A gnome is a diminutive spirit in Renaissance magic and alchemy, first introduced by the Swiss German botanist, philosopher, astrologer and alchemist Paracelsus in the 16th century and later adopted by more recent authors including those of modern fantasy literature. Paracelsus classified them as earth elementals, making them spirits of the ‘Earth’ element while the other three classical elements Water, Fire, and Air each had their own spirits. Air elementals were called sylphs, fire elementals were called salamanders and water elementals were called undines. They could only be seen in our physical world, when they decided to lower their vibration to our physical reality and they did not do that very often, as they were very reluctant to interact with humans.
A Gnome is a small creature who hides underground, because they have an affinity for the earth, and they are usually described as being dwarfish men that are shriveled and old. They inhabit the interior of the earth and act as guardians of its treasures. In old legends, these little men were miners who lived underground usually inside of hills and they possessed great wisdom about working with precious metals and stones. Their special insight was not limited to just mining the earth, as they were also said to be experts in managing money. Gnomes were the guardians of golden treasure, and it was their duty to provide protection for buried treasure and minerals in the ground.
Gnomes able to breathe underground and move through solid earth as easily as humans move through air. Gnomes have historically been described as small stout beings ranging from a few inches to a few feet in height. They have large noses and a keen sense of smell. Gnomes wear bright red conical pointed hats, solid colored tight-fitting brown clothes with hoods similar to those of monks, and the males have long white beards. Though sightings of female gnomes are rarely reported, gnome women are generally thought to be beard-free. The female gnomes tend to have long hair, the same hat and a simple dress, and look somewhat like witches. It is believed they were very protective of their women and would defend them to all cost against predators and intruders, and later in history from humans. If their lands came under attack they would ride on goats and brandish spears to drive out the invaders. Legend says that if a Gnome is caught out in the daylight, that the rays of the Sun would turn them into stone.
The word Gnome probably comes from the Greek word “gnosis”, meaning knowledge. It was probably applied to these creatures because of their knowledge of finding and working with precious metals and stones. They were good-natured, reliable, and they typically lived for hundreds of years, and enjoyed cold climates. Gnomes were defenders of the meek and all things worthy of protection. They were seen as benevolent beings that were intelligent and wise, hard working in manual labor, peaceful in nature yet fierce defenders when it was necessary. They tend to maintain good relationships with birds, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs and squirrels. They were the guardians of farmland, they watched over gardens, small livestock and forest animals. Stories say that if people did discover a gnome hill around, that they could ask them to clean the dishes, or to do other household work. A plate of bread or a pitcher milk would be put on the table as their pay, and the gnomes would come at night to perform all the work that was requested. People would testify that in the morning the work was done, and the bread or milk would be gone.
Gnomes traveled through tunnels that lead to mysterious dark strange places. Gnomes know the secrets of all underground streams and rivers where water has properties unknown to human. In a way, gnomes are also experts on rocks and can determine their age and read the past from them. Gnomes are said to have magical powers that they can use to protect or punish people, or to reward them with happiness. The king of the gnome race, Gob, possessed a magic sword that is said to have influenced the melancholic temperament of man. Gnomes are similar to dwarves, goblins, kobolds, leprechauns and trolls.
Garden Gnomes have a long history, that dates back to the second century AD, when the Roman emperor Hadrian had hermits living throughout his villa’s garden at Tivoli, which included a small lake with a structure in it built for one person to retreat. In the 1700s, aristocrats with too much money hired ordinary people to pose as monks or druids and live in their gardens for years. They were thought to be the ultimate garden ornament, but recruiting a hermit wasn’t always easy. Sometimes they were agricultural workers, and they were dressed in a costume, often in a druid’s costume. There was no agreement on how druids dressed, but in some cases they wore what would be called a dunce’s cap. The hermits were often asked not to wear shoes and they were required to entertain guests by reading poetry or serving wine. 18th-century folks put a lot of stock in somberness, and nothing symbolized spiritual reflection and personal sacrifice better than a hermit. This bizarre custom didn’t last long, and as the 1800s rolled around, professional hermits found themselves out of a job. However, their legacy lives on as they evolved into the modern-day garden gnome.
Stone statues were placed in gardens to bring good fortune and they were called “grotesques”, because these figurines were purposely made to look hideous and disfigured. Gargoyles were decorative waterspouts and gnomes decorated gardens. By the late 1700s, the small statues became known as “house dwarves” and they were popular household decorations in Germany and Switzerland. These figurines were generally made of wood or porcelain and looked similar to the modern garden gnome. Having a garden gnome or a lawn jockey by your driveway is a matter of personnel taste. There have been cases where people steal garden gnomes and take them along on their travels and then return them to the owner with pictures that they took on their journey. If these gnomes were able to talk, they would surely have some extraordinary tales to tell.