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Thomas Hutcheson The period of time around the autumnal equinox is a time many associate with harvest festivals. Visions of gourds, baskets of apples, and berry cobbler come to mind when the word “Fall” is uttered. Soon the trees will be giving up their green in a slow succession of days and weeks, painting the hills with fiery colors. Like lumbering phoenixes, they will put on a fine show before sinking into the brown desolation of late Autumn and early Winter. Communities, from schools to churches to towns, all like to put on their flannel and gingham and do-si-do at the turning of the seasons. Apple-bobbing, 4-H shows, and tables filled with all of the hearty fare needed to fuel the body’s furnaces during colder days will be everywhere. Certainly, that sense of seasonal communion is important. But what other meanings does this time of year hold? On September 29th, many Catholics will be celebrating the Feast of St. Michael and All (Arch)angels (or some variant name thereof). While the inclusion of the “All Angels” part is a fairly recent addition (prior to the mid-twentieth century certain archangels had their own separate feast days)1, the celebration of Michaelmas, as this day is often called, has been happening since at least the medieval period. In the pre-Gregorian calendar, Michaelmas fell in early October, around the 11th of the month. Some of the old traditions associated with this day included: • The making and eating of the Bannock Cake in Scotland, often with a silver coin in it to bless the lucky one who found it (providing one didn’t choke on the coin) • The cooking of the “stubble” goose in Ireland and England • The settling of accounts and debts • The election of the reeve from the local peasantry2 • An end to blackberry picking What has witchcraft to do with Michaelmas, though? Is there something more than an agrarian crop-gathering celebration to be had here? I would answer an emphatic “yes.” Michaelmas is a day specially suited to the work of a witch. It is one of a peculiar set of holidays throughout the year which belong on the witch’s calendar. Paddy Slade, a country witch in the UK, includes Michaelmas in her liturgical year3. Calling on St. Michael is commonplace for some traditional witches, such as renowned strege like Lori Bruno of Salem, Massachusetts4. But why do I include Michaelmas in my craft? The why’s of Michaelmas’s inclusion into my craft calendar are based very much on its namesake: Saint Michael the Archangel. One of only three archangels explicitly named in modern versions of the Bible (and then only Catholic versions—Protestant copies omit Tobit from canon, which is the only book to mention Raphael by name), Michael is a particularly powerful divine being. He is described in the Revelation of St. John as the one who defeats the mighty dragon (or serpent) which leads the armies of rebellious angels in their war on heaven5. Of course, that dragon is commonly called Satan in Judeo-Christian stories, or sometimes given the diminutive title of “devil.” This is where the witch’s sense of the sublime should start to twitch and tingle. For many traditional witches, the “Devil” is a guide and
On another level. the Lightbringing Master of the craft is sometimes said to have bred with Eve to produce Cain and the line of the witchblood6. In Enoch. Michael is celebrated for delivering to humanity a wise teacher and guide between the realms. we learn a great deal more about these angels and their offspring. Certainly in many chthonic traditions the serpent was uniquely situated as a creature which could slip between the world above and the world below. thus linking the Living realm with that of the Dead. To look deeper into this Mystery I turn to the apocryphal Book of Enoch (which is not entirely apocryphal—it is still accepted as canon by the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia. the association of this between-the-worlds Master with serpents or dragons is not entirely unfounded. and the dragon of Revelation (also associated with fire and the “corruption” of humanity). much the same way the serpent mentioned in Revelation is cast out. Azazel bringing humanity “fire” by intermingling his blood with human women. and referenced in the epistle of Jude several times. and the kindling of fires in his name . Michael is celebrated because of his tremendous might and his ability to protect humanity. a time when many particular craft activities would be appropriate: • The setting of wards/protective spells and amulets (in conjunction with the Michaelic protective function) 8 • The exercise of manual crafting. being “cast out” (or rather. or talismanic magic • Celebration of the Master of the craft. For this. the Nephilim referred to in Genesis. cosmetological. the ringleader/spokesperson for these “fallen” angels. It becomes clearer and clearer that a connection exists between many of these stories: the serpent in the garden which “tempts” Eve with forbidden knowledge. particularly anything related to smithcraft. why celebrate a holy day or days in his honor? The short answer is that the casting out of the serpent is not the whole story. in which divine beings—angels. but in fact a very good thing. choosing to become a spirit of the Earth and Underworld and not a spirit of the far-removed firmament). He is not the Great Adversary spoken of in Biblical testaments. From a distant perspective. our craft would not exist. also called Grigori—come to earth and intermingle with human women. Azazel. is responsible for the “corruption of men” by teaching them arts such as smithcraft and the use of cosmetics. if Michael was the opponent of our Light-bringing craft progenitor. they are cast out of God’s favor. fulfilling the role played by so many of mankind’s tragic heroes (Prometheus. The resulting children are giants. Michael’s “battle” with the Dragon becomes a not only necessary part of the craft’s mythological history. On one level. without the Master/Serpent/Azazel/Devil/etc. thus showing it s antiquity and its influence). So if Michael truly did defeat a creature which at least bore some connection to the Master of the craft. However. Fundamentally. So again. Azazel and his fellow Grigori bring “illumination” or “fire” to humanity. we learn the expanded story only glossed over in Genesis 6. In Enoch7. why celebrate Michaelmas? At this point it is worth taking a deep mental breath and stepping back from the whole story. a Master of liminal spaces. for example). Michaelmas is. In Luciferian craft. then.teacher.
and particularly a minority faith in the South where I live. Though stripped of its name. in his book on German Appalachian folk magic. but a good number of its founders came from only a handful of countries: mostly the UK. both places where the influence of lay-Catholicism shaped their spiritual and magical practices. lay-Christianity) became commonplace in many communities. gives a good hint. often represented as a Land Serpent. is an exception to this rule. such lay-religiosity (or more specifically. There is a Catholic connection to the holiday (which I could tolerate due to my Ancestral practice. I simply find the word “Michaelmas” binds the whole package together nicely. Michael is complete. and only stubble remains. its gifts to humanity are spent. but Catholic churches are not nearly as numerous in Tennessee as Protestant houses of worship. too. which features many very devout Catholics. It is worth remembering. So. Some celebrations were overtly religious. and it must now “die” over the coming months until the revitalizing fire is kindled at Candlemas. discusses a masking tradition called “Belsnicking” which is similar to some of the masked riding practices done up to the 19th century in Britain at Michaelmas9. Milne. and even a nun or two). I at first dismissed the idea of including Michaelmas in my calendar. a little distance adds perspective to the tale. such as finding treasure (literal or figurative) The telling of “devil” tales—The Devil’s Sooty Brother from Grimm’s. etc. some were more vestiges of folk practices combining the harvest festivals with a few handy fragments of religion. John is still celebrated in New Orleans by Voodoo practitioners. So what then is the connection with American magical practices? The ethnic makeup of America is incredibly diverse. is then “slain” at this time.” eaten in the UK at Michaelmas. but Catholicism isn’t a majority religion in the USA. with only marginally spiritual connections: the Harvest Home or Homecoming celebration. and humanity reaps its benefit. conveniently right after Midsummer. many of the slaves who came to the United States did so through ports such as New Orleans. Louisiana. however. Germany. were stripped of labels like “Catholic” or “Protestant. If harvest time is the time when the fruits of the field are gathered home. As a final point of interest. I’d like to address the question “What has Michaelmas to do with harvest time?” Is it a mere coincidence that these two festivals abut each other so tightly? Again. once given a foothold on American soil. The fields are shorn of their growth. Throughout the early growth of America. the Feast of St. The victory of St. or at least mortally wounded (with a true passage into the Underworld occurring after the Wild Hunt at Hallows). that . Such practices . symbolism and all. Most of those countries had long-standing traditions relating to Michaelmas (such as the warning not to pick blackberries after Old Michaelmas for fear of being poisoned by the devil who spat on them). all it worked to produce has been reaped. of course. The spirit of the land. Holland. it still lingers in the folkways of America.” and treated as community affairs. or Jack & the Devil stories from American folklore are good examples All of this may seem very Near Eastern. Additionally. Gerald C. For example. and as a person more interested in American witchcraft than anything pulled from the Biblical holy lands. From the point of view of the land. what then is left? The tradition of the “stubble goose.• • Workings that deal with hidden or forbidden knowledge. has Michaelmas become something new. or from the Caribbean islands.
possess the powers of Michael to protect and defend. We. and the power of the earth to bear good fruit and die with dignity. For all of that. Notes & References . we will be without growth and sustenance until he rises again. the strength of the Master in his draconian and serpentine forms bringing us new light. I raise my glass and drink a toast to Michaelmas. Michael to defend those who call on him. As witches and magical folk. Who then are you cheering for? What we celebrate when we celebrate Michaelmas is strength: the strength of St.Michael’s conquering of the Dragon also means that once that bringer of divine fire sinks into the Underworld. too. and the strength of people to survive and prosper. the powers of the Master to slip between the worlds. we can also celebrate our own strength.
Cures. addresses much of the story of angelic intercession and connubial relations with humankind. And the great dragon was cast out. Gabriel was observed on March 24 and St. includes an entire chapter on Michaelmas. 8 If it bothers you to think of Michael in terms of protecting you.“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.1 According to CatholicCulture.blogtalkradio. Raphael on October 24.” 6 Several authors on various branches of Luciferian and/or Traditional Witchcraft connect the bloodline of witchcraft to Cain. and the dragon fought and his angels. See www.org. And prevailed not.ca/scriptorium/alice_site/michaelmas_more_end. Milne’s fine work (Signs. Slade and her local band of country pagan folk. 2 Alice’s Medieval Feasts & Fasts (http://mw. Her charming—if somewhat genteel—account of the holiday includes many quaint and curious customs. 3 Paddy Slade’s The Encyclopedia of White Magic. Michael.com/HexEducation for more information.html) – This site has lovely overviews of several medieval (and witchcraft-connected) holidays. “[b]efore the reform of the General Roman Calendar today was only the feast of St. 9 Mr. that old serpent. Bruno has mentioned St. 5 Revelation 12:7-9 . which she co-hosts with fellow Salem witch Christian Day. 7 The Book of Enoch.mcmaster. which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth. and his angels were cast out with him. Chapters XII-XVI. Raphael. an account of the festival year followed by Ms. Indeed. & Gabriel. called the Devil. Some further reading: The Pillars of Tubal-Cain. . neither was their place found any more in heaven. & Witchery) also talks at great length about other aspects of early-to-current American witchcraft. by Nigel Jackson & Michael Howard. due to his Judeo-Christian associations. such as “blackberry kittens. much can be learned about the extent to which Christianity and witchcraft shared the stage during early colonial spiritual development from his book.” The liturgical calendar listed on that site provides a great deal of information on Sts.” 4 Ms. and Satan. there’s no reason you can’t invert the symbolism and think of yourself as putting up wards to protect you from Michaelic aggression. Michael. The broadcast/webcast of the show is done every Sunday night from 10pm-Midnight. with digital podcast uploads of complete episodes usually available within 24 hours. EST. Michael and her appeals to him on several episodes of the weekly witch chat show Hex Education. Charles Leland’s Aradia also draws connections between Lucifer & Cain as part of its mythos. St.
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