Fall equinox brings us to the time of earth’s balance, and in the North occurs around September 21, paired with Spring Equinox around March 21. A week later we honor Lord Michael, one of four named Archangels, with Gabriel (Messenger), Raphael (Healer), and Urial (Lightbringer) being the other three. In early representations, Michael carries the scale of justice and a wand instead of sword, spear and shield. What Michael weighs is the soul when it passes from the body at death. The soul rests in the balance and then tips the scale, indicating how weighty this life was. Then Michael travels as Protector of the soul to its place in the afterlife. I like the current placement of Lord Michael’s Day close to the Fall Equinox because of this early image of balance scales. It is also the time of harvest, beginning at Lughnasadah and ending the year at Samhain, a “thin” time between the worlds of the dead and living.
As Christianity enters Europe from the Celtic north Odin’s mountain shrines become churches of the Archangel Michael. The two energies and their functions were viewed as similar. In Paris the basilica Sacre Cour is on the mountaintop above the shrine on the vulva of the island below (the island is Paris now, and the vulva Notre Dame Cathedral). A statue of Michael is on the roof of Sacre Cour, and there is a very fine painting just inside the entrance in the first chapel to the right. In this painting, Michael carries the spear of Reason, while the Dragon represents Mercury, the quicksilver substance of the spirit. The alchemical metaphor is that the volatile spirit of Mercury must be “speared” by the stable principle of sulfur, for energy and substance are inseparable – without the mind to give it boundaries the spirit remains without substance. As the Roman Church became the dominant Christian tradition in Europe the emphasis on guilt and evil increased and the dragon was redefined as the devil. With this personification of evil came the idea that evil substance (the flesh) could be split out and murdered rather than recognized, understood, integrated and redeemed.
Traditionally Michaelmas was a Quarter Day. There were four Quarter Days, with the other three being Christmas (Dec 25), Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer (June 24). Rents were paid to landlords, and for Michaelmas, the payment often came in fruits of the harvest. Any unresolved lawsuits were heard and settled. Michaelmas was the end of the financial agricultural year. It was also the end of a servant’s contractual year and hiring for the next.