|"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.
|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.
|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.