An elemental spirit is a mythic being described in occult and alchemical works from around the time of the European Renaissance and particularly elaborated in the 16th century works of Paracelsus. There are four elemental categories: gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders….
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.
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.
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. 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. The following is his archetypal elemental spirit for each of the four elements:
- Gnome, being of earth
- Undine, being of water
- Sylph, being of air
- Salamander, being of fire
- by Soul Century and WIKI