Elementals, also known as a Aeiirii, Saiitii (AKA Saaaiti, Saaitti), Terrors from Beyond, poltergeists, demons, tommyknockers, buccas, gremlins, domovoi, gnomes, goblins, dybbuks, or kobolds
Origin: this type of spirit has its origins in the most ancient human folklore, but the terms 'Aeiirii' and 'Saiitii' (and variations) first appears in the Carnacki supernatural detective stories of William Hope Hodgson, while the similar "Terror from Beyond" is used to describe entities first described in H.P. Lovecraft's "From Beyond (fiction)".
A note on Dungeons and Dragons: the term "elemental" as used in role-playing games was heavily conventionalized and formalized in Dungeons and Dragons, with elementals taking very specific forms relating to the classic elements of alchemy (fire, water, air, earth) and their variants. As used in weird fiction and this article, "elemental" is more commonly used in an older or more occult sense to refer to a kind of shadowy, malevolent or at least mischievous, inhuman nature or demonic spirit, perhaps amorphous in form, and not necessarily tied to any specific alchemical element (compare with the sense used in "exposure to the elements", used to describe something which has been ravaged and eroded by intangible forces of nature.)
Elemental Spirits and Hauntings
"Very odd things indeed can happen during early morning birdwatching. One ornithologist was occupied in that way by the shore of a Scottish loch. He became aware of an inexplicable entity that had somehow appeared on the (generally rather open and bleak) opposite shore. It looked like a man and yet not like a man and, what was more, it appeared to be entirely black. The ornithologist was alarmed from the start, but as he stared at the entity, it began to move along the side of the loch. It seemed to be doing so with extraordinary swiftness. The loch was fairly large, but it was not long before the idea came to the ornithologist that the entity might be making for him in particular. He departed at a quick walk. After he had managed to look over his shoulder, the walk became a very fast run. But the situation was hopeless: the black entity was gaining on him at a rate entirely beyond common experience; and he could see now that as well as being black, it was huge. Beside that part of the loch stretched a rough road, down which the ornithologist was fleeing. When the entity had all but caught up with him, the ornithologist threw himself over a five-barred gate into an adjoining large meadow or waste-land. There was little point in doing so. It was sheer, unthinking, desperation. As he landed on the ground, he fainted. There, hours later, he was found by a shepherd; still unconscious, but otherwise alive and without physical injury. Possibly he had seen what is known as an 'elemental': perhaps the earliest and most primitive form of surviving organism, natural or supernatural. It was understood that he gave up birdwatching thereafter."
— Robert Aickman, "The River Runs Uphill"
"Come, you must have seen it... Didn't you see? A thing like a man, all over hair, and two great eyes to it? Black it was... and a mass of hair, and two legs, and the light caught on its eyes...."
— M.R. James, "An Episode of Cathedral History"
"There was something living in the computer and server room air ducts, small and hairy, you could see its eyes in the dark - you put a call center out in the hills, and of course that's what you're gunna get. It was scaring the ladies working over the midnight shift, so we just told them it was a 'possum, but even we could tell that the whole system was haunted: something kept gumming up the servers, and messing with the scripting and changing settings around, and running off with memory and processors and cables and what-have-you. We weren't fooling no one, no how: 'We saw your "possum" again last night', the ladies would always say, sarcastically, "it still don't look like no 'possums we ever seen." Them in management didn't know any better, though, and we sure weren't going to tell them otherwise - you can't tell city people nothing, so "'possum" was what we told 'em, that's what they put down in the log books, and that's what they told the exterminators they called. The exterminators never saw any 'possums up there, they just set a few traps, then collected them, empty, a couple weeks later, and I know they knew it wasn't nothing natural creeping around there at night. Then things just went on like usual, the ladies still seeing shadows creeping around the computers at night, and eyes staring out of the air vents, or peekin' in the windows at them out of the dark, till I guess them things got bored with us and wandered off, and we never seen 'em little people again."
—Rural Information Technology Department
'Elemental hauntings' refers specifically to a type of spirit that was never a living a human being, and perhaps never even had a physical, corporeal form, originating instead on the Astral Plane or other outer dimensions. The signs of a haunting by an elemental spirit are varied, but are associated with mental imbalance, confusion, disorientation, heightened emotion, a sense of unease or generalized anxiety, violent mood swings, manic-depression, and even hysteria in their victims; mysterious sounds (like knockings and tappings, or strange tones or music with no apparent physical source); small objects that disappear or move (or sometimes appear/reappear) on their own; animals frightened or disturbed by the (unseen) spirits; disembodied (and typically bizarre, frightening, or alien) voices; peculiar and unexplainable smells, otherwise inexplicable malfunction of mechanical or technical devices due to tampering by the spirit; occasionally, they are reported by sensitive viewers as dark shapes of black animals or humanoid shadows seen briefly from the corner of the eye and similarly subjective manifestations (see Djinn, Gremlin, Shadow People). In extreme cases, elemental hauntings can infest locations or objects, imbuing them with a deadly parody of substance and life.
At their weakest, 'elementals' are generally malevolent but relatively harmless inhuman spirits normally incapable of, or possessing limited capacity for materialization into the physical world, capable at best of limited manipulation of solid objects, but especially powerful 'elementals'. These entities rarely manifest themselves in crowded, urban settings, and seem to instead prefer isolated, often natural settings, though they can attach themselves to specific human beings or objects and "ride" their hosts as the hosts move to a new setting, and occultists and other humans have noted that certain occult practices can deliberately or accidentally open the door to the spirit world and create an elemental haunting. Most cultures have developed methods of sacrifice to such spirits in the form of small offerings or gifts of food, treasure, space in or near the home to occupy, etc. in a bid to placate the spirits and prevent them from disturbing humans. Others have developed rituals of exorcism crafted to drive such spirits away from locations, objects, and/or people.
There are rare reports of elemental (or "demonic") hauntings in which powerful inhuman spirits infest a physical object, or "fetish", such as an idol, doll, mannequin, corpse, or other inanimate object, and cause it to move about in the physical world to cause harm in a grisly parody of life and moving, living flesh.
Aeiirii and Saiitii
"...as I stared, something began slowly to grow upon my sight - a moving shadow, a little darker than the surrounding shadows. I lost the thing amid the vagueness and for a moment or two I glanced swiftly from side to side, with a fresh, new sense of impending danger..."
— William Hope Hodgson, "The Gateway of the Monster"
"...It was a true instance of Saiitii manifestation, which I can best explain by likening it to a living spiritual fungus, which involves the very structure of the aether-fibre itself..."
— William Hope Hodgson, "The Whistling Room"
There is reason to believe that the most powerful examples of classic 'elementals' of mythology were Aeiirii and Saaitii manifestations.
Aeiirii are a type of non-human, incorporeal, physically invisible, generally malevolent spirit which can produce sound and other effects without fully materializing, and may even be able to manipulate solid objects - "the usual Aeiirii forms of semi-materialisation". Aeiirii may be psychically visible to sensitive viewers, mediums, and psychics, might also be rendered temporarily visible through arcane technological means, and may also take on some shape in the Astral Plane and other outer worlds, typically in inhuman or quasi-human forms. In one case Carnacki encountered an apparent hallucination that eventually involved Aiirii and Saiitii effects; there are undoubtedly intermediate phases between these two different types of phenomena.
"The usual Aeiirii forms of semi-materialisation", inhuman spirits, so-called "ghosts" or "demons" which can affect the physical world but are not themselves composed of normal matter. Aeiirii phenomena are dangerous; they can sometimes kill and may be able to interfere with a susceptible mind. The effects of Aeiirii manifestations can include physical damage, mental aberrations and hallucinations, and permanent damage to the psyche or even soul itself which may leave the victim mindless or insane - a fate which Carnacki regarded suicide preferable to. However, Aeiirii have definite limits to their power; in particular, they must materialise from a focus object, place, or person, are sometimes stopped by physical walls, and are usually stopped by such defences as the Electric Pentacle, the Elder Sign (symbol), and more traditional forms of magical protection. Thomas Carnacki believed that some religious symbols helped; for instance, he employed among his defences bowls of "a certain water", apparently holy water.
All evidence suggests that the Aeiirii manifestations (and the Saiitii phenomena described below) are often released or created by the human mind, rather than originating as human Ghosts; they might appear in such surreal forms as giant hands, invisible horses, mouths in stones, and the like. It is easy to assume a malevolent alien origin, but it is possible that they simply represent one aspect of a neutral force that powers such "positive" phenomena as magic, the Astarral entities, and the Saaamaaa Ritual, but is triggered in a destructive form by human malice.
The more dangerous type of this type of spectral manifestation, according to Thomas Carnacki, are Saiitii manifestations, the most dangerous type of manifestation which can "invade" most ordinary forms of matter, including magical defences, as a "psychic fungus". They can materialise out of everything except fire, possibly because the continual movement of particles in fire does not allow the organising principle or spirit to invade them. True Saiitii manifestations can take over the material of defences; their advance may be slowed, but it isn't stopped.
Saiitii manifestations have the same harmful effects as Aeiirii phenomena, but the Saiitii ability to "infest" material objects is peculiarly frightening and gives them greater mobility. While an Aeiirii manifestation is always linked to one locale, or tied to one object, Saaitii manifestations spread and may even be able to assume mobile forms. This makes them hard to confine or destroy.
The Saaitii relationship to the weaker Aeiirii is only vaguely hinted at in the Sigsand Manuscript; they may be a different order of psychic or astral entity, or it is possible that Saiitii are actually the more powerful, ancient, wise, and wicked forms of Aeiirii. (By the same token, the Outer Monstrosities, which might be regarded as a different order of beings, might instead simply be a different order of the same "elemental" class of astral entities that includes Saiitii and and Aeiirii, deriving from different environments and perhaps different branches of their alien taxonomy....)
Fire is effective as a defence and the one means of destroying material that has been infested by Aeiirii and Saiitii; the chaotic movement of particles and energy in flame presumably disrupts the controlling essence of the manifestation. Even so, it is difficult to imagine a fire defence that would work for extended periods; a ring of burning petrol might give some temporary protection, but it would eventually burn out, and a powerful Saiitii manifestation might be able to undermine it to drain the fluid.
"...Their father had been dead for not quite a month, and showers of stones had fallen on their house, without any warning or indication of purpose or reason..."
— Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
In folklore and parapsychology, the related concept of a 'poltergeist' (German for "noisy ghost" or "noisy spirit") is a type of ghost or spirit that is responsible for physical disturbances, such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. They are purportedly capable of pinching, biting, hitting, and tripping people. Most accounts of poltergeists describe the movement or levitation of objects such as furniture and cutlery, or noises such as knocking on doors. Poltergeists are sometimes regarded by parapsychologists as "subconscious manifestations of pyschokinetic activity", but poltergeists have more traditionally been described as troublesome spirits who haunt a particular person instead of a specific location: this type of haunting is often associated with specific people, usually pre-teen girls, and can happen sporadically, with several occurrences perhaps recorded in a day, followed by up to weeks of inactivity. Such alleged poltergeist manifestations have been reported in many cultures and countries for millennia.
Terror From Beyond
"You see them? You see them? You see the things that float and flop about you and through you every moment of your life? You see the creatures that form what men call the pure air and the blue sky? Have I not succeeded in breaking down the barrier; have I not shewn you worlds that no other living men have seen? ...My pets are not pretty, for they come out of places where aesthetic standards are — very different...."
— H.P. Lovecraft, "From Beyond (fiction)"
In the short story "From Beyond", Lovecraft describes a host of unseen, inhuman shapes that co-exist with the physical human world, revealed in the light of a Tillinghast Resonator, which might resemble the physical forms of beings otherwise seen only in astral form: "Indescribable shapes both alive and otherwise were mixed in disgusting disarray, and close to every known thing were whole worlds of alien, unknown entities. It likewise seemed that all the known things entered into the composition of other unknown things, and vice versa. Foremost among the living objects were great inky, jellyish monstrosities which flabbily quivered in harmony with the vibrations from the machine. They were present in loathsome profusion, and I saw to my horror that they overlapped; that they were semi-fluid and capable of passing through one another and through what we know as solids. These things were never still, but seemed ever floating about with some malignant purpose. Sometimes they appeared to devour one another, the attacker launching itself at its victim and instantaneously obliterating the latter from sight." In the story, the majority of these entities are near the bottom of a food chain that includes particularly dangerous predators, horrible to behold in the light of the Resonator, which, once attracted to the material plane, are capable of hunting and then feeding on human victims to the point of disintegration, resulting in mysterious disappearances; those entities that usually interact with the material world in the form of Poltergeists, Demons, and Inhuman/Elemental hauntings would seem to reside somewhere in the upper-middle or higher spans of this food chain as apex predators in their native environment, or even as intelligent (if thoroughly alien) beings.
According to Tibetan, Theosophical, and Kabalistic magical theory, it is possible for a cultist or wizard to bind an Elemental entiy into a semi-material form through intense meditation and astral projection, intense concentration, complicated works of magical ritual, and/or force of will; thus bound, the tulpa, or homonculus, succubus, incubus, or familiar spirit can then be forced to serve the cultist in any of a variety of ways. This creation of a "conscious thought-form" is a deliberate, conscious magickal work.
It is also possible for such an entity to be created accidentally or unconsciously, as an "unconscious thought-form", created when a distraught human subject mentally obsesses on an idea, object or person, investing a great deal of strong emotion (particularly loneliness, grief, or lust), imagination, and/or will into the obsession, and an Elemental spirit responds by binding itself into the subconsciously desired form, apparently for the purpose of forming a kind of symbiotic relationship with its creator. One theory of the manifestation of poltergeist activity holds that the focus of the poltergeist manifestation has unconsciously formed a tulpa.
Whether its formation was conscious and deliberate or unconscious or accidental, the subject forms the manifestation through mental visualization with energy from his or her own vitality; the entity can become dangerous when it returns to revitalize itself from its creator's energy, with effects ranging from symptoms resembling victimization by psychic Vampire (physical fatigue, loss of vitality, ennui, anhedonia, illness, depression, anxiety, unease, chills, terror), to heightened (and exhausting) solitary emotional and psychological effects (such as extended periods of intense grief, rage, isolation, lust, manic-depression, bouts of insanity, etc.), to physical ailments, to such extreme results as complete disintegration by particularly powerful and voracious Aeiirii.
Faeries, Elves, Goblins
The term "elemental" might be applied to any of a variety of nature spirits generally described as humanoid "little people" with a mischievous or antisocial sense of humor, including gnomes, satyrs, nymphs, elves, sprites, and goblins. See Faerie for author Arthur Machen's version of these beings, and Troll for a general "Mythos" take on larger varieties of these spirits.
Classical Alchemy and August Derleth's Elemental Scheme
Inspired by classical European alchemy and the traditional "four elements" (Earth, Water, Fire, Air), writer August Derleth attempted to codify the "Cthulhu Mythos" (as he called it) under a scheme in which the "gods", aliens, monsters, and other creatures appearing in the Cthulhu Mythos could be filed as "elemental" beings under one of the four elements; the theory certainly reads a scheme into Lovecraft's work that Lovecraft never intended, with some of Derleth's choices of classification being based on dubious or spurious reasoning. Thus, Cthulhu, trapped and insulated from the world under water when the island supporting its tomb-city sank beneath the waves, becomes according to Derleth, a "water elemental", even if that designation does not make much sense on closer examination. Similarly, the fact that Lovecraft had no such scheme in mind when writing left Derleth's scheme with a number of "holes" left open "by mistake/neglect" which Derleth felt needed to be filled to complete his scheme - thus there might be empty slots for "fire elemental" Elder Gods opposed to Cthulhu's water element, etc.
See the tome Cultes des Goules for a treatment of this scheme as a semi-serious and semi-legitimate in-universe occult theory held by the fictional tome's equally fictional author (and unreliable narrator), the "Comte D'Erlette", struggling to describe the indescribable through the imperfect and unreliable lens of classical elemental alchemy.
Note that the classical elements correspond roughly with known states of matter - solid, liquid, gas, plasma - and that Lovecraftian monsters in composition seem to slide easily across any of those states (and perhaps more) by nature, being not quite solid, liquid, gaseous, or plasmic at any given moment; it might conceivably be possible that any mythos being more exactly fits one of those states better than the others, and thus be more precisely described as native to or described by that "element" than to others, so there might be some convoluted logic to this elemental theory - at least as much so as any more "traditional" theory that might be offered about the inexplicable and chimerical nature of "mythos beings".
Heresies and Controversies
- Compare/contrast Hodgson's Saiitii and Aeiirii, here classified as "elemental spirits", to Hodgson's equally malignant but apparently far more powerful and loathsome Outer Monstrosities, which may simply be a higher (and more dangerous) order of essentially the same sort of inhuman, alien spirit.
Associated Mythos Elements
- race: Outer Monstrosities, which seem to be a considerably more powerful and higher order of "elemental" spirit, roughly comparable to the Saiitii and Aeiirii in material, nature, and origin, though different in intellect, power, size, and capability
- location: the Astral Plane, a plane or dimension where Aeiirii seem to be able to materialize more easily, and where psychics and mediums may be able to see or communicate and interact with Aeiirii more easily
- artifact: the Electric Pentacle, a vibration- or radiation-based device for generating a sort of protective circle around investigators, is generally effective against Aeiirii
- artifact: the Elder Sign (symbol), a symbol or design, sometimes portrayed as a pentacle carved in stone, which seems to repel or ward off some mythos beings, including Aeiirii
- artifact: the Tillinghast Resonator, a vibration- or radiation-based device capable of revealing the extra-dimensional physical forms of entities such as the Aeiirii
- tome: Sigsand Manuscript contains descriptions of the spirit obtained from "Ab-human Priests of the Raaee"
- tome: "The Saaamaaa Ritual" allegedly provides some relief or protection from oppression by these spirits
- tome: Harzan's Monograph, written by an authority on psychic phenomena and "induced hauntings", including theories about the nature of these beings and protection and exorcism from them
- tome: Garder's Lectures, based on lectures given on a physicist on parapsychology, including "Experiments with a Medium" and "Astarral Vibrations Compared with Matero-involuted Vibrations Below the Six-Billion Limit", the works that suggested the construction of the Electric Pentacle
- cult: the Carnacki Institute has popularized the term
- cult: the Ab-human Priests of the Raaee seem to have had some special insight into the nature of these beings
- RPG: Some descriptive material drawn from the description of Aeiirii found in [Forgotten Futures 4: The Carnacki Cylinders]
- fiction: William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghost-Finder stories, and Simon R. Green's pastiche Ghost Finders series
- fiction: the "Terrors from Beyond" that appear in "From Beyond (fiction)" might be thought of as astral forms of Aeiirii
- film: Judas Ghost (2015 film)
- film: Poltergeist (1982 franchise)
- film: The Haunting (1963 film) and the Shirley Jackson novel of the same title the film was based on (in the reference to a rain of stones that supposedly fell on Eleanor's house as a child)