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Why gnomes and fairies?

post #1 of 62
Thread Starter 
DH was asking me this tonight as we were looking at Waldorfian toy gnome houses online, and I couldn't answer his question:

"What's the deal with gnomes and fairies with Waldorf? Did Steiner write something about it, or is it a cultural thing?"
post #2 of 62
There are others who are much more qualified to respond to your question (and I hope they do) but, I would start with imagination. It's very important in the Waldorf curriculum.
post #3 of 62
http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/Pla...220528p01.html

The above is a link to a lecture by Rudolf Steiner concerning elemental beings (which includes gnomes)

In my KG training I was taught that RS could see these elemental beings, something which had been lost to man in recent consciousness. However, children under the age of 7 can apparently see gnomes but lose this ability afterwards. This is why they are such a big feature of KG.

He considered gnomes to be helpful elemental beings, along with undines, sylphs and fire spirits who are essential to the growth of plant life.
Autumn in KG often involves a lot of working in the earth as this is the time that the children can see that the gnomes are burying the seeds. They care for them over winter and push them up towards the surface in the Spring.

Gnomes are considered to be real, not in the imagination. So I was taught, anyway. One of our teachers was very scathing about our human concept of fairies, saying that we have a tendency to try to humanise these beings.

Hope this answers some of your questions.
post #4 of 62
Wow, some of that is really inspiring and some is just creepy (to me).

Columbine- Do you really think that most Waldorf teachers actually believe gnomes and fairies are real?
post #5 of 62
Quote:
Originally Posted by mijumom
Wow, some of that is really inspiring and some is just creepy (to me).

Columbine- Do you really think that most Waldorf teachers actually believe gnomes and fairies are real?
I honestly don't know as it wasn't really acceptable to say that one didn't! Certainly both my children's KG teachers did believe in gnomes. At a parents meeting in our first school when asked about gnomes by a parent, much as the OP has done, the teacher replied, "I think it would be best if you spoke to someone who has seen them".
I can only say that it seemed to me that to the people more deeply into Anthroposophy that I knew, this aspect of RS was highly thought of.
post #6 of 62
Great question. Interesting answers! I always thought it was just part of encouraging imagination, I had no idea they were actually supposed to be believed as real... FREAKY!
post #7 of 62
So, you don't think that it's more of a methaphor for the esoteric rather than a belief in gnomes and fairies as we know them from literature etc.?
post #8 of 62
First of all I want to apologise that my intention of being helpful may have been upsetting to anyone. I am really sorry if it has had that effect.

I was trained in and live in the UK so maybe there are differences in the US. However, I thought that these beliefs of RS were being presented to me as the original truth behind the stories that we hear from ancient times. That man used to be able to see the elemental beings and that now we know of them only through stories but that they do still exist.
post #9 of 62
Quote:
Originally Posted by columbine
First of all I want to apologise that my intention of being helpful may have been upsetting to anyone. I am really sorry if it has had that effect.
I'm finding your insight quite interesting, not upsetting.
post #10 of 62
Quote:
Originally Posted by columbine
First of all I want to apologise that my intention of being helpful may have been upsetting to anyone. I am really sorry if it has had that effect.
The more open and honest trained waldorf teachers are, the better, IMO.
post #11 of 62
Quote:
"What's the deal with gnomes and fairies with Waldorf?
They're lively little storybook figures that feature in Waldorf classrooms until maybe 1st or 2nd grade, until the children start outgrowing their enthusiasm with fairy land. Think "The Elves and the Shoemaker" or "Snow White in the Seven Dwarves". They come from the folk tradition--and in Waldorf, the fairy tale folk age is the "motif" (for lack of a better word) for the curriculum thru 1st grade. They serve a similar role in the children's play as "Tickle-Me Elmo"--children enjoy playing with toys of characters they "recognize from stories. There are also a lot of kings and queens and prince/sses and farmers and other such toy characters from the fairy tales.

Quote:
Did Steiner write something about it,
I have come to find out Steiner had something to say about everything . 6000 texts, about everything under the sun from Nietchze to cocaine.

Yes, Steiner wrote that fairies were what he called "elemental beings" which people in the 'olden days' could perceive but that we've lost that perception in the modern day (most, anyway). Gnomes were one type of fairy, and they weren't to Steiner these cute little men like we think of them, with the beards and smurf-like personalities, but they sound to me like little beings of forces that operate in the mineral realms in the earth. (Other elementals can also be found in the watery places, fire, and air.) Some anthroposophists believe in the existence in fairies (non-anthroposophists too--I read that it's almost universal in Iceland, for example).

I have this book by Marjorie Spock that talks about the subject, and also a collection of Steiner's assorted texts on the subject. The cute little gnomes in the kindergarten bare only a very passing resemblance to the "elemental beings" in Steiner (Both the toy gnomes and Steiner's gnomes seem to originate from within the earth, it's their natural home). But they're also very different from one another. In the kindergarten, gnomes are more like 'Sneezy' and 'Dopey' than the 'elemental beings', except they're created by hand out of wool or silk by Waldorf teachers and parents, not Walt Disney). The gnomes and fairies in the Waldorf classroom stepped straight out from Grimm's Fairy Tales and other folk stories, not Steiner.

Besides gnomes, Steiner described sylphs, salamanders, and undines as 'elemental beings'. And Steiner's particular ideas or descriptions of elemental beings is never presented to Waldorf students. It would be highly unusual if this were ever done.


Quote:
or is it a cultural thing?"
Oh yes. Very much a cultural thing. I think that most cultural mythologists see similar figures appearing in various folk traditions around the world, including fairies, though they can take on different 'personas' in these different cultures. In the US, Waldorf schools are still very much influenced by the European cultural tradition which shaped the very first Waldorf schools. But there's no reason it 'has' to follow it.

The gnomes and fairies and fairy tales are of the European tradition. Waldorf's view of child development is one in which the children at this age are experiencing themselves their own psychological 'folk consciousness'--that's why the folk tales are incorporated into the grades at this age. They are seen to 'dovetail' both the way the child looks at the world at that age, and what their particular developmental needs are at that age. But it isn't necessary to use European folk tales to serve this purpose. As Waldorf is moving into Japan, for example, the classroom teachers will try to use Japanese folk tales in place of the Brothers Grimm. I saw examples of work by newly trained Japanese teachers who were basing classwork around Japan's traditional stories.
post #12 of 62
Quote:
Originally Posted by columbine
I honestly don't know as it wasn't really acceptable to say that one didn't! Certainly both my children's KG teachers did believe in gnomes. At a parents meeting in our first school when asked about gnomes by a parent, much as the OP has done, the teacher replied, "I think it would be best if you spoke to someone who has seen them".
I can only say that it seemed to me that to the people more deeply into Anthroposophy that I knew, this aspect of RS was highly thought of.
This touches on one of the most difficult challenges for a Waldorf teacher.

Steiner makes it quite clear that 'falsity' with the children is not healthy. In other words, no teacher is ever to 'pretend' to believe in the material that is brought to their students.

However, Steiner doesn't want anyone, including teachers, to dutifully follow or 'believe' anything - he wants to completely dispense with this kind of gullibility or obedient 'belief' thinking and replace it with authenticity. That's the whole *point* to Waldorf education, to Steiner, 'belief' is not freedom.

He warned that there is a risk that anthroposophy could be misapplied this way. He warned that it shouldn't become absorbed as just another 'belief system'. And in many ways he cautioned that a person needs to come to the various ideas, etc., that he was working with in anthroposophy only AFTER having a well developed real life experience in practical, scientific, and other matters because then that individual was better prepared to bring to what he says fully *independent judgement*. This was great advice, imho. Unfortunately it sounds as if there are some Waldorf teachers that are doing just the opposite.

And anybody in Waldorf education that comes away from Waldorf training buying the idea it is a "deeply thought of" thing to believe in gnomes or whatever seems to have completely missed the boat. (Not you columbine--I mean those teachers you seem to tell of.)

So maybe Steiner was gullible himself thinking teachers could reconcile these two distinct lines of advice without undue confusion. *I* get it. But unfortunately, it doesn't sound like all Waldorf teachers do.

It is absolutely possible to believe in an archetypal truth or idea without adopting the "literal truth" of the existence of gnomes, be it from literature or Steiner's idea of 'elemental beings'. You don't have to bring the children either version. Bring one of your own that you think has universal truth that makes sense you. If you do not believe it, Steiner seems to insist, don't bring it to the children. Regardless of what it is. If you as a teacher are only bringing gnomes through the toys and stories and other imaginative features to the children because "Steiner said so" or because "Waldorf is supposed to", then it's false, and unhealthy for the children. Which is bad. Steiner says this much more firmly and unequivocally than he did anything about the existence of gnomes. As I see it, this 'truth' I think he's talking about isn't a religious, literal or scientific 'truth'--it's more an 'artistic' truth. If you can 'hear' truth in music, or 'see' truth in great painting or literature, or 'feel' moral truth from nature~~that's the kind of truth Waldorf teachers need to aspire to to be a great teacher.

Not this, not something such as this literal 'truth' that gnomes are real.

. Sorry for the rant--
post #13 of 62
Thank you. That was very thought provoking. I'm just not completely sure I get it. I have never promoted the idea of St Nick, The tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny etc. prior to going to Waldorf. Do you think my son's teachers believe in these characters or are you saying the essence of what they represent is what they should believe in. I'm really serious here because I've had a really hard time saying "yep, St Nick came" when I obviously don't believe it. But, seeing the desire in my very sophisticated son to believe has compelled me to go along with these things.

I hope I'm making sense.
post #14 of 62
You and your child can believe whatever you want and still go to a waldorf school. In my experience nobody is going to try to talk you in to believeing something or be upset if you don't believe in it. But you have to be comfortable with stories and play that revolves around gnomes and the like. I can handle it because it all seems pretty harmless, and positive. I'd rather that than elmo or spiderman or whatever.

I was in the class the other day and the teacher said something about the little gnomes and a child asked, "gnomes aren't real are they?", and the teacher just quietly changed the subject. I found that irritating; I would rather she had just asked him, "What do you think?", but I could see she was doing it to just leave the possibilities for imagination and fantasy open.

Aside from gnomes, I had a much harder time with my son being told on his birthday that he was an angel that had come down to earth, as if it were absolute fact, and without any prior checking with me about whether that fit with our belief system or not. But it was also interesting that he really didn't take that part in. Kids seem to hear and believe exactly what they want.
post #15 of 62
Muse said:
Quote:
Kids seem to hear and believe exactly what they want.
You are absolutely right. I observed my daughter and many members of her class in first grade through seventh grade. They all had the same teacher, heard the same stories, created somewhat similar notebooks (although very far from exactly the same) and yet they all developed as individuals with varying ideas about what was important and how the world works.

As one example: in fifth grade my daughter came home one day and had to tell me something she had figured out. "People get born again and again. They come back!" She then explained that they had been hearing stories from Indian (as in India) mythology, the teacher had described reincarnation in one of the stories, and dd had felt that this was true, outside of the "story" reality. I don't think the rest of the class went home that day believing in reincarnation. This just happened to really click with dd.

Throughout her school years she was very good at taking hold of the pieces that really reverberated for her and just putting aside the stuff that didn't. I did the same thing as a child attending public schools (14 by the time I reached 8th grade).

Children are surprisingly hard to indoctrinate. You need a very simple theme and then a set-up where this theme is pounded into the children over and over and over again. This is not what happens in waldorf schools, where the curriculum is diverse...it is more like a buffet...in my experience.

Deborah

PS I would talk to the teacher directly about the birthday story. If this story doesn't fit with your family beliefs, the teacher needs to know about it. The birthday story is quite different from the various mythologies as it is clearly personal, not general.

PS2 I just remembered a first hand experience of indoctrination when I was perhaps 8 years old. My parents sent me for two weeks to "Christian" summer camp. Beats me why, as my family are Jewish and agnostic overall. It was probably really cheap. So the camp was seriously into indoctrination and after a couple of weeks I'd been "saved." However, a couple of weeks after I got home it had worn off and I went back to being my own self again. That sort of thing won't stick without constant reinforcement.
post #16 of 62
Oh, I'm not worried about indoctrination. I'm just saying that when my son has an "Easter Bunny" oriented event at school and comes home talking about the Easter bunny (and it has been reinforced by the teacher) then, when he comes home, I'm in the position of having to along with it or defying the status quo and bursting his bubble (which I won't do). I don't mind, it's just a path I wouldn't necessarily have taken if he wasn't exposed to it at school.

Same with many other characters that are supposed to actively do things (like St. Nick, Tooth Fairy, leprechons and I don't know what else there is).

Prior to school, he was vaguely exposed to these things through other friends and I never felt like it mattered if we did things differently. He had no investment in it. He didn't really believe in Santa. Now he believes (and I mean really believes) in all of it.

I'm willing to adapt my style but I didn't anticipate it. Nor him coming home talking about saints and Jesus (Jesus I think was just from another kid at school).

All of the figures have been positive influences and I really dig how imaginative he is. Some might not appreciate these things from a "non-religious" school.

All of that said, it doesn't take too much research or exploration to learn the prevelance of some of these things at school. I just took it at face value that as a non-religious school it would be different.
post #17 of 62
I've been reading this thread with a great deal of interest. Just as an aside I wanted to pipe in and say that my grandmother, who was born in the Black Forest in Germany in 1906, believed in gnomes, fairies and all manner of elemental spirits until the day she died, at 96 years old. She was a sane, intelligent woman (I swear!) and a devout Catholic, but this was a cultural belief that was very important to her. Most of my great aunts and uncles were the same way, including a great aunt that was a Catholic nun.

I grew up hearing stories about fairies, elves, gnomes and they were told to me as factual ("there was this man in our town that was tricked by a gnome..", for example.)

Sorry if I derailed the thread, I just wanted to pipe up.
post #18 of 62
I was very curious about the topic of gnomes a while ago and I created a poll asking "do gnomes exist?" and 25% of people who responded said that they did indeed believe in gnomes. Here is the link. Personally I was surprised that the number was so high.
post #19 of 62
Totally and completely off topic here:

I'm re-reading Mercedes Lackey's "elemental masters" series and wondering if she's read about Waldorf. In the world of these books most people have a balance of elements, but some have more of one element and can get the help of salamanders, slyphs, undines, or gnomes.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled thread...
post #20 of 62
There is a lot of difference between schools. Unlike mijumom's school, our Kindergarten teachers never talked about Santa or the Easter bunny. They did talk about St. Nicholas and it was celebrated in the school with the kids leaving out their shoes but the teachers were very clear about St. Nick and Santa not being the same. Instead of the Easter bunny, Lady Spring would come to the school after the spring parade and give every child a seedling to plant in their garden at home.
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