Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
A painting of pagan mythology

The Four Elemental Beings of Earth According to Paracelsus


Pagan mythology could keep a magic cartography of our relations to nature.

Since time immemorial, paganism and esoteric philosophy have sustained the existence of elemental beings that coexist with us on astral planes or in a dimensional superposition –– these are only perceptible to some people, generally children, shamans or the initiated.

Paracelsus, the great Swiss alchemist, one of the forefathers of modern medicine, classified these beings in accordance with each element of Earth (4 appears to be the structural pattern of natural order): gnomes (earth), undines (water), salamanders (fire) and sylphs (air). Man’s number is 5, and in him the presence of the fifth element intervenes, usually assigned to ether (as a psychic substance that extends telluric and material evolution).

This classification of elemental beings can be taken literally by some, in the sense that an abundant number of legends exist that depict encounters with elemental beings that are usually intrinsically related to Mother Earth or the Mother Goddess, almost as guardians or secret holders. Thus, these encounters, in traditions like that of the Celts, are usually perceived as auspicious, although they can lead to tortuous developments as ambition intervenes in the tale. In a parallel sense, they suggest a symbolic cartography of the processes and the energies of nature that establish the order or harmony in the relations between the different elements and the different realms —somewhat similarly to the way in which astrology can be understood as a map of destiny, as a symbolic map of the foundational archetypes or the rector patterns.

A drawing of women, each with one of the four elements on their head

In his book Mermaids, Sylphs, Gnomes and Salamanders: Dialogues with the Kings and Queens of Nature, William R. Mistele introduces these mythical beings, by contextualising their symbolism to establish a scheme of psycho-behavioural relations.

Gnomes, the beings more closely linked to the earth, embody the desire to work with physical matter, transforming the world so that things can have a truly lasting value. They are the bastions, the yearning, the support, the heat of a household. At times their fidelity might seem stubborn, but they are always brave.

Mermaids —or undines—, the spirits of the water, increase the ability to feel and have access to love —water is the supreme medium to transmit and amplify. They are beings of a refined sensuality, connected to dreams and with the ludic appearance of nature (seduction, erotic joy and concealment).

The sylphs, the beings and spirits of air, are arrogant expressions of the word, of the ascendant energy; sublime, invisible and light. They are beings of great beauty and harmony, physical and intellectual, they generally dominate the arts. Clarity, transparency and detachment are some of their qualities.

Salamanders, fire manifestations, are the expression of will, power, intensity, and ardour (spiritual and erotic). Her incendiary nature can make them volatile and dangerous for those who interact with them —if they don’t have earth qualities.

Whether we only see these beings as symbols of the structure of nature or as subtle beings with which we can form specific relations, this classification allows us to form structure the different energies and patterns of nature. Each thing is the result of contest between the elements —balanced or unbalanced, the dance of the complements—and from each thing and each relationship we can obtain fire, water, earth, air, as needed. This understanding brings us closer to a vision of nature as a complex entity that expresses itself in different forms, but that keeps an order and a secret language —that, if we access it, it promises to hand us a treasure (the jewels that elemental beings keep).

Related Articles