By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
In the darkest part of the forest, a set of eyes follow your progress, you sense footfalls behind you and notice the strange behavior of the crows which seem to flit from tree to tree. Why do they seem to be following you? And ahead, was that a child you saw step behind a tree? Night is falling and the shadows are growing. You feel unnerved but you can’t say why. Perhaps it’s just an overall uneasiness that you’ll be lost, like some Neo-Freudian version of Hansel and Gretel. Or perhaps it’s a fear as you traverse this dark recess of the world that your shiny, dependable, modern notions of safety and order simply do not apply here. However you define the fear, however irrational it may seem, you know you feel as if something is marking your progress, willing you to leave, or perhaps tempting you to stay…forever.
If you’re in the paranormal field long enough you begin to collect stories and accounts that defy easy categorization, locations haunted by creatures other than the spirits of the dead. While anything beyond normal becomes the purview of the paranormal investigator, we appear as a group to be a bit in the dark when it comes to elemental spirits. While researching this article I found many websites devoted to fairies and elves. It became clear that the subject has been plowed and plowed happily by occultists, spiritualists and antiquated middle-ages philosophers. Meanwhile the serious paranormal investigator has kept her distance. And for good reason. As one blogger put it, tell someone you investigate ghosts and you get a sort of grudging respect, but tell them you’re going in search of fairies and you’re likely to end up in a straight- jacket.
But just because little people are out of favor doesn’t mean that we needn’t concern ourselves with the subject as investigators. The Atlantic Paranormal Society (better known as T.A.P.S.) have investigated at least three such locations for the SyFy television series Ghosthunters. The team investigated Leap Castle in Ireland which amongst the ordinary spooks was supposedly an Elemental, with the body of a goat and the stink of rotting flesh which had been conjured during a séance gone wrong. The evidence was inconclusive.
However, on another episode, again in Ireland, the team investigated the ruins of Lisheen Castle. During this investigation, on thermal camera, the team captures what appears to be three diminutive beings that follow behind the investigators who are walking a path in the nearby woods. The creatures seem to disappear without explanation.
In season eight, the team investigates Camp Rutledge, Georgia where several people have drowned in the lake and the campers are frightened by odd occurrences; a location that Hawes speculates is haunted by elementals. In this episode the team captured video of what appears to be two glowing eyes on what could only be an enormous creature. The eyes appear to fade inexplicably and move locations. I mention these episodes because they appear to offer more than simply anecdotal evidence of the existence of elementary spirits, although the amount of anecdotal evidence is abundant and varied as well.
In the book entitled Haunting Experiences, self-proclaimed sensitive and paranormal investigator, Michelle Belanger describes a camp hideaway in the woods of Geauga County, Ohio that is anything but serene. There appears to be a whole host of creatures that haunt the woods. Creatures that appear to enjoy tricking hikers off the paths and into the woods, dark things that fly overhead and spirits that wreak havoc with human emotions; not to mention the strangely anthropomorphic behavior of the vast murder of crows that inhabit the region.
While belief in elementary spirits is out of fashion, readers should note that every culture in the world has folklore regarding nature spirits. The Tibetan and Indian cultures speak to the Nagas, creatures that are half human and half serpent. The Native Americans believe that all life is imbued with spirit energy, whether from deceased ancestors or elemental spirits in the animals, plants and earth around them.
Folklore regarding spirits of the air are abundant. The Slavic’s call them Leshes, for Russians they’re Suibotschniks, for Germans the Leshiye (pronounced Lay-shee). These are thought to be androgynous creatures found in groups who protect the forests and are often disguised as foliage.
The Japanese folklore records a pantheon of supernatural creatures that are thought to inhabit rocks, trees, grass and other natural objects. These creatures are ambiguous regarding humans and need to be appeased often in order to maintain peaceful co-existence (Schumacher, 2013). The African tribes are varied in their belief system, but most agree that there are a host of spirits both of the deceased and of nature, all falling under the supreme Creator spirit.
And of course the U.K. (but especially Ireland) celebrates an unbelievably rich folklore of elementary spirits far too numerous and abundant to name. Among the better known is the tradition of the Sidhe (pronounced Shee) in Ireland, a race of elementals that can be fierce and destructive when provoked. They are known for destroying crops, livestock and attacking children. In antiquity, they were blamed for swapping healthy babies with sick changelings, and murdering lone travelers found on the road at night.
The Tuatha de Danann (pronounced Too-ah day, Thay-nan) also of Ireland were a great host of warrior-like fairies. Driven below by the Milesians, they now live in fairy burghs underground. This fairy army were known for being militant at times, but also known for being fair and just. They were also great composers of music, and much of the Irish folk music is said to either be composed by the fairies or inspired by them. Among the hosts of elementary spirits famous throughout the U.K. are also Leprechauns, Silkies, Will-O-Wisps, Ballybogs, Banshees and Pookas (Fringe Paranormal, 2012).
Certainly before the rise of monotheistic religions, the worship and folklore surrounding elementary spirits was widely accepted and practiced. Every house had a house gnome or brownie, every spring a water sprite. The Greeks categorized all otherworldly spirits as daemon or daimons. The word became demons in the Christian bible, undoubtedly gaining their negative connotation therein.
The worship and idolatry of nature spirits fell out of favor with the rise of Christianity. Forbidden, but not forgotten, nature spirits became, during the Middle Ages, the purview of occultists, necromancers and alchemists who sought to understand and harness the power of nature in order to advance their agendas whether scientific or clandestine (Ghost Hunters, Inc., 2014) . The German, Swiss philosopher, physician and alchemist, Auroleus Phillipus Theostratus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), better known as Paracelsus, is credited for categorizing the Nature Spirits with their specific elements (Page, 2011). And later the Abbe de Villars (1635-1673) wrote a treatise on the subject entitled the Comte de Gabalis from which much that is written about elementary spirits is still drawn (Melton, ed., 2001).
According to de Villars and Paracelsus nature spirits, elementals or elementary spirits, are manifestations of the element from which they are created. There are four main categories of elementals corresponding with the four major elements of the Earth, namely air, water, earth and fire – as suggested by antiquity. Created by the purest molecules of each substance sylphs are made from air, gnomes from earth, undines from water, and salamanders of fire. There are also two other categories, dryads for vegetation and fauns or satyrs representing animal life.
Elementals is a term often used for elementary spirits, sometimes bearing a negative connotation by Spiritualists indicating non-human spirits of an evil nature. Some occultists believe elementals to be sub-human, or below humans in mental and moral stature, while others believe them to be slightly below angels in makeup and status. Being non-human and non-corporeal, they are probably better understood as neither completely good nor evil, but with an ambivalent attitude towards humans, especially those who invade their environment. They may be mischievous or even antagonistic towards people. For the most part elementals are believed to be invisible to anyone but those with clairvoyant abilities, although they can show themselves to one or several people when they choose to do so.
Nature spirits were created before the coming of man, and now reside in the dark, rarely traversed regions of the world. According to de Villars before the fall of man, the elementary spirits were subject to man, and Adam was able to control the spirits as he himself was in harmony with nature. However, after the fall of Adam and his subsequent banishment from Eden, humans lost the ability to control nature spirits. We remain thus disconnected until such time as we regain our harmony with nature (Melton, ed., 2001).
Air SpiritsDe Villars broke down the four elemental classes by their elements and attributes. Sylphs are created of the purest air particles and inhabit the ether. De Villars notes that they are considered human in appearance, though with a somewhat fierce looking human demeanor. Despite their appearance sylphs are considered to be benign and somewhat docile creatures who prefer the pursuit of science to creating disharmony. They are also considered to be mirthful though mercurial in temperament and eccentric in nature. Their love of learning makes them officious toward scholars, with little tolerance for fools. The females of the race are thought to be somewhat masculine in appearance. It is thought that the sylphs affect those who are bad-tempered or spiteful in personality.
On a pleasant note, slyphs are associated with the sounds of bells, happy parties and joyful music and are thought to appear in the form of butterflies. But they have a more sinister reputation as well. Page notes that most documented elemental hauntings involve air elementals. They appear to be able to throw and break objects in much the same way as a poltergeist. In occult literature they are associated with spiritual sexual assault. Where they linger they are thought to cause aggressive behavior and agitation among humans. They are also believed to be responsible for suicidal desires to jump from heights. Perhaps even more sinister, they are sometimes thought to be responsible for cases of abduction and lost-time experiences, and the leaving of fairy rings in fields, behaviors that seem to strongly mimic alien abduction scenarios. These elementals are also considered to be somehow connected to “fairy forts,” hills and stone henges. Animals associated with the presence of sylphs include black dogs, horses, badgers, hares and pigs (Page 2011).
Fringe Paranormal’s Stephen S. writes about the Sidhe (Shee) of Ireland, noting that many of the stories regarding this militant band of “wee folk” describe the Sidhe as being non-gendered, large headed, large-eyed beings who entered homes and abducted people so that they could copulate with them for breeding purposes. He points out that such fantastical stories were as common in ages past as they are now, noting only that nowadays the title has changed somewhat. Instead of blaming the Sidhe for such sinister abductions, now we claim them as aliens (Fringe Paranormal, 2014).
Earth SpiritsOn the land, or more precisely residing underground, are the gnomes; think Gimli the dwarf from Lord of the Rings. They may also reside in deep forests. These diminutive creatures are miners of the deep places; and guardians of treasure troves of minerals and precious stones. These creatures are ingenious engineers, friendly toward human kind and easily commanded. Female gnomes are thought to be small but very attractive, their style of dress quite curious. Since they are believed to live in a constant subterranean gloom, gnomes are considered to be influential to those of a melancholy nature. Also in the gnome category are satyrs, pans, dryads, elves and brownies.
Page notes that anecdotal eye-witness accounts of gnomes report sightings with very small men, usually no more than two to three feet in height, who speak with gruff voices. Female accounts are rare. The literature and folk history regarding gnomes suggest that they have an adversity to man-made metals, making metal objects disappear or appear. While they are adverse to metals they are attracted to crystals and certain types of stones. It has been suggested that they may cause a person to have a sudden, overwhelming fear of being buried alive. Animals are thought to behave strangely when earth spirits are present (Page, 2011).
The seas and waterways, creeks, ponds and quiet springs of the Earth are inhabited by nymphs or undines. Having power over water, they are also associated with rain, mist and fog. Among the nymphs, the females far outnumber the males. The females are so thoroughly beautiful and enchanting that it is said human women pale by comparison. Several traditions describe nymphs as appearing as a woman in white, often with wet, straggling hair that may entice the foolish into entering the water and drowning. Water spirits are traditionally thought to be influential to those of a calm and otherwise unemotional temperament, just as soothing water cools heat. Water sprites and mermaids are included in this classification.
Nymphs are thought to create frequent and otherwise unexplainable plumbing problems when active in an area, and unexplained pools of water are also reported. Those sensitive to undines may become obsessed with water (Page, 2011).
Fire SpiritsSalamanders are the beings created of purest flame, hence they were honored for being the givers of fire. The name salamander derives from descriptions which characterize them as being small lizard-like or dragon-like creatures. They are thought to serve philosophers, though they’re not overly anxious to perform such a role. The females among the salamanders are rarely seen, but said to be more beautiful than any of other elementals, as they are comprised of the purest element. Not only are they made up of the purest element, but de Villars explains that they are, “composed of the most subtle particles of the sphere of fire, conglobated and organized by the action of the Universal Fire, so called because it is the principle of all the motions of nature (Melton, ed., 2001).” Paracelsus speculated that salamanders often appear as small balls or tongues of flame, or a glowing orb over water.
They are thought to be extremely intelligent, having created an advanced society with laws that are just and admirable. Although they live long lives by human standards they are still mortal, and many worship the one Supreme Being with zeal, though have no hope of joining him. Because they reside in, and are made of, the most pure element of flame, salamanders are thought to be influential to those of an optimistic nature – negativity having been burned away presumably.
It is thought that the presence of salamanders may cause unexplained eruption of fires, or with people developing a sudden obsession with fire. Page reports that there have been reports of objects such as furniture suddenly catching fire as well as people witnessing fireballs, self-reflecting orbs of light and tongues of flame. [The phenomena does not include spontaneous human combustion which has been linked to alcohol usage and a high body-fat content, actually being a slow and apparently natural chemical process having nothing of the spontaneous about it.] (Page, 2011)Folklore
According to folklore, all elementals are mortal, and the only path to immortality is to mate with a human. The children born of such a union are thought to be far nobler than any human child could ever be. Many of the greatest minds of antiquity have been declared offspring of such unions, including such auspicious characters as Zoroaster, Alexander, Hercules and Merlin. Not all experts agreed on the role of elementals. Some believed that with their pure natures that they should be considered one step below angels. Still others believed that elementals should be categorized as demons, especially those elementals that were of lower morality. The occultist A.E. theorized that the angels evoked by mediaeval magicians as well as demons that were called during witchcraft sabots to be higher or lower elementals. Others have suggested that the domestic spirits of folklore to be subjugated elemental spirits. Spiritualists have suggested that mischievous spirits that manifest at séances may also be elementals having a bit of fun with their human audience.
During the middle Ages evoking or exorcising elementals was a topic of interest. It was believed that crystals could be used to call elementals. To exercise an elemental one must resort to considering their elementary makeup. To exercise an Earth Element or gnome it was believed necessary to breathe, sprinkle water, burn incense and say a specific prayer to the creatures of the earth. Air spirits were expelled by breathing to the four cardinal points of the earth, and again reciting prayers to the sylphs. To rid oneself of a fire element one had to burn sulphur, salt, incense, camphor and white resin on an open flame. For water a laying on of hands, repeating formulas, mixing salt and ashes of incense as well as other ceremonious rituals had to be performed. During all occasions a special consecration to all of the four elements was thought important.
Elementals can only reside in their own element thus a sylph cannot reside on the earth or a gnome in the water. Each elemental tribe was said to have been assigned a supreme ruler. Djin for the salamanders, the ruler of fire, Necksa for the nymphs, Paralda for the sylphs and Gob of the gnomes. [On a personal observation, notice the similarity between the titles. Djin is the name of the king of the Salamanders, while the Islamic Qur’an speaks of demons by the name of the djinn or jinn.] Each is said to rule at the cardinal point of the compass, where their particular kingdom exists: gnomes to the north, salamanders the south, undines to the west and sylphs to the east.
How to Deal with Elementals
Belanger sums up the fey in this way. “Nearly every culture around the world has tales of beings like this and while the names attributed to them certainly differ, their essential nature remains the same (Belanger, 2009).” Their essential nature appears to be that they are ambiguous toward humanity overall, especially when humanity encroaches on their territory. They are not, nor have ever been human, thus their needs, desires and drives differ. This difference may put them in opposition to man, especially when man invades their territory. However, they are not above curiosity either, and may wish to study or play with humans. Elementals are neither evil nor benign, but they can be appeased. Appeasement appears to be respect for their domain, and an offering of food and/or cream which is always welcome. Belanger reports that she put small cakes out on a tree stump for several days, while asking the spirits verbally to ignore the festivities in the woods for the duration of the weekend, and that this seemed to work well. It appears that if respected, they elementals may agree to compromises wherein people are allowed to use an area respectfully, after which they depart.
Indeed, respect appears to be a key component in dealing with elementary spirits. Older cultures had a natural respect for nature and would often request boons from nature spirits. With the advance of monotheistic religions praying to nature spirits fell strictly out of favor. Modern science undoubtedly sounded the death knoll to notions considered superstitious and thus antiquated. But ancient cultures understood the notion of asking and not demanding. They understood the idea that just because something isn’t seen or understood doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And that perhaps we humans don’t know everything about the universe just yet.
Cockren. A. “Paracelsus.” From Alchemy Recovered and Restored. Alchemy Lab Retrieved August 24, 2014 from http://www.alchemylab.com/paracelsus.htm
Ghost Hunters Incorporated (2014). “Elementals and Nature Spirits.” Retrieved August 24, 2014 from http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeuc2lt/ghosthuntersincorporated2/id32.html
Melton, G. J. editor (2001) Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology 5th edition. Vol. 1. Pages 490-491. Gale Group. Farmington Hills, MI.
Page, Debra (2011). “Elemental Haunting: An Overview for the Paranormal Researcher.” Pacific Paranormal. Retrieved August 24, 2014 from http://www.pacificparanormal.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=62:elemental-hauntings-an-overview&catid=34:academic-articles&Itemid=54
S. Scott (2012) The Difference Between Ghosts and Nature Spirits.Fringe Paranormal Research Guide: Part III Nature Spirits and Fairies. Retrieved August 24, 2014 from http://fringeparanormal.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/fringe-paranormal-research-guide-part-iii-nature-spirits-and-fairies/Schumacher, Mark (2013). Japanese Buddhist Statuary A to Z Photo Dictionary. “Shintō Deities (Kami), Supernatural Animals, Creatures, and Shape Shifters.” Retrieved September 9, 2