983
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994


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Autumn Equinox

Like its sister equinox, halfway across the Wheel of the Year, the Autumn Equinox is a good occasion for a ritual feast. Decorate the table with colorful autumn leaves in a basket. Display the fruits of the harvest – corn, gourds, nuts, grapes, apples – preferably in a cornucopia (a horn of plenty). Or decorate with wildflowers, acorns, nuts, berries, cocoons, anything that represents the harvest to you.

Plan a meal that uses seasonal and symbolic fruits and vegetables. You can serve bread, squash, corn, apples, cider and wine. Drawing on the imagery of the Eleusinian Mysteries, hold up an ear of corn in silence. Or cut open a pomegranate and feed each other the seeds.

The following poem (used by Starhawk in the equinox ritual in

www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

) comes from Mother Goose. Use this or make up your own variation as a grace. Have everyone at the feast repeat this, adding their own thanks:

We have sown, we have tended
We have grown, we have gathered
We have reaped a good harvest
Lady, we thank you for your gifts
Lord, we thank you for your bounty
I thank you for [fill in yourself].

Giving Thanks
Give thanks to the Goddess for the gifts you’ve received this year. You might want to make a list of your gifts or find objects to represent them. Consider how you can make your offering to her. You can represent your thanks symbolically (tying a ribbon on a tree branch or pouring some wine on the ground) or directly (by making a stronger commitment to recycling or scattering seed for the birds). If you buy (or make) a basket to use while shopping, you’ll be purchasing a symbol of Demeter and helping save the lives of her trees at the same time.

balanceCreating Balance
Use this time of balance, to look closely at the balance in our life. How do you balance your personal needs with your commitments to the outside world? How do you receive and how do you give? You might want to reflect on this in your journal or make it concrete by putting objects on a scale. For everything which represents one side of the scale to you (for instance, a book representing quiet time alone), place something on the other side which represents its opposite (a letter or phone for reaching out to friends).

Learning and Creating
For those of us who spend time in or around schools (as teachers, students or the parents of school-age children), this is not a time of ending but of beginning. We are just starting to get back into the rhythm of the school year. We may feel sad that the playfulness and freedom of summer are disappearing as we fall back into our fall routines and structures but we also have more focus and direction.

This is a good time to begin new projects. As the nights lengthen, you have more time to be alone, to concentrate, to nurture a seed which may not blossom until spring. Give yourself permissions to try something absolutely new. Take a class that teaches you how to do something you’ve always wanted to do–maybe basket-making Call your local college and ask about community education classes.

In Starhawk’s Autumn Equinox ritual, there is a time for weaving seed pods, shells, feathers and small pine cones into strands of yarn while thinking of what you want to create in your life. This or some variation of it would make a wonderful group activity or family project. You could also just set aside a certain amount of time (an evening, a Saturday) which is creative time, for you to make anything you want.

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, Harper San Francisco 1983

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Shobun No Hi

japanese_footbridge-claude_monetJapanese Buddhists view the equinoxes as bridges, times when the dead can cross the mythical waters between here and higan, the far shore. The whole week surrounding the equinox is a special time called higan. On the day of the autumn equinox, the Japanese visit cemeteries, where they sprinkle water on the graves of their ancestors to cleanse them and leave behind food, flowers and burning incense sticks.

A Japanese proverb says: “No summer heat lingers beyond this equinox day.”

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

The painting “Japanese Footbridge” is by Monet.

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St Matthew

As with other holidays, the Catholic Church assigned the feast day of a significant saint (St Matthew, one stmatthew-icon-imageof the original Apostles and the writer of a Gospel) to a date near the pagan celebration (the Autumn Equinox). For some reason (perhaps because Matthew is the patron saint of tax collectors and bankers), his holiday never became wildly popular. Instead all the seasonal customs one might expect to find on this day (like the harvest feast) migrated to the feast of St. Michael on September 29th.

However, the English note St. Matthew’s Day with a few weather predictions:
St Mathee, shut up the Bee;
St Mattho, take thy hopper and sow;
St Mathy, all the year goes by
St Matthie, sends sap into the tree


St Matthew
Brings the cold, rain and Dew

In the Midlands, St Matthew’s Day is viewed as the first of three windy days, also called “windy days of the barley harvest.”

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, Yearbook of English Festivals, H W Wilson 1954

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St Sophia

My Lives of the Saints says “Nothing is known about this saint who is commemorated today, except her baptismal name…found inscribed on a tomb in a cemetery reserved for martyrs.” In her pictures she is shown with her three daughters: Faith, Hope and Charity. Attwater lists her feast day as September 30. It is appropriate that her feast day falls in the same month as so many holy days honoring Mary, for she represents the feminine principle, otherwise missing in Christianity. She’s the saintly version of the great goddess of wisdom, Sophia, praised in Proverbs (3:13):

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.


Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of the Saints, Penguin 1965
Hoever, Reverend Hugo, Lives of the Saints, Catholic Book Publishing Company 1955

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Mid-Autumn Moon

On the full moon of the eighth Chinese lunar month, women celebrate the Moon. This moon is usually the full moon closest to the Equinox, and the same as the Harvest Moon in the West.  It corresponds with the Full Moon of September 16 in 2016.

In China, this is the beginning of the yin part of the year, when the dark takes precedence over the light, and the Moon is the symbol of yin energy, which also includes water, women and night. In the old Chinese agrarian system, autumn and winter were the women’s seasons.

The Moon Goddess, known as Hengo or Chang-o rules the Jade Palace of the Moon. Sometimes she is associated with a rabbit, sometimes with a toad. She drank the elixir of immortality meant for her husband and floated up to the Moon.

To honor the Moon, the women build an altar in the courtyard and put a figure of the Moon Hare in the center. Also on the altar are 13 moon cakes (to represent the 13 lunar months in the year), incense sticks, candles and plates of pomegranates, melons, grapes, apples and peaches. The pomegranates and melons represent children, the apples and grapes fertility and the peaches long life.

According to Anneli Rufus in The World Holiday Book, another popular fruit for the altars is the grapefruit-like pomelo, whose Chinese name, yow, is a homophone for “to have.” She also describes the filling of the moon cakes: sweet bean paste or lotus seed with a boiled egg at the heart to symbolize the moon.

When the full moon rises after sunset, the woman of the house approaches the altar and bows to the moon, followed by all the other women present. They sit in the courtyard all night long, feasting and drinking, some studying the moon for auguries, some composing poems about the beauty of the moon and the night, some playing the game of “Capturing the Moon,” by trying to catch her reflection in a bowl of water.

In Korea, to the north, this is a harvest festival. In Vietnam, it is celebrated by children who march in the night, carrying lanterns shaped like animals, birds, and fish, moving with a swaying motion, and chanting nonsense rhymes.

In Japan, this holiday is called Tsukimi. People gather at lakes or in special moon-viewing pavilions and eat “moon-viewing noodles”: thick white udon in broth with an egg yolk floating on top.

Photo by Cate Kerr of Beyond the Fields We Know

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Mid Autumn Day

A Scottish holiday, traditionally considered the start of mating season for the deer.

Also interesting to see how this agrees with an alternate version of the seasons, common in Great Britain where Autumn starts on August 1 (Lammas/Lughnasad) and ends on November 1 (Halloween/Samhain).

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