By Megan Whisennand
When I was twelve, my best friend introduced me to Wicca. We spent hours on the computer looking up spells and rituals. Afterwards, of course, we had to try out some of what we’d learned, casting circles out in the field, meditating, reciting incantations, and my favorite, trying to invoke spirits. It was during one of these involving sessions that we got the bright idea to document our experiments with my mother’s camera.
Sitting in the living room in the dark with a single candle between us, we took pictures and filmed our unsuccessful attempts to summon a spirit. Then afterwards, when we looked over the photos, we noticed something odd. Coming from the candle were streaks of light, curving and zigzagging like lightning.
I now know this phenomenon was probably just the exposure letting in more light to make up for the dark setting, resulting in weird effects. But back then, the photo was the single coolest thing to our young minds—proof that we had succeeded in summoning a spirit.
That event led to my interest in elementals.
Elementals are a lower class of spirits that inhabit various elements, the most common being earth, air, water, and fire.
There isn’t one set origin point for elementals. I had originally thought it was with alchemists during the medieval ages, but further research has shown that a number of groups have some form of elementals. From Greece to China to Native Americans—each culture has its own version of spirits that are based on the elements.
However, for the sake of simplicity, in my work I want to focus on just the alchemic version of elementals. It’ll make design simpler since each group has their own image for elementals—ranging from just tiny people to creatures invisible to the human eye.
In alchemy, elementals are associated with mythical beings: undines for water, sylphs for air, gnomes for earth, and salamanders for fire. Aside from salamanders, which appears as its name suggests, the elements take on mostly human shapes.
My own designs for elementals have been all over the place. First I thought I would just make them all humanoid-shaped, with bodies made up of their respective elements. But then I had the idea to base them all on types of lizards—salamanders for fire, axolotl for water, flying dragons for air, and horned lizards for earth. I ended up trashing that idea since it took the design too far from the original.
Finally, I settled on more of a free form. In my story, elementals won’t be creatures that just roam the wild. Rather, they will be created by magick users to assist them, and therefore, the actual form will depend on who summoned the elemental and their skill level. A high-level user will be able to summon a large, dragon-shaped fire elemental, while a low level user might only be able to summon a little lizard barely able to burn. This will also apply to the elemental’s intelligence. A powerful user could summon an elemental that is capable of thought and speech, while a weak user would only be able to summon an elemental that needs to be constantly given orders and led around.
Still, I want elementals to be at least a little uniform and not all over the place, so each of their bodies will be completely made up of their respected element. Fire elementals will be made up of flames that are constantly flickering and smoking. Water elementals will drip and form puddles if they stand in one place too long. Earth elementals will be a construct of various rocks piled together. But air elementals are a bit more complicated. I don’t want them to have the advantage of being invisible, so instead they’ll be made up of air currents that are constantly picking up debris—dust, leaves, snow—that at least gives a vague impression of their shape.
What element do you most connect with? And if you could summon your own elemental, what shape would you give it?