Friday, 15 February 2008

The Golden Bird

Fairytales are the big feature of Class One. That transition from Kindergarten to Lower School is held together by the world of the fairytales. I was going to try and guess what this meaning was but decided i should google it and see what the experts had to say. And i came across this wonderful explaination about why fairytales. Rather than cut and paste, i reproduce it in its entirety - and litter the long but highly readable explaination with pictures from this week. Enjoy!!! (With thanks to Jens Bjorneboe.)

The need to inject utilitarianism into fairy tales is one of the great blocks to understanding. Folk tales exercise their reality and their relevance in a far deeper area of the soul. To look for cut-rate wisdom in them would be like looking for Bible references in Ibsen; you find them, but they are used in another meaning than what the church puts into them.

The most common interpretation is that the fairy tales show us how things go well for the good and badly for the evil. And this, of course, is a bald-faced lie. If you act the way the “lad” does in the fairy tale, then things will generally go uncommonly ill with you.

Actually the fairy tales don't conceal this fact, either. Things always go very badly for the hero or the heroine&—up to a certain point. And it is at precisely this point that the textbook wisdom ends. For at this point occurs the miracle. Help arrives.

And this help we don't otherwise know about.

Most people will have noticed that in the “practical” life the miracle tends to be absent. Just because we share our lunch with someone doesn't mean we will therefore be excused from paying taxes. From a bourgeois point of view the fairy tales are just plain amoral. For help always arrives on the other side of the curtain.

This curtain is a very important thing.

On this side of the curtain the following happens: The “lad” is rendered destitute, but he still has a little—a loaf of bread, three dollars, or whatever it may be. Then he goes out into the world, and there he gives away the rest of what he has. He gives it to someone who needs it even more than he does.

When the lad goes on, the road leads him into misfortune. He falls into privation. And his need sends him through the curtain. From a bourgeois standpoint he exits from the saga.

On the other side a helping hand reaches out to him, and this help comes from the person he himself had helped.


“He who dies before he dies, dies not when he dies.” These words come from the same spring as the fairy tales. And the “death” referred to here has nothing to do with ordinary physical death. This “death” is one you live with deep inside you, all your life. To find the way through your own curtain is to die this death. And this death is the one which leads to “resurrection,” to life, blessedness—and creative power.

Only through this death do you become fully human—and become yourself.
For the adult this means meeting your childhood again; life regains its greatness, its dewy earnest. In this renewed childhood is found the sole source of new power. And this new life is not achieved by a one-time effort; you must gain admission to it daily.

Of course you can think what you like about this. You can call it metaphysical nonsense and hand-me-down mythology, but unless you find a way into the childhood within yourself, you will always be barren—not least in practical life. This experience runs throughout history like an inmost red thread: from the Vedas to Plato, Aristotle, the gospels, Dante, Goethe, and Ibsen. The way to Paradise is through dying before you die. And only with the life force from this garden can you do something for others.

When children are healthy and unspoiled, they meet the fairy tales in this world quite naturally. They don't draw “moral” conclusions, but meet them as immediate reality, because they themselves are in Paradise. “Paradise,” of course, means not that you “have it good”, but that everything around you has reality and abundance.

What a child experiences with one of the great fairy tales, an adult can no longer imagine. But by trying to understand the fairy tales he can approach the children. He can get close to them. And he can learn to tell fairy tales in such a manner, with such seriousness and such devotion that the children can enter fully into them without being disturbed by the adult's personality.

What makes such a story hour so fateful? First and foremost: the “lad” in the fairy tale is—yourself! But not only the lad! Everything in the story is within you. Therefore it has reality.


In the story of the Companion the “lad” comes from “another land.” This is clearly stated. Then he comes to the “city” to seek the princess he has dreamed about. And in the city—in front of the church—he finds a man frozen in a block of ice. The citizens of the parish are spitting on him. In this land all roads go straight ahead. A totally barren landscape, that is. The man was frozen as a punishment because he had mixed wine and water. The parson explains to the lad that the man was justly punished, and that he cannot be put into Christian earth because that would cost money. But the lad has enough money for this. And he uses it to get the man into the earth.

Then he goes on. The Companion turns up. He helps the lad into the mountain, and procures him the sword, the cap of invisibility and the ball golden yarn. He carries him across the fjord. And now they are approaching the princess of his dreams.

But this is not a very comforting world.

Around the castle the heads of former suitors stand impaled—“as thick as crows at the harvest.” And the princess herself? The troll has her under a spell; she has small black hairs all over her body, flies through the air on billygoats at night—and is the troll's sweetheart. Three times she puts the lad to the test—and three times he fails. He would have adorned one of the palings long since, had not the Companion time after time saved him with the sword and the golden yarn. The last test is the worst: to bring the princess the head of the troll, of her sweetheart.

During a tryst inside the mountain the princess tells the troll what task she has given the boy, and the troll is a bit confused by the joke, but decides to laugh.

Still, the Companion gets the troll's head. And the princess becomes the boy's. She prepares to celebrate the wedding night with a well-honed kitchen knife under her pillow. But she is disarmed and the spell is beaten out of her. Then she becomes the princess the boy dreamed about—before he came to the city and the story began.

The “lad” now parts from the Companion, but bids him return in a few years to take half of what the lad has produced in the meantime. When the Companion comes back, the lad has had a son. And a promise is a promise. He raises the sword over the child, but the Companion lays his hand over the sword's point and stops the stroke.

“Are you happy now?” he asks.

“I've never been so happy before,” replies the lad.

“That's how happy I was when you broke me out of the block of ice,” says the Companion. “But now I must go, for I am a spirit, and they are ringing for me with the bells of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And here the story ends.


Everything has taken place within one and the same person. Thus: the “lad” in us seeks the “princess” in us. He meets the one who is “frozen inside” us. And he thaws him out, instead of joining in with the “parish,” the “citizens,” and the “parson” in us.

The “frozen one” helps him to the “princess” in us, but she has waited a long time for a worthy suitor, and in the meantime she has grown dissolute. She is seduced by the “troll.” The history of humanity.

The Companion, the Lad, the Princess, the troll, the sword, the ball of golden yarn?

They can all be placed in the circle of mythical archetypes—just as we know them from mythology, poetry and the Bible. All myths, legends and fables tell of the same thing: of what a human being is. And the images are taken from humanity's common, subconscious memory. The developmental history of the whole world is present in every single human child you see before you in the classroom. Our whole past lives unawares in every look, every touch and every tear.

And in wonder the children listen to myths, fairy tales and legends—and without knowing it, it is themselves they meet. Themselves, but clearly drawn—“just as you sprang forth in the Mind of God”. So joyous, so pure, so strong—as you are only when you meet the siblings who are more than siblings and who haunt the fairy tales' towers, halls and stairways3in the castle behind your own great, dense forest....


The wind in the evening,” one of the second graders wrote recently. First he drew a tree, then an ocean, then he let the twilight settle blue and heavy around it all. And finally he wrote straight across it: The wind in the evening.
“That's just a little poem!” he said.

But within us there also blows a wind in the evening: in our woods, briar hedges, in the long stone staircases and halls inside us, in the tower rooms, the moats—there go Joringel and Jorinda, the Ash Lad, Cinderella, Little Freddie, Tom Thumb, and the princess who was white as snow and red as blood. As wine and water.

And they will always live there: Faithful John, the king's son Lini, the steed Fallada, Loyal and Disloyal Ferdinand—all, all of them. And the dew from the fairytales will have the same effect on us as the dew from the leaves had on Loyal Ferdinand's destroyed eyes: We shall regain our sight.

Snowdrops, snowdrops

Not to be outdone, the camillas too peep out in the early spring sunshine.

The snowdropos have been out for a few weeks now. I missed their arrival. In fact, i think they arrived on the day i was complaining about February and how winter lasted forever - and Judith, another mother told me, think snowdrops!!

The children have been working with snowdrops since 2 February, as missives of spring. Songs about spring, snowdrops, blackbirds and green trees errupt every now and then - in between the battles played out by various transformers, of course. But i thought that rather then just concentrate on the childen's creations, that we'd have some of the quiet splendour that the school grounds hold. And the hundreds of blossoms that like their namesakes, dapple the green in a tender dream of white.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Sweet dreams are made of these...

Eurythmy is an essential element of the child's education in a Steiner school. They experience it from Kindergarten (age 4/5) and it goes all the way up to Class 12 (16/17 yrs). It is an art form in itself and many Steiner communities would have their own emsemble of dancers/prationers. But it is more than dancing. Here are a few links to some definitions and other eurythmy sites.

Eurythmy Spring Valley
FAQs on eurythmy

I summarise here from the cirriculum:

Eurythmy aims to harmonise the child's soul-spiritual nature with the bodily organisation by making the body a more flexible and responsive instrument to the soul's intentions.

Practising the elements of eurythmical movement helps the children become more graceful in their movements, more cordinated, more alert and more at ease with themselves. Eurythmy also reveals blockages and hinderances within the movement organisation. What the children reveal in their movements can, to the practised eye of the teacher contribute to an overall picture of their potneital and what can be done to release it.

Through learning the gestural vocabulary of sounds and musical tones in eurythmy, the children form an inner connection to the qualities inherent in the elements of language and music, a process which both engages the whole human being whilst supporting the development of linguistic and musical literacy.

The artistic work done through the cheography of poetry, prose text, narrative and instrumental music deepen the children's aesthetic appreciation of oiterature and music experentially, a method which complements other approaches in the cirriculum.

Working with geometrical forms and their transitions in three dimensional space help the children have a more comprehensive experience of the principles of geometrical form and cultivate an inner sense of orientation.

When working in groups the children have to concentrate on their own movement while developing the social capacity to sense the movements of the group as a whole. When both are successful, they enjoy their participation in thei mutual flow of movement. Being able to move in a harmonious and coordinated way together with others requires not only peripheral perception but also a willingness to allow the others to have their own space. The mutuality of social processes is a quality which eurythmy cultivates at many levels.

Experiencing eurythmy performances by other pupils or adult professional groups can work at a non-intellectual level that only an integrated artistic medoum can engage. It is not read but experienced holistically, given openness on the part of the viewer. Children of all ages can enter this realm of expeirence through good eurythmy performances, which reach beyond the stage and meet an uninhibited response in the audience through a rich tapestry of sense experiences. They can receive vivid living pictures which the soul can digest. Like all good art, eurythmy provides subtle yet powerful nourishment for the soul life.

Eurythmy is taught by a qualified practitioner. In our school, by Marie-Louise.

Class One

Spatial forms and arm movements are developed out of and in accordance with the children's imaginative experience. The cirlce of children is experienced as the 'sun' or the 'castleg garden'; the straight line is the 'golden bridge' or the 'magic ladder', and so on. the archetypal form of the circle is the starting point for eurythmy lessons and all movements start from the circle and return to it. The content of the lesson is woven into a narrative whole, the different elements flowing one into the other. In an ideal situation, the lessons flow as one integrated movement, articulated by a strong overall picture.


A group of giggling and excited seven and six year olds lines up at the entrance to the hall 10 to 9. I have seen many classes do this before, but for the first time, i understand what they'll be doing next. Eurythmy. Many, many, many years ago i saw a Beethoven symphony performed by the Dornach emsemble. It was the first time i saw music danced - where the performers had so tenderly and skillfully woven the ego and the experience of the music together. It was a strong yet gauzy fabrication and even today, i still see the violins dancing gracefully amongst the cellos and double bass. Today's little exercise was like the seedling of that massive proud oak i saw in what seemed a lifetime ago.

The children circled round and Marie-Louise helped them recall and enact simple verses which grounded them to the earth, that lifted them into the air, that sent their little souls to the stars, that returned them to a pond.

I see the sun and the sun sees me
I see the moon and the moon sees me
I see my star and my star sees me
I see my friends and my friends see me

The affirmation of being here, of being held. Not in competition, but in companionship. All this to live piano music. It has been such a long time since i heard children's music played live and remembered the difference between live and recorded music - the same difference between a real rose and a plastic one.

For nearly half an hour they wove figures of eight, spirals, circles, pretended to be bees, rats, birds and gnomes. For half an hour we were transported with them to that tender Realm of Childhood. Where dancing, playing, and music - and beauty - innate and gentle, happily ruled.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Spring is coming!

The noticeboard was changed to reflect St Brigid's Day. Despite the hail, sleet and snow, snowdrops peeped through the grass at the foot of the sycamore trees and dafodills which were planted in the autumn began poking their yellow tresses through the green.

Gnomes are already beginning to make their appearance. Having hibernated through the winter, they will certainly turn up after the 2nd, Tracy informs me. I can't wait!!

In the main lesson, reading continued apace, and the verse this time was

Birds in the air
Fishes in the sea
Stones on the land
I'm in God's hands.

Beneath that were the words Cat Bat Hat - all written by the children in strong definite hands. I said to Tracey today, i would love to do an article about how Steiner parents who have never been through the system need nerves of steel. While your child's contemporaries are writing in diaries, they are just beginning on the journey. But what a journey it already has been!