When you attend a Waldorf Kindergarten birthday celebration, you hear the story of the big angel and the little angel waiting on a star, staring down at a family on the earth. The big angel gives the little angel the love and encouragement they need, when just at the right moment, it is their time to descend to the earth and be born as a human baby to a loving family. The kindergarten teacher will emphasize the special magic of being given a name by one’s parents, “and they called her, Johanna.”
In Eurythmy class in 3rd grade, we perform our “star names” in eurythmy gestures. In Eurythmy, every alphabet sound has a corresponding gesture. For as much as your children might (sometimes) complain about eurythmy, every one of them loves to perform the sounds of their name in eurythmy gestures.
Something mystical happens when the child performs their “star name.” The gestures of the sounds of their name harken back to the spiritual world from which they came (I don’t think it is a coincidence that in the kindergarten story the little angel and the big angel are waiting on a star; and in eurythmy, to dance the sounds of one’s name, the name becomes elevated to a “star name”). Somehow, every time, to see the child’s name in dance form is to have a revelation that hits on much deeper level than the intellect, a revelation that is, “Ah yes, of course. You could never have been named anything else!” An understanding dawns of how incredibly beautiful is the being standing before us, who has been gifted with their name.
Our names hold brilliant power and they contain so much information about us. You might even say, they shelter us. A shelter is something that protects us, we fragile human beings are within it. Names provide us with an identity, which is a kind of shelter. When the little angel comes down from their star, they are sheltered in their mother’s womb. After the child is born, they are cocooned in a series of shelters (one of which is the name they are given at birth, hearing the sound of their name as their parents speak it, sing it, coo it). Most every moment of infancy is a moment of being sheltered and snuggled. Ideally, as the child grows, they are provided with all of the things that they need to feel sheltered, to feel safe within themselves.
At around age nine, or third grade, the child begins to notice that the things that used to make them feel sheltered, feel safe within themselves, may not be as rock solid as they had imagined. They begin to feel dissatisfaction with the people and things of their lives. They may even ask to be called by a different name! The shelter of parental love, which they never questioned before, might be called into question. They might push the parents by being sassy or saying “no” when they used to say “yes” or hating things that they used to love. “How obnoxious can I be and still be lovable?” The child seems to be asking of the parents. Hold strong, parents, and know that Waldorf is here to help.
When we engage the third grade students in building their own shelters, yes, they feel empowered, but more importantly, it touches the little angel, the spiritual being who dwells inside of each of us. The nine-year change, as we call it in Waldorf, is the first baby step away from the shelter provided by our parents. When I was nine, I had an inflatable air mattress that was in the shape of a giant banana (it was California in the ’70s). I would spend hours blowing it up, getting a head rush, and then staring into space, pondering the vastness of the universe and how I was just a tiny, insignificant speck in all of that vastness. If I saw a tv show about someone being lost or lonely, I would cry inconsolably for two days. It was an existential crisis, a realization that I was separate and alone and that was the way it would be from here on out.
I didn’t go to Waldorf school, but I did have a big cooking project in third grade where I learned how to make deviled eggs. I became a deviled egg demon! I remember forcing my parents to eat deviled eggs for dinner for a week straight. Slowly, but surely, I began to feel better. I now had a skill that could keep me alive, should I have to fend for myself (which is a fantasy that every child indulges in). I took a step out into the world and found it to be okay.
The igloo, in particular, is a great first shelter to build. We put the nine year old in an uncomfortable environment in which they are cold and often wet. It requires perseverance to cut blocks of snow, carry them, set them and then do it again, and again. What an incredible way to demonstrate to them, that, even in the harshest of conditions, a person can create their own shelter, a place to feel safe within.
Ben Yang was our wise guide who taught us how to build the igloos. He left us with candles not much bigger than the kind you would put on a birthday cake. He encouraged us, like the big angel, that what was waiting for us would be worth it, that we needed to experience being inside the igloos at night. He said he understood that it would be hard to go back outside in the cold and dark, after getting warm and cozy in the lodge. But, he assured us, like I used to say in third grade, “Try it! You’ll like it!”
He was right of course. The small miracle of being inside this nature-made, human-created dwelling, all aglow, and very womb-like, was not to be missed.
The nine year old, in building a shelter and getting cozy inside, may rediscover the feeling of having the big angel by their side: “There is love and courage enough inside of me to accomplish this difficult/beautiful task of being a human being.”