Elementals: What Is An Elemental? And the Guardians of the Watchtowers
Before modern witchcraft, Wicca and ceremonial magic sort of ruled the occult community. And casting a circle before ritual and invoking the elementals was a popular practice among practitioners. But what is an elemental? And are the elementals the same as the guardians of the watchtowers?
First, What is an Elemental?
First we answer the question, what is an elemental? You’ve heard of the four elements, right? Earth, air, fire and water are the four core elements according to Western magical tradition. An elemental is the spirit of an element. Just as humans have bodies AND a soul, so do elementals. The element itself (air, for example) is the physical manifestation of the elemental, while the sylph is the spirit of air. As above, so below. There are four elementals to correspond with the four elements: Gnomes are earth elementals, Undines are water elementals, Sylphs are air elementals and Salamanders are fire elementals.
Where Did the Belief in Elementals Originate?
The first wink of elemental belief originates in the Medieval Ages with alchemy. Paracelsus being one of the first alchemists to study and use the four main elements in his practice. If you ask a Wiccan today, you’ll hear it’s a Wiccan belief but truly we see elementals being invoked in nineteenth century ceremonial magick. Namely the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This was a Masonic-inspired secret society, if you will, of occultists who studied and practiced high magick, metaphysics, and the paranormal. The Golden Dawn’s belief in elementals trickled down to more modern religions like Wicca and Aleister Crowley’s Thelema. Yet the belief everything in nature has consciousness and the belief in fairies predates occult societies such as these by thousands of years.
Who Are the Guardians of the Watchtowers?
Before we go any further, let’s define what the watchtowers are and how the elements and elementals may be connected. In ceremonial magick, practitioners cast a circle for protection and energy, and call on the “corners” or the four cardinal directions along with their respective elements. Typically, it goes like this: East = air, South = fire, West = water and North = earth. The corners or four cardinal directions are also known as the Watchtowers. (I literally envision a tower at each of the four directions when I call the corners.)
If you’ve ever watched the 90s movie The Craft, you might remember when the girls cast a circle and call the corners. “Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, Powers of Air and Invention, Hear Us!” Were they calling the elementals in or are the guardians of the watchtowers something completely different? My research suggests that depending on the tradition and even the individual, the Guardians of the Watchtowers can be one of many things. They could be the elementals, “kingdoms of elementals”, the basic four elements, OR in some cases, archangels. Here we focus specifically on the Elementals as Guardians of the Watchtowers.
Gnomes: Earth Elemental Guardians of the Watchtower of the North
Gnomes are the spirits of the earth element, also called earth elementals. They are guardians of the North and of the earth. The word Gnome comes from the Greek gnoma meaning knowledge. The King of the gnome kingdom, named Ghob, is sometimes invoked as a Guardian of the Watchtower of the North. Separate from being a Wiccan or ceremonial elemental, gnome folklore is found in many countries. These small faery beings live deep in ancient forests within intricate root systems. They are guardians of the ancient forests and all wildlife there. Gnomes are believed to bless one’s garden and home, hence why we have gnome lawn ornaments in modern times.
Gnome elementals appear as small, wizened men and women with green and blue outfits and red caps. The men have beards. They are sometimes capricious and always protective of their natural homes. In the Order of the Golden Dawn, gnomes were considered “essential spiritual beings” invoked to praise God in a ritual called Benedicite Omnia Opera.
Sylphs: Air Elementals, Guardians of the Watchtower of the East
Sylphs are the spirits of the air element, also called air elementals. The word sylph derives from the Greek silphe meaning butterfly. Sylphs are guardians of the East and of Air. The King of the Air kingdom’s name is Paralda and is invoked as a Guardian of the Watchtower of the East. Sylphs aren’t as steeped in folklore as gnomes, yet their presence is existential. I’ve known multiple practitioners who, after calling the corners and releasing them, have seen sylphs stick around. They seem to have a playful nature, more so than the other elementals. Sylphs appear as “tiny, winged creatures” who look “vaguely human”, according to Edain McCoy. Yet modern eyewitness accounts describe them as speedy, white wisps of air.
Salamanders: Fire Elementals, Guardians of the Watchtower of the South
Salamanders are the spirits of the fire element, also known as Fire Elementals. They are the guardians of the South and Fire. The word salamander‘s origin isn’t quite as clear but could relate to salambe which means fireplace. Salamanders originate in the Middle East, in the dry, hot desert where the fire element is ubiquitous. They’re also said to originate in China. The King of Salamanders’ name is Djinn, which links him to the Middle Eastern belief in the Djinn spirits or Djinni (where we get the Jeannie in the lamp concept).
While these beings share a name with the salamander animal, they aren’t quite the same. But, in the same flame, the salamander elemental sometimes resembles a lizard. When seen, salamanders dance, slither, and flit from flame to flame in the fire. If you’ve taken a picture of a bonfire or candle flame and noticed faces or small, darting dragons, you’ve seen the salamander elementals.
Undines: Water Elementals, Guardians of the Watchtower of the West
Undines are the spirits of the water element, also called Water Elementals. They guard the West and Water. The word undine comes from the word unda meaning wave. Undines are found everywhere there is a body of water. They often manifest in the form of a mer-being, half-human half-fish, but present themselves in any form they choose. They’ve also been known to look like kelpies – water horses. Their origins are Greek and Middle Eastern, and according to Edain McCoy, the undines were considered “demi-gods” by the ancient Romans. They are also called sea sprites and sea guardians. Niksa is the King of the Undines.
Why Call on the Elementals as Guardians of the Watchtowers?
You don’t have to be Wiccan or a ceremonial magician to cast a circle and call the elementals. In fact, I recommend it to anyone who wants to perform an elaborate ritual on a sabbat that might need to raise extra energy or requires extra protection. When you invoke the elementals and call on them as guardians of the watchtowers, you aren’t just calling the elements – you’re giving them a name. Giving someone or something a name is powerful.
When you call on the elementals and ask them to aid your workings, you call on the very essence of the four elements…the basis of all life on this planet. THAT is power! The elementals are known for aiding magical workings of all kinds and should be thanked and released when your circle is opened at the end of ritual. Learn how to cast a circle here if you don’t know how. Then refer to the graphic above for how to call the guardians of the watchtowers.