The Four Kingdoms of Nature is a different way of interpreting Advent. It appeals to me as something to celebrate at Advent time because my spiritual base is now influenced by more Earth-based philosophies rather than solely informed by Christian beliefs, which means that I can incorporate Advent better into our own local seasonal impulse.
Ok – there’s lots of reading here. Read this when you have time to absorb it: make a cup of tea, go to the loo and get comfortable. Get ready for some interesting stuff to think about, and bear in mind this is for you to understand the background of this idea. I’m going to put a disclaimer in here and say that all of this is my interpretation. It is how I have made meaning for myself, based on my life experiences, beliefs and education. It may be a bit trippy but I think it might be important to explain the background to the Four Kingdoms before talking about how we can celebrate it with children. The Four Kingdoms is not my idea, in Anthroposophical circles it will not be unknown. For those unfamiliar with Anthroposophy, I am sorry, I cannot explain it here! Another time, perhaps … lets say for now that it is a lens through which I can choose to understand my world, my self and my relationship to my world. I offer my interpretation of the Four Kingdoms to you as something to think about. You can choose not to consider it all, if you like.
Here’s another disclaimer: the following discussion isn’t something we talk about with children, because they don’t question the relevance of the Four Kingdoms – I believe a child’s job is to revel in and reflect the wonder of their experiences as they experience it, not to dissect them. They may choose to dissect their experiences in their own time, and when that time comes we should be there to help them gently understand the roots of their wonder in an age-appropriate way. In the meantime I believe our job is to make good choices for our families, to mindfully help our young children to have these wonder-full experiences while they are still young. A good bank of wonder can be drawn upon in adulthood and transformed into great ideas and new ways of seeing the world. The posts following this one will offer ideas to celebrate the Four Kingdoms with children, but for the moment this is stuff for adults to chew on and think about.
So, here we go!
The Four Kingdoms tell the story of our relationship with our natural environment and explain our evolving consciousness as human beings, well at least that is how I choose to understand it. In this instance, for the purposes of Advent, we are describing them as The Mineral Kingdom, The Plant Kingdom, The Animal Kingdom and The Human Kingdom. It can be interpreted a little bit deeper this way:
THE MINERAL KINGDOM – refers to the basic elements that make up this earth and everything on it that has a structure or form. Without the mineral kingdom we would not have physical forms, everything from our bones to our skin, blood and hair is made of and nourished by minerals. The mineral kingdom is solid but has no consciousness: rocks, sand, minerals, crystals may contain energy but they do not contain a life force that helps them to reproduce themselves, or to grow and adapt consciously.
When we celebrate The Mineral Kingdom we honour the earth beneath us, our shelter, the diversity of landscapes, the mountains that inspire us and offer us security and hope, the stones that make our foundations and the soil that contains minerals which nourishes all life. When we celebrate the Mineral Kingdom we celebrate the paths that lead us on to new adventures, the crystals hidden in the depths of darkness that light our way and heal us when we are lost and hurt.
THE PLANT KINGDOM – Plants have form and structure, thanks to the mineral kingdom, but they also have etheric life forces, which allow them to grow, transform and reproduce themselves. There are many different elements and minerals but anyone who has done high school science will know about the periodic table of elements – all the known elements on earth are listed there. There is no way to list all the known forms of plants because they keep growing and changing. I think plants are well aware of their contribution to this earth: they produce flowers and fruits for animal-life to eat so that their seeds can be spread, activated and germinated.
When we celebrate the Plant Kingdom we celebrate the gift of life and longevity, of beauty and diversity. Plants know the fragile line between thriving and dying but even in death they gift their physical bodies and life forces to mingle with the Mineral Kingdom and nourish future life. When we celebrate the Plant Kingdom we recognise that all things in life form a circle, that sometimes the harvest is plentiful and at other times sparse but life will always find a way to continue. Consider the re-growth that occurs after a great bush fire. The spark of life is a miracle, and it is what makes our planet unique and full of beauty and wonder.
THE ANIMAL KINGDOM – Animals have physical bodies and form, with thanks to the Mineral Kingdom, and thanks to the Plant Kingdom they have life force, diversity, beauty, colour and the ability to adapt, change and reproduce. Animals also have instinct and feelings, they interact socially with one another in a way that plants do not. Animals have evolved their consciousness so that they can interact with each other and their environment in order to meet their complex needs as individuals, and as members of a social group.
When we celebrate the Animal Kingdom we honour the ability to connect with others, we honour the realm of Feeling, and the joy of our senses. We celebrate community and family and friendship. Animals are loyal and brave and funny and interesting. Our relationship with animals has always been closely linked in love and friendship and service, and even nutrition.
THE HUMAN KINGDOM – We are animals and yet we have developed our consciousness to a level where we can think of ourselves as individuals. With conscious speech, writing and the ability to philosophise we have separated ourselves from the animals by making ourselves distinctly individual.
When we celebrate the Human Kingdom we celebrate the power of choice, wisdom and the ability to project our minds beyond our bodies with thought and complex communication. We contain within us the qualities of the mineral, plant and animal kingdom and we have choice. Our individuality is both a blessing and a hindrance – and has had massive consequences, both good and bad, for our planet and all other life forms on it. So with individuality and choice comes wisdom and responsibility.
How do the Four Kingdoms relate to Advent?
I wrote previously of the Nativity story of Advent and the birth of Christ – and what it means to me. You can read about that HERE. I love the story of the birth of Christ not for religious reasons but because contained with each newly born child – any child – is the all the goodness of the world: the best of the Four Kingdoms rolled up inside the body and spirit of a perfect little child. Every parent has lost minutes, even hours, gazing into their child’s eyes marvelling at the wonder they see reflected there, the miracle of their becoming and the individuality that even this brand new person contains within them. Every child who is born enters our world knowing they are good, and that the world is a good place. As we grow up our experiences of the world develop our knowledge and frame the choices we make. Gradually as we grow older and begin interacting with others we learn other human aspects such as fear, shame, humility, anger, confusion … and how much we take this into our life depends upon the continuity of love and support we receive from our family and community, combined with our individual spirit we brought with us at birth. I wrote more about this in my poem “The Wise One”.
Jesus Christ was born a miracle baby (as all babies are!) He grew up into a man who experienced the best and worst that life has to offer (as we all do in our own way) but he was infused with the Holy Spirit (love) and was able to use that to transcend the negativity on earth. Jesus Christ understood that good and bad are twins who define each other. Goodness is good because of the bad, but what helps us to overcome one or the other is our human ability to weigh up knowledge, experience, faith and to our ability to CHOOSE. Jesus Christ is an archetype of all that humanity can aspire to: he experienced all that life has to offer and still chose truth, beauty and goodness above all else and in making this choice he gave his life force, the way the plants do, to nourish the earth and all life upon it.
That’s the long story! The short story is, by celebrating the gifts of the Four Kingdoms throughout Advent, we are honouring our Earth, the living beings we share our Earth with, all the blessings and gifts they offer us to help us become who we need to be. For children, the message is simply to experience gratitude, to express joy and delight and love and wonder. Us adults can chew over all the other stuff in our own minds 🙂
Using the Four Kingdoms to celebrate Advent allows us to honour our own seasonal impulse and the environment in which we live, by celebrating the gifts of our local landscape, plants, animals and community. Which means making Christmas real for us.
Before each Advent Sunday I will post some suggestions about how to celebrate The Four Kingdoms of Advent with your families: activities, stories, carols and food 🙂 Merry Christmas!