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Elemental



This article is about alchemic elementals. For other uses of the term, see elemental (disambiguation).

  An elemental is a mythological being first appearing in the alchemical works of Paracelsus. Traditionally, there are four types: gnomes, earth elementals; undines, water elementals; sylphs, air elementals; and salamanders, fire elementals.[1] The exact term for each type varies somewhat from source to source, though these four are now the most usual. Most of these beings are found in folklore as well as alchemy; their names are often used interchangeably with similar beings from folklore.[2] The sylph, however, is rarely encountered outside of alchemical contexts.

Additional recommended knowledge

The basic concept of an elemental refers to the ancient idea of elements as fundamental building blocks of nature. In the system prevailing in the Classical world, there were four elements: fire, earth, air, and water. This paradigm was highly influential in Medieval natural philosophy, and Paracelsus evidently intended to draw a range of mythological beings into this paradigm by identifying them as belonging to one of these four elemental types.

Elementals of Air, Earth, Fire and Water

   

In mysticism, magic and alchemy, an elemental is a creature (usually a spirit) that is attuned with, or composed of, one of the classical elements: air, earth, fire and water. The elements balance each other out through opposites: water quenches fire, fire boils water, earth contains air, air erodes earth. The concept of elementals seems to have been conceived by Paracelsus in the 16th century, though he did not in fact use the term "elemental" or a German equivalent.[3] Paracelsus gave common names for the elemental types, as well as alternate names, which he seems to have considered somewhat more proper. He also referred to them by purely German terms which are roughly equivalent to "water people," "mountain people," and so on, using all the different forms interchangeably. The Paracelsian elementals were:

Translated Common Name Proper Name Element
Sylph Sylvestris Air
Pygmy Gnomus (gnome) Earth
Salamander Vulcanus Fire
Nymph Undina (undine) Water

Of these names, gnomus, undina, and sylph are all thought to have appeared first in Paracelsus' works, though undina is a fairly obvious Latin derivative. The other names are traditional terms, though the Paracelsian usage is thought to be novel.

He noted that undines are similar to humans in size, while sylphs are rougher, bigger, longer, and stronger. Gnomes are short, while salamanders are long, narrow, and lean.

In his influential De Occulta Philosophia of the same period, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa also wrote of four classes of spirits corresponding to the four elements, though he did not give special names for the classes. Agrippa did however give an extensive list of various mythological beings of this type, although without clarifying which belongs to which elemental class.[4] Like Paracelsus, he did not use the term "elemental spirit" per se.

Elementals are commonly mentioned in grimoires dealing with alchemy and sorcery and are usually "called" by summoning.

See also

  • Elementals in fiction

References

  1. ^ Carole B. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, p 38 ISBN 0-19-512199-6
  2. ^ C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, p135 ISBN 0-521-47735-2
  3. ^ Paracelsus, Liber de nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus. in Philosophia magna, de divinis operibus et seretis naturae. V. 1. Date unknown, but thought to be a later work.
  4. ^ De Occulta Philosophia Book 3, Ch. 16
  • "undine." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Nov. 2006 .
  • Theophrast von Hohenheim a.k.a. Paracelsus, Sämtliche Werke: Abt. 1, v. 14, sec. 7, Liber de nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus. Karl Sudhoff and Wilh. Matthießen, eds. Munich:Oldenbourg, 1933.
 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Elemental". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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