Michaelmas (or the Feast of St. Michael, St. Raphael, & St. Gabriel) is a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, and since it’s placed right at the beginning of Autumn, it incorporates all sorts of meals, animals, and flowers that are emblematic of that liminal time.
HISTORY & LEGEND
Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels,
maker of all things, ruler of all nations,
grant of thy mercy unto us thy servants
steps up to heaven.
Send thine archangel Michael to our succor;
peacemaker blessèd, may he banish from us
striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful
all things may prosper.
Send thine archangel Gabriel, the mighty;
herald of heaven, may he, from us mortals,
drive every evil, watching o’er the temples
where thou art worshiped.
Send from the heavens Raphael, thine archangel,
health-bringer blessed, aiding every sufferer,
that, in thy service, he may wisely guide us,
healing and blessing.
May the blest mother of our God and Savior,
may the celestial company of angels,
may the assembly of the saints in heaven
help us to praise thee.
“Christe, sanctorum decus Angelorum,” by Rhabanus Maurus Magnentius (c. 780-856), a Frankish Benedictine monk; trans. Charles Stanley Phillips (1883-1949); Engraving by Hubert Gerhard
Michael the Archangel was chief among the 7 archangels and head of the celestial army. The name “Michael” is a rhetorical question, meaning “Who is like God?”, and he has long been considered a champion of God’s people – a rescuer of the souls of the faithful.
On the Sunday before Michaelmas – known as ‘Domhnach Curran’, or ‘Carrot Sunday’ – Hebridean women would head to the fields to pull carrots, hoping for a lucky two-pronged root. If the soil were soft enough, they could easily pull the carrots – but, if the soil were hard, a three-pronged mattock was used to dig a triangle (called a torcan) around the carrot. The triangular shape symbolized St. Michael’s shield, while the three-pronged mattock used to dig it symbolized his trident.
Blackberries are also a significant part of Michaelmas tradition. According to legend, St. Michael cast Lucifer out of heaven on Michaelmas (originally, this legend was attached to Old Michaelmas – which was on October 10th). Lucifer landed in a blackberry bramble, and being so angered by the prickles, he spat on them – so, it became unlucky to pick blackberries after Michaelmas, since they would be spoiled.
“On Michaelmas Day, the devil puts his foot on blackberries.”Irish proverb
Because of this association, blackberry desserts are a popular tradition for Michaelmas – whether blackberry pie or cobbler, it’s considered the last time of the season to use these late berries.
Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Roud, Steve. The English Year. Penguin, 2008.