+ Michael, meaning "who is like God," is the protector of Israel who not only rescues the patriarchs but leads the children of God out of Egyptian oppression as a cloud of smoke by day and pillar of fire by night.
+ Gabriel, meaning "God is my strength," acts as the Lord's messenger to humanity. In Jewish traditions he communicates with Daniel and in Christianity brings messages to Zechariah (John the Baptist's father) and the Virgin Mary. Islam also trusts that the prophet Mohamed, blessed be his name, was also instructed by Gabriel.
+ Raphael, meaning "Lord please heal," is considered the angel who came to Abraham and Sarah as a stranger in need of desert hospitality. The gospel of St. John embraces a tradition that it was Raphael who moved the healing waters at Bethesda.
+ Uriel, meaning "God is my light," is often considered to be the cherub of repentance who checked the doors of Egyptian houses for lamb's blood on the first Passover and brings inspiration into the hearts of Christians.
Beyond folk tradition and superstition, the Feast of Michael and All Angels gives us a clear time to mark the close of summer and ready our lives for a season of challenge. "Michael is the leader of the heavenly host in the final battle against the dragon, the forces of darkness and chaos" as recounted in Revelation.
Michaelmas is a reminder that autumn is the time to do the spiritual preparation for Advent and Christmas. Michael's role as dragon fighter gives a clue (as to the work of this season...) In stories and dreams, serpents and dragons can symbolize the dark parts of ourselves - instinctive, unconscious, primitive parts we don't want to face. Our dragons are our old, unresolved energies, desires, hurts and fears - parts of ourselves we are not aware of that can compel us to act counter to love... If we can look at these dragons in daylight, they begin to lose that power. Michale's spear is a ray of light, the light of awareness, shining on the things that live in the dark. (Christopher Hill, Holidays and Holy Nights, pp. 38-39)
Michaelmas connects us to the wisdom of creation: it is one of the four quarter days in the earth's journey around the sun. It is our feast day for the equinox of autumn. Christopher Hill writes, "In summer we celebrate our at-homeness in the world. Michaelmas balances that feeling (for) in autumn we feel our not-at-homeness, the sense of wanting something else, something we can't name. We feel like wayfaring strangers... Summer is static - in Latin, solstice means "the stationary sun." Summer is the sacrament of natural harmony with God... while autumn we fall away from the dreaming paradise of summer back into the conflict of light and dark." (pp. 36-37)
I cannot but note that the conflict between truth and lies, light and darkness, trust and deceit that is currently taking place writ large in the politics of the United States shows what happens when our "dragons" are not brought into the light. Elsewhere I have written that the USA is almost pathologically unable to engage in repentance. We romanticize our genocide of First Nations peoples with the mythology of the Founding Fathers. We ignore the greed and carnage of slavery and demonize its victims. We are addicted to a warped sexuality that simultaneously celebrates male violence even as it shames, degrades and brutalizes women. We champion the sanctity of life, but only until a baby leaves the womb: the state of our health care, child care, maternity/paternity leave, infant mortality, incarceration of people of color, social welfare, public housing, and addictions of every variety expose our public pronouncements as hollow lies. And that's not taking into account the percentage of US taxes that go to pump life into the military-industrial-technology complex.
The Hopi Nation in the American Southwest speak of the dominant culture as a people trapped in "koyaanisqatsi" - life out of balance. At the autumnal equinox, or Michaelmas, our souls are invited back into equanimity. One of the practices of this season is to "let go of the old." De-accessorize rather than acquire more burdens, "ask God for courage to release what no longer serves" whether that is "possessions, relationships, old habits of thought or behavior." (Hill, p. 42) The core of Sabbath is learning to be rather than have. (Heschel) The feast of Michaelmas also encourages us to trust "the unseen world" of God's love and justice. My rewrite of a traditional Michaelmas prayer includes:
O Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battles of this life;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke all that is evil, we humbly pray: help us by God's love
to thrust all that is destructive into the light so that healing and hope
thrive even from within our wounds.