Elemental

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Elementals)
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 Jainism[1] and the alchemical works of Paracelsus in the 16th century. There are four elemental categories: gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders.[2] 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. Part of the Philosophia Magna, this book was first printed in 1566 after Paracelsus' death.[3] 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.[4] The following is his archetypal spirit for each of the four elements:[5]

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.[6] 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.

Of the Latin names he used, gnomus, undina, and sylph are all thought to have appeared first in Paracelsus' works, though undina is a fairly obvious Latin derivative from the word unda meaning "wave."

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.

Other Authors and Beliefs[edit]

In his influential De Occulta Philosophia, published in 1531-33,[7] several decades before Paracelsus' Philosophia Magna, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa also wrote of four classes of spirits corresponding to the four elements. However, he did not give special names for the classes: "In like manner they distribute these into more orders, so as some are fiery, some watery, some aerial, some terrestrial." Agrippa did however give an extensive list of various mythological beings of this type, although without clarifying which belongs to which elemental class.[8] Like Paracelsus, he did not use the term "elemental spirit" per se.

The Rosicrucians claimed to be able to see such elemental spirits. To be admitted to their society, it was previously necessary for the eyes to be purged with the Panacea or "Universal Medicine," a legendary alchemical substance with miraculous curative powers. As well, glass globes 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, known as elementals, were said to be longer lived than man but ceased to exist upon death. However, if the elemental were to wed a mortal, they would become immortal. This exception seemed to work in reverse when it came to immortals, though, for if an elemental were to wed an immortal being, the immortal would gain 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.[9]

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 became popular characters in Romantic literature after Paracelsus. Even by the 17th century, elemental spirits after the Paracelsian concept appeared in works by John Dryden and in the Comte de Gabalis.[10] Alexander Pope cited Comte de Gabalis as his source for elemental lore in his 1712 poem the Rape of the Lock.

The Sprites of fiery Termagants in Flame
Mount up, and take a Salamander's name.
Soft yielding minds to Water glide away,
And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental Tea.
The graver Prude sinks downward to a Gnome,
In search of mischief still on Earth to roam.
The light Coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair,
And sport and flutter in the fields of Air.

—Alexander Pope, the Rape of the Lock, Canto 1

Fouqué's wildly popular 1811 novella Undine is one of the most influential literary examples. Another 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. ^ Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Plants, various one-celled animals, and 'elemental' beings (beings made of one of the four elements—earth, air, fire, or water) have only one sense, the sense of touch. Worms and many insects have the senses of touch and taste. -
  2. ^ Carole B. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, p. 38 ISBN 0-19-512199-6
  3. ^ Paracelsus. Four Treatises of Theophrastus Von Hohenheim Called Paracelsus. JHU Press, 1996. p. 222
  4. ^ Paracelsus. Four Treatises of Theophrastus Von Hohenheim Called Paracelsus. JHU Press, 1996. p. 224
  5. ^ Carole B. Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, p. 38 ISBN 0-19-512199-6
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Van Der Poel, Marc (1997). Cornelius Agrippa: The Humanist Theologian and His Declamations. Brill. p. 44. 
  8. ^ De Occulta Philosophia Book 3, Ch. 16, English translation of 1651
  9. ^ William Godwin (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers". p. 23. 
  10. ^ Dryden, John (1970). Nozak, M.E.; Guffey, M.E., eds. The Works of John Dryden,: Plays - The Tempest, Tyrannick Love, an Evening's Love. University of California Press. pp. 423–424. 

External links[edit]