In pagan times it was believed that the great sea god Manannan (in the northern Celtic lands) or Manawddyn (in Wales) defended the people from evil on land and on sea and guided the souls of their dead across the sea to the land of light. It was not a big step from this for Christian Celts to embrace Michael, the ‘Prince of Light’ who defends God’s people against the devil and guides their spirits to heaven. His feast reminds us that we live in ‘this vale of sorrows’ – in a place of spiritual conflict between heaven and the powers of darkness.
Perhaps because they are physically close to the skies, high places have been seen by Christians as strategic sites to claim or capture. In such places believers stand against ‘the prince of the power of the air’ – the fallen angel Satan. Michael and all good angels are called on to contend on our behalf. All over Celtic Britain, Ireland and Brittany, there arose many dedications to Michael, including St. Michael’s Mount, Mont St. Michel, Skellig Michael, the parish of Michael on the Isle of Man, the church on Glastonbury Tor of which only the tower remains, and many other churches. Some of these are on hills and other high places; some are by the sea, over which Michael was said to carry the souls of the dead safely to the Kingdom of light.
Thus Michael is seen to be important at the time of dying, contending with the Accuser. This explains Michael’s frequent occurrence in the orally transmitted prayers and invocations of the Hebridean people, among others. This idea of Michael as the receiver of the souls of the dead is also reflected in the Afro-American spiritual ‘Michael row the boat ashore’. He is the patron saint of Cornwall and is also linked with St. George, his earthly counterpart in slaying dragons, symbols of the devil.
If the Accuser reminds sinners of their past, Michael teaches us to remind the enemy of his future!
Holy Michael, archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.