Jordan Greywolf's depiction of a sylph
The Oxford English Dictionary lists the etymology of ‘sylph’ as coming from the modern Latin sylphes or sylphi or the German sylphen. It also notes that Paracelsus may have arbitrarily coined the word from sylvestris (of the forest) and nympha (young women, demi-goddess). There might also be a connection to the suleviæ, or female tutelary spirits venerated in Gaul.
Roderick says that “traditional occultists claim that sylphs live within the etheric dimensions of the element air” and that they–like all elemental creatures–are spiritual helpers who “impart the spiritual powers and energies of air.” These power and energies are clear thought, imagination, creativity, communicative skills, listening skills, and intellectual capacity. The sylphs can also diminish these skill, which can lead on to become ‘air-headed’, confused, unable to communicate or understand ideas. Roderick concludes by saying “witches work with sylphs when they want to rebalance their own air energies, or when they work with the magic of air. They also call upon sylphs to guard and protect the eastern quarter of the ritual circle.”
I think Roderick is a little off, especially with that last bit. I think that, like the Greeks, I will maintain that all matter must be comprised of parts of all four elements and that things that have only one element–like the elementals–are outside matter. As such, I really don’t think I would call elementals to guard and protect a fourth of my circle. They are incapable of acting in any way but that of their element. Sylphs, for example, are incapable of acting with feeling or with will. We need something with Spirit–that fifth animating force which emerges from combining elements–to offer the balance guardianship requires. I also don’t think the elementals purposefully ‘impart’ their powers to humans. We’re very much outside of their restricted comprehension, and I don’t think they have any innate regard for humanity. Maybe they don’t have any for the Gods either.
I prefer Deborah Lipp’s description, which I’ve replicated below:
Sylphs are composed of Air. They think and they float. They are rarified and elusive. They do not respond to feeling, and they do not feel. They cannot be praised, fed, or excited. They are exclusively beings of wind, thought, and flight. you cannot persuade a sylph to care, because caring is emotion–Water. Do not expect deep connection with sylphs, because depth is not in the nature of Air.
Renaissance art depicts sylphs as winged, with human forms, often appearing to be tiny cherubs. It is likely that the modern idea of fairies, such as the Victorian artist Arthur Rackham depicted in his illustrations of fairy tales and Shakespeare, has more to do with sylphs than with the fey folk. Like wind, sylphs move quickly and suddenly, and can travel great distances. Like the element of Air, sylphs are masters of thought and speech. They are intelligent and persuasive. Remember, though, that the gift of gab is a double-edged sword. Sylphs are not known for their honesty or concern. Although no person is made purely of intellect, if you think of people who are mostly intellectual, you’ll realize that sylphs can also be superior, disdainful, and dismissive.
Practice: Meeting the Sylphs
What You’ll Need
To begin, light some air incense and dab the air oil at all seven body-energy centers: base of the spine, pubic region, solar plexus, heart, throat, center of the brow, crown of the head. Next you will engage in a guided imagery. As always, you can read it and memorize the imagery sequence now, have a friend read it to you with your eyes closed, or tape record it for later playback.
Find a comfortable lying-down position and close your eyes. Take several deep breaths and allow your body to become relaxed. Slowly allow the earth to hold you completely. Surrender your body weight to the planet, where it belongs.
Imagine that you stand on the cliff overlooking a vast, grassy plain. The cliff faces the east. You hold your spirit hands up and flex the palms of your hands so that they face outward toward the grassy plain. Feel the energy of the land circulate through you completely until you feel that you are one with the energy. Then imagine that you cast this energy out through your hands and it appears as an electric-yellow power that crackles and sizzles. Imagine that you turn your spirit body in a clockwise direction, casting a circle of protection and containment with this energy that bursts forth from your hands. When you face the east again, the energy stops emanating from your hands.
You are now completely surrounded by this field of energy, yet you are able to clearly see through it, out across the grassy plain. Raise your hands to the sky and mentally summon forth the sylphs, the spirits of air. Soon the wind begins to blow and little by little they appear. They surround your magic circle. take time to observe them carefully. As they surround you, your circle takes on a sparkling golden hue. Ask the sylphs where you can find them near your home. Remember what they tell you.
when you have heard their answer, bid them farewell and request that they return to their magical realm. Little by little, you observe them fly away, leaving only the golden aura that surrounds you and your magic circle. This aura left behind is the balancing force of air. Feel it balance you, center you, and cause you to become whole.
Reader: pause for a few moments.
When you feel you have absorbed enough of the elementals’ powers, it is time to banish the circle you created. Hold your hands up again to the east, begin to turn your spirit-body in a clockwise direction. This time as you turn, imagine that you draw the energies of the circle back into your body. Allow the energy to return to the earth below your feet, grounding it completely.
Reader: pause for a few moments.
Once you have finished, it is time to open your eyes. Get down on your hands and knees and place your forehead to the floor, grounding and solidifying all of the energy you raised.
Take time to journal about your experiences, to draw a picture of the sylphs, and to write down where you can find them near your home.
Wind Whistler from My Little Ponies
Oh, I’ve been watching way too much ’80s cartoon reruns through YouTube these days. The sylphs I saw once I drew the yellow circle (a very nice visualization, if I do say so myself), were very quick little buggers, flitting around from here to there so fast, I couldn’t see them clearly. However, they were a little reminiscent of ponies! More embarassing, they kind of looked a little like Wind Whistler from My Little Ponies. Very pale, ice blue bodies and streaming clouds as their manes. I’m sure they had wings, too…though I really couldn’t see them through the billowing clouds.
I never would have thought about it before, but I supposed winged horses make sense as air sylphs. They are decidedly ‘airy’, of course, and through the legends of Pegasus have lots of connections with inspiration: Pegasus was also known as the “horse of the muses”, and everywhere his hooves touched the ground, inspiring springs would burst forth. Though these are waters (and though Pegasus’s father was Poseidon, god of the seas), the inspiration draw is very clearly something in the realm of air. (After all, ‘to inspire’ is also ‘to breathe’.)
It wasn’t surprising to me where the sylphs said they could be found in my area: at the tops of the buttes, and in the parks near the hills. Basically, they can be found in places where you can go ‘up’ and escape the heavy, particle-filled valley air.