As I had previously written about thoughtforms in an earlier chapter, it would behoove us to discuss an entity known as an elemental.
As opposed to a thought form, an elemental is a decidedly different class of being. Like thoughtforms though, they can be beneficent or malevolent; however unlike thought forms, elementals are inherent to the earth and nature Herself. Indeed, in classical magical literature they are thought to exist nearly completely independently of human conditions. To illustrate this point, let’s use water elementals, or as their classically called, Undines, as an example.
Take for instance the feeling of awe humans experience when standing near or under a waterfall or a big river. The experience exists whether or not we consciously evoke it. It is as though the experience is compelled simply by the spirit of the natural environment in which a human traffics. It is not a constructed or willed experience; it simply happens resultant from proximity to these beings.
To use a different example, let’s consider the spirits of fire. When we stand or sit around a campfire late at night and all goes quiet, say for the crackling blaze, that feeling of peace and tranquility is brought on by the elemental of fire, or as they are classically called, Salamanders. Conversely, conjure up, if you will, the terror of a forest or house fire. In such situations, elementals abound interacting with human consciousness sparking fear. These are of the more destructive kind, but none the less the elementals impact on the human consciousness, simply through proximity, is noteworthy. It is of note, that proximity to an elemental does not necessarily indicate that it is directly interacting with you. Salamanders in particular are not particularly fond of humans and if the classical literature is to be believed, take great pains to conceal themselves from the vast majority of us.
Naturally, this is only the view of the classical literature, but students and practitioners of the magical realm can lean on the work of thinkers like Ralph Abraham, Terrence Mckenna and Rupert Sheldrake, particularly in their book, Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness, to flesh out the three basic ways the aspirant conceptualize entities. The first of these potential conceptualizations would be something akin to crypto zoology, in such a view these entities are actually physical beings, very much like bigfoot or the loch ness monster. This seems to be the most unlikely, or perhaps the least interesting of possibilities when it comes to the classification of such beings.
The second way to conceptualize these creatures is effectively a Jungian proposition. As Terrence Mckenna put it, Jung considered entities like elementals as, “autonomous fragments of psychic energy that have temporarily escaped from the controlling power of the ego.” Effectively a psychological approach, and while limited in that respect, its utility is immediately useful for those who wish to understand their role in the larger psycho-social environment in which they exist. While it effectively explains the existence of such entities as dependent on our capacity to conceive of them, indeed as objects and impulses beneath the conscious mind, it is a far more likely proposition than the crypto-zoological approach. That said, it is certainly not the only way to explain the phenomena.
The third, to conceptualize these entities is that they are both nonphysical and completely independent of being perceived by human beings. This, McKenna posits, tends to be the position taken by shamans and magicians outside of the chaos magickal paradigms. Indeed, this is the position taken by many of us who have had the most contact with such beings. Somewhat needless to point out, this position tends to rail against the very foundations of the modern scientific enterprise which has been actively seeking to eradicate any notion of spirit from the physical world. If we are brash enough to consider that we may have been sharing this planet with a communicating, intelligent, autonomous set of disincarnate beings, we have to assume that science as a tool to explain the “true” nature of things, has failed in a very serious way. Either that, or worse, we admit the limits of rationalism in terms of its usefulness as a thought model for explaining the world around us.
There is a fourth way to conceptualize these entities and for my money it is the most interesting, and perhaps most immediately useful way to do so. This conceptualization would consist of assuming that these entities are both nonphysical and autonomous while simultaneously positing that they inhabit spheres of mind and are brought into a sort of existence through the interaction with human beings. This is a sort of marriage of the psychological and shamanic approach.
As we move forward, I will be writing in agreement with this view, that these beings are simultaneously aspects of the human mental experience as well as autonomous, non-physical or semi-physical, and capable of intelligent communication. I’m hesitant to say that they are “part” of the mind as to insulate myself from a reductionist point of view, however there is tremendous utility in examining such phenomena as we are about to discuss from the vantage of psychology.
Alternatively, considering these entities as truly incorporeal and autonomous spirits is an intensely valuable point of view, one on par with that of the psychological approach. I submit that it doesn’t really matter if this lens of reality is true or not, because this way of conceptualization covers all of our bases.
By assuming such entities are psychological constructs, we can better understand the foundational aspects of our minds and subjective experiences.
Conversely, by assuming such entities are “real”, in the sense that they exist totally apart from our mental landscape, we can still rely on the wisdom such beings can present us, thereby growing and developing the self. This process of discovery and growth moves us closer to, what the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung might call, individuation. In assuming the autonomy of these entities, however, we insulate ourselves from any possible oversights and dangers that may present themselves if we were to simply construe these beings as simply mental states. This helps us to keep our wits about us as we interact with fundamentally foreign beings and states of mind. One would do well to respect their angels as well as their demons.
In reference to spiritual phenomena in general, one of the most famous mystics of the past 200 years, Aleister Crowley said in his book Gems From the Equinox, “It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow. Students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.” It is in that spirit that we take the lens that these beings should be treated as real, not only because that lens is interesting, but also because it is mechanically and practically convenient to conceptualize them as being so.
Returning to the topic at hand, if we look at the classical literature, the best resource to understand elementals in a western context is probably the 16th-century alchemist Paracelsus. By combining his training in medicine with his interest in theology and alchemy, Paracelsus became a giant of the early Renaissance. While he wrote extensively on medical issues, he is most well known in the occult scene for his books on spirits, theology and the entities known today as elementals.
The idea he expounded upon proposed that there have existed beings all throughout history which are constructed of one particular nature. He ascribed these natures to the varying elements of the classical world.
In his writings, Paracelsus lists 4 major categories of these beings; undines, sylphs, gnomes, and salamanders. These were beings of water, air, earth, and fire respectively. These entities were thought to exist somewhere between creatures and spirits. They were not quite angels but also not quite human. We might think of them as akin to fairies, as their habits are similar (Don’t worry, we’ll get to fairies in the next chapter). Good examples of similar spirits include the land spirits of Tibetan Buddhism and the Ekendriya Jiva of the Jains.
In fact, it might not be too far of a stretch to say that this concept actually originated in the eastern world as Paracelsus himself reportedly garnered his information from eastern mystics.
To reiterate, as far as classical literature is concerned, elementals are independent actors that have an existence of their own regardless of human interaction with them. Magicians generally had to perform operations of evocation, invocation, or travel into the places of earth that elementals frequent in order to get in touch with them.
In general, elementals don’t mix with other elementals of differing natures. In simple terms, that is to say that undines do not play well with salamanders. The rule of thumb is that each independent class of elemental entity tends to stick to its own kind. As best I can tell, this is not due to an inherent animosity between such creatures, rather, it seems that they simply find their brethren of differing natures to be incompatible.
Much akin to a human attempting to visit Mars without a space suit and good supply of oxygen, it would be extraordinarily difficult for a sylph, a being of air, to visit the salamanders, a being of fire. As the environmental experience would simply prove to be overwhelming for the constitution of any human on Mars, so too should it be understood that beings of air cannot exist in the realms of fire. The same rationale can be applied to all other elemental beings.
This having been said, it would be a mistake to think that the elementals themselves live in the gross elements present in the physical plane. The Salamanders, for instance, do not live within the actual flame. Rather they live in what classical occultists call the ether of fire. The ether is not the physical directly, but nor is it the astral or spiritual. It is another sort of in-between place. It is a mixture of the gross flame itself and the associations that flame inherently possesses.
To use Jungian psychology speak, the salamander elemental would appear to us much like a personified Archetype of fire. The psychic pattern of being that fire represents and has correspondence to, including: passion, love, willpower, action and so on.
At the behest of a competent magician, elementals may come out of their etheric realms into contact with one another on the gross material plane as they are not strictly speaking “spirits”, but semi-incarnate beings who can pass between the worlds as they see fit. This particular phenomenon is perhaps most dramatically illustrated by the famed Jack Parsons, luminary of American rocket science and an occultist following in the footsteps of the European tradition.
In a story that only gets stranger the more you look into it, Parsons hatched a plan with the future founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, to use the magickal techniques of Aleister Crowley combined with an arcane form of angelic magic known as Enochian to summon an air elemental in order to assist with the conception and birth of a magical child. Parsons and Hubbard believed that this child would then usher in a new age for humanity. This undertaking would later be dubbed the infamous ‘Babalon working’.
Parsons would go on to meet a woman by the name of Marjorie Cameron and he became convinced that Ms. Cameron was the elemental he had endeavored to summon.
Whether Marjorie Cameron thought of herself as an elemental is suspect, but Parsons seemed certainly convinced. In a letter to Aleister Crowley Parsons wrote, “One thing I seem to have my elemental. She turned up one night after the conclusion of the operation and has been with me since, though she goes back to New York next week. She has red hair and slant green eyes as specified.”
Aleister Crowley was also a proponent of utilizing the term “familiar spirits” in describing actors the magician would pull into their lives to fill a given role in a magical operation. This seems to track fairly closely to what Parsons decided to deem an elemental. The example that comes to mind is Crowley’s description of summoning spirits of protection to assist in the recovery of a stolen watch. By an act of will (willing his watch to be recovered) and a ritual summoning (picking up the phone and ringing the cops) an elemental was summoned to assist the magician in the recovery of the precious watch.
It is fairly certain he used this rather mundane example to illustrate a mechanical point, none the less, in my estimation it covers the topic fairly succinctly.
That said, it is fairly unusual for elementals to manifest in such ways in the classical literature. In fact, by all accounts, elementals have a tendency to have what we might think of as a physical body of their own, not needing a human vessel to manifest. The bodies of elementals are not so physical as the bodies of our fellow humans, in that we can touch them, but rather they are physical in a more subtle way. The best way to think about this might be to consider the smell of a sweet flower. It is not as though we can reach out and grab the smell from the air. Likewise, the smell is not completely inaccessible to us. It is instead somewhere in-between physical and nonphysical.
“Nay!” I hear you protest. “A smell is but the brains interpretation of the physical apprehension of gross material as it passes through our nostrils.” And in saying so you would be correct. None the less, the smell itself arises resultant from a mixture between the physical carrier of the smell and a function of consciousness interacting with it. Elementals are generally understood to be much the same; not quite physical but not quite metaphysical. In classical literature anyway, they somehow seem to be able to occupy both spaces, as they see fit.
As their nature is somewhere between physical and spiritual, they therefore cannot be said to be human or animal, but likewise they are not of the class of angels or thought forms. They exist in an in-between kind of state.
Perhaps as a result of this semi-physical existence, such creatures seemingly have a need to arrange themselves into what we might think of as hierarchies of power. Though the organization of elemental societies is substantially different from what we humans might recognize as hierarchies of power, there are nonetheless levels of power that are recognized within the levels of each sub grouping. One might consider the way honey bees or ants have a queen and defined roles within their individual collectives as a similar state of affairs. Consider that one’s hunger might outweigh one’s need for comfort thus prompting the afflicted to get out of bed and make breakfast.
To get a better grasp on the nature of such entities, we’ll break each major category down one by one to draw out a better understanding of the individual nature of such beings. Simply to reiterate the elemental classifications are Gnomes, Undines, Salamanders, and Sylphs. For our explanatory purposes we shall start with the grossest of classes, the gnomes, and finish with the most ethereal, the Sylphs.
Beginning our exploration, it is of value for us to first consider the particular elemental of Gnomes. Most probably the closest to humans in constitution for they are the nearest to the physical in their appearance. The natural habitat of the Gnome tends to be the ether of earth, the terreous ether, itself. Moving amongst the energies of the soil and stones of our planet, Gnomes are said to have the shortest lifespan of any elementals although they can live in various ranges from anything to 300 to over a thousand years.
This was the view of one of the giants of occultism, the Canadian mystic Manly P. Hall. Hall, for his part, was a prolific lecturer and writer on all things mystical and magical. His writings included a legendary book, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, which was published in 1928. The book itself is an absolutely enormous encyclopedia of magical and mystical phenomena. It was truly a triumph, but I digress.
Like the other classes of elementals, the Gnomes have several subclasses, ranging from what we might consider to be Pygmies (Creatures who have an affinity for gems and stones), to tree and forest Sprites who are quite devoted to the flowers and plants in their surrounding areas. The classical view of Elves falls into this class of forest sprites and can be considered Gnomes in their own right although the term may seem strange to the modern reader.
The personalities of such creatures tend to be disputed amongst varying authorities, but one pivotal note of agreement is on these creature’s propensity for loyalty. It is said to be hard won, but once earned, Gnomes of all types are purported to be loyal to a fault. Though authorities like Hall warn that this loyalty is not all-encompassing. Attempting to trick the Earthen elementals or to utilize their assistance for selfish means can backfire horrifically. To quote The Secret Teachings of All Ages,
“The magi were always warned, however, never to betray the trust of the elementals, for if they did, the invisible creatures, working through the subjective nature of man, could cause them endless sorrow and probably ultimate destruction… if he sought to use their aid selfishly to gain temporal power they would turn on him with unrelenting fury.”
Fortunately, though, for the selfless magician, these difficulties are easily sidestepped when operations are undertaken with a pure heart and a desire for good. This goes double when applying the psychological interpretation and undertaking operations of health and healing. A clear heart and cheerful disposition are essential for maximum wellness. Even modern medical science shows us that happy people have stronger immune and healing responses than those of us who are distressed, depressed, stressed or angry.
Each subset of elemental is restricted to working on the human or animal body by dealing with its own etheric substance. For gnomes in particular, this area of specialty is the bones. It is said (though I cannot confirm this through personal experience) that broken bones are aided greatly by the assistance from the energy of gnomes as they have a propensity to repair the mineral damage caused by traumatic injury.
As evident, the elemental concentration of gnomes is primarily earth, which makes such creatures marvelous to work with when one requires a bit of physical stability. Whether that is working with the body to attain health or with the material of the physical world to manifest prosperity (for self and others), these little creatures called gnomes can alert us to our bodies’ general situation and prove to be invaluable allies.
It is said that the appearance of Gnomes varies greatly but those who proclaim themselves to have the sight, describe such creatures as short and spindly beings who wear a strange mixture of what we might consider clothes. These garments sometimes are said to grow with the being as it ages, much like the fur of animals. Having only interacted with such beings through my own astral ventures, I cannot personally confirm this description so I would advise the reader to take any and all descriptions relating to physical traits with a hefty dose of salt.
Unlike gnomes, Undines or Nymphs (the elementals of water) are said to be much more similar in stature to humans, though there is noted variance in size depending on the dwelling place of each individual elemental; This variety in size of the undines varying greatly from the types that inhabit tiny ponds and creek beds, to those who flow amongst the great rivers and wild oceans of our esteemed little planet.
Like the Gnomes, Undines share a great love for flowers and natural plants. This seems to stem, pardon the pun, from the fact that plants make use of both the terreous ether (in their rooting) and liquid ether (for their nutrients) and as such both classes of elementals are fond of them in their own way.
Remarkably, there is a tremendous deal of similarity among the descriptions of such beings left to us by cultures long since faded into antiquity namely that undines have a capacity to appear human-like and to walk among men and women as in the Selkies of the Scots and the Mermaids of the Greeks. Naturally though, these jaunts outside of the Liquid Ether are short lived and it is often reported that these excursions do not last for very long intervals before such beings depart back to their natural realms.
Undines themselves are generally described as possessing great beauty as well as being quite energetic and generally helpful in disposition towards humans and other animals. If we hastily apply the psychological model, we might consider that the Undines represent our capacity for emotive experience as well as our ability to apprehend beauty in its myriad forms.
It would do us well to note that this disposition stands in contrast to a similar though a markedly different class of beings known as Sirens. Where undines tend to be benevolent in disposition, sirens have of a much more malevolent tilt. In mythology Sirens are often depicted as having a tendency to seduce and ultimately drown sailors by capitalizing on the lust of the seafaring men. The etymological roots of the word actually come from a Greek word meaning something like “grave ornament”, hinting that Sirens, while strikingly captivating, conceal immanent death with their beauty.
Undines on the other hand have been known to aid those lost at sea and play alongside human ships, generally tending to be of a much more beneficent nature.
Further, Undines are generally thought to be ruled by a king or queen. When writers assume the ruler of Undines to be a Queen, she is generally described as a sort of mermaid goddess as depicted in the work of authors like Franz Bardon. She is called the spirit Istiphul.
In other books and essays, the ruler of the undines is listed as a sort of merman king figure called Necksa. Whichever entity is listed as the leader of the Undines is largely dependent on who one is reading
It does one well to consider that elementals are like honeybees in terms of their organization on larger scales. If the lesser undines have discrete personalities dependent on environmental consideration (like how river nymphs are quite distinct from ocean undines) the Queen/King/Ruler represents a totality of personalities. A “pure” personality if you will, the Queen/King encompasses the traits of all the varying classes of undines and as such may prove extremely beneficial to work with in a ceremonial setting.
Insofar as their classification goes, undines are particularly useful to evoke for work concerning emotional fortitude and evolution. Their watery nature as well corresponds to the mystical application of water, that is to say, clear seeing. Water’s mythological role is generally one of a purifying nature so undines can prove immensely helpful in wiping the dross from one’s eyes to attain both mental and emotional clarity in order to behold the emotional depth and beauty of our everyday experiences.
Somewhat more difficult to work with in a ceremonial setting are the salamanders, the elementals of fire. Humans are very able to walk on the earth and swim in the water, but fire is an element that is simply inaccessible for our constitutions.
Magicians through the ages have found quite a few ingenious workarounds for this issue of inaccessibility by choosing to evoke such beings in the presence of heavy smoke from incense. As the smoke is the closest thing to fire the human body can interact with without being harmed, this work-around provides a comfortable middle ground for both salamanders and humans.
Physical safety aside, if Paracelsus is to be believed, such beings are perhaps the most dangerous of all the elementals and he earnestly warned his students against studying and interacting with them. The reason being largely that any potential benefits gained in mastering such volatile beings is simply not worth the risk of being burned, metaphorically as well as literally.
As the salamanders personify the element of fire, they tend to be correlated to the aspects of Man that deal primarily with the willpower of the individual, perhaps the most difficult of all the aspects of psychology to truly tame. As far as use in ceremony goes, attempted mastery of salamanders tends to lead either to melancholia (as the will is rendered impotent by improper application) or mania (as fiery passions overwhelm the will of the practitioner and take on lives of their own). In either event, both outcomes are decidedly unsatisfactory for those who would rule over themselves as true magicians or alchemists.
The physical descriptions surrounding the salamanders themselves vary somewhat considerably, though in medieval literature they are often referred to as looking very much like actual salamanders. Manly P. Hall notes that in Paracelsus’s work, Philosophia Occulta, he speaks of their varying forms including as balls of flame or lines of fire, rolling over fields and valleys at their pleasure.
Paracelsus and Hall spoke as well of other classes of Salamanders, namely the Acthnici, who’s appearance is something like an orb of light or flame that floats over water in the evenings. Hall in particular speaks of other groups that conceptualize such beings as literal giants, draped in sheets of flaming armor.
He goes on to say that salamanders are best evoked by friction (as in the striking of a match or tinder) and the sparks that derive from such an action behave as a doorway between our realm and theirs. Consider as well the metaphorical friction of applying oneself to a project worth completing.
Subtler still than the friction evoked salamanders or the beings of the aqueous or terreous ethers are the beings of air, the sylphs.
In one of the last discourses of the legend of philosophy, Socrates, as recorded by Plato, it is written of the Sylphs that, “…the air is used by them as the water and sea are by us, and the ether is to them what the air is to us…Also they have temples and sacred places in which the gods really dwell, and they hear their voices and receive their answers, and are conscious of them… and they see the sun, moon, and stars as they really are…”
Perhaps the highest and most regal of all the elemental beings, Sylphs are thought to have much to do with the oracles of peoples long passed, delivering wisdom from on high. Hall notes that though Sylphs were thought to dwell in the airy ether, Plato and Socrates seemed to think that their true home was atop the tallest mountains. He goes on in his work to speculate that the Muses of the Greeks were considered to be sylphs, as they tended to gather about the minds of poets and artists, inspiring them with divine knowledge of the workings of nature.
Occasionally said to occupy a human form, but only for very short periods of time, the physical descriptions of the sylphs vary though not much has been written on the subject of their physical appearance when humans have been lucky enough to chance an encounter with them. Of general agreement is that Sylphs tend to be considerably smaller than the average framed human male and only take physical form for limited periods of time.
Somewhat remarkably, unlike other classes of elementals, Hall goes out of his way to note how Paracelsus recalled an incident where a human being was permitted to live alongside a Sylph community for a “considerable period” of time. What he means by this is unclear though it stirs the imagination.
In temperament, sylphs are said to be somewhat eccentric and quite changeable. It has been speculated that similar temperament of eccentric energy, found in men and women of genius is resultant from cooperation and close contact with the sylphs. This might correspond to the flickering nature of the untamed mind, jumping from one object of intellectual interest to the next. A sylph contact might prove beneficial in stabilizing the currents of thought that course through our experience and perhaps even aid the aspirant in making new inquires into hitherto unconsidered subjects.
The practical application of summoning sylphs in magickal theory relates to both the thinking ability of humanity (as sylphs are said to aid this when summoned) as well as patterns of weather and gasses related to the human body. For weather magick, there is perhaps no better elemental to call upon for aid, particularly when sylphs are sought out in concert with undines. Rain, storms and oceanic forces are best affected by the aid of such beings.
It is worth noting that Sylphs have some rather striking similarities to what we might think of as fairies.
In an effort to provide commentary on one of the stranger books on medicine of the 19th century, entitled Philosophy of Magic Prodigies and Apparent Miracles, the Scottish doctor of medicine and translator Anthony Thomson attempted an etymological exploration of the term “fairy”. He wrote that fairies were “supposed to be diminutive aerial beings, beautiful, lively and beneficent in their intercourse with mortals…”
Said to live in an otherworldly realm and only appearing for short intervals, they seem to have much in common with the classical conceptualizations of the sylphs. This notwithstanding, the two classes of beings differ in substantial ways, primarily in the fact that while elementals are mostly of a general sort, fairie tend to be more specialized beings, as we shall see in the next chapter.
Things get a bit trickier to understand when a magician creates a thought form/servitor and imbues it with an elemental essence. One first creates the astral shell of the thought-form via sigil work as discussed in the last chapter, then one invokes an elemental essence into it to act as a pilot. Alternatively, the magician could create a thought form and imbue some of his/her own essence into it to give it a sense of autonomy. A good example of similar phenomena is the idea of Tulpamancy which is very much like creating a golem as discussed in the Hebrew text The Sefer Yetzirah. The key idea to note is a slight operational difference where, instead of putting an elemental essence into the thought form, the magician uses an aspect of their own essence. This is in general ill-advised and we will discuss it when we get to the section on Tulpas.
 Aleister Crowley, Gems From the Equinox. (San Francisco, CA. 2007.) 277
 Carole Silver, Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. (New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 1999), 38.
 Aleister Crowley. Magick: Book 4 and Liber ABA Second Revised Edition. (York Beach, ME. Samuel Weiser). 186.
 Manly P. Hall. Secret Teachings of All Ages. 106
 Liddell, Henry George, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones, and Roderick McKenzie. 1940. A Greek-English lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0057:entry=*seirh/n
 Manly P. Hall. Secret Teachings of All Ages. 108-109
 Plato. The Dialogues of Plato. Trans. B. Jowett. (London. Oxford University Press, 1924). 258-259.
 Hall, Secret Teachings of All Ages. 108
 Anne Joseph Eusebe and Eusebe, Baconniere-Salverte, Philosophy of Magic Prodigies and Apparent Miracles. Trans, Anthony Thomson. (London. Schulse and Co. 1846). 124