I‘ve become acquainted with gnomes, popular in Waldorf-Steiner education circles and with people who have high esteem for all things natural. The gnome stories (originating in Norway) tell of the good deeds of the benevolent gnomes, the keepers of animals and nature. The folklore of gnomes teach many skills, similar to those of a farmer or pioneer, living off the land, dependent and respectful of the nature around them.
As I read the book Gnomes by Rien Poortuliet and Wil Huygen, I was amazed at the detail in which life skills were described. The gnome lore talks about so many of the skills that Waldorf-Steiner schools teach their students, skills that are today rather rare in the western world, like basket weaving. I admire that someone wants to teach children artful crafts that no one needs to do anymore, like bake bread or make your own toys out of things you find around the house. Even more so, I’m impressed with the parents who still find these things important and see value in them. You’ll never find a gnome child playing with a Wi or listening to their i-pod, they’ll be playing imaginative games and making their own music on an instrument and their parents will be there with them delighting in the merriment. The beauty of the Waldorf-Steiner methods teach a child how to use their imagination, thus how to think.
The mother gnome takes on a very traditional role in gnome lore, I didn’t see any tiny, pink brief cases or mini designer suits hanging off a hook in the illustrations of their homes. When I was a little girl, my family lived a very gnome-like life, but we were all much taller! Maybe gnomes are so popular with those of us who value doing and making things ourselves because we’ve been bombarded with popular culture, plastic throw way everything, mindless musical lyrics and a sense of ho-hum with the things around us.
I remember a furniture store in Chicago where all the pieces were made by hand by artisans, I often went into that shop just to be around the furniture (I couldn’t afford to buy a candle stick in that shop). I could see the hand crafted details in the furniture, the natural wood was rubbed with bee’s wax that gave it a rich, mat finish. I could see the time and skill and genius that went into making the pieces in that shop and I admired the abilities of the crafts-people. But maybe that’s just me, because I’ve seen many people who will buy what ever is on sale, no matter the piece. I know that in every gnome household, the furniture looks just like the pieces that I admired long ago on Clark street in Chicago.
Today there seems to be a backlash against consumerism and the throw away culture of the western world as seen in the resurgence of handmade crafts (Etsy) and the green movement. I think all generations have nostalgia for the past and admiring the make believe world of gnomes give us the sense that we may be moving back toward something more meaningful and useful in our lives.