From AnthroWiki
Victor Hugo: Night gnome (1856)
Heinrich Schlitt: Gnome with newspaper and tobacco pipe under a toadstool, with a snail above him and a tree frog in the glass (1923 at the latest).

Gnomes, goblins[1], dwarfs[2], wichtelmen[3], earth spirits[4], mountain spirits, rock spirits or elementary beings of the solid are elementary beings that arose as a cut-off from the hierarchy of the Archai [5]. Their astral home is the interior of the earth, from whose spiritual-soul layers they rise and are therefore particularly close to the earthly embodied human being[6]. They live as root spirits in the damp earth and carry the life ether to the plant. They are entirely sensory organs, but at the same time they absorb thoughts with their perception. They receive the ideas of the universe through the plants and carry them through the earth, especially in autumn and winter. They are super-comprehending beings and have their counterpart in the human thought life.

Normally the gnomes are enclosed in the realm of the root. Gnomes, however, also live in all rock formations. However, they can also grow beyond these boundaries, in fact they always strive to do so, and in this way they grow into gigantic forms: the gnomes then become frost giants.

„The initiate of today knows quite well how a spiritual being is redeemed from every stone in his consciousness, just as other spiritual beings are redeemed from plants. They come to meet you if you do not stop at the outer sense-perception. And every time one goes into Nature, when, for example, one first sees, emerging from their stone dwellings, the goblin-like elementary beings who are inside everywhere where Nature begins to become a little elementary - then, when one thus becomes acquainted and befriends these elementary beings, one soon also sees behind these elementary beings, especially behind the elementary beings of the mineral world, higher Beings who finally lead up to the first Hierarchy, up to the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.

And if the exercises which I have given in the book "How to attain knowledge of the higher worlds", translated into English under the title "Initiation", are carried out consistently, if one does these exercises consistently, with great inner energy, willingness to make sacrifices and devotion, then it is actually already the case that if one gets the proper inner courage, one first comes upon something like this, that in special mineral impacts outside in the mountains, in a piece of stone, whole worlds of elemental beings are hidden. They only come out in this way, they slip out in all directions, become large, and testify that they are really only rolled up, pushed together in the parts of the elementary world. They are beings first of all within the mineral sphere of nature, especially where the earth comes into a state of " greening ", that it feels so fresh, that it has an earthy aroma, that the plants also have an earthy aroma. When you enter this world of elementary beings, these elementary beings can make you afraid and anxious. And these elementary beings that come out of there are of an unbelievable cleverness. One must have the modesty to say to oneself, when the dwarfs come out of the natural facts and natural objects, "Here you are, you stupid human being, how clever this elementary world is! - And because many people do not like to say this in earnest, because they do not even like to say that a small child who has just been born is much cleverer than one who has learned a great deal - if one looks at it inwardly - that is why these elementary beings at first elude the sight of man. But if one can enter into them, then the horizon, so to speak, widens, and what these teasing dwarfs, teasing one with their cleverness and wisdom, open up as a foreground, carries into a background which comes up to the first Hierarchy, up to the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.“ (Lit.:GA 240, p. 266f)

The gnomes have a physical body as their highest member. Below this, they have three further members that reach down into the third, second and first elementary kingdoms. Due to the effect of these three lower members, the physical body of the gnomes is not usually visible to the senses. Only under the high pressure of the earthly depths do they take on something like physical materiality. If this pressure is released, this physical materiality dissipates very quickly (see also → members of the elementary beings). The gnomes form their bodies from the invisible, fleeting force of gravity, which therefore constantly runs the risk of losing its substance and disintegrating. The gnomes are therefore extremely attentive to their surroundings, to everything that could endanger their existence, and are constantly compelled to recreate themselves again and again, as it were, out of gravity, and appear as a constantly multiplying, uncountable multiplicity.

„... these gnomes bind together, I would like to say, everything that is present in terms of gravity, and form their bodies out of the fleeting, invisible gravity, which, by the way, is constantly in danger of disintegrating, of losing its substance. The gnomes have to create themselves out of gravity again and again, so to speak, because they are always in danger of losing their substance. Thus these gnomes, in order to save their own existence, are continually attentive to what is going on around them. There are no more attentive beings for earth observation than such a gnome. He watches everything, because he must know everything, must grasp everything, in order to save his life. He must always be awake; if he were to become sleepy, as people often are, he would immediately die of his sleepiness.

There is a German proverb that actually, coming from very ancient times, expresses very well this characteristic of the gnomes to always be alert. They say: Be as careful as a Wichtelman. - And Wichtelmen are just the gnomes. So if you want to remind someone to be attentive, then you say to them, "Pay attention like a gnome. - He really is an attentive being.“ (Lit.:GA 230, p. 129f)

Rudolf Steiner characterises the nature of the gnomes thus:

„We must not speak merely of the solid elements, sodium, calcium and so on, but of that which is connected with all solid, earthly things as spiritual. We must say that what we encounter in the outer world as solid, earthly things is certainly of such a nature that spirit is connected with it, and indeed a spirit which has a special inclination to multiplicity, so much to multiplicity that we cannot even measure this multiplicity. Wherever we look at the solid, we also find, if we look at it in the right way, spiritual things, and indeed many and manifold spiritual beings.

An old instinctive wisdom has spoken here of gnomes and the like. We need not, in order not to shock too much, retain these old expressions; we can certainly speak in a language that is familiar to us, but we must nevertheless look at what shines out at us in certain regions of the earth, especially from every lump of materiality, as spiritual. And so, when we are together, as we are today, in a somewhat more esoteric way, then it may be expressed in this quicker form: He who today is equipped with spiritual perception then confronts this lump of earth in such a way that spiritual beings spring forth which are not embodied in the physical, so that we do not see them with outer eyes, but which can be perceived spiritually. And one can say that they are so much designed for multiplicity that an immeasurable number of such beings can leap out of the smallest lump. They are of such a nature that they consist almost entirely of that which works in the human intellect; they are cunning, clever, superintelligent beings. So that around us there is, I would say, spiritual-living cleverness, cunning, quicker spiritual comprehension than in intellectual, comprehensible form, for this intellectual, which has become substance, lives in all solid earthly element. And until we know how these spiritual beings, which are in the solid earthly element, work together, there will be no true chemistry. What we have today as chemistry, anthroposophy can face with understanding, but the truth will only be grasped when that which is comprehensible to supersensible vision, when spirituality can be found in all that is earthly. Then we must have the will to leave behind even the firmest pillars of intellectuality with human prudence. When we face the earthly, be it whatever we have to count: 1, 2, 3, 4 ..., we are accustomed to see, when we have counted to four, that the sum of four lies before us. That which we detach from solid spiritual entities, which confronts us in its eagerness for diversity, we can begin to count, but then it turns out that it is no longer three or four, but has already become seven: all our counting leaves us on this occasion. Within what mankind knows as the atomistic world, one can count; within the real world everything is set on a much greater multiplicity, there everything is alive, there we must become aware that even our counting is mocked by the higher intelligence. In this world we must not allow our intellect to become absorbed in thought, even though it remains levelheaded; we must fully face with our intellect that which reality offers us. Many will say: "When you encounter something like that in reality, you can go mad! - For this reason it will be of great importance that, before man enters this world, he has come to full prudence and is able to judge earthly conditions with all dryness.“ (Lit.:GA 211, p. 203ff)

Gnomes are also found in the depths of the mountains, wherever stone and metal nestle together. What always stands out is their superior power of understanding:

„Wherever different kingdoms of nature touch, there is an opportunity for certain spiritual beings to embody themselves. Where metal nestles against stone in the interior of the earth, the seer, when the miner cuts away the earth, sees strange beings crouching together in various places, as if huddled together, in a very small space. They scatter when the earth is removed. They are strange beings which, for example, are not at all unlike human beings in certain respects. They have no physical body, but they have minds. But the difference between them and human beings is that they have intellect without responsibility. That is why they do not have the feeling of being wronged by the many tricks they play on people. These beings are called gnomes, and the earth is home to numerous species of them, and they are at home where stone touches metal. In former times they served mankind very well in the old mining industry, not in the coal mine, but in the metal mine. The way in which mines were laid out in ancient times, the knowledge of how the strata were laid down, was heard through these beings. And the best disposed seams knew these beings who knew how the strata were deposited in the interior of the earth, and who could therefore give the best instructions as to how it should be worked. If one does not want to work with the spiritual beings and only relies on the sensual, then one comes to a dead end. From these spiritual beings one must learn a certain procedure to explore the earth.“ (Lit.:GA 98, p. 88ff)

Gnomes hate the earthly and are constantly in danger of taking on the form of amphibians. Out of this antipathy they gain the power to drive the plants out of the earth. They form the wide-awake complement to the lower animals, which have only dull consciousness. The amphibians and reptiles are, as it were, the bowels of the earth; the gnomes are their supplement towards the top, towards the head. The reptiles and amphibians have a strongly closed etheric body, but live very strongly with everything that is determined by the outer astral world of the earth, namely the weather events.

„You see, we have the whole army of the lower, presently lower animals, those animals which consist, so to speak, only of a soft mass, which work in the liquid element, live in the liquid element, which have no skeleton of any kind, that is, nothing which gives them an inner support. They are beings who belong to the late evolved beings of the earth, beings who actually only now carry out under the already developed earth what the oldest earth being, man, carried out in relation to his head structure during the old Saturnian time. Thus these beings do not come to form those hardenings which can become a skeletal support.

Now the gnomes are those beings who, as it were, outwardly supplement in the world in a spiritual way that which is lacking in this quite lower animal world up to amphibians and fish themselves, which have only hints of the skeleton - especially the fish - so that, as it were, this lower animal stage becomes a whole only through the existence of gnomes.

And because the relations of the beings in the world are very different, something plays between these lower beings and the gnomes which I characterised yesterday as antipathy. The gnomes do not want to become like these lower beings. They always want to be careful not to take on the form of these lower beings. These gnomes are, as I have described to you, extraordinarily clever, intelligent beings. With perception they have already given intelligence; they are really in everything the antithesis of the lower animal world. And while they have the significance for plant growth that I characterised yesterday, they really form a complement for the lower animal world. They add, so to speak, to the lower animal world what this lower animal world does not have. This lower animal world has a dull consciousness; they, the gnomes, have a brightest consciousness. This lower animal world has no skeleton, no bone support; these gnomes bind together, I would like to say, everything that is present in terms of gravity, and form their bodies out of the fleeting, invisible gravity, which, incidentally, is constantly in danger of disintegrating, of losing its substance. The gnomes must, so to speak, create themselves again and again out of gravity, because they are always in danger of losing their substance. Thus these gnomes, in order to save their own existence, are continually attentive to what is going on around them. There are no more attentive beings for earth observation than such a gnome. He watches everything, because he must know everything, must grasp everything, in order to save his life. He must always be awake; if he were to become sleepy, as men often are, he would immediately die of his sleepiness.“ (Lit.:GA 230, p. 128f)

Man can meet the gnomes above all in the dream when he falls asleep.

„In the present situation of earthly development, man is dependent on the etheric body for the use of his soul and on the physical body for the use of his spirit. The physical body, which provides the tools for the spirit, the sensory apparatus, is incapable of making contact with the entities which underlie the physical world. Neither is the etheric body of the human being, which the human being needs in order to develop as a soul being. In this way, if I may express myself in this way, man actually misses out half of his earthly environment. Everything that surrounds the elementary beings of which I spoke yesterday escapes him. The physical and the etheric body cannot get at that...

Well, I told you, the body actually forms an obstacle to perceiving such people. The moment the body no longer offers such an obstacle, these beings are there, just as other beings of nature are there for visibility. And those who have reached the point of experiencing the dream of falling asleep in full consciousness know these gnomes well. You need only remember what I have just said about the dream in the "Goetheanum". I said that the dream does not actually appear before the ordinary consciousness in its true form, but wears a mask. The dream of falling asleep also wears a mask. We do not immediately emerge from what we have experienced in the ordinary consciousness during the day, or from what we have otherwise experienced; reminiscences, memory images from life, or symbols, symbols of the inner organs, the heart as an oven, the lungs as wings and so on symbolise themselves. These are masks. If man were to see the dream without a mask, if he were to sleep over and really enter the world without the beings that are there masking themselves, then man would see this whole army of dwarf men just as he was falling asleep; they would come to meet him.

But man is, so to speak, protected for the ordinary consciousness from perceiving these things unprepared, because he would be frightened by them. For in the form in which they confront us, they actually form actual images of all the destructive forces at work in the human being. The human being would perceive everything at the same time in his being that works in him as destructive forces, that continually degrades. And these gnomes, perceived unprepared, would be nothing but symbols of death. Man would be tremendously frightened if he had not heard of them at all for his ordinary mind, and now, when he fell asleep, they would come to meet him and bury him, as it were, for that is the way it looks, bury him, as it were, over there in the astral world. For it is a kind of being buried by the gnomes that goes on there when one falls asleep, seen from over there.“ (Lit.:GA 230, p. 128ff)

Malignant gnomes and undines can cause parasitic infestations in humans and animals. They also have to do with all the destructive forces that are necessary in man so that consciousness can arise; they therefore also form the brain, which is a metamorphosed excretory product.

„"Take the gnomes and undines; they are, so to speak, in the world that borders on the world of human consciousness, they are already beyond the threshold. Ordinary consciousness is protected from seeing these entities because these entities are actually not all benign. Benign beings are those I described yesterday, who, for example, work on plant growth in the most diverse ways. But not all of them are benign beings. And at the moment when one breaks into the world where these beings work, not only are the benign ones there, but the malignant ones are also there. You first have to get an idea of which of them are benign and which are malignant. That is not so easy. You will see that from the way I have to describe the malignant ones. The malignant entities differ above all from the benign entities in that the benign ones stick more to the plant kingdom and to the mineral kingdom; but the malignant entities always want to get close to the animal kingdom and to the human kingdom; even more malignant ones then also to the plant kingdom and to the mineral kingdom. But one gets quite a respectable idea of the malignity which beings of this kingdom can have, if one gets involved with those who want to approach man and the animals and actually want to accomplish in man what is assigned by the higher Hierarchies to the benign ones for the plant and mineral world. You see, there are just such malignant beings from the gnome and undine kingdoms who approach man and animals and cause in man and animals that which they are supposed to add to the lower animals is realised in man in a physical way; in man it is already there anyway. In man it should realise itself in a physical way, also in the animal. Through the presence of these malignant gnome and undine beings, lower animal or plant beings, parasites, live in man and in the animal. And so the malignant beings are the bringers forth of the parasites. But, I would like to say, the moment man crosses the threshold to the spiritual world, he immediately enters into the subtleties of this world. There are pitfalls everywhere, and one must first learn something from the gnomes, namely to watch out. The spiritists, for example, can never do that. There are pitfalls everywhere. Somebody might say: What are these malignant gnomes and undines there for if they cause parasitic beings? Yes, if they were not there at all, these beings, then man would not be able to develop in himself the power to form his brain mass. And here we come to something that is extraordinarily significant.

Plate VI from GA 230

I will sketch this out for you schematically (Plate VI, left). If you think of man as a metabolism-limb man, as a chest man, i.e. as a rhythmic man, and then as a head man, i.e. as a nerve-sense man, you must be quite clear: here below processes are going on - let us leave out the rhythmic man - here above again processes are going on. If you take together the processes which take place below, there is essentially one result which is usually disregarded in ordinary life: it is the excretory processes, excretions through the intestines, excretions through the kidneys and so on, all the excretory processes which pour downwards. These excretory processes are usually regarded only as excretory processes. But that is nonsense. It is not merely excreted in order that it may be excreted, but to the same extent that the products of excretion appear, something similar appears spiritually in the lower man, as the brain is physically above. What happens in the lower man is a process that stops halfway in relation to his physical development. It is eliminated because the thing passes over into the spiritual. Above, the process is completed. That which is only spiritual down there is physically formed there. Above we have a physical brain, below a spiritual brain. And if one were to subject what is excreted below to a further process, if one were to continue to transform it, then the last metamorphosis would be the human brain for the time being.

The human brain mass is a further formed excretory product. This is something that is extremely important, for example, in medical terms, and something that the doctors of the 16th and 17th centuries were well aware of. Certainly, today people talk in a very derogatory way, and rightly so in some respects, about the old "dirty pharmacy". But because we do not know that the so-called mummies of the spirit were still present in the dirt. Of course, this is not meant to be an apotheosis of what has been called the "dirty pharmacy" in the last centuries, but I am pointing to many truths which have such a deep connection as the one I have just explained.

The brain is indeed a higher metamorphosis of the excretory products. Hence the connection of the brain diseases with the intestinal diseases; hence also the connection of the healing of the brain diseases and the intestinal diseases.

You see, now that there are gnomes and undines, that there is a world in which gnomes and undines can live, the forces are present which can certainly cause parasites from the lower human being, but which at the same time are the cause in the upper human being to metamorphose the excretory products into the brain. We could not have a brain at all if the world were not so arranged that there could be gnomes and undines. That which applies to gnomes and undines in relation to the forces of destruction - destruction, degradation then again proceeds from the brain - applies to sylphs and fire beings in relation to the forces of construction.“ (Lit.:GA 230, p. 136ff)


Steiner big.jpg
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. GA 102, p. 171
  2. GA 240, p. 267
  3. GA 230, p. 130
  4. The designation -ghosts' is, strictly speaking, incorrect, since they do not have an independent I, i.e. an individual spirit.
  5. GA 136, p. 64
  6. Karsten Massei: Schule der Elementarwesen, S. 24