Elementals of nature

From Anthroposophy

Elementals of nature 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). Rudolf Steiner described how in the past, miners and farmers had real experiences with gnomes.

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 (1908-05-16-GA102).

The elementals are 'steered' in a dynamic yearly process that we can see in the change of the seasons in nature that one can call 'alchemy of nature', see also relationship with the Third Hierarchy (see description on Rhythm of a year#1916-04-11-GA167). See also 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.


  • nature elementals working in the plant kingdom
    • see Schema FMC00.009A and Schema FMC00.195 on Plant kingdom
    • gnomes and undines bear gravity forces of Earth upwards to meet light and warmth sent down by sylphs and salamanders (1923-11-02-GA230)
  • nature elementals working in the animal kingdom
    • undines support animals requiring a bony covering, sylphs supply the limb-system to birds. Fire elementals complete butterflies in their bodily nature (1923-11-03-GA230)
  • human beings release elementals in the lower kingdoms: "Human existence should really be a perpetual releasing of the elemental spirits lying enchanted in minerals, plants, and animals" (1923-09-28-GA223)
  • malicious gnomes and undines produce parasites. Malicious sylphs produce poisons, e.g. bella donna. Fire spirits and poisonous almonds. (1923-11-03-GA230)
  • 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.


  • other terms used: earth spirit or being, kobold (1923-11-04-GA230), pigmy (Paracelus), goblin, troll, dwarf)
  • nature of being
    • elemental beings of the solid element earth
    • consist of super-cleverness, much more clever than human beings. Another of their peculiarities is that they prefer to live in multitudes.(1922-05-28-GA212); despise human logic (1923-11-02-GA230)
  • and mineral kingdom
    • form their bodies out of gravity (1923-11-03-GA230); our solid Earth-structure arose from the experiences of the gnomes of the Old Moon .. they work in carrying over the hard structure from one manifestation to another (1923-11-04-GA230)
    • relationship of gnomes with the phases of the moon, their role in the reunion of the Earth and moon (1923-11-04-GA230)
  • and plant kingdom
    • work in roots of plants, are sense organs in which perceiving and comprehending are one (1923-11-02-GA230)


  • other terms used: nymph, water-spirit or being, (mermaid, siren)
  • elemental beings dwelling in the fluid element, in water; have particularly developed what is, in Man, his life of feeling and sensitivity (1922-05-28-GA212) They are hidden behind Man's dreamless sleep (1923-11-03-GA230)
  • and plant kingdom
    • work in leaf formation, living in the moist air. They dream the chemistry of plant life. Their fear is to become fish. (1923-11-02-GA230)
  • and animal kingdom
    • support animals requiring a bony covering (1923-11-03-GA230)


  • other terms used: air spirits or being, sylvestre (elve, fairie)
  • elemental beings of air have developed to a high degree what lives in the human will (1922-05-28-GA212) They lie behind Man's waking dreams. (1923-11-03-GA230)
  • 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. (1923-11-02-GA230)
  • supply the limb-system to birds. (1923-11-03-GA230) and carry the astrality of dying birds to the hierarchies (1923-11-04-GA230)


  • other terms used: fire elemental, fire spirit or being, vulcanus
  • nature of being
    • whereas gnomes, sylphs, undines .. are beings which have remained behind before, salamanders are by-products from the Earth stage of evolution and hence have a link with humanity and the fourth I-principle (1908-05-16-GA102)
    • salamanders in a certain way are human, since they have partially developed the fourth 'I' principle, but they are not advanced enough to assume human shape (1908-05-16-GA102)
  • and plant kingdom
    • live in light-warmth which they carry to the blossoms in the pollen, which in turn the stamens carry to the seed-bud.
  • and animal kingdom
    • feel their I in connection with insects which actually live in their aura. Hence comes the power of butterflies to spiritualise matter (1923-11-02-GA230). The butterfly, with its fire spirit, resembles a winged Man (1923-11-03-GA230)
  • and humanity
    • fire beings stand behind Man's waking consciousness and thoughts (1923-11-03-GA230)
    • human beings leave harmful salamanders behind
      • [not only] from countless animals such I-like beings called salamanders remain behind ... salamander-like beings come about even today in a strange manner, when certain human natures of specially low order, who nevertheless will certainly incarnate again, leave behind a part of their lower nature. There are such men. No human being, today, of course, can be so evil that he falls completely out of evolution, but he can leave part of his nature behind. These are then especially harmful elements within our evolution — these partially detached human natures which have remained as a species of spirit and permeate our existence. (1908-05-16-GA102)
    • are enable to embody when Man develops a special relationship with an animal or animals (like pets, or like shepherd does to his lambs (1908-06-07-GA098)

Inspirational quotes


Here and there in life we meet with the products of decay with waste products. ... Things which have apparently fallen away from a higher course of development are taken up again by higher powers and transformed. This happens with the elemental beings ..



as a quote to make the link with I-less human beings#1908-05-16-GA102

from countless animals such I-like beings remain behind. They are called salamanders. That is the highest form, for they are I-like. These salamander-like beings come about even today in a strange manner, when certain human natures of specially low order, who nevertheless will certainly incarnate again, leave behind a part of their lower nature. There are such men. No human being, today, of course, can be so evil that he falls completely out of evolution, but he can leave part of his nature behind. These are then especially harmful elements within our evolution — these partially detached human natures which have remained as a species of spirit and permeate our existence.


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

Overview coverage

start with 1909-04-12-GA110 and 1905-10-30-GA093A

deepening through 1923-11-02-GA230 and 1923-11-03-GA230

Reference extracts


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


Human beings and animals differ from each other through the fact that they have their consciousness on different planes. Now there are also other beings besides minerals, plants, animals and human beings.

There are beings who have their consciousness on the physical plane and their body in the astral. Such a being is, as it were, an animal in reverse. Such beings actually exist; they are the elemental beings.

In order to make their nature comprehensible let us be clear about what belongs to the physical plane.

Physical is:

  • Firstly the solid earth,
  • secondly water,
  • thirdly air,
  • fourthly ether (warmth ether, light ether, chemical ether, life ether).

Let us keep to the four lower forms of our physical plane and separate the etheric world from them.

States of consciousness can lie in all four forms of the physical plane while the body of such a being lies in the astral.

We must think of

  • the consciousness in the solid Earth, the body in the astral; or
  • a being that has its consciousness in the water and its body in the astral; then such
  • a being with its consciousness in the air and its body in the astral and
  • one with its consciousness in fire and its body in the astral.

Present-day man knows but little of such beings; in our time it is only through poetry that they are known.


Miners (of minerals) however know such beings very well. A gnome is only visible to someone who can see on the astral plane, but miners frequently possess such an astral vision; they know that gnomes are realities. Thus, on our Earth there exist various forms of consciousness, and what the natural scientist today calls laws of nature are the thoughts of beings who think on the physical plane but have their bodies on the astral plane. When in physics we have to do with laws of nature we can say: these are the thoughts of a being who has its body on the astral plane. The forces of nature are creative beings and natural laws are their thoughts.

[examples] of elementals in general]

In the Middle Ages the alchemist tried to make use of these spirits. Goethe knew this very well; Faust wished to have fire air; this was to be produced by the salamanders which have their body on the astral plane. Thus we have around us beings who actually have their consciousness in fire, to whom we cause pain when fire is kindled, for by so doing we actually cause a certain alteration in the body of the being in question on the astral plane. When one kindles fire one alters this astral being. In the same way when one brings about alterations in other spheres of the elements and the forces of Nature one alters something in these astral beings. When we do this or that we are continuously peopling the astral plane. If we think these thoughts through clearly, we have the meaning of church ritual: that is, not to make use of any kind of substances on the physical plane, except such as have meaning, whereby meaningful beings arise on the astral plane. When for instance one kindles the smoke of incense one does something which has purpose; one burns a particular substance and creates beings of a particular kind. When one passes a sword through the air in four directions one creates a definite kind of being.

It is the same with the priest, when he makes definite movements with his hands, to accompany definite sounds o, i, u, intensified by repetition: Dominus vobiscum. The sound is regular, the air is brought into definite vibrations intensified by definite movements of the hand, and a sylph is called into existence. Sign, grip and word of the freemasons also bring about definite forms which manifest in accordance with definite laws in the physical world. Through a purposeful use of these words a link is formed from one person to another, one is enwrapped in an astral substance which is created through sign, grip and word.

Naturally man continually does all this in ordinary life, but he does it in an unsystematic way, creating contradictory beings.

Art consists in working harmoniously upwards from the physical to higher planes.

In rituals, through definite acts, the aim is to produce not contradictory but harmonious beings. At present man is not in a position to bring these things into harmony.

But for everything Man creates in this way on the astral plane there are certain directing beings.

So we have a world of elemental beings around us with a king.

Among the Indians

  • the king of the gnomes is called Kshiti, the highest of the gnomes;
  • the highest being among the undines: Varuna;
  • the highest being among the sylphs: Vayu,
  • and everything having its consciousness in fire is directed by the king of fire: Agni. In all activity connected with fire, water and so on we have to do with these particular Deva-beings. All the fire we have here on Earth is the substance that is woven out of the beings which belong to Agni.

Ceremonial magic is the lowest kind of sorcery and consists in making use of certain specially devised tricks on the physical plane in order to create definite forms and beings on the astral plane.

Schools exist today in which ceremonial magic is still exercised. Such usages cause great attraction towards the astral world and very frequently result in suicide, because then a person is almost exclusively active in the astral world and has become unaccustomed to using the physical world for its rightful purpose. He has developed a partiality for the other world and the physical body is often a hindrance.


is the key lecture for an overview on elementals, for longer edited extracts, see:

from synopsis:

  • 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 I-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 Future Jupiter evolution, for man will have fully completed the fifth principle at the Future 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 ..


or version 2

As for salamanders, these are still known to many people. When someone feels that this or that element of soul is streaming towards him, this mostly arises through the salamanders.

When a Man relates himself to animals in the way the shepherd does to his lambs, the salamanders are then able to embody themselves; the knowledge the shepherd has in regard to his flock is whispered to him by these beings.

If we take these thoughts farther we shall have to say: We are entirely surrounded by spiritual beings; we are surrounded by the air and this is crowded with these spiritual beings. In times to come, if his destiny is not to be of the sort that will entirely dry up his life, man will have to have a knowledge of these beings; without such a knowledge he will be unable to make any further progress at all. He will have to put the question: Whence do these beings arise? And this question will lead him to see that, through certain steps taken by the higher worlds, that which is on the downward path to evil can through a wise guidance be changed into good.

Here and there in life we meet with the products of decay with waste products. Thus for example, manure is a waste product, and in agriculture it is used as a basis to further plant growth. Things which have apparently fallen away from a higher course of development are taken up again by higher powers and transformed. This happens with the very beings of whom we have been speaking.

Let us consider how the salamander, for example, originates. Salamanders, as we have seen, are beings who require a special relationship between Man and animal.

Now the kind of I that Man has today is only to be found in Man, in the human being living on the Earth; every Man has his I enclosed within himself. It is different with the animals: they have a group-I, a group-soul; that is to say, a group of animals with the same form have a common group-I. When the lion says ‘I’, its ego is up above in the astral world. It is as if a man were to stand behind a wall in which there were ten holes, and then to stick his ten fingers through them. The man himself cannot be seen, but every intelligent observer would conclude that someone is behind, a single entity who owns the ten fingers. It is the same with the group-I. The separate animals are simply the limbs: the being they belong to is in the astral world.


see Schema FMC00.035

[Eastern teaching about fire]

The teaching which came from the holy Rishis, during the first post-Atlantean cultural age was a knowledge that sprang from purely spiritual sources of existence. What is so important in that teaching and in the investigations of those times is that it entered so deeply into the processes of nature and realised so well the activity of the spirit in those processes.

In reality we are always surrounded by spiritual activities and by spiritual entities. When during the time of that ancient holy teaching, mention was made of the phenomena of the world surrounding us, one was always referred to as being the most significant, the most important of all these, this was considered (by that ancient spiritual science) to be the phenomenon of fire. In all explanations of what exists and happens upon the Earth, the central point of importance was always given to the spiritual investigation of fire.

If we want to understand what we may call the Eastern teaching about fire, which was of such far-reaching importance in those ancient times for the acquisition of the knowledge and understanding of all life, then we must look around us at the other phenomena and occurrences of nature and see how these were considered by that very ancient teaching, which can still be useful nowadays for the purposes of spiritual science.

[four elements]

All that surrounds Man in the world was then referred back to the so-called four elements. These four elements are respected no longer by the materialistic science of to-day. You all know that these four elements are called earth, water, air, fire.

  • But where spiritual science flourished the word ‘earth’ had not the same meaning as it has nowadays. It stood for a certain state in the material realm: the state or condition of solidity. All that is solid was called ‘earthy’ by the spiritual science of those times. So whether we take the solid earth of a field, or a piece of crystal, or lead, or gold, anything that is solid was then called earth.
  • Everything liquid, not only the water of today, was characterised as watery, or as water. If for instance you take iron, pass it through heat to the point of melting so that it can flow, then that liquid iron would have been called water by spiritual science. All metals when liquid were described as water.
  • Everything that has the character of air for us to day, no matter whether it was the condition we call gas, or oxygen, or hydrogen, or other gases, was called air.
  • Fire was considered the fourth element. Those of you who remember elementary physics will know that modern science does not see in fire anything that could be compared with either earth, water or air: the physical science of to day sees in it only a certain condition of movement. Spiritual science sees in warmth or fire something which has in it a still finer substance than air. Just as earth or solidity changes into liquid, So does all air-substance change gradually into the condition of fire — according to spiritual science — and fire is so fine an element that it interpenetrates all other elements. Fire interpenetrates the air and makes it warm, the same with water and earth. The other three elements are, so to speak, separated from each other, but we see the element of fire interpenetrating them all.

[uniqueness of fire or warmth]

Both ancient and modern spiritual science agree that there is yet another still more remarkable difference between what we call Earth, Water, Air, and what we call Fire or Warmth.

How do we come to the cognisance of earth or solidity? Through touching it. We realise the solid through touching it and feeling its resistance. It is the same with watery substance. This gives way, it is not so resistant, still we realize it as something external that offers resistance. And it is the same with the element of air. We recognise it also as something external.

With warmth it is different. Here we find something which modern science does not consider important, but which must become important for us if we want to study the real problems of existence.

We can realise warmth without coming in contact with it externally. What is essential is that we can realise warmth by touching a body which has a certain degree of warmth: we can perceive it externally in the same way as we realise the three other elements, but we also feel it in our inward conditions.

Therefore ancient science says (and did so already at the time of the old Indians), that earth, water, air, can be realised only in the outer world, but warmth is the first element which can also be felt within oneself.

Thus, fire or warmth has, so to speak, two sides to it. An outer, which it shows when we take cognisance of it in the outer world and an inner when we feel that we ourselves are in a certain state of warmth. Man feels his own condition of warmth; he is hot, or he freezes; but consciously he is not much concerned with the gaseous or liquid or solid substances — the air, water, or earth — which are in him. He begins to ‘feel’ himself in the element of warmth. The element of warmth has an inner and an outward side. Therefore both ancient and modern spiritual science agree that warmth or fire is that wherein matter begins to become soul. And so in the true sense of the word — we may speak of an outer fire which we realise in the other elements, and of an inner psychic fire within our soul.

In this way, spiritual science always considered fire as the link between the outer material world on the one side, and the realm of the soul on the other, which can be known by Man within his inner being. Fire or warmth was placed in the centre of all observations of nature, because fire is, so to speak, the portal through which we may pass from the outer into the inner. In all truth, fire is like a door in front of which one stands. One sees it from outside, one opens it and can observe it from within. Such is fire amongst the objects of nature. One touches some object and becomes acquainted with fire, which streams towards us from outside like the three other elements: one realises one's own inner warmth and feels it as something belonging to oneself; one stands inside the portal, one has entered into the realm of the soul. Thus was the science of fire described. In fire was seen the interplay of soul and matter. We have now placed before our souls an elementary lesson of primeval human wisdom.

The ancient teachers may have spoken thus: ‘Look at that burning object. See how the fire destroys it. Thou seest two things in that burning object.’ In those ancient times one was called smoke, and it may still be so called nowadays, and the other was called light, and the spiritual scientist saw the fire in the middle between light and smoke. The teacher said: ‘Out of the flame are born simultaneously light on the one side, smoke on the other.’


Now we must for once put very clearly before us a very simple but very far-reaching fact, which has to do with the light, which is born of fire.

It is most probable that many people when asked whether they see the light would answer: ‘Yes, of course.’

And yet this answer is as false as possible; for, in truth, no physical eye can see light.

Through light one sees objects which are solid, liquid, or gaseous, but the light itself one does not see.

Imagine the whole of universal space illuminated by a light the source of which was somewhere behind you, where you could not see it and you were to look into the world spaces illuminated through and through by that light. Would you see the light? You would see absolutely nothing. You would first see something when some object was placed within that illuminated space. One does not see the light, one sees the solid, the watery, the gaseous, by means of the light.

One does not see physical light with the physical eye. This is something which comes before the spiritual eye with particular clearness. Spiritual science says therefore: light makes everything visible, but is itself invisible. This sentence is important: light is imperceptible. It cannot be perceived by the outer senses: one call perceive what is solid, liquid, or gaseous, finally one can perceive warmth or fire outwardly. This one can also begin to feel inwardly, but light itself one can no longer perceive outwardly.

If you believe that when you see the sun you see light you are mistaken: you see a flaming body, a burning substance out of which the light streams. It could be proved to you that you have there gaseous, liquid, and earthy substances. You do not see light, you see that which is burning.

[spectrum of elements and ethers]

But spiritual science says we pass in ascending order from earth to water, from air to fire, and then to light, we pass thus from the outwardly recognisable world, from the visible world into the invisible, into the etheric-spiritual world. Fire stands on the border between the outwardly visible, material world, and that which is etheric and spiritual, which is no more outwardly visible or recognisable.

What happens to a body that is destroyed through fire? What happens when something burns?

When something burns, we see on one side light appear, which is outwardly imperceptible and which is operative in the spiritual world. Something that is not merely outer material gives forth the warmth and when it is strong enough to become a source of light it yields something invisible, something which cannot be recognised any more through the outer senses, but it must pay for this in smoke. From what was formerly translucent and transparent it has to bring forth something not transparent — something of the nature of smoke. Thus you see how warmth or fire becomes differentiated, how it divides.

On one side it divides itself into light, with which it opens a way into the super-sensible world, and in payment for that which it sends up as light into the super-sensible world, it must send something down into the material world, into the world of non-transparent, visible things. Nothing one-sided comes forth in the world. Everything that exists has two sides to it. When light is produced through warmth, then turbid, dark matter appears on the other side. That is the teaching of primeval spiritual science.

But the process we have just described is only the outer side, the physical, material process. At the foundation of this physically material process there lies something essentially different. When you have only warmth in some object which as yet does not shine, then this warmth which you perceive is itself the outer physical part but within it is something spiritual. When this warmth grows so strong that it begins to shine and smoke is formed, then some of the spirit which was in the warmth must go into the smoke. That spiritual part which was in the warmth and has passed into the smoke, which being gaseous and belonging to air is a lower element than warmth, that spiritual part is transmuted, bewitched, as it were, into smoke.

Thus with everything which like a turbid extract or a materialisation is deposited by the warmth, there is also associated what might be called the bewitching of some spiritual being.

[introducing elementals]

We can explain it still more simply. Let us imagine that we reduce air to a watery condition. Air itself is nothing but solidified warmth, densified warmth in which smoke has been formed. The spiritual part which really wanted to be in the fire has been 'bewitched' into smoke.

Spiritual beings, which are also called elementals, are bewitched in all air, and will even be bewitched, banished, so to speak, to a lower existence, when air is changed into water. Hence spiritual science sees in everything that is outwardly perceptible something that has proceeded from an original condition of fire or warmth and which has turned into air, smoke, or gas, when the warmth began to condense into gas, gas into liquid, liquid into solid. ‘Look backwards,’ says the spiritual scientist, look at any solid substance. That solidity was once liquid, it is only in the course of evolution that it has become solid and the liquid was once upon a time gaseous and the gaseous formed itself as smoke, out of the fire. But a transmutation, a bewitching of spiritual being is always connected with these processes of condensation and with the formation of gases and solids.

Let us now look around at our world: we see solid rocks, flowing streams of water, we see the water changing into rising mist: we see the air, we see all the solid, liquid, gaseous things and we see fire, so that at the foundation of all things we have nothing but fire. All is fire — solidified fire: gold, silver, copper, are solidified fire. All things were once upon a time fire; everything has been born out of fire. But in all that solidified realm, some bewitched spirits are dwelling.

How are those spiritual, divine beings who surround us able to produce solid matter as it is on our planet — to produce liquids, and air substances?

They send down their elemental spirits, those which live in the fire: they imprison them in air, in water and in earth. These are the emissaries, the elemental emissaries of the spiritual, creative, building beings. The elemental spirits first enter into fire. In fire they still feel comfortable — if we care to express it by images — and then they are condemned to a life of bewitchment. We can say looking around us: ‘These beings, whom we have to thank for all the things that surround us, had to come down out of the fire-element; they are bewitched in those things.’

[interaction with human beings]

Can we as men do anything to help those elemental spirits? This is the great question which was put by the Holy Rishis. Can we do anything to release, to redeem, all that is here, bewitched?

Yes! We can help them. Because what we men do here in the physical world is nothing else than an outward expression of spiritual processes. All we do is also of importance for the spiritual world.

Let us consider the following. A Man stands in front of a crystal, or a lump of gold, or anything of that kind. He looks at it.

What happens when a man simply gazes, simply stares with his physical eye upon some outer object?

A continual interplay occurs between the Man and the bewitched elemental spirits. The Man and that which is bewitched in the substance have something to do with each other. Let us suppose that the Man only stares at the object and takes in only what is impressed on his physical eye. Something is always passing from the elemental being into the Man. Something from those bewitched elementals passes continually into the Man, from morning till night. While you are thus regarding objects, hosts of these elemental beings, who were and are being continually bewitched through the world-processes of condensation, are continually entering from your surroundings into you.

  • Let us take it that the Man staring at the objects has no inclination whatever to think about those objects, no inclination to let the spirit of things live in his soul. He lives comfortably, merely passes through the world, but he does not work on it spiritually, with his ideas or feelings or in any such way. He remains simply a spectator of the material things he meets with in the world. Then these elemental spirits pass into him and remain there, having gained nothing from the world's process, but the fact of having passed from the outer world into Man.
  • Let us take another kind of Man, one who works spiritually on the impressions he receives from the outer world, who with his understanding and ideas forms conceptions regarding the spiritual foundations of the world, one who does not simply stare at a metal, but ponders over its nature and feels the beauty which inspires and spiritualises his impressions. What does such a Man do? Through his own spiritual process, he releases the elemental being which has streamed into him from the outer world; he raises it to what it was before, he frees the elemental from its state of enchantment. Thus, through our own spiritual life, we can, without changing them, either imprison within us those spirits which are bewitched in air, water and earth, or else through our own increasing spirituality, free them and lead them back to their own element.

During the whole of his earthly life, Man lets those elemental spirits stream into him from the outer world. In the same measure in which he only stares at things, in the same measure in which he simply lets the spirit dwell in him without transforming them, so, in like measure as he tries with his ideas, conceptions and feeling for beauty to work out spiritually what he sees in the outer world, does he release and redeem those spiritual elemental beings.

Now what happens to those elemental beings which, having come out of things, enter into Man?

They remain at first within him. Also those which are released at first remain, but they stay only until his death. When the Man passes through death a differentiation takes place between those elemental beings which have simply passed into him and which he had not led back to their higher element, and those whom he has through his own spiritualisation led back to their former condition.

Those whom the Man has not changed have not gained anything from their passage from the outer world into him, but others have gained the possibility of returning to their own original world with the Man's death. During his life Man is a place of transition for these elemental beings.

When he has passed through the spiritual world and returns to Earth in his next incarnation, all the elemental beings which he has not released during his former life flock into him again when he passes through the portals of his new birth, they return with him into the physical world; but those he has released he does not bring back with him for they have returned into their original element.

Thus we see how Man has it in his power, by the way he acts and feels towards outer nature, either to release those elemental spirits which have been necessarily bewitched through the coming into existence of our earth, or to bind them to the Earth still more strongly than they were before.

What does a Man do when, in looking at some outer object he releases from it an elemental being by elucidating it?

He spiritually does the opposite of what has been done before. Previously, smoke had been brought forth out of fire, but Man spiritually forms fire again out of that smoke; only after death does he release this fire.

Now think for a moment of the endless depth and spirituality of the ancient ceremonies of sacrifice, as seen in the light of primeval spiritual science! Imagine to yourselves the priest at the sacrificial altar in those times when religion was built on the real knowledge of spiritual laws; think of the priest lighting the flame, and the rising of the smoke, and as the smoke rises a real sacrifice is offered, for it is followed upwards by prayers.

What happens then? What happens during such a sacrifice?

The Priest stands at the altar where the smoke is produced. Where something solid comes out of the warmth, a spirit is being transmuted, bewitched. But because the Man follows the whole procedure with prayers, he at the same time receives that spirit into himself in such a way that after death it rises again into the higher world.

What did the teacher of ancient wisdom say to those who had to understand this? He said: ‘If thou lookest upon the outer world in such a way that thy spiritual process does not stop at the smoke, but rises to the element of fire, then after thy death thou dost free the spirit which is bewitched in the smoke.’

Yes! The teacher who knew the fate of the spirit, which after being bewitched in the smoke had passed into Man, spoke thus: ‘If thou leavest that spirit as it was when it was in the smoke, then it must be reborn with thee and cannot rise into the spiritual world after thy death; but if thou hast released it and restored it to the fire, then after thy death it will rise again into the spiritual worlds and will not need to return to the Earth at thy rebirth.’ (…)

It is the destiny of the elemental spirits that is here described;

  • through the wisdom which Man develops, he continually liberates at his death these elemental spirits;
  • through lack of wisdom, through the materialistic attachment to the mere things of the senses, he ties those elemental spirits to himself and forces them to follow him into this world, ever to be born again with him.

[elementals working day and night]

But these elemental beings are not only associated with fire and with what is connected with fire, they are the emissaries of higher spiritual divine beings in all that takes place in the outer sense world. There never could have been that interplay of forces in the world that produce the day and the night, for instance, if numbers of such elemental being had not worked suitably at the rotation of the planet through the universe, so that precisely this interchange of day and night could come about. All that takes place is the result of the activity of hosts of lower and higher spiritual entities belonging to the spiritual hierarchies. We have been speaking of the lowest order, of the messengers. When night becomes day and day night, elemental beings live also in that process, and so it is that Man stands in an intimate relationship with the beings of the elemental world which have to take part in working at the day and the night.

When Man is idle and lets himself go, he affects those elementals who have to do with the day and the night quite differently, than when he has creative force, when he is active, diligent, and productive. When a Man is lazy for instance, he unites himself with a certain kind of elemental and he also does so when he is active, but in a particular way. Those elementals of the second class, just named, who are active during the day, are then in their higher element.

As fire elementals, those of the first class, are bound in air water and earth, so certain elemental being are also tied to darkness; and day could not turn into night, day could not be divided from night, if these elementals were not so to speak imprisoned in night. That Man is able to enjoy daylight, he has to thank divine spiritual beings who have driven forth elemental spirits and have chained them to the night-time. When Man is lazy these elementals flow into him continually, but he leaves them as they are, unchanged. Those elemental spirits which at night are chained to darkness, he let through his idleness remain in the same state; those elemental who enter into him when he is active and industrious and filled with working power, he leads back into daylight. Thus he continually releases these elementals of the second class. Throughout the whole of our lifetime we bear within us all those elemental spirits which have entered into us either during our hours of idleness or during those of active work. When we pass through the gates of death those beings whom we have led towards daylight can now return into the spirit world; those we have left chained to the night through our idleness, must return with us in our new incarnation. (…)

[elementals of Moon rhythm]

And now you will see clearly how the matter proceeds. As it is with the phenomena of which we have just spoken, so it is on a larger scale with our month of 28 days, with the changes of the waxing and waning moon. Whole flocks of elemental beings have to come into activity to direct the motions of the moon so that our lunar periods can come about as they do with all the influences they bring with them upon our visible Earth. For this purpose certain of the higher beings had again to be bewitched, doomed, chained. Clairvoyant vision sees how, with the waxing moon, spiritual beings of a lower kingdom ever rise into a higher. But, so that order should exist, other spiritual elemental beings must again be transformed into those of lower realms.

There are also those elementals of a third realm who stand in relationship with men.

  • When Man is serene and bright, when he is pleased with the world, when he has feelings of gladness towards all things, he continually releases those beings which are chained to the waning moon. These beings enter into him and are continually set free, through his soul's peaceful attitude, through his inner contentment, through his harmonious feelings and ideas towards the whole world.
  • The beings which enter into Man when he is sullen, peevish, morose, discontented with anything, when everything depresses him — when he is pessimistic — these spirits remain in the condition of bewitchment they were in at the time of the waning moon.

Oh! There are men who through the harmonious condition of their soul, through the bright way they look upon the world, release and set free great numbers of these bewitched elemental beings. The Man of harmonious and optimistic feelings and who feels inner satisfaction with the world, is a deliverer of elemental spiritual beings. The pessimist, he who is morose, sullen and discontented, becomes through his depression the gaoler of elemental spirits which could have been released by his cheerfulness. Thus you see that the conditions of mind and soul have not only a personal importance for this Man, but also that he works either at the liberation or the imprisonment of spiritual beings; either deliverance or fetters proceed from him. The conditions of soul that a man experiences go out in all directions into the spiritual world. We have here the third point of that important teaching in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘Behold what Man does through the feelings and conditions of his soul, how he sets spirits free, as they are set free by the growing moon.’ When the Man dies, these released spirits can return to the spiritual world. If through his depression and hypochondriacal moods, he calls to him the elemental spirits which are around him, and then leaves them as they are, as they have to be in order to bring about the orderly courses of the moon, then these spirits remain chained to him and must reincarnate with him into this world.

[annual rhythm]

And last of all we have a fourth degree of elemental spirits, those who have to work at the annual course of the sun, so that the summer sun may shine upon the earth to awaken and fructify it, so that spring can appear and be succeeded by autumn. In order that this may come to pass certain spirits must be fettered to winter-time, must be bewitched during the time of the winter sun.

And man acts upon these spirits in the same way as we have described his acting on the other grades of spirits.

  • Let us take Man who at the beginning of winter says to himself: ‘The nights are getting longer, the days shorter, we come to that time of the sun's yearly course when the sun withdraws his fructifying forces from the Earth. The outer Earth dies, but with this deadening of the Earth I feel it my duty to be all the more spiritually awake. I must now take more and more of the spirit within me.’ Let us take a man who acquires a more and more religious mood appropriate to the season as Christmas comes on, who learns to know the significance of Christmas and to know also that when the outer world of the senses is dead the life of the spirit must now grow stronger. This Man lives through winter until Easter. He remembers that with the awakening of the outer world is combined the death of the spiritual: he lives through the Easter festival comprehending its meaning. Such a Man has not only an outer religion; he has religious understanding of the processes of nature, of the spirit which rules it; and through his piety, his spirituality, he releases numbers of that fourth class of elemental beings which continually stream in and out of him, which are connected with the course of the sun.
  • But the Man who is not pious in this sense, who denies or does not understand the spirit and is always muddling through a materialistic chaos, into him these elementals of the fourth class flow, but remain unchanged.

At death it happens again: that these elemental spirits of the fourth degree are either set free in their own element, or else are bound to the Man and have to return with him at his next incarnation. Thus, the Man, who uniting with the winter spirits does not change them into summer spirits, does not redeem them through his spirituality, dooms them to rebirth, whereas they might have been freed and not have had to return with him.

Behold the fire and the smoke! If you so unite with the outer world that the activity of your soul and spirit is like that of fire, from which smoke comes forth, so that you spiritualise things, through knowledge and through right feeling, you help certain spiritual elemental beings to rise; but if you unite with the smoke you condemn them to rebirth. If you associate yourself with the day, you then set free the corresponding spirits of day and so on. Behold the light! Behold the day! Behold the waxing of the moon and the sunny half of the year! If you act so that you lead the elemental spirits back to the light, to the day, to the waxing moon, to the summer-time of the year, you then at your death release these elementary spirits which are so necessary to you. They rise to the spiritual world. If you associate yourself with the smoke, if you only gaze at the solid things of the earth, if through laziness you unite yourself with the night and with the spirits of the waning moon, and if through your depression you unite yourself with those spirits who are chained to the winter sun, then through your lack of spirit, your godlessness, you condemn these elementary beings to be reincarnated with you again!


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.quote A- gnomes

    Yesterday I spoke to you about the other side of nature-existence, about those super-sensible and invisible beings which accompany the beings and processes visible to the senses. An earlier, instinctive vision beheld these beings of the super-sensible world as clearly as we behold the world of the senses. Today, these beings have withdrawn from human view.

It is only because this company of gnomes, undines, sylphs and fire-beings is not perceptible in the same way as animals, plants and so on, only to this is it due that Man, in the present epoch of his earth-evolution, is not in a position to unfold his soul-spiritual being without the help of his physical and etheric bodies.

In the present situation of Earth evolution, Man is obliged to depend upon the etheric body when making use of his soul, and upon the physical body when making use of his spirit. The physical body, which provides the instrument for the spirit, the sense-apparatus, is not adapted to entering into connection with the beings which exist behind the physical world. It is the same with the etheric body, which man must use to develop his soul-being. Through this, if I may put it so, half of his earthly environment escapes him. He passes over everything connected with these elemental beings about which I spoke yesterday. To this world the etheric and physical bodies have no access. We gain an idea of what actually escapes the Man of today when we realize what such gnomes, undines, and so on, actually are.


We have, you see, a whole host of lower creatures — lower at the present time — those beings which consist only of a soft mass, which live in the fluid element, and have nothing in the way of an articulated skeleton to give them inner support.

They are creatures which belong to the latest phase of Earth-development; creatures which only now, when the Earth has already evolved, develop what Man — the oldest earth-being — already developed in his head-structure during the time of Old Saturn. These creatures have not progressed so far as to form within themselves that hardening of the substance which can become the supporting skeleton.

It is the gnomes which, in a spiritual way, make good in the world what the lower orders of the animals up to the amphibians lack. This applies also to the fishes, which have only indications of the skeleton. These lower animal orders only become complete, as it were, through the fact that gnomes exist.

And just because the conditions of the beings in the world are very different, something arises between these lower creatures and the gnomes which I yesterday called antipathy. The gnomes do not wish to become like these lower creatures. They are continually on the watch to protect themselves from assuming their form. As I described to you, the gnomes are extraordinarily clever, intelligent beings. With them intelligence is already implicit in perception; they are in every respect the antithesis of the lower animal world.

And whereas they have the significance for plant-growth which I described yesterday, in the case of the lower animal world they actually provide its completion. They supply what this lower animal world does not possess. This lower animal world has a dull consciousness; the gnomes have a consciousness of the utmost clarity. The lower creatures have no bony skeleton, no bony support; the gnomes bind together what works as the force of gravity and make their bodies from this volatile, invisible force, bodies which are, moreover, in constant danger of disintegrating, of losing their substance. The gnomes must ever and again create themselves anew out of gravity, because they continually stand in danger of losing their substance.

Because of this, in order to retain their own existence, the gnomes are constantly attentive to what is going on around them. As far as Earth-observation goes no being is more attentive than a gnome. It takes note of everything, for it must know everything, grasp everything, in order to preserve its life. A gnome must always be wide awake; if it were to become sleepy, as men often do, this sleepiness would immediately cause its death.

There is a German saying of very early origin which aptly expresses this characteristic of the gnomes, in having always to remain attentive. People say: Pay heed like a goblin. And goblins are in fact the gnomes. So, if one wishes to make someone attentive, one says to him: Pay heed like a gnome. A gnome is really an attentive being. If one could place a gnome as an object lesson on a front desk in every school classroom, where all could see it, it would be a splendid example for the children to imitate.

The gnomes have yet another characteristic. They are filled with an absolutely unconquerable lust for independence. They trouble themselves little about one another and give their attention only to the world of their own surroundings. One gnome takes little interest in another. But everything else in this world around them, in which they live, this interests them exceedingly.

Now I told you that the human body forms a hindrance to our perceiving such folk as these. The moment this hindrance is removed, these beings are there, just as are the other beings of nature for ordinary vision. Anyone who comes so far as to experience in full consciousness his dreams on falling asleep is well acquainted with these gnomes. You need only recall what I recently published in the “Goetheanum” on the subject of dreams. I said that a dream in no way appears to ordinary consciousness in its true form, but wears a mask. Such a mask is worn by the dream when we fall asleep. We do not immediately escape from the experience of our ordinary day consciousness. Reminiscences well up, memory-pictures from life; we perceive symbols, sense-pictures of the inner organs — the heart as a stove, the lungs as wings — all in symbolic form. These are masks. If someone were to see a dream unmasked, if he were actually to pass into the world of sleep without the beings existing there being masked, then, at the moment of falling asleep, he would behold a whole host of goblins coming towards him.

In ordinary consciousness Man is protected from seeing these things unprepared, for they would terrify him. The form in which they would appear would actually be copy images of all those qualities in the Man which work as forces of destruction. He would perceive all the destructive forces within him, all that continually destroys. These gnomes, if perceived unprepared, would be nothing but symbols of death. Man would be terribly alarmed by them, if in ordinary consciousness he knew nothing about them, and was now confronted by them on falling asleep. He would feel entombed by them — for this is how it would appear — entombed by them over yonder in the astral world. For it is a kind of entombment by the gnomes which, seen from the other side, takes place on falling asleep.

This holds good only for the moment of falling asleep.


A further complement to the physical sense-world is supplied by the undines, the water-beings, which continually transform themselves, and which live in connection with the water just as the gnomes live in connection with the Earth.

These undines — we have learned to know the role they play in plant-growth — also exist as complementary beings to those animals which stand at a somewhat higher stage, which have assumed a more differentiated earthly body. These animals, which have developed into the more evolved fishes, or also into the more evolved amphibians, require scales, require some sort of hard external shell. The forces needed to provide certain creatures with this outer support, this outer skeleton — for these forces the world is indebted to the activity of the undines. The gnomes support spiritually those creatures which are at a quite low stage. Those creatures which must be supported externally, which must be clad in a kind of armour, they owe their protective sheath to the activity of the undines. Thus it is the undines which impart to these somewhat higher animals in a primitive way what we have in the covering of our skull. They make them, as it were, into heads. All these beings which are invisibly present behind the visible world have their great task in the economy of existence. You will always notice that, where materialistic science wishes to explain something of the kind I have just developed, there it breaks down. It is not in a position, for instance, to explain how the lower creatures manage to propel themselves forward in an element which is scarcely harder than they are themselves, because it does not know about the presence of this spiritual support from the gnomes which I have just described. Equally, the formation of an armour-like sheath will always create a difficulty for purely materialistic science, because it does not know that the undines, in their sensitivity to, their avoidance of their own tendency to become lower animals, thrust off from themselves what then appears upon the somewhat higher animals as scales or some other armour-like covering.

Again, in the case of these beings, it is only the body which hinders the ordinary consciousness of today from seeing them just as, for example, it sees the leaves of plants, or the higher animals.

When, however, man falls into a state of deep, dreamless sleep, and yet his sleep is not dreamless, because through the gift of inspiration it has become transparent, then his spiritual gaze perceives the undines rising up out of that astral sea in which, on falling asleep, he was engulfed, submerged by the gnomes. In deep sleep the undines become visible. Sleep extinguishes ordinary consciousness, but the sleep which is illumined by clear consciousness has as its content the wonderful world of ever-changing fluidity, a fluidity which lends itself in every possible way to the metamorphoses of the undines. Just as for day consciousness we have around us beings with firm contours, a clear night consciousness would present to us these ever-changing beings, which themselves well upwards and sink down again like the waves of the sea. All deep sleep in the environment of man is filled with a moving sea of living beings, a moving sea of undines.quote B

[salamanders or fire beings]

And when we come to the fire-beings, we find that they provide the completing element to the fleeting nature of the butterflies. A butterfly itself develops as little as possible of its actual physical body; it lets this be as tenuous as possible. It is, on the contrary, a creature of light. The fire-spirits appear as beings which complement the butterfly's body, so that we can get the following impression. If, on the one hand, we had a physical butterfly before us, and pictured it greatly enlarged, and on the other side a fire-being — they are, it is true, rarely together, except in the circumstances which I mentioned to you yesterday — then, if these two were welded together, we would get something resembling a winged man, actually a winged man. We need only increase the size of the butterfly, and adapt the size of the fire-spirit to human proportions, and from this we would get something like a winged man.

This shows you again how the fire-spirits are in fact the complement to those creatures which are nearest to what is spiritual; they complement them, so to say, in a downward direction.

  • Gnomes and undines complement in an upward direction, towards the head;
  • sylphs and salamanders complement the birds and butterflies in a downwards direction.

Thus the fire-beings must be brought together with the butterflies.

Now in the same way that Man can, as it were, penetrate through the sleeping-dream, so can he also penetrate through waking-day life. But here he makes use of his physical body in quite a robust way. This, too, I have described in articles in the “Goetheanum”. Here also Man is totally unable to perceive how, in his waking life, he could continually see the fire-beings, in that the fire-beings are inwardly related to his thoughts, to everything which proceeds from the head-organization. But when a man has progressed so far that he can remain completely in waking consciousness, but nevertheless stand in a certain sense outside himself, viewing himself from outside as a thinking being, while standing firmly on the earth, then he will become aware how the fire-beings form that element in the world which, when we perceive it, makes our thoughts perceptible from the other side.

Thus the perceiving of the fire-beings can enable man to see himself as thinker, not merely to be the thinker and, as such, call up the thoughts, but actually to behold how the thoughts run their course. Only then do the thoughts cease to be bound to the human being; then they reveal themselves as world-thoughts; they work and weave as impulses in the world. Then one notices that the human head only calls forth the illusion that thoughts are enclosed inside the skull. There they are only reflected; their mirrored images are there. What underlies these thoughts belongs to the sphere of the fire-beings, one sees in these thoughts not only the thoughts themselves, but the thought-content of the world, which, at the same time, is actually an imaginative content. This is the force which enables us to arrive at the realization that thoughts are world-thoughts.

I venture to add: When we behold what is to be seen upon the Earth, not from the human bodily nature, but from the sphere of the fire-beings — that is, from the Old Saturn-nature which has been carried into the Earth — then we gain exactly the picture of the evolution of the Earth which I have described in “Occult Science — an Outline”. This book is actually so composed that the thoughts appear as the thought-content of the world, seen from the perspective of the fire-beings.

You see, these things have in themselves a deep and real significance. But they also have a deep and real significance for Man.

Take the gnomes and undines:

they are, so to say, in the world which borders on human consciousness; they are already beyond the threshold. Ordinary consciousness is protected from seeing these beings, for the fact is that these beings are not all benevolent. The benevolent beings are, for instance, those which I described yesterday as working in the most varied ways upon plant-growth.

But these beings are not all well-disposed. And in the moment when Man breaks through into the world wherein they live and are active, he finds there not only the well-disposed beings but the malevolent ones as well. And so one must first form a conception as to which of them are well-disposed and which of them malevolent. This is not so easy, as you will see from the way I must describe the malevolent ones. The main difference between the ill-disposed beings and the well-disposed is that the latter are always drawn more to the plant and mineral kingdoms, whereas the ill-disposed are drawn to the animal and human kingdoms. Some, which are even more malevolent, also desire to approach the kingdoms of the plants and the minerals. But one can gain quite a fair idea of the malevolence which the beings of this realm can have, when one turns to those which are drawn to human beings and animals, wishing in particular to consummate in Man what is allotted by the higher hierarchies to the well-disposed beings for the plant and mineral world.

You see, there exist ill-disposed beings from the realm of the gnomes and undines, which make for human beings and animals and bring it about that what they should really impart only to the lower animals appears physically in human beings. Certainly, these things are already present in Man, but their aim is that this element should be manifested physically in human beings as well as in animals.

Through the presence of these malevolent gnomes and undine-beings, animal and plant life of a low order — parasites — exist in human beings as well as in animals. These malevolent beings are the begetters of parasites. The moment man crosses the threshold of the spiritual world, he at once meets the subtleties of this world. Snares are everywhere, and he must first learn something from the goblins — namely, to be attentive. The spiritualists can never manage this! Everywhere there are snares. Now someone might say: Why then are these malevolent gnome and undine-beings there, if they engender parasites? Well, if they were not there, Man would never be able to develop within himself the force to evolve the structure of his brain. And here we meet something of extraordinary significance.

I will sketch this for you in a diagram. If you think of the human being as consisting of the metabolic-limb-man, of the breast-man, that is, the rhythmic system, and then of the head-man, that is the system of nerves and senses, there are certain things about which you must be quite clear. Here below processes are taking place — let us leave out the rhythmic man — and here above processes are again taking place. If you look at the processes taking place below as a whole, you find that in ordinary life their essential function is usually disregarded. These processes are those of excretion — through the intestines, through the kidneys, and so on — all of them having their outlet in a downwards direction. They are mostly regarded simply as excretory processes. But this is a misinterpretation. Excretion does not take place merely for the purpose of elimination, but to the same degree in which the products of excretion appear, something appears spiritually in the lower man which resembles what the brain is physically above. What occurs in the lower man is a process which is arrested halfway in regard to its physical development. Excretion takes place because the process passes over into the spiritual. In the upper man the process is completed. What below is only spiritual, there assumes physical form. Above we have the physical brain, below a spiritual brain. And if what is eliminated below were to be subjected to a further process, if the changes in its condition were to be continued, then its final metamorphosis would be preliminary to the human brain.

The human brain-mass is the further evolved product of excretion. This is something which is of immense importance, in regard to medicine for instance, and it is something of which doctors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were still fully aware. Of course today people speak in a very derogatory manner — and rightly in many respects — of the old “quack-apothecaries”. But this is because they do not know that their potions still contained “mummies” of the spirit.

Naturally this is not intended as a glorification of what has figured as “quackery” in the past centuries, but I am drawing attention to many truths which have connections as deep as those which I have just cited.

It is a fact that the brain is a higher metamorphosis of the products of excretion. Hence the connection between brain illnesses and intestinal illnesses, and their cure.

You see, because gnomes and undines exist, because there is a real world in which they live, the forces are present, which, proceeding from the lower man, do indeed give rise to parasites, but yet, at the same time, bring about in the upper man the metamorphosis of the products of excretion into the brain. It would be absolutely impossible for us to have a brain, if the world were not so ordered that gnomes and undines can exist.

What holds good for gnomes and undines in regard to the destructive forces — for destruction, disintegration, also proceed in their turn from the brain — this holds good for sylphs and fire-beings, in regard to the constructive forces. Here again the well-disposed sylphs and fire-beings hold themselves aloof from men and animals, and busy themselves with plant-growth in the way I have described; but there are also those which are malevolent. These ill-disposed beings are above all concerned in carrying what should only have its place up above in the regions of air and warmth down into the watery and earthy regions.


see: Reunion of Moon#1923-11-04-GA230 for extract on the gnomes


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.


Note 1 - On fire elementals or salamanders

There is a thread that runs through 1908-05-16-GA102 that connects a number of key themes that are important aspects of the evolution of humanity. This is why lecture extracts appear on the pages below.

This note is to connect these aspects and the central them, which is is about the by-products of evolution:

Usually evolution is described and considered in its 'main line'. But reality is much more complex, and elementals and kingdoms of nature are the result of these"waste products .. things which have apparently fallen away from a higher course of development are taken up again by higher powers and transformed". (see 1908-06-07-GA098 inspirational quote above).

Also certain corresponding Schemas can therefore be pulled into this as they illustrate this from various angles:

Notes WIP - varia work area

  • 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)
  • Rudolf Steiner: 'Nature Spirits' - Selected lectures by Wolf-Ulrich Klünker
    • 1. Elemental Beings of Earth and Water (Helsinki, Apr. 1912) 2. Elemental Beings and the Spirits of the Cosmos (Helsinki, Apr. 1912) 3. Redemption of the Elementals by the Human Being (Düsseldorf, Apr. 1909) 4. Gnomes, Undines, Sylphs, and Salamanders (Berlin, June 1908) 5. Phantoms, Specters, and Demons (Berlin, June 1908) 6. Elemental Spirits of Birth and Death (Dornach, Oct. 1917) 7. Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Elemental Beings (Dornach, Dec. 1922) 8. Elemental Spirits and the Plant World (Dornach, Nov. 1923) 9. Elemental Spirits and the Animal Kingdom (Dornach, Nov. 1923) 10. Ahrimanic Elemental Beings (Torquay, Aug. 1924) 11. The Elemental World and the Future of Mankind (Dornach, May 1922) 12. Perception of the Elemental World (Munich, Aug. 1913)