20230729: Elementals (Fire)

The Elements and Their Inhabitants

FOR the most comprehensive and lucid exposition of occuh pneumatology (the branch of philosophy dealing with spiritual substances) extant, mankind is indebted to Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim), prince of alchemists and Hermetic philosophers and true possessor of the Royal Secret (the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life). Paracelsus believed that each of the four primary elements known to the ancients (earth, fire, air, and water) consisted of a subtle, vaporous principle and a gross corporeal substance.

Air is, therefore, twofold in nature-tangible atmosphere and an intangible, volatile substratum which may be termed spiritual air. Fire is visible and invisible, discernible and indiscernible—a spiritual, ethereal flame manifesting through a material, substantial flame. Carrying the analogy further, water consists of a dense fluid and a potential essence of a fluidic nature. Earth has likewise two essential parts—the lower being fixed, terreous, immobile; the higher, rarefied, mobile, and virtual. The general term elements has been applied to the lower, or physical, phases of these four primary principles, and the name elemental essences to their corresponding invisible, spiritual constitutions. Minerals, plants, animals, and men live in a world composed of the gross side of these four elements, and from various combinations of them construct their living organisms.

Henry Drummond, in Natural Law in the Spiritual World, describes this process as follows: “If we analyse this material point at which all life starts, we shall find it to consist of a clear structureless, jelly-like substance resembling albumen or white of egg. It is made of Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen. Its name is protoplasm. And it is not only the structural unit with which all living bodies start in life, but with which they are subsequently built up. ‘Protoplasm,’ says Huxley, ‘simple or nucleated, is the formal basis of all life. It is the clay of the Potter.'”

The water element of the ancient philosophers has been metamorphosed into the hydrogen of modern science; the air has become oxygen; the fire, nitrogen; the earth, carbon.

Just as visible Nature is populated by an infinite number of living creatures, so, according to Paracelsus, the invisible, spiritual counterpart of visible Nature (composed of the tenuous principles of the visible elements) is inhabited by a host of peculiar beings, to whom he has given the name elementals, and which have later been termed the Nature spirits. Paracelsus divided these people of the elements into four distinct groups, which he called gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders. He taught that they were really living entities, many resembling human beings in shape, and inhabiting worlds of their own, unknown to man because his undeveloped senses were incapable of functioning beyond the limitations of the grosser elements.

The civilizations of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, and India believed implicitly in satyrs, sprites, and goblins. They peopled the sea with mermaids, the rivers and fountains with nymphs, the air with fairies, the fire with Lares and Penates, and the earth with fauns, dryads, and hamadryads. These Nature spirits were held in the highest esteem, and propitiatory offerings were made to them. Occasionally, as the result of atmospheric conditions or the peculiar sensitiveness of the devotee, they became visible. Many authors wrote concerning them in terms which signify that they had actually beheld these inhabitants of Nature’s finer realms. A number of authorities are of the opinion that many of the gods worshiped by the pagans were elementals, for some of these invisibles were believed to be of commanding stature and magnificent deportment.

The Greeks gave the name dsemon to some of these elementals, especially those of the higher orders, and worshiped them. Probably the most famous of these daemons is the mysterious spirit which

instructed Socrates, and of whom that great philosopher spoke in the highest terms. Those who have devoted much study to the invisible constitution of man realize that it is quite probable the dsmon of Socrates and the angel of Jakob Bohme were in reality not elementals, but the overshadowing divine natures of these philosophers themselves. In his notes to Apuleius on the God of Socrates, Thomas Taylor says:

“As the daemon of Socrates, therefore, was doubtless one of the highest order, as may be inferred from the intellectual superiority of Socrates to most other men, Apuleius is justified in calling this deemon a God. And that the daemon of Socrates indeed was divine, is evident from the testimony of Socrates himself in the First Alcibiades: for in the course of that dialogue he clearly says, ‘I have long been of the opinion that the God did not as yet direct me to hold any conversation with you.’ And in the Apology he most unequivocally evinces that this deemon is allotted a divine transcendency, considered as ranking in the order of daemons.”

The idea once held, that the invisible elements surrounding and interpenetrating the earth were peopled with living, intelligent beings, may seem ridiculous to the prosaic mind of today. This doctrine, however, has found favor with some of the greatest intellects of the world. The sylphs of Facius Cardin, the philosopher of Milan; the salamander seen by Benvenuto Cellini; the pan of St. Anthony; and le petit homme rouge (the little red man, or gnome) of Napoleon Bonaparte, have found their places in the pages of history.

Literature has also perpetuated the concept of Nature spirits. The mischievous Puck of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; the elementals of Alexander Pope’s Rosicrucian poem, The Rape of the Lock, the mysterious creatures of Lord Lytton’s Zanoni; James Barrie’s immortal Tinker Bell; and the famous bowlers that Rip Van Winkle encountered in the Catskill Mountains, are well-known characters to students of literature. The folklore and mjlihology of all peoples abound in legends concerning these mysterious little figures who haunt old castles, guard treasures in the depths of the earth, and build their homes under the spreading protection of toadstools. Fairies are the delight of childhood, and most children give them up with reluctance. Not so very long ago the greatest minds of the world believed in the existence of fairies, and it is still an open question as to whether Plato, Socrates, and lamblichus were wrong when they avowed their reality.

Paracelsus, when describing the substances which constitute the bodies of the elementals, divided flesh into two kinds, the first being that which we have all inherited through Adam. This is the visible, corporeal flesh. The second was that flesh which had not descended from Adam and, being more attenuated, was not subject to the limitations of the former. The bodies of the elementals were composed of this transubstantial flesh. Paracelsus stated that there is as much difference between the bodies of men and the bodies of the Nature spirits as there is between matter and spirit.

“Yet,” he adds, “the Elementals are not spirits, because they have flesh, blood and bones; they live and propagate offspring; they cat and talk, act and sleep, &c., and consequently they cannot be properly called ‘spirits.’ They are beings occupying a place between men and spirits, resembling men and spirits, resembling men and women in their organization and form, and resembling spirits in the rapidity of their locomotion.” {Philosophia Occulta, translated by Franz Hartmann.) Later the same author calls these creatures composita, inasmuch as the substance out of which they are composed seems to be a composite of spirit and matter. He uses color to explain the idea. Thus, the mixture of blue and red gives purple, a new color, resembling neither of the others yet composed of both. Such is the case with the Nature spirits; they resemble neither spiritual creatures nor material beings, yet are composed of the substance which we may call spiritual matter, or ether.

Paracelsus further adds that whereas man is composed of several natures (spirit, soul, mind, and body) combined in one unit, the elemental has but one principle, the ether out of which it is composed and in which it lives. The reader must remember that by ether is meant the spiritual essence of one of the four elements. There areas many ethers as there are elements and as many distinct families of Nature spirits as there are ethers. These families are completely isolated in their own ether and have no intercourse with the denizens of the other ethers; but, as man has within his own nature centers of consciousness sensitive to the impulses of all the four ethers, it is possible for any of the elemental kingdoms to communicate with him under proper conditions.

The Nature spirits cannot be destroyed by the grosser elements, such as material fire, earth, air, or water, for they function in a rate of vibration higher than that of earthy substances. Being composed of only one element or principle (the ether in which they function), they have no immortal spirit and at death merely disintegrate back into the element from which they were originally individualized. No individual consciousness is preserved after death, for there is no superior vehicle present to contain it. Being made of but one substance, there is no friction between vehicles: thus there is little wear or tear incurred by their bodily functions, and they therefore live to great age. Those composed of earth ether are the shortest lived; those composed of air ether, the longest. The average length of life is between three hundred and a thousand years. Paracelsus maintained that they live in conditions similar to our earth environments, and are somewhat subject to disease. These creatures are thought to be incapable of spiritual development, but most of them are of a high moral character.

Concerning the elemental ethers in which the Nature spirits exist, Paracelsus wrote: “They live in the four elements: the Nymphse in the element of water, the Sylphes in that of the air, the Pigmies in the earth, and the Salamanders in fire. They are also called Undinge, Sylvestres, Gnomi, Vulcani, &c. Each species moves only in the element to which it belongs, and neither of them can go out of its appropriate element, which is to them as the air is to us, or the water to fishes; and none of them can live in the element belonging to another class. To each elemental being the element in which it lives is transparent, invisible and respirable, as the atmosphere is to ourselves.” {Philosophia Occulta, translated by Franz Hartmann.)

The reader should be careful not to confuse the Nature spirits with the true life waves evolving through the invisible worlds. While the elementals are composed of only one etheric (or atomic) essence, the angels, archangels, and other superior, transcendental entities have composite organisms, consisting of a spiritual nature and a chain of vehicles to express that nature not unlike those of men, but not including the physical body with its attendant limitations.

To the philosophy of Nature spirits is generally attributed an Eastern origin, probably Brahmanic; and Paracelsus secured his knowledge of them from Oriental sages with whom he came in contact during his lifetime of philosophical wanderings. The Egyptians and Greeks gleaned their information from the same source. The four main divisions of Nature spirits must now be considered separately, according to the teachings of Paracelsus and the Abbe de Villars and such scanty writings of other authors as are available.


The third group of elementals is the salamanders, or spirits of fire, who live in that attenuated, spiritual ether which is the invisible fire element of Nature. Without them material fire cannot exist; a match cannot be struck nor will flint and steel give off their spark without the assistance of a salamander, who immediately appears (so the mediaeval mystics believed), evoked by friction. Man is unable to communicate successfully with the salamanders, owing to the fiery element in which they dwell, for everything is resolved to ashes that comes into their presence. By specially prepared compounds of herbs and perfumes the philosophers of the ancient world manufactured many kinds of incense. When incense was burned, the vapors which arose were especially suitable as a medium for the expression of these elementals, who, by borrowing the ethereal effluvium from the incense smoke, were able to make their presence felt.

The salamanders are as varied in their grouping and arrangement as either the undines or the gnomes. There are many famihes of them, differing in appearance, size, and dignity. Sometimes the salamanders were visible as small balls of light. Paracelsus says: “Salamanders have been seen in the shapes of fiery balls, or tongues of fire, running over the fields or peering in houses.” (Philosophia Occulta, translated by Franz Hartmann.)

Mediaeval investigators of the Nature spirits were of the opinion that the most common form of salamander was lizard-like in shape, a foot or more in length, and visible as a glowing Urodela, twisting and crawling in the midst of the fire. Another group was described as huge flaming giants in flowing robes, protected with sheets of fiery armor. Certain mediseval authorities, among them the Abbe de Villars, held that Zarathustra (Zoroaster) was the son of Vesta (believed to have been the wife of Noah) and the great salamander Oromasis. Hence, from that time onward, undying fires have been maintained upon the Persian altars in honor of Zarathustra’s flaming father.

One most important subdivision of the salamanders was the Acthnici. These creatures appeared only as indistinct globes. They were supposed to float over water at night and occasionally to appear as forks of flame on the masts and rigging of ships (St. Elmo’s fire). The salamanders were the strongest and most powerful of the elementals, and had as their ruler a magnificent flaming spirit called Djin, terrible and awe-inspiring in appearance. The salamanders were dangerous and the sages were warned to keep away from them, as the benefits derived from studying them were often not commensurate with the price paid. As the ancients associated heat with the South, this corner of creation was assigned to the salamanders as their drone, and they exerted special influence over all beings of fiery or tempestuous temperament. In both animals and men, the salamanders work through the emotional nature by means of the body heat, the liver, and the blood stream. Without their assistance there would be no warmth.

“Secret Teachings of All Ages”. Hall, Manly P.