Elementals of nature

From Anthroposophy

Elementals are 'beings of the elements' that make up the physical kingdoms around us, the mineral, plant, animal and human kingdoms. They are known as gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders. Each corresponding to one of the four elements: respectively earth, water, air, and fire.

They are not really spiritual beings because they do not have a spirit, rather they are astral beings with one of the elements. They are beings that remained behind and have not been able to attain a spirit. (FMC00.145)

They are sometimes also called nature beings or nature spirits. Different terminology exists in various Germanic, Norse and other mythology and legends (FMC00.145). Numerous people with natural clairvoyance have observed these beings in nature (FMC00.144 and references below).

Salamanders came into existence as higher animals brough 'down' to earth 'too much', and as a result for example an ape keeps something in the physical organization that can not go back to the group soul at the end of the physical life of that ape.

The elementals are 'steered' in a dynamic yearly process that we can see in the change of the seasons in nature. See FMC00.104 and FMC00.106, combined with FMC00.142C below or FMC00.142D, as well as FMC00.268 below.

Note: in the above, we distinguish these natural and useful 'elementals of nature' from the general term of elementals as astral entities, created by Man and a manifold of activities in the world.


  • for the elementals working in the plant kingdom, see Schema FMC00.009A and Schema FMC00.195 on Plant kingdom
  • human beings release elementals in the lower kingdoms (1923-09-28-GA223 below)
  • ancient European Druid priest culture and knowledge of the Jötuns, the giant-beings and their link to weather processes and the alchemy in nature (as the elemental beings can grow and expand into gigantic size). See also Schema FMC00.249 on Rhythm of a year for alchemy of nature (see: 1923-09-10-GA228 and 1923-09-14-GA228 on Druidic and Trotten mysteries)
    • elemental beings in the root of the plant grow to gigantic power and manifest in the formation of frost, dew and hail. "Elementals living in the root-nature expand into giants who live in all that sweeps the Earth as the destructive hoar frost and other destructive forces of the frost-nature."
    • elemental beings in leaf of the plant grow to gigantic power and manifest in wind and weather and storms. "Elementals working in the growth of the leaves grow to giant size to live as giant elemental beings in the misty storms sweeping the Earth, with all that they contain in certain seasons, the pollen of the plants, etc."
    • Elementals living gently in the flower-forces of the plants, when growing to giant size become the all-destroying fire.


Schema FMC00.145 gives an overview of the 'beings of the elements' and the terminology


Schema FMC00.146 sketches the structural make-up of the elementals. In the table on the right, the subphysical refers to the invisible substances that make up the basic parts of the physical. On the left, the etheric is not a plane or world of consciousness, but the connection between the higher worlds and the emanation in the forms on the physical plane. This is usually regarded as a structural element in the bodily principles of Man or the other kingdoms of nature on Earth. See also note in Discussion area.


Schema FMC00.473 illustrates how the third hierarchy of spiritual beings has its lower bodily elements in the four elements and can be found in nature (compare with Schema FMC00.142C), but also make up and live in Man's lower bodily members. For the relation of the higher spiritual members in Man see also Schema FMC00.472 on Three meetings.


Schema FMC00.268 summarizes how nature's kingdoms transform the higher ethers into nature elementals


Schema FMC00.142C lifts out one aspect from Schema FMC00.142, graphically depicting the origin of elementals as offsprings of the spiritual hierarchies in previous evolutionary stages.


Schema FMC00.144 gives a non-exhaustive list of some books on elementals; more info in the section below.


Lecture coverage and references


An early extensive reference is Paracelsus' book 'Liber de Nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus' (1658)


is the key lecture for an overview on elementals, and talks about

  • The elemental beings too have body and soul, though the body is invisible. Goblins, Gnomes. As physical substance continues upwards as etheric body, astral body, so it does downwards in the direction of the sub-physical members of the Goblins, Gnomes, Sylphs, Undines.
  • Gnomes, Sylphs, Undines are laggard beings of earlier stages of evolution. Salamanders are cut off from animal group souls. They are ego-like.

Elementals are beings that remained behind in evolution, and have not been able to attain a spirit.

.. since the later is the fruit of the earlier, these would then find no bodies suitable for them. They are, as it were, too good for the bodies of a subordinate order and for the other bodies they are too bad. They must therefore live a bodiless existence. They must cut themselves off entirely from the progress of evolution. Why have they deserved this? By reason of the fact that they have not made use of life!

The world is around them; they have possessed senses in order to perceive the world, to enrich the life-kernel and mold it to a higher stage. They do not advance with world evolution, they remain behind at a certain stage. Beings that stay behind at such stages appear in a later epoch with approximately the character of the earlier age. They have grown together with it, but not in the forms of the later epoch. They appear in a later epoch as subordinate nature-spirits.

[ In fact the human race will furnish a whole number of such new nature-spirits in the second half of the Jupiter evolution, for man will have fully completed the fifth principle at the Jupiter stage. For those who have not used the opportunity on Earth to develop the fifth principle there will be no available form. They will appear as nature-spirits... -> see more on Future Jupiter ]

Just the same occurred in the case of our present nature-spirits in the earlier periods of evolution ..


describes the structural constitution of the spiritual hierarchies, and how they map to Man and the kingdoms of nature on Earth, see Schema FMC00.473 for a visual


If one has in mind their physical aspect only, when speaking about the four elements of earth, water, air and fire, then it makes no difference whether one uses these terms or prefers the more recent ones of solid, liquid, aeriform bodies and conditions of heat. When they are referred to today, all one has in mind is how the physical substances within them are either combined or mixed, or else separated.

[earth - gnomes]

However, it must be stressed that everything of a solid, earthen nature has as its foundation an elemental spirituality. Today's ‘enlightened’ people may laugh when reminded that older folks used to see gnomes in everything earthy. However, when knowledge is no longer obtained by means of combining abstract, logical thoughts, but by uniting ourselves through our thinking with the world rhythm, then we shall rediscover the elemental beings contained in everything of a solid earthy nature. The outstanding characteristic of these elemental begins dwelling in solid earth is cleverness, cunning, slyness — in fact, a one-sidedly developed intellect.

Thus, in the solid earth element live spiritual beings of an elemental kind who are very much more clever than human beings. Even a person of extreme astuteness intellectually is no match for these beings who, as super-sensible entities, live in the realm of solid earth. One could say that just as man consists of flesh and blood so do these beings consist of cleverness, of super-cleverness.

Another of their peculiarities is that they prefer to live in multitudes. When one is in a position to find out how many of these astute beings a suitable earthy object contains, then one can squeeze them out as if from a sponge — in a spiritual sense, of course — and out they flow in an endless stream. But counting these gnome-like beings is a difficult task. If one tries to count them as one would cherries or eggs — i.e., one, two, three — one soon notices that they will not be counted that way. When one has reached say three, then there are suddenly a lot more. So counting them as one would on the physical plane is no use; nor is any other form of calculation, for they immediately play tricks on you. Suppose one put two on one side and two on the other in order to say that twice two makes four. One would be wrong, for through their super-cunning they would appear as seven or eight, making out that two times two makes eight, or something like that. Thus these beings defy being counted. It must be acknowledged that the intellect developed by Man in recent times is very impressive. But these super-intelligent beings show a mastery over the intellect even where it is merely a question of numbers.


The elemental beings dwelling in the fluid element — i.e., in water — have particularly developed what is, in Man, his life of feeling and sensitivity. In this respect we humans are really backward compared with these beings. We may take pleasure in a red rose or feel enchanted when trees unfold their foliage. But these beings go with the fluid which as sap rises in the rose bush and participate in the redness of the blossoms. In an intimate way they share feelingly in the world processes. We remain outside of things with our sensitivity, whereas they are right inside the process themselves and share in them.


The elemental beings of air have developed to a high degree what lives in the human will.

It is splendid that the analytical chemist discovers the atomic weight of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, and that he finds out how hydrogen and oxygen combine into water to be further analysed or else how chloride of lime is analysed, and so on. But elemental spiritual beings are active behind all this, and it is essential that Man should acquire insight into their characteristics.


During the period in which Man developed the intellect — as already mentioned, this was from the first third of the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century — these elemental beings were pushed to one side, as it were. While the intellect played a creative part in Man's cultural life there was not much they could do, and because the elemental beings dwelling in solids had, in a certain sense, to hold back and leave the intellect to Man, they also held back the beings of water and air.

But now we live at a time when the intellect has begun to decline within the civilized world; it is failing into decadence. If mankind does not become receptive to what streams towards him from the spiritual world, then the result of this dullness on man's part will be — and there are signs already of it happening — that these elemental beings will gather together to form a kind of union and place themselves under the leadership of the supreme intellectual power: Ahriman.


talks about releasing elementals

When we observe a plant in the usual way we do not in the least sense the presence of an elemental being dwelling in it, of something spiritual; we do not dream that every such plant harbors something which is not satisfied by having us look at it and form such abstract mental pictures as we commonly do of plants today. For in every plant there is concealed — under a spell, as it were — an elemental spiritual being; and really only he observes a plant in the right way who realizes that this loveliness is a sheath of a spiritual being enchanted in it — a relatively insignificant being, to be sure, in the great scale of cosmic interrelationship, but still a being intimately related to man.

The human being is really so closely linked to the world that he cannot take a step in the realm of nature without coming under the intense influence exercised upon him by his intimate relations to the world. And when we see the lily in the field, growing from the seed to the blossom, we must vividly imagine — though not personified — that this lily is awaiting something. (Again I must use men's words as I did before to express another picture: they cannot quite cover the meaning, but they do express the realities inherent in things.) While unfolding its leaves, but especially its blossom, this lily is really expecting something. It says to itself: Men will pass and look at me; and when a sufficient number of human eyes will have directed their gaze upon me — so speaks the spirit of the lily — I shall be disenchanted of my spell, and I shall be able to start on my way into spiritual worlds. — You will perhaps object that many lilies grow unseen by human eye: yes, but then the conditions are different, and such lilies find their release in a different way. For the decree that the spell of that particular lily shall be broken by human eyes comes about by the first human glance cast upon the lily. It is a relationship entered into between man and the lily when he first lets his gaze rest upon it. — All about us are these elemental spirits begging us, in effect, Do not look at the flowers so abstractly, nor form such abstract mental pictures of them: let rather your heart and your Gemüt enter into what lives, as soul and spirit, in the flowers, for it is imploring you to break the spell.

Human existence should really be a perpetual releasing of the elemental spirits lying enchanted in minerals, plants, and animals.

An idea such as this can readily be sensed in its abundant beauty; but precisely by grasping it in its right spiritual significance we can also feel it in the light of the full responsibility we thereby incur toward the whole cosmos. In the present epoch of civilization — that of the development of freedom — man's attitude toward the flowers is a mere sipping at what he should really be drinking. He sips by forming concepts and ideas, whereas he should drink by uniting, through his Gemüt, with the elemental spirits of the things and beings that surround him.

I said, we need not consider the lilies that are never seen by man but must think of those that are so seen, because they need the relationship of the Gemüt which the human being can enter into with them. Now, it is from the lily that an effect proceeds; and manifold, mighty and magnificent are indeed the spiritual effects, that continually approach man out of the things of nature when he walks in it. One who can see into these things constantly perceives the variety and grandeur of all that streams out to him from all sides through the elemental spirituality of nature. And it flows into him: it is something that constantly streams toward him as super-sensible spirituality poured out over outer nature, which is a mirror of the divine-spiritual.


Lectures 7, 8, 9 or 1923-11-02/03/04-GA230 are on the life of the elementals in nature.



Mystery of plant life.

  • Gnomes, which work in roots, are sense organs in which perceiving and comprehending are one. They despise human logic. Through the plant they gaze at the forces of the universe while remaining connected with the earth. The earth threatens them with the danger of becoming frogs or toads.
  • Undines or water-spirits work in leaf formation, living in the moist air. They dream the chemistry of plant life. Their fear is to become fish.
  • Sylphs live in warm air, especially in air movement caused by birds, which give them a feeling of I. They bear cosmic love through the atmosphere, and are light-bearers, weaving archetypal plant forms out of light, which later fall down to the gnomes.
  • Salamanders or fire spirits live in light-warmth which they carry to the blossoms in the pollen, which in turn the stamens carry to the seed-bud.

All this is a male process. Fructification takes place in winter when seeds meet the ideal plant forms received by the gnomes. Goethe's instinctive feeling for this.

  • Fire spirits feel their I in connection with insects which actually live in their aura. Hence comes the power of butterflies to spiritualise matter.
  • Gnomes and undines bear gravity forces of earth upwards to meet light and warmth sent down by sylphs and salamanders.

Wonder of nature enhanced by spiritual science.



Ancient powers of spiritual perception have withdrawn. Late evolved creatures, corresponding to head evolution in man, lack a bone system and are spiritually completed by gnomes.

  • Gnomes form their bodies out of gravity. The acuteness of their attention to the world. They are masked behind our dreams.
  • Undines support animals requiring a bony covering. They are hidden behind our dreamless sleep.
  • Sylphs supply the limb-system to birds. They lie behind man's waking dreams.
  • Fire spirits complete butterflies in their bodily nature. The butterfly, with its fire spirit, resembles a winged man. Fire beings stand behind waking consciousness and thoughts.

Malicious gnomes and undines produce parasites. Relation of excretion to the brain. Malicious sylphs produce poisons, e.g. bella donna. Fire spirits and poisonous almonds. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.



For the gnomes solid earth is hollow and offers no resistance. They experience the different qualities of its substances. Their relation to the moon, and their different appearance at its phases. Their work in carrying over the hard structure from one manifestation to another.

Undines and sylphs find their true life in death. Undines assimilate the colours of phosphorescent water, and offer themselves to the hierarchies. The sylphs carry the astrality of dying birds to the hierarchies.

The fire beings do the same with the gleaming of the warmth ether on the butterflies' wings.

All four classes of elemental beings are astonished at Man's lack of awareness in sleep. They speak to Man in admonishment. Their sayings, which form part of the creative Word.


from the synopsis:

In digestion pod-bearing plants (e.g. beans) do not reach the head. The reversal of the plant cannot properly take place in animal digestion. Elemental spirits of fear counter the animal's satisfaction in digestion. Kamaloka of carnivorous animals.


In Schema FMC00.145, the two diagrams are contradictory, the original typoscripts for the 1905 lecture are to be investigated on nuances versus the common english translation, the 1908 lecture table is advised.

Related pages

References and further reading

Literature overview - see Schema FMC00.144

This section provides confirmation of the elementals working in nature through witness reports from people. As Rudolf Steiner mentioned, miners and farmers sometimes had real experiences with gnomes. Gnomes, sylps, undines and salamanders are called elementals and real beings. We hear of them in many country myths and folk stories. People with supersensible capabilities, say natural clairvoyance, have a vision of these astral beings and their working in the etheric. It's interesting to survey the literature for a sampling of witness reports and experiences (surely non-exhaustive). Besides reports by individuals the books by Marjorie T. Johnson and Thomas Mayer also give a whole range of witness reports and interviews.

  • The first books on seeing elementals came from theosophists Geoffrey Hodson (1925, 1927) and Dora Van Gelder (only published in 1977).
  • In the period 1990-2010 there were books by Ursula Burkhard (1990, 2004), Ernst-Martin Krauss (1992) and Marko Pogacnik (1996), as well as the interviews with Verena Stael Von Holstein published by Wolfgang Weirauch (2002, 2004). And of course there is the Findhorn story by Dorothy MacLean, Eileen Caddy and R. Ogilvie Crombie.
  • In the last decade I mention the work of Thomas Mayer who wrote three books not only of his own experiences but also interviews with other people (2008, 2010, 2012), and Karten Massei with two books (2013, 2017). There are others such as Susan Raven (2012) but the goal here is not to be exhaustive, rather to provide a convincing sampling.
  • And maybe a special place for Marjorie T. Johnson who had seen her first fairy as a six year old, and she never forgot about her experience in 1917 as a six year old with her sister. This account was published in 1936 as 'first-hand accounts of fairies seen in this country', which brought in over a dozen signed accounts during subsequent months. Now in 1927 a Fairy Investigation Society had been set up but it had stopped its activities in the second world war. Johnson became secretary of the resurrected society in 1950. Touching that she wrote and finished her unique book 'Seeing Fairies: Authentic Reports of Fairies in Modern Times, A Book for Grownups' in 1996 aged 85 but could not find a publisher. Finally it got published first in its German translation in 2000. She never saw her book published in English in 2014, as she died before.

Further references

  • Karl Spiesberger: Elementargeister - Naturgeister (1961), published in second edition 1978 as 'Naturgeister Wie Seher sie sehen, wie Magier sie rufen'
  • Adam Bittleston: Prayer and the elemental beings (Article in Golden Blade 1976, p 35-47)
  • Wolfgang Weirauch: 'Die Welt der Naturwesen: Eine Einführung' (Vol 1 and 2, Flensburger Hefte - Naturgeister)
  • Gerhard Reisch: 'Aus der Welt der Elementarwesen', 'From the realm of elemental beings' (2012)