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Why gnomes and fairies? - Page 2

post #21 of 62
Originally Posted by Attila the Honey
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.
Actually I think this is a good point. I have a friend who speaks german and lived there for a semester. She sort of thinks it's funny to watch people get all wrapped up and worried over Waldorf when to her it mostly looks like a bunch of people just trying to be German!
post #22 of 62
I read an article online at one of the mainstream news sites about Iceland and their building laws. There are places you cannot build because a gnome, or a troll, or a fairy, etc live there and if you built there it would be bad luck and piss off the elemental who would then wreck havoc on the project. The elementals are protected as much as endangered species. The reporter walked around with a native who pointed out what lived where. Obviously, the beings are very real to those who live in Iceland.
post #23 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."

You know, I can't be certain how much he gets from other kids and how much is directly stated by the teachers. There's just way more of an acknowledgement than I'm used to. The Easter Bunny was definately addressed and St. Nick and I think leprechons. Like I said, I don't mind but some might. Am I off topic here? I just kind of think that there's more belief in imaginary characters (including gnomes and fairies) than other places.
post #24 of 62
I can't address whether classroom teachers are more likely to believe in fairies and such than the general population, but I doubt if any believe in the Easter bunny or tooth fairy.

I know that some, fundamentalists and atheists included, find a belief in beings like this to be very wrong. Waldorf teachers would probably not share that view. They're probably less embarassed to admit if they do believe in any of them themselves. (Which is fine with me--what I find distressing is the idea described earlier that Waldorf teachers are encouraged or *supposed* to believe in them, that this is desirable, or exalted, or whatever. WRONG!)

I know that some teachers are more expressive about what they believe than others in conversations with children. (Older children, I should say. When my children were small, personal conversations with the children just didn't take place much, if at all, so I can't really recall examples from the early grades) But in what I've witnessed in this regard, it's in a very respectful and personal way. These issues aren't "teachings" or "shoulds". It's hard to explain. For a similar example, my FIL believes his dead wife often comes to sleep with him at night, and he talks about it in a respectful and honest way. My children understand this as "his truth", and in a very different universe from "their truth". They don't get sucked in this intellectual "taking of sides" about how *real* this *really* is most of the time. It's very real to him, and they respect that. However, it's not *their truth*, and they don't perceive anybody expecting them to adopt it. They're like this with their teachers beliefs also, and their friends, who come from a variety of religious beliefs, many of them holding to specific *truths* adopted by those religions.

But I'm surprised how much things have changed in the last few decades. Easter bunnies and tooth fairies and Santa and leprecauns used to be mainstream--nobody thought twice of them when dealing with children. These characters appeared in nearly every school. They still do in my community. My town's recreation department sponsors Easter bunny appearances, and Santa rides through town every Christmas on a town firetruck, giving away candy in all the neighborhoods.
post #25 of 62
Hmmm. I'm not fundamentalist or atheist. I have a firm belief in God and I was drawn to the spiritual aspect of of Waldorf. I believe there is much magic and inspiration in things that we know are not fabrications. I have, prior to now chosen to focus on those things (like rainbows). That was enough before. Now the rainbows have pots of gold and leprechons on either side. I don't feel too passionate about all of this but it is a shift I hadn't anticipated seeing as we are not religious or traditional but more "spiritual" and progressive. I understand that Easter and St. Nick being Christian staples may be completely normal to some people but not to me and my kids. Now, in my little spare time, I will be shopping for goodies for an Easter Basket as my kids are expecting the Easter Bunny to arrive next week. I also had to ask St. Nick to come to our home because, due to our lack of knowledge about that ritual, my son didn't have his shoes out at school and missed out on him coming. You think I'm going to burst my kids bubble when it is something his sacred teacher is promoting. No way. I got treats and put them in the kids shoes.

You can't just say, oh, we don't do that or have that when it is integral to the school. I am sending him there and he has full faith and belief in what he is told there. Why would anyone pay this kind of money just to undermine the spirit of what the kids are absorbing? I think you either go with it or go elsewhere.

There is a big difference between "spiritual" and "religious". I think I expected it to be much subtler and less traditional.

Again, my kids are happy, they want to believe so I'm going with it. I've heard Waldorf referred to as based on "esoteric christianity", so far, that feels accurate.

The kids also made menorahs and study other cultures so that is reassuring to me. Still, the Jesus stories, songs about saints etc. are integral.

post #26 of 62
Slightly OT here but DS just asked me where Winnie the Pooh lives, and in talking I realised he absolutely believes that Pooh is real. Just another example of how kids actually often CHOOSE to believe in things, whether we encourage it or not.
post #27 of 62
Human beings are odd in the way they relate to stories, and not just children. I'm a librarian and one thing we do regularly is book discussions. We mostly discuss fiction and I've noticed that people drift into talking about the characters in books as though they were "real." If asked, everyone would of course say, "Yes, I know this is fiction" but in order to enjoy fiction we have to let ourselves slide into feeling as though the people are real. The oddest thing is that one of the books in our most recent series was a memoir: and we were talking about the people in just the same way...

Separating the story from reality is just about impossible for children and it is healthier for them if they don't even think about the question.

As a child I can remember not being able to tell my dream experiences from my waking experiences and being confused about whether something "really" happened or not.

post #28 of 62
This is a fascinating discussion. I have knit hundreds of little gnomes. However, they are not the old with very distinctive facial features. Instead, they are very gentle.

In "The Gnome Craft Book" by Thomas and Petra Berger, gnomes are described as follows:
"Story-telling tradition in many countries has handed down tales of encounters with the little folk - gnomes, dwarfs, leprechans or other kinds, depending on the region and surroundings. All of these are nature spirits, ususally found in remote forests and mountains, moors and farmland. Some people even have the gift of seeing them, and say they are like little men not m ore than two feet tall, with silvery beards and ruddyfaces, and are dressed in bright warm clothes, with pointed caps on their heads.
For rural communities, it has always been important to work in harmony with the little folk because this leads to prosperity and health. Gnomes traditionally helped the farmer or forester. They worked for the good of plants and animals and practised arts of healthing and caring."

The authors are from Europe, thus as a previous poster mentioned, seems to be very much a cultural influence.

I like to use them for imaginative play.

Warm wishes,
post #29 of 62
I just think there is a difference between a child speaking of imaginary beings as if they are real and an adult doing so.

Some people are comfortable with it and some are not.

I think the point of this thread and where it has led was to make clear the use of gnomes and fairies in the Waldorf classroom. Obviously one can only get concensus on the symbolism and not how its used as it varies from school to school.

Parents are here to understand "what" they can expect at a given school not whether it is good or bad which is obviously too subjective to determine.
post #30 of 62
I find the mention of lepruchans and easter bunnies odd as our school never mentioned those. No talk about Jesus either. The only Jesus thing I ever saw was a picture of the Madonna holding the infant Jesus in the Kindergarten but the kid were never told who was in the picture. I asked my kids about it and they said it was a Mom holding her baby. It is a beautiful Renaissance painting and to my kids it was nothing more than that.

We celebrate St. Nicholas day at home but I am of German descent so it made sense. Most kids at school do not celebrate St. Nicholas day except for at school. The Jewish kids certainly don't celebrate the Easter bunny or Advent at home and neither do the Buddhist. Some do Soltice instead. My son celebrates Kwanzaa in class but we don't at home because we are not African American. The same could be said about Hannakuh which my kids are very jealous of (mulitiple days of presents). I have explained to my children that there are school celebrations and home celebrations. Some are the same and some are different. They are learning about many cultures and faiths but we only practice our culture and faith at home.
post #31 of 62
Like I said, the story of Jesus was told (without reference to him by name), the saints are sung about daily, the Easter Bunny came to the school and left something for the kids, St. Nick as well. There is a huge difference between cultural differentiations which we have always dealt with as a family and being in a Christian-based environment. i don't see the point in denying it and I'm not debating whether it is good or bad (again, too subjective). Like I said, my son missed out on St. Nick because he didn't know what was going on. I am not going to make it a religious differentiation when it had no religious connotation to him. It was simply someone who showed up at school (as facilitated by the teachers) and missed him. That is way different than explaining that what happens in our home is different than what happens in other kids homes (which I have always done with no problem). I don't understand why it is so hard to make this distinction and i am not saying it is bad, it is a choice. I think people want to know what is to be expected by way of fictional characters at the schools and I think its obvious that they are given more acknowledgement and presented more as "real" than in other schools. My son looks for elves' doors on trees etc. I think it's sweet while it is different than our prior approach and may be uncomfortable for some and of course loved by others.
post #32 of 62
I am always amazed at the differences between each school. I think that even as a Christian, I would be uncomfortable with some of the stuff at your school. What is important though, is what you are comfortable with and whether or not the school is meeting your child's needs, which sounds like they are.
post #33 of 62
I really don't mean to demean our school in any way. Again, a lot of the talk may be from other children which I don't hold the school responsible for and can be found anywhere. Still, some of it seems just an obvious part of Waldorf. Do you think it is different that they refer to saints in their songs? Or hear the story of the birth of Jesus (again no mention of Jesus per se)? These are regular Waldorf staples. Do you disagree that the Waldorf approach to mythical creatures is very different than most systems and that gnomes, elves and fairies are refered to in a very legitimate context? Like, oh, a little gnome must have untied your shoe etc. It is everywhere in the early years and I've never seen anyone deny this.

As for our experience, like I said, though my kids have multicultural friends and the have been read to avidly and even exposed to some media, I have never heard so much reference from both of my kids to mythical characters until their attendance at a Waldorf school this year. Some may perceive that as an endorsement and others interpret it differently but it is there. I have had many "Are _____ real?" this year and I hadn't before and I tend to say, what do you think and try to keep their imaginations in tact. i will not, as I said before impose a more complex, adult thought process on what is very black and white to them. Either there is an Easter Bunny or there isn't so, I'm going along with it. If I want them less exposed to gnomes, fairies, St. Nick, Easter Bunny, Saints etc. then I'll have to go elsewhere. For now, I feel the change has been positive and has made my child less intellectual and more playful which I think is good. Others may not.
post #34 of 62
Thread Starter 

Really neat

This thread has been really neat to read and I've been checking on it quite often as the proud OP.

Unfortunately, my DS had a stomach virus over the weekend and we also were getting ready for out-of-town guests this week (due to arrive any minute, actually!) so I haven't had time to sit down and respond to the posts, but I did want to pop in and say they've been really thought-engaging and helpful.

Some background: My parents are both German, but I grew up here (in the US). I can't say whether it was "cultural" or not, but I grew up obsessed with fairy tales, and distinctly remember that especially when we were on walks in the woods in Germany in the summers, I would build homes for gnomes and fairies or look for them in the forest. I can't remember if it was all those Lang fairy tale books or my parents or grandparents or a little of everything, but Germany is, after all, the land of the garden gnome! It was interesting to me that when we went to the Holiday fair at our Waldorf school that many of the classrooms had little gnomes, nature tableaus, etc. It felt cozy and familiar to me, a little odd to DH. Waldorf comes across as very German to me. But we do joke about the gnomes. Once we noticed them, it was a little funnily creepy that they were in every room. A cloth diaper vendor had knit a gnome as a gift for DS before he was born, and DH later conspiratorily remarked after we started going to Waldorf, "Do you think she's Waldorfian?" So we started jokingly wondering "Do gnomes exist outside Waldorf?"

Neat info about Iceland. There was this one weird week two summers ago where we rented a Hal Hartley movie about a gnome or troll or something, and then I read a great short story by A.S. Byatt about a woman who becomes a stone person and goes to Iceland to join her kind. It's in her "Little Black Book of Stories."

I was originally interested in what role gnomes play in Waldorf, but I think the discussion about real v. imaginary is very organic to the question and greatly appreciated. Our son is still quite young, but we've wondered for a while how we will handle Santa, etc. Personally, I think one of the great things about childhood is that many things seem possible to children, including the imaginary, which, to me, as someone who is basically atheist, includes gnomes, santa, and, well, you get where this is going. On the other hand, I remember being really hungrily curious about all things mystical, including religion, as a child, and one of the things I like about Waldorf is that is presents all those things together without adherence to a particular religion (except, one could argue, Anthroposophy, but I'll just have to wait and see how I feel about that). On a personal level, this is tricky for DH and myself. DH is very anti-religion and some of the religious stuff is a bit much for him. I don't particularly like the angel-birthday thing someone mentioned earlier either. In terms of the body, breastfeeding, birth.... I'd like to be up front about that. But on the other hand, I think spiritual stuff is important, and since we don't go to church (and don't want to start going) I see Waldorf as a possible outlet for this.

But back to the gnomes. I am still a little confused about what role the teachers play. I would think it would be a very subtle thing -- do they tell stories about all these figures and then leave it open to the children? What do they say when children ask about whether these things exist? Again, I ask as both a Waldorf-curious and a parent. I'm not sure what I would say myself.
post #35 of 62
As for the Madonna and child paintings, they are at our school too. I think they are beautiful. There are many beautiful paintings of mothers and children (Klimt has the most beautiful I've seen). I see the choice of a religious painting as indicative of the derivation of some of the beliefs of Steiner and Waldorf . I don't mind though because while I am not religious and do not believe personally in Christ as Christians do, I think that the symbolism and messages that can be derived are beautiful. I really thought things like that would bother me but I understand the usefulness now. When my son cam home and told me the story of the birth of Jesus (though he didn't know it was Jesus), I got nervous at first and then as I listened I was so moved by it. Also, I htink the other kids have informed my son about Jesus and let him know that's what it's about.

It is there, it is part of the inspiration of Steiner and Waldorf why not just explain it rather than deny it.

I don't mean to sound contentious (if I do). I have to move on from this. I'm just surprised that this isn't a straightforward revelation that yes gnomes and fairies (and other mythical creatures) are acknowledged in a more real fashion than other schools. Sorry if I pushed it into a conversation about religious content which I know has been debated in other threads.
post #36 of 62
I don't think you demeaned your school and to be honest, I totally forgot about the Shepherd's play which is about the birth of Jesus. I guess it doesn't stand out for me because the story seems to be treated like every other story and it is the only time it is talked about. The saint stuff doesn't come in to play until 2nd grade when they are covered along with American heros (Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, etc.), stories from Africa and Islamic folk tales, Aesop's fables. There are some songs about Michael at Michaelmas but I don't remember any other saints the rest of the year. The Kindergartens have a spring parade rather than an Easter parade. I know my eldest's class has had some very lively discussions about God during 3rd grade after learning the Biblical creation story in Hebrew. The teacher let them discuss it without interupting but she made sure it was respectful. The kids fully recognized that there are Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Atheists in the class and that each had their own interpretation of the creation story. They seemed to come to the conclusion that everyone has their own truth.
post #37 of 62
smilla653- In my experience, the teachers don't usually directly answer questions of real or not real. They don't even normally say "what do you think?" They will normally just smile and move the child along. This is not my favorie approach. More than one teacher has expressed that kids tend to get ahead of themselves and they don't really get into "real" or "not real" or explaining the actual goings on of things. Like "why are his eyes blue and mine brown?" Becuase they are would be an expected answer. I have heard my son say that someone told him "because God made them that way". I didn't hear it directly so I haven't reacted but that would not be an ok answer to me.
It's actually fairy doors that my son looks for which he learned from his teacher."The fairy's gnomes come out to play while we're at nap time." He gets lots of these tidbits from his teachers and he takes them as fact. he actually asked me "how do they know that the gnomes come out and play?" By the way, he's six and very sophisticated so I was surprised how uncynical and willing he has been to believe.

Good or bad? I don't know. We actually like it and are going with it.
post #38 of 62
Rhonwyn- They sing about the saints at nap "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John bless this bed that I lie on"

Do you really think that is so rare? It's part of the fabric of a very established Waldorf school.

People just desrve to know it's there so they can decide if they want it.
post #39 of 62
By the way, for me personally, the pledge of allegiance is way more offensive to me than blessing the earth and the sun.

post #40 of 62
I don't think you are contentious mijumom. In my children's Kindergarten, the lead teacher was Catholic so I always assumed that was why they had a picture of the Madonna. They also learned Italian songs because the teacher had studied in Italy. In fact, I think it was more of an Italian thing than Catholic thing.

Each teacher seems different. My eldest's teacher changes the pictures in the classroom from year to year depending on the theme for that year. In 4th grade, there are some nice Northwest Coastal Indian artwork as well as some Nordic looking stuff.

I sometimes think there is a hunger in some children for this stuff. I know I had it as a child. So I think some children take to it more than others. As an adult, even though I am a scientist, I enjoy lots of fantasy books as well as science fiction and other genres.
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