A variety of purple and gold asters long have been associated with today’s Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, or Michaelmas. The Aster amellus, or Italian starwort, is the flower originally dedicated to Archangel Michael, but a variety of fall asters now carry the saint’s name.
One of four ‘Quarter Days’ tied to solstice or equinox — Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29), and Christmas (December 25) — the feast evolved as a complex mixture of sacred and secular practices. I wrote last year about English traditions surrounding the feast, but Celts, too, had their ways of marking the end of summer’s productivity and the beginning of a new agricultural cycle.
The baking of ‘struan Micheil,’ a cake made with oats, rye, and barley grown during the previous year, was particularly important. Alexander Carmichael, in his book Celtic Invocations, notes several details of the complicated process. Struans were baked by the eldest daughter of the family, guided by her mother. A large struan was set aside for the family; smaller ones were given to individual family members, neighbors, or the poor.
On the morning of the feast, baskets of struans were taken to the church to be blessed. Later, at home after Mass, families would share the large struan, along with portions of lamb. As Carmichael describes it:
[The Father] places the board with the bread and the flesh on the centre of the table. Then the family, standing around and holding a bit of struan in the left hand and a piece of lamb in the right, raise the triumphal song of Michael… who guards and guides them.
The man and his wife then put struan into one beehive basket, and lamb into another, and go out to distribute them among the poor who have neither fruits nor flocks of their own.
Each meal beneath my roof, they will all be mixed together
In name of God the Son, who gave them growth.
Milk, eggs, and butter, the good produce of our own flock,
there shall be no dearth in our land, nor in our dwelling.
In the name of Michael of my love, who bequeathed to us the power,
With the blessing of the Lamb, and of his mother;
Humble us at thy footstool, be thine own sanctuary around us,
Ward from us spectre, sprite, oppression, and preserve us.
Consecrate the produce of our land, bestow prosperity and peace,
In the name of the Father the King, and of the three beloved apostles.
Dandelion, smooth garlic, foxglove, woad, and butterwort,
The three carle-doddies, and marigold.
Gray ‘cailpeach‘ plucked, the seven pronged seven times,
The mountain yew, ruddy heath, and madder.
I will put water on them all in precious name of the Son of God,
In name of Mary the generous, and of Patrick.
When we shall sit down to take our food
I will sprinkle in the name of God on the children.