Elemental

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about alchemic elementals. For other uses of the term, see elemental (disambiguation).
Undine Rising From the Waters, by Chauncey Bradley Ives

An elemental is a mythic being in the alchemical works of Paracelsus in the 16th century. There are four elemental categories: gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders.[1] These correspond to the Classical elements of antiquity: earth, water, air and fire. Aether (quintessence) was not assigned an elemental. Terms employed for beings associated with alchemical elements vary by source and gloss.

History[edit]

The Paracelsian concept of elementals draws from several much older traditions in mythology and religion. Common threads can be found in folklore, animism, and anthropomorphism. Examples of creatures such as the Pygmy were taken from Greek mythology.

The elements of earth, water, air, and fire, were classed as the fundamental building blocks of nature. This system prevailed in the Classical world and was highly influential in medieval natural philosophy. Although Paracelsus uses these foundations and the popular preexisting names of elemental creatures, he is doing so to present new ideas which expand on his own philosophical system. The homunculus is another example of a Paracelsian idea with roots in earlier alchemical, scientific, and folklore traditions.

Paracelsus[edit]

In his 16th-century alchemical work Liber de Nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus, Paracelsus identified mythological beings as belonging to one of the four elements. This book was first printed in 1566 after Paracelsus' death[2] and may be pseudepigraphical. He wrote the book to "describe the creatures that are outside the cognizance of the light of nature, how they are to be understood, what marvellous works God has created". He states that there is more bliss in describing these "divine objects" than in describing fencing, court etiquette, cavalry, and other worldly pursuits.[3] The following is his archetypal spirit for each of the four elements:[4]

To be admitted to the acquaintance of the Rosicrucians it was previously necessary for the organs of human sight to be purged with the universal medicine. Glass gloves would be prepared with one of the four elements and for one month exposed to beams of sunlight. With these steps the initiated would see innumerable beings immediately. These beings were said to be longer lived than man but ceased to exist upon death. If however the elemental wed a mortal they would become immortal; though if the elemental left their spouse for an immortal, the spouse would have the mortality of the elemental. One of the conditions of joining the Rosicrucians however, was a vow of chastity in hopes of marrying an elemental.[5]

Twentieth century[edit]

In contemporary times there are those who study and practice rituals to invoke elementals. These include Wiccans, and followers of nature-based religions.

Art and entertainment[edit]

Elementals began to make an appearance in 20th-century fantasy fiction. One notable example is the DC Comics superhero team, The Elementals, composed of the characters Gnome, Sylph, Salamander, and Undine. Elementals also appeared in the 1970s Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. The concept has since been expanded on in numerous other fantasy, computer and trading card games.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  • "Undine." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 November 2006 [1].
  • 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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Carole B. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, p. 38 ISBN 0-19-512199-6
  2. ^ Paracelsus. Four Treatises of Theophrastus Von Hohenheim Called Paracelsus. JHU Press, 1996. p. 222
  3. ^ Paracelsus. Four Treatises of Theophrastus Von Hohenheim Called Paracelsus. JHU Press, 1996. p. 224
  4. ^ Carole B. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, p. 38 ISBN 0-19-512199-6
  5. ^ William Godwin (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers". p. 23. 

External links[edit]