XI: altar

This is a description of what a waldorf school ‘nature table’ might look like in december. (For anyone unfamiliar with nature tables: they’re extremely common in waldorf classrooms and, as nature tables, resemble altars more than an ordinary kind of table, although the basic item needed is, of course, a table!) The description is from a second grade in a german waldorf school.

Der Klassenraum hat sich verwandelt. Fensterbank und Jahreszeitentisch sind leergeräumt, und über die Länge des Raumes erstreckt sich eine wüstenähnlich kahle Landschaft aus Sand und Felsen. Maria und Josef haben ihren langen Weg nach Bethlehem gerade erst begonnen. Jeden Tag werden sie ein Stück 7 weiter wandern; je näher sie dem Ort kommen, an dem einmal die Krippe stehen wird, desto mehr belebt sich die Landschaft: “Weidegras” aus Moos, kleine “Wüstenpflanzen” und schöne Steine tauchen auf, allmählich auch das eine oder andere Schäflein, schließlich Ochs und Esel in ihrem einfachen Stall aus Ästen und Rinde sowie die Hirten. An jedem Tag gibt es Neues zu entdecken. Alle Naturreiche sind vertreten: Das Mineralische, Pflanzen, Tiere und Menschen. Kurz bevor das heilige Paar nun das Ziel seiner Wanderung erreicht, beginnen allerdings die Weihnachtsferien! So ist die Krippenszene erst sichtbar, wenn die Kinder im Januar wieder in die Klasse kommen. Jetzt ist es eng geworden im Stall, in dem das neugeborene Kind im Stroh liegt. Ochs und Esel passen kaum noch hinein, und auch die drei Könige aus dem Morgenland sind mit  dem Kamel und ihren Gaben angereist und stehen staunend am Ort des Wunders. [Source.]

My own memories are quite hazy although, naturally, I remember these nature tables as they were constantly present in the classroom even if their appearance and content were changed on a regular basis. There were spring tables, and autumn tables… Sometimes the table was decorated entirely anew (for example at the change of seasons), but even during periods when it stayed the same, small additions could be made. This was the teacher’s creation; the children were not involved, they only saw the finished table. I remember that, at christmas, the table had a christmas theme.

The quote mentions how the ‘four kingdoms of nature’ are incorporated in the nature table during the weeks of advent: minerals, plants, animals, men. The International Association for Early Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education has an article which brushes upon this:

During Advent, we can deepen our relationship to the world around us through recognizing the strength and beauty in all the four kingdoms of the natural world.  The first week is related to the mineral kingdom, the physical foundation for life. The mineral world gives us a fixed stage, a basis for our ever-changing existence. Without the mineral world we would have no ground to stand on. The second week focuses on the plant kingdom from which we receive nourishment from living forces. Earth, rain, light and warmth create a balance of growth and decay. The plant world has life that distinguishes it from the mineral world. It is life itself which human beings share with the plants.  The third week focuses on the kingdom of beasts.  We share our capacity for movement and feelings with the animal kingdom. In this week of Advent we are reminded of our relationship with the birds, beasts and other members of the animal kingdom and how they reflect our most basic soul states. The fourth week of Advent speaks of the human being. All the kingdoms of nature contribute to our existence. We all have mineral, plant and animal aspects surrounding and supporting the flame of our individual human spirit, this flame that is the essence of what it is to be human. […] I also add something of the particular kingdom of nature addressed to the advent nature table. Perhaps a crystal or shell is added each day of that week, then the next week, a rose bud each day, then a small wooden animal or feather.

This is a way of thinking about the four weeks of advent that is probably quite unique to waldorf!