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I had recently visited my favorite Waldorf bookstore, and I came across a very colorful little book entitled “Little Gnome Tenderroot.” The cover was painted in a rainbow of colors in a style evocative of Waldorf wet-on-wet watercolor paintings. The gnomish face poking out of that array of colors was impish and intriguing. What was Little Gnome Tenderroot’s story, I wondered. Better yet, would Little Gnome Tenderroot be of interest to any of the children participating in a bookswap with my child? I was certain they might–not having actually read the book–and I picked up the gnome book fully intending to gift it. However, I thought that I would need two of these books. I couldn’t deprive my son of the joy of this tale, so I inquired about a second copy. Nope. This one little book was it. I hate to admit it, but I decided that my son needed this book more than any of his friends, so I grabbed a copy of the can’t-go-wrong Wind in the Willows and left with my books. Later, I came to the realization that Little Gnome Tenderroot would not make the ideal Secret Santa type of gift.

Once I got past the cute cover, I realized that this was not the typical Waldorf fairy story. Instead, the Tenderroot tale seemed less of a tale and more of a dramatization of Rudolf Steiner’s complex metaphysics. I have read chunks of Steiner’s Nature Spirits, so I got the gist of what Steiner theories were being personified through the gnome, tree spirits and other entities in the narrative. However, I realized that persons with no familiarity of Steiner would not be able to make heads or tails out of the strange goings on. Sadly, I realized any non-Waldorf person receiving this book might think it a cruel regift or some sort of bizarre ramblings. I am not entirely into Gnome Tenderroot as a story. However, I may try to revamp the clunky narrative in my telling and try to incorporate it into our homeschooling adventures in a way that would make sense to a child who is not read up on Anthroposophy. I will also try to read the original author (Jakob Streit) in various translations to see if the story in other narratives seems to fall as flat due to phrasing.

Little Gnome Tenderroot

Little Gnome Tenderroot

I mentioned earlier that gnomes are ubiquitous in Waldorf culture. Why is that? I don’t know all the specifics, but I do know that the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, believed in gnomes. Rudolf Steiner was an unabashed occultist. In his early days, he apparently had some psychic experiences that predisposed him to interest in the occult, and he eventually went on to affiliate himself with a group of Theosophists. Theosophy is a school of occult thinking for which I definitely do not care. I’ll get back to that later. For now, suffice it to say that Rudolf Steiner distanced himself in many ways from Theosophy and went on to found his own system; Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is a very complex occult system that Steiner called a “spiritual science.” Anthroposophy deals with the whole cosmos, but the gnomes are a elemental spirits that live in the bowels of the earth. They do not look like the the gnomes on the cover of Huygen and Poortvliet’s book, either! No red hats and blue coats here. LOL. The gnomes appear to be invisible mean spirited, surprisingly earth hating, asocial, clever creatures that help plants grow. If they are visible, it’s when they take on the form of frogs or toads. That’s my take on reading Steiner’s book Nature Spirits. Nature Spirits is by no means light reading. It’s some of the most abstruse, convoluted–and if you like this sort of thing–intriguing–material you’ll ever read.

What does this mean if you’re considering Waldorf education? It depends. If you’re homeschooling, it might not mean anything at all. I’ve purchased many curricula, and they have no obvious, teachable anthroposophy in them at all. Zero. If you purchase Waldorf homeschooling products, you’re likely to see gnomes, but that’s most likely along the lines of objects to set out on your nature table or counting toys. The most I’ve ever heard coming out of a Waldorf private school is gnome themed garden hunts for little children. In other words, little kids go outside and “look for gnomes” during something akin to recess. While teachers seem to operate with an anthroposophy mindset, they don’t seem to teach anthroposophy to kids in any overt way. I have several friends with kids in Waldorf schools, so this seems to be the case. Hopefully, I’ll find out myself. Until then, it’s Waldorf homeschooling!

Gnomes

Gnomes