Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Herrnhut Star

A considerable portion of the background of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is taken up with the Herrnhutters. It was clear from everything said about them that they were Pietists of some kind, and I had a vague idea that they were Moravians. And, looking into it a bit further, this is exactly right. I wasn't closely familiar with the history of the Moravian Church (also known as Unitas Fratrum) in any detail, but one of its major figures, Count Zinzendorf, is mentioned many times in Goethe's novel.

The Moravians are Hussites, followers of Jan Hus, who was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Constance; he didn't actually found any organization, but after his death some of those who continued his movement after he died organized into a church, which spread quite swiftly. The Herrnhutters (or Herrnhuters) were a small branch of this church who had been underground for quite some time, but who were given shelter and protection by Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, a Lutheran Pietist who advocated what he called "religion of the heart". They were given an area of Zinzendorf's lands, where they built the village of Herrnhut, after a rocky start, things started clicking for this group, and the great Herrnhuter revival begain: Moravian educational and missionary work burst forth all over Europe, then the world, and they began a continuous watch of prayer, people praying in shifts without ceasing for literally the next century.

Reading up on the Moravians led me to the Herrnhut star (Herrnhuter Stern), which is a three-dimensional folded-paper star. The following website gives instructions for making one:

DIY Moravian Star

The Moravian or Herrnhut star, which have become a common Advent tradition, seems to have originated in Moravian schools as part of paper-folding, which was commonly done in German schools. Perhaps because of this it is often confused with the Froebel star. You can see how those are made here:

How to Make a German Paper Star -- Froebel Stern

Froebel was a German philosopher of education in the Romantic period, and the primary inventor of Kindergarten. These paper stars seem to pre-date Froebel by a considerable period of time, but paper-folding was a big part of Froebel's educational methods, so that's probably why they became associated with his name. I've mentioned Froebel before, and have been intending at some point to write up a post or two about his philosophy of education. In any case, it's interesting how one thing leads into another when you let yourself roam a bit in research.

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