In both spiritual and scientific circles, there is a division between the kingdoms of mineral, plant, animal and human worlds. These kingdoms have clear distinctions in their purpose and range of influence. Each kingdom is intimately connected to the other as energy is moved from the lower kingdoms to the higher, and recycled back into the lower. Each kingdom provides their own unique value and capability, never stagnates and is instead ever changing and evolving. In many cases the Human kingdom is integrated into the animal kingdom, however, some do draw a distinction between the two. The relationship between the kingdoms allows for life to exist as we know it today. The minerals aid in the growth of the plant kingdom, which in turn supports the animal kingdom and onward. When one of these kingdoms is out of balance or corrupted, then the entire chain suffers the consequence. Both a balance and struggle is present inside each kingdom and between the higher and lower kingdoms. This dance between the kingdoms creates life and death, leading to an ever-changing reality. It is constantly evolving.
This article is not concerned with the physical relationship between the kingdoms as such but instead provides insight into the esoteric evaluation of these kingdoms. It discusses the subtle energetic relationship between these kingdoms and the consciousness that is present within each of them. It looks at the correspondence between the kingdoms from a spiritual and metaphysical point of view. In esoteric teachings, it is said that each kingdom and all fragments within it, such as individual plants, animals and minerals each have a spirit of their own. This spirit is gradually fragmented from a greater spirit, providing sense and consciousness to the kingdom as a whole and each individual manifested within it. These spirits are diverse in nature and have come to be known by many names. They are depicted in all forms of art, folklore, mythology and philosophy. On the lower planes, they are known as the elementals and include the sylphs, gnomes, salamanders, undines. Each one one of these corresponding to the elements of air, earth, fire and water respectively. The spirits of the very low have come to be known as demons and the entities of the higher realms, angels. The myth and collective understanding of these entities are diverse and universal. All cultures have depicted these entities in some way of another.
Pneumatology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of spirits and spiritual substance. Manly P. Hall states that the most comprehensive works on the nature of spirits can be attributed to Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, the sixteenth-century philosopher, physician, botanist, astrologer and occultist more commonly known as Paracelsus. Paracelsus believed that the four elements are known to antiquity as earth, the wind, water and fire consists of both a gross material form and a subtle energetic form. The subtle forms of energy within each element resembles a property or principle of the element itself, for example, the fluidity and magnetism of water and the expansive nature of fire. These invisible principles are known as ‘elemental essence’. In the physical plane, the minerals, plants, animal and humans as we perceive it are constructed of the gross material aspect of the four elements. The subtle elemental essences are also present in their construction, however, it is on a different energetic frequency which lies outside of our limited everyday perception. The elemental spirits, on the other hand, consist only of a single type of elemental essence according to Paracelsus. Hence the name of elementals or nature forces has given to them.
Paracelsus credited his knowledge of elemental beings to the sages of the east. Many of his teachings on this subject correspond to Brahmanic philosophy, even though the belief in spirits and elemental beings are universal and to be found in every culture. Concerning the bodies of elementals, Paracelsus divides bodies of flesh, blood and bone into two kinds. The first is the body as we know it, constructed of a physical gross material, while the second is described as an incorporeal or insubstantial flesh. It is this incorporeal flesh that constitutes the bodies of the elementals. Paracelsus states that the elementals have bodies similar in structure and function to that of humans. The elementals are humanoid in shape, they sleep, feed, breed and have their daily experience and responsibilities just as humans do. He also states that the human body consists of various natures, such as the physical body, soul body, mental body, spirit body, etc. The elementals on the other hand only consist of a single nature drawn out of the ether. This ether refers to the spiritual essence of one of the elements of earth, wind, water or fire. The elementals can only move and act within the elemental plane to which they themselves belong. As stated by Manly P. Hall, the elementals are mortal, however, are able to live hundreds of years or even thousands in the case of fire elementals. They cannot be destroyed by the gross element of their own essence. Their etheric essence is very durable, but they are susceptible to illnesses of their planes and damage inflicted on themselves via fighting. The elemental planes outside of their own are just as alien to them as to most humans. Thus they cannot easily interact with other elementals and their corresponding planes. It is believed that the elementals may fight amongst themselves in their respective element, even at times fighting between elemental planes via manifestations on the physical plane, such as salamanders creating lightning to break stone of the earth element.
To our limited sense of reality, it is difficult for many to understand or envision the worlds that the elementals occupy. As stated by Nizida in Nature Spirits or Elementals, ‘These spirits of the soul-world are possessed of aerial bodies, and their world has its own firmament, its own atmosphere and conditions of existence, its own objects, scenes, habitations. Yet their world and the world of man intermingle, interpenetrate, and “throw their shadows upon each other.” says Paracelsus.’ Most elementals are as unaware of humans, as humans are of them as they primarily perceive only their own reality. As stated above, the realms do overlap and faint perception is possible, however, the impact of humans can be even more dramatic as Nizida explains ‘These inhabitants of the elements, or “nature-spirits,” may, or may not be, conscious of the existence of man; oftentimes feeling him merely as a force which propels, or arrests them; for by his will and by his thought, he acts upon the astral currents of the aerial world in which they live; and by the use of his hands he sways the material elements of earth, fire, and water wherein they are established.’ Thus, there is a constant subtle interaction between the gross physical human world and the subtle energetic elemental worlds. Both forces act upon one another and are able to alter certain aspects of the other. They cannot easily cross the boundaries into other elemental planes or the physical reality that we exist in. The Greek mystics do totally agree. They state that the elemental beings are in fact capable of interacting and perceiving the physical reality on which we exist. This is due to their belief that many elemental beings do consist of gross material bodies in some manner. Thus many exist on the physical realm itself but draw energy from their corresponding planes. Those that train their ability to perceive and interact with otherworldly realms have the capability to directly interact with these elemental spirits.
Within each element, unique elemental or nature spirits exist with their function and mode of life. As Hall states, the beings of each element are diverse in nature and function. Just as we have multiple races of human beings and a wonderful diversity of animal species within our physical realm, so too exists a great diversity of elemental beings present within their respective elemental realms. Within the elemental realm of earth, the gnomes exist, interacting with earth elements and plants. As stated by Hall, the word gnome can be etymologically traced to ‘genomus’ meaning earth dweller in greek. These beings include the pygmies, dwarves, dryads, satyrs, hamadryads, etc. Within the realm of the wind element exists the sylphs, who use the air as their vehicle. They create the clouds and build snowflakes in with the moisture given by the undines. At times they take on human form, in order to relate and relay messages. As Hall states, ‘the Muses of the Greeks are believed to have been sylphs, for these spirits are said to gather around the mind of the dreamer, the poet, and the artist, and inspire him with their intimate knowledge of the beauties and workings of Nature.’ The undines include the nymphs, mermaids, oreades, sprites and more. They control the function and course of water in nature and within man and are attributed to emotion and feeling. Many are also capable of taking on human form. The salamanders come in great variety of shape and size. Some are giants robed in fiery cloaks, others small balls of fire, while a others come in almost any shape or form. They are considered the most powerful of all elementals and live the longest. In some cultures, they have been worshipped as gods due to their might. Direct interaction with these beings is not advised due to their fiery nature capable of turning anything to ash.
It is clear that most mythologies and cultures speak of the beings that inhabit different elemental planes. These planes overlap with our physical reality, however, is separate from it. In most cases, they are anthropomorphic or humanoid in shape, function and personal experience. Many of the natural phenomena on earth can be attributed to their actions on their respective plane of existence. Meaning that the spheres of our reality and their reality are interwoven and have a particular purpose. Unlike humans, consisting of multiple energetic bodies, the elementals consist solely of the essence of their reality, with its unique features and functions. In most cases, the various elementals go unperceived due to the different densities or frequencies of the various realms. However, by advancing one’s ability to perceive otherworldly realms, an interaction can be achieved. In many cases these elementals are happy to assist humans in their activity, in other cases, they can be hostile. One thing remains a certainty, and that is that since antiquity to the modern day many people are intrigued by these beings, while others remain adamant that they already have contact.
Cover Image: Joseph Noel Paton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hall, P. and Hall, M.P. (2007) The secret teachings of all ages: An encyclopedic outline of Masonic, hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian symbolic philosophy. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.
Nizida (2005) Nature spirits or Elementals. Edited by Theosophical Society. United States: Kessinger Publishing.