I get the elements. Earth, air, fire, water…these energies and forces make sense to me, and I get how different divinities in different cultures can be more ‘watery’ or ‘earthy’ or what have you. Bridget, for example, pulls on both water and fire with her associations with wells and with smithies. I even get that there are creatures in different mythologies that are very aligned with certain elements. Greek nymphs–those minor female nature deities–for example, could be tied strongly with some celestial (air), watery, earthy, or underworldy (fire) association. In that respect, I can see “elementals” as different spirits with strong correlations to an element and direct ties into their respective element’s energies…but I have a hard time with the concept that all, say, earth elementals are “gnomes” with a certain look, feel, and behavior. I have an even harder time with the concept that there is one unique “king” of each element.
And yet this is exactly what the next twelve days of Roderick’s year emphasizes: getting in touch with the sylphs, salamanders, undines, and gnomes and their kings Paralda, Djin, Necksa, and Ghob. These specific elementals and kings are not new concepts to me, for they appear in many books on Wicca and paganism. But I don’t know where they come from, as there isn’t a single culture that I can think of that connects these creatures and figures with these elements. So I tried to find out.
What I learned is that these specific figures are rooted in the Paracelsian/Rosicrucian doctrine of elementals. This doctrine comes from the sixteenth century when the writings of the German physician and occultist Paracelsus (Born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) repopularized the Germanic names for elemental spirits, adding ‘sylph’, ‘kobold’, and ‘undine’ to the already popular ‘salamander’. Paracelsus’s work came to influence many gentlemen scientists of the pre-Darwin classification era. In fact, Darwin’s own grandfather–Erasmus–used Paracelsian elemental spirits in his 1803 work Temple of Nature as metaphorical organizers for an attempt at scientific description of the world. Paracelsus also strongly influenced the Rosicrucians, who took these elemental spirits on, and the Rosicrucians probably influenced the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who combined that influence with another sixteenth century influence: the English John Dee and Edward Kelley’s Enochian magic. Between the two influences, the Golden Dawn fleshed out some interesting elemental names and attributions:
Today, we view elementals as groups of “lesser beings”, which as Deborah Lipp put it in The Way of Four (2004) means “they have fewer components than we do; they are less complex, more basic.” They are not the elements themselves, for elementals “are conscious, sentient beings”, but each is “composed entirely of its element” and can “manipulate the forces of its element”.
Lipp also notes that the Guardians are like elementals in that there is one for each element and they share in the nature of that element. However, they are “higher” than elementals for “their functions are more sophisticated.” She makes the analogy between the elemental Guardians and Christian archangels, for the archangels are not God but “are beings who are otherworldly and who protect and support human beings while serving [God]”. Lipp further states that:
The primary purpose of the Guardians is to serve the Gods; they are involved with humans, protecting and guarding us, only as a sort of byproduct to protecting and guarding rituals devoted to, and sacred to, Them. Outside of ritual, they have little interest in us, and don’t seem to watch over people in their day-to-day lives. The Guardians protect a ritual both from danger coming from their direction and danger coming from their element. So, the Guardian of the South prevents danger from entering a ritual from the South, and also prevents fire from breaking out in the ritual. Their nature is heavily influenced by their element, but the Guardians aren’t made up exclusively of their element in the way that elementals are.
Unlike elementals, Guardians are generally found only in ritual space, or on spirit journeys or in visions. They don’t flow (or burn, or…) through nature the way that elementals do. As such, they are really the provenance of magicians and Witches, but they can be powerful allies and great teachers in that environment.
What might this have to do with the named kings Paralda, Djin, Necksa, and Ghob that Roderick brings up? Well, this is likely a bleed-through from the Golden Dawn/Enochian influence on Wicca. The Golden Dawn preserves these names as elemental Kings, but there’s the Enochian aspect, too. As James Berry, Deborah Lipp’s correspondent on Enochian matters, informed her, “Guardians” is a shortening of the Enochian phrase “Guardians of the Watchtowers.” In this system, the guardians are also given the names Paralda (Air), Seraph (Fire), Niksa (Water), and Ghob (Earth).
I think, then, that Roderick is actually asking us to work at connections between these elementals and their Guardians as opposed to a set group of creatures and four connected figure heads. The Guardians don’t have to have these names or, in fact, be kings. Air and Fire are masculine elements, and might well have a more masculine guardian where Water and Earth are more feminine elements and might well have a more feminine guardian. While I don’t entirely agree with Hartwood Grove’s gender choices or figures for our guardians, we call a mixture of male and female figures from the Celtic pantheon as elemental Guardians (Gwydion for east/air, Brigit for south/fire, Manannan for west/water, and Arianrhod for north/earth). And, of course, the artist who drew the picture at the start of this post figured fire and earth as masculine entities and water and air as feminine ones.
I guess in Wicca, anything goes for Guardians so long as you have a reason for calling that aspect of the Guardian forth and have a strong understanding for how Guardians function.