Copyright 2006 Rob Daniels
Before scientists conceived of the periodic table, with its 116 elements, scientists taught that the earth and everything therein was made of four basic elements: water, air, fire and earth. Paracelsus, a fifteenth century alchemist, took the idea one step further, theorizing that each element was composed of nature spirits called elementals. These creatures, made of unique ethereal substances, could live only in the element to which they were born. As the guardians of all nature, they lived and acted as humans, although they had no souls.
Throughout the centuries following many hundreds of stories, referred to as fairy tales, have been spun about the elementals and their interactions with mankind. It is said that within these stories there may be nuggets of truth. To this day there are those among the fanciful and faithful still calling upon the elementals and benefiting from their help.
Undines are the elementals associated with water. Frequently found in forest pools and waterfalls, these beings are described as sensual and lovely with beautiful voices. Intuitive and empathetic, undines have long memories, for water holds memory. Their activity is responsible for the vitality in all liquids, including that which exists within plants, animals, and humans. Therefore, undines have great healing power. It is said that when one cries he or she taps into the energy of the undines. If allowed, their influence can overwhelm, or drown, a human, leaving them all washed out. Undines are also recognized as mermaids, naiads, oceanids, sea maidens, and water sprites.
Spirits of air are called sylphs, and these creatures are said to live in the space between dimensions. Theirs is the voice heard as a sigh on a breeze, or a hiss through a cornfield. They rustle tree leaves with their whispers and lash great oceans with their shrieks. Their activity is reflected in the gathering of clouds, the formation of snowflakes, and the growth and maturity of all plant life. Sylphs are credited for inspiring poets and artists, and reportedly can be contacted through meditation and conscious mind travel. Once their power is tapped, they deliver revalations and epiphanies. If seekers are not balanced, the energy of the sylph can be intoxicating, leaving them paranoid or insane. Sylphs can be associated with winged angels or cherubs.
In the flame of the hottest fires live the salamanders. These fire spirits are lizard-like and have association with dragons. Passionate, creative, and temperamental, salamanders demand immediate action, for unlike undines, they have little to no memory. Their essence enlivens one’s sexual drive. When their intense energy is taken to excess it may be said the individual feels burnt out. The terms hot-headed and cold-blooded also refers to the energy of the salamander, as he is the controller of body temperature. Someone with a fiery temper may be under the influence of a salamander.
Gnomes may be the best-known of all nature spirits. Indeed, Paracelsus said these were the most important of all elementals. These diminutive earth spirits wear red conical hats and live deep within the earth. It is said they move as easily through the earth as humans walk upon it. Their activity is present in all geologic formations, such as mineral deposits, crystal formations, and erosion of rock. Gnomes appear in hundreds of stories as protectors of secret treasures and knowledge, and though they first appear grumpy and mean, if won over, they can become the most loyal and helpful of friends. However, if betrayed, gnomes are known to wreak havoc on ones life. Some traditions say that gnomes actually spend the daytime as toads, as the suns rays will turn them into stone. Gnomes are generally pictured as wizened old men in green, blue, and red clothing, but they are of the same essence as sprites, goblins, dwarves, brownies, dryads, elves, and satyrs.
Mischievous and magical, alluring and exciting, the elementals and their stories will doubtless continue to enchant, inspire, and affect humanity as they have for thousands of years.