CONFESSIONS OF A FABULIST
Animal Fables Main Lesson – Life Sciences – Class 2
…and so Posea-Sol concluded the story of Clever Hermit. After many days of the Animal Fables main lessons, the Class 2 children knew what was to happen next; they had to be very quiet, and get on with their drawings or written work.
Prior to the telling of the story, there has been wide-ranging class discussion of the moral implications and conduct of people (especially of children) in similar circumstances to the Gull, Terrier and Hermit Crab. Then the story is told – the moral spelt out with crystal clarity, as a single aphorism. Then there is silent work to allow the afterimage to enter the sanctuary of the sub-conscious.
The student teacher, her name was Anna-Mary, strolled around the room, watching with interest the intensity of the children’s application. This ‘class observation; was part of her 2-year intensive Teacher Education.
All too soon it was break time – ‘Can we sing Whistle Willy again?’ appealed a little girl; she had a beautifully formed musical ear, especially in the concha area, and she just loved singing. Whistle Willy was a song written by Posea-Sol that the class had learnt some days ago. It was drawn from the content of another fable, one about 3 birds.
The children were taught a fable each day; each story focusing on a different moral area. The Whistle Willy tale was based on the error of interfering in other people’s affairs, while neglecting one’s own responsibilities. This is an error of the etheric body, trespass, as expressed in the ‘Forgive us our trespasses’ line in the Lord’s Prayer.
Later in the staffroom, Anna-Mary said to her teacher “Why go to the trouble to write your own fables, there are libraries full of excellent animal stories, ones based on the ‘moral’ formula you use?”
“Yes”, said Posea-Sol stirring his coffee “and an important formula it is. Before I could write fables for children, I had to study that literature to understand story structure, characterization and so on. In fact I started right back at the Bidpai (‘culture’) Tales that originated in Ancient India – written in Sanscrit.
They are the stories of Kalila and Dimna, 2 jackals, ‘loyal’ subjects of the Lion King. This lion image indicates the place – the 1st post-Atlantean civilization, that of Ancient India, the Land of the Lion. India’s task was to incarnate the etheric body into human culture – the lion is a perennial symbol of the etheric. The Lion King is the cultivated, the ego-imbued, etheric body. The jackals however are 2 aspects of the emerging intellect – the sympathetic and its opposite.”
Anna-Mary remembered the lotus-like flower one of the children had drawn in his main lesson book “8-year-olds are passing through their ‘Ancient Indian’ year,” she said “like Indians, they can only perceive the soul externally, it not having become embedded in the body; mere ‘Maya’ or illusion to the Indian. The best place to see the soul’s various manifestations is in the animal world.”
“That’s right, the beasts exhibit a separate and exaggerated aspect of soul – but back to India; the Jatakas, stories of previous incarnations of the Buddha in animal form, portray this clearly. In one live he was a lion, another a monkey, a 3rd a deer, and so on. Of course this is purely allegorical, they weren’t real animals, the were real lives though; lives in which the respective aspects of soul – courage, mobility and gentleness (lion, monkey and deer) were perfected – one life at a time. So it is with us to some degree; what do you think is the most important soul element you’re perfecting in this life?” “…!?”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”
“Ahem, you mention the Bidpai stories; they were the source for many of the Aesop tales, weren’t they?” said Anna-Mary deliberately.
“Too right – Aesop, living some 600 years before Christ, was widely traveled. He was a ‘Solver of riddles’ in the Court of Babylon; it could have been there that he heard the stories of Kalila and Dimna – or he may even have traveled further east, to the Indus.
Babylon cultivated the feminine, or astral mysteries; as such they attempted to solve the ‘riddles’ of the soul, by exploring the soul stories of the Bidpai. Aesop was an astral or animal initiate; the occult term for this material was ‘The Ocean of Tales’, pointing to its Astral Sea provenance. On his return to Greece, Aesop was enslaved and incarcerated – that’s when he told the stories to his jailers – who in turn told the rest of the world!”
“Gosh, so the rampant, wandering, image-sated astral body had to be contained in the ‘cell of the ego’ did it? For its own good. Only then could the stories take a worldly form, and not play havoc in peoples’ dream life – night or day!
These astral or Moon mysteries (the moon was the planetary regent of Ancient India) were to do with Aesop’s past. But his future, as a ‘Sun’ adept, is indicated by his place of death – Delphi. At the Temple of Apollo, God of the Sun.”
“I know what you mean by rampant dreams, knowing this lesson was coming up,” Anna-Mary shuddered “I spent quite a bit of time in the library reading animal fables; many of them were horrific! I would run all the way home from the station!”
Posea-Sol stared over the steaming ellipse of his coffee cup and sighed “Yes, it’s a kind of tragedy that these tales are taught to children; they all have a pre-Christian moral basis, on which is inappropriate for our time. That’s why new stories have to be written – as Rudolf Steiner says – ‘hundreds’ of them.
Take The Stork and the Fox; firstly it does not individualize the animals with proper-noun names. The collective identity is a pre-Christian phenomenon, one based on Aristotelian logic, leading to the impersonal, reductionist science ruining the earth today.
The individual concept means that major characters in a story are either named or described in a unique way – like the cow with the crumpl…”
“Like the story you told today!” cried Anna-Mary “it was not just a terrier or gull – it was Spotty Terrier and Gull Greedy. These individualized images must find easier access to the children’s souls. But what about the plot of The Stork and the Fox, that seems okay?”
“ ’Seems’ is the operative word with all these pre-Christian fables. The story is based on pay-back morality – ‘an eye for an eye’. If someone does ill, then they should be repaid with interest, so goes these tales. This is not the modern moral standpoint of loving those who hate you. One doesn’t visit vengeance on those you ‘love’, one redeems them.
The story would have been better if, for instance, ‘Long Legs’ stork, after having taught White Tip fox his salutary lesson, invite him to a restaurant for dinner. The story would then have ended on a positive.”
“Hmm,” hmmmed Anna-Mary, still only half convinced. She had liked that story as a child; but what Posea-Sol said did make sense “Surely you couldn’t cavil with the fable of The Miller, his Son and the Donkey?”
“Regretfully yes,” replied the teacher wearily “firstly an animal fable should be exclusively about animals, to mix in humans muddies the ‘wisdom’ waters we spoke of. It brings in a different spiritual dimension. This confuses the soul issue which we are trying so hard to reveal in clarity – that divine wisdom which the animal world expresses so perfectly.
Secondly, there is no moral resolution in that tale. It is neither shown to be correct to ride the donkey; not ride; the boy to walk; or the man to walk. And the absurdity of carrying the animal – leading to its death – leaves the sensitive soul-buds of the little listeners in a state of perplexity and hopeless sadness. Mix this with a realization, and hence cynicism, of human stupidity, is reprehensible indeed. After all, these are supposed to be ‘wisdom’, not boofhead, tales!
Speaking of death; the Christian ethic is always one of life and resurrection. Death in a story clearly marks it as both archaic and unwholesome – and the children hate it!”
Luckily Posea-Sol had a free period after break, so the instruction of the skeptical teacher proceeded. Anna-Mary launched her next In-defense-of-old-tales missile.
“What’s wrong with The Fox and the Grapes?” her voice was flint-edged with challenge. “This has entered our culture so deeply, one only has to say ‘sour grapes’ and everyone knows what you mean.”
“No doubt – and the indigent moral standards of much of the community mirrors these dead clichés. Old stories mostly end negatively – the dog in the manger wins – the fox goes off in a bad mood – and hundreds of others. Our stories must all end on a positive note. And since when are foxes a problem in vineyards? We just may be sowing seeds of factual error in the hearts of the children with this one.”
“Ahhgggrr! Well you can’t find fault with that excellent tale, The Wind and the Sun?! Except there being no animals in it that is.” Anna-Mary was desperate now! “The moral is so, so unarguable – persuasion is better than force!”
“Better? No not better – more sinister perhaps. For instance the advertising world, the least ethical of all civil industries (I should know, I was in it before I became a teacher) works on the ethically bankrupt basis of ‘gentle persuasion’ as they call it – of convincing gullible ‘consumers’ to buy something they don’t need. The new ethic is freedom; to neither force nor persuade.”
“But you’re trying to persuade me of something! – ha!”
“Not at all, just fielding questions – if you don’t ask, I’m not going to tell. Anyway, The Wind and the Sun uses the elements, heat and air, and being soul-less, these are even more inapt than using humans in fables.
To have the sun, that loftiest of spiritual principles, entering into a cheap power game with the wind, is spiritual slander – and all of no benefit to anyone! – least of all the hapless man walking along (his destiny path), minding his own affairs, before being diverted.
And, just like I allow you freedom to think what you like, only responding to your enquiries, the same spiritual courtesy wasn’t accorded to man in the story. He didn’t invite the sun and the wind in; he was a victim; the receivers of gratuitous advice or persuasion are victims.”
Posea-Sol fell silent, careful not, at this particular time, to offer any unasked-for information. The whole conversation would have ended right there, but Anna-Mary overcame her pride, and asked.
“but that, and other ‘excellent’ stories, are in that highly recommended story book – Hay for my Ox. They can’t be that bad!?”
“Recommended? Not by me – or Rudolf Steiner either, the book came along much later. With a riveting title like ‘Hay for my Ox’, it can’t be too good either. This shows a bankruptcy of imagination; can you think of anything more boring to a modern child than that? On closer scrutiny, the book is a mindless opus of mediocre plagiarisms. Most Australian children would never even see an ox, that most soporific of animals.”
Anna-Mary sat in silence for some minutes, trying to re-assess her story loyalties, so deeply embedded since childhood – could they be responsible for her current difficulties in recognizing reality when it was staring her in the face? Of her difficulty with spiritual revelation even?
“Why is there this ‘wisdom’ element in Class 2 especially?”
You really want to know? Sorry, just kidding…for the first 3 years of primary school, there is a powerful but vicarious cultural-spiritual input by the 3 groups of beings that consist the 1st Hierarchy; the Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim, in that order. These represent Power, Wisdom and Love.
You know how we are persuaded…er, enjoined, by Rudolf Steiner to teach Class 1 magic or ‘power’ (fairy) stories? People move mountains with magic wands and the like. Then in Class 2 we have ‘animal fables’ = stories of wisdom. The animal world is a visible expression of divine wisdom. You remember those references in our mentor’s work, of wasps inventing paper? Then there are the Class 3 ‘saints’ stories, with their obligatory Love content.
Animal Fables is a main lesson (head), in the science stream (physical body), in the life sciences strand (feeling). The physiognomic region for this is the nose. The shape of the bulb of the nose expresses the full spectrum of head-physical-feeling factors. In the feeling realm, we see the pendulum of sympathy and antipathy expressed; the pointed nose that cartoonists love to draw on witches and other pitiless souls, is contrasted with the friendly bulb on characters like cuddly bears…and, Carl Malden.”
“Oh – an American actor that always takes sympathetic roles – the casting people are quite astute really, indicating a good grasp of basic physiognomy. So this nose bulb is activated – awakened – by the animal fables lesson – oh dear, I’m not trying to persuade you of anything I hope?!”
“I’ll let that pass,” said Anna-Mary smiling “but tell me, where does the inspiration come from to write a fable?”
“Two sources mainly,” replied her round-nosed teacher, drawing a breath of inspiration to answer the question.
“Firstly in nature – where the wisdom is! Note that this is a loveless wisdom, that’s why survival is present rather than compassion in the animal world. We have to, through our stories, elevate this wisdom to the realm of the Seraphim – to Love.
I’ll give an example of nature inspiration; one day our creek was in flood, I saw hundreds of baby eels, elvers, struggling upstream against the wild current. Their goal was the large dams some way upstream. Nearby, in a shallow backwater, I saw some languorous tadpoles; so I wrote a fable about the virtues of struggle to reach higher goals – and the danger of the complacency of the ‘safe’ backwaters of life. These backwaters soon dry up, leaving their slothful denizens stranded. “Slothful’ is another animal word which might be an inspiration of a fable – the animals don’t have to be Aussie you know.
A second source of inspiration is the children. I might write a list of what seems to be the ‘pairs’ of the class (many fables are about the interaction of 2 animals). I qualify the strengths and shortcomings of each pair, and create a story based on the good overcoming the less good. This can bring about a level of subconscious self-knowledge in the child, one that reaches right into adult live. I’ve been in the game long enough to witness this soul cycle. Some of these vices might be: bullying; spite; greed; or any of the 7 or more deadly sins.
We then transform the children through story image into the most likely animal in which these elements are found (without the child knowing!). Using the 3 prior examples, the bully might be a large goldfish in a pond; the spiteful, and old possum; and the greed a nut-hoarding squirrel, one who keeps all his treasure to himself over winter while his friends starve.
The story line follows quite easily after the characters/ethics have been established; even to the benefit-to-all conclusion.” Posea-Sol learned back, emotionally drained from the psychic opposition of his young friend; drained, like his empty coffee cup, by the Spirits of Retardation lurking in old material. He looked around for an escape, but Anna-Mary surged on.
“Apart from every good Class 2 teacher, one of the most recent ‘fabulists’, as fable creators are called, was the American James Thurber. In 1940, one of the darkest periods of this or any other century, he published a fable about an owl (wisdom again!). Through a series of accidents, the old owl became the forest folk’s leader. Feeling obliged to lead the people somewhere, he stumbled along in the bright light of day, his followers clamoring excitedly behind. He felt lost, until he reached a highway; his day sight was so bad, that he could only follow the yellow line in the middle of the road. Everyone got skittled when the next semi-trailer roared by! The moral? Don’t follow blind leaders! Not bad in an age when it was easier to find a far-sighted leader than a feather from an angel’s wing! This was an adult story, even though following the fable conventions; it had deep ramifications for the time.
My ‘fabulous’ – ha, ha – research also revealed that even the Hans Christian Andersen stories were written, not for the young, but for adults – as all the earlier fables certainly were. Then why do we now tell children fables, instead of packing them off to bed, as in times of your?”
“(Sigh) Modern 8-year-olds have the approximate self-awareness of medieval adult peasants. Medieval children were, in comparison to ours, bland little souls of unsullied innocence – nobody told them stories at all (or anything else much), they wouldn’t have been able to understand them. The morality tale was the medium of instruction for an illiterate, adult populace. Children’s needs have changed with their increasing sophistication, and will continue to do so, obliging educators to revise their thinking in terms of both content and practice. Even the simple tales told to children in the early 20th century – Steiner’s time – no longer suffice for our worldly wise youngsters. One teacher I know thinks that 6-7-year-olds cannot endure a story more than 5 minutes long. Phooey – if the content is rich and apt, they can listen spell-bound (a telling phrase) for half an hour or more.”
“Goodness! This ‘sophistication’ must have occurred fairly quickly then.” Said Anna-Mary, retreating to the last bastion of her Old-Story Castle “Because one of my favorites as a child was also the simplest – The Tortoise and the Hare. Surely this is still morally sound? Slow and steady wins the race and all that.”
“Does it? That’s okay if you think the world should only be inhabited by tortoise types. Slow and steady does sometimes win – but do does fast, impulsive, creative, impetuous, Promethean, and a dozen other fire-filled adjective. These story-based slogans are always dubious, how about ‘look before you leap’ as a direct contradiction to ‘he who hesitates is lost’!? Besides, there’s nothing morally defensible in racing anyway, based as it is, not on the spirit of co-operation, but the negative rivalry of competition…”
“Enough!! Okay, so you want me to create the fable for tomorrow’s lesson – okay! Now, what’s the moral you want me to write about?”
“The journey is as important as the destination.”
Full music notation in my book 33 Sun Songs
“Whistle Willy, Whistle Willy,
Don’t be silly, don’t be silly!”
Said the Magpie to the Wagtail when she saw her nest.
“Much too small, built over water, made of Webs!
(I could have taught her.)”
Said the magpie to the wagtail in her kindest way.
What’s that noise?! Go-Go Goanna
Climbing tree in evil manner.
Said the magpie to the wagtail “See I told you so!”
Go-Go crept close, the limb was small –
Goanna slip – goanna fall………..
Said the wagtail to the magpie
“What a lovely splashshshshshsh!”
Kook-Kookaburra’s laugh was heard,
“What tasty eggs – no mother bird?”
Magpie flew home just in time
To save her precious eggs! Whew!
The moral: Make sure our own affairs are in order before you attend to others.