Throughout the ages many cultures have spoken of certain types of nature elementals, those spirits that dwell within and control certain aspects of the natural world, including air, water, earth, and fire. After all, we have long tried to come to grips with and explain the natural phenomena of our world. Among the many nature elementals of lore, perhaps the most spectacular and dramatic are the fire elementals, in many traditions referred to as “Salamanders,” after the animals of the same name, which have long been associated with the element of fire. These Salamanders were considered to be the personification of fire, and have been around in legend and lore for centuries, in some tales having been the ones who taught human beings how to use fire. In other traditions they were said to be the cause of various phenomena such as St. Elmo’s Fire, which is a coronal discharge of light off of pointed objects under certain atmospheric conditions, they were also linked to various electrical phenomena, and these fire elementals were often blamed for volcanic eruptions, indeed said to lurk within volcanoes.
The appearance of the Salamanders is usually described as being roughly humanoid in form, a human face but with flaming slanted eyes, faces veiled by flames, and flickering bodies that are charged with raging fire and streams of fiery energy. Their form is in constant flux, churning and throbbing with flame. They have long been considered to be the strongest and fiercest of the elementals, often connected with the direction south, and sometimes associated with other similar spirits such as the Djinn of the Middle East, and in the book The Secret Teachings of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall, they are described in great detail as follows:
Medieval investigators of the Nature spirits were of the opinion that the most common form of salamander was lizard-like in shape, a foot or more in length, and visible as a glowing Urodela, twisting and crawling in the midst of the fire. Another group was described as huge flaming giants in flowing robes, protected with sheets of fiery armor. Certain medieval authorities, among them the Abbé de Villars, held that Zarathustra (Zoroaster) was the son of Vesta (believed to have been the wife of Noah) and the great salamander Oromasis. Hence, from that time onward, undying fires have been maintained upon the Persian altars in honor of Zarathustra's flaming father. One most important subdivision of the salamanders was the Acthnici. These creatures appeared only as indistinct globes. They were supposed to float over water at night and occasionally to appear as forks of flame on the masts and rigging of ships (St. Elmo's fire). The salamanders were the strongest and most powerful of the elementals, and had as their ruler a magnificent flaming spirit called Djin, terrible and awe-inspiring in appearance. The salamanders were dangerous and the sages were warned to keep away from them, as the benefits derived from studying them were often not commensurate with the price paid. As the ancients associated heat with the South, this corner of creation was assigned to the salamanders as their drone, and they exerted special influence over all beings of fiery or tempestuous temperament. In both animals and men, the salamanders work through the emotional nature by means of the body heat, the liver, and the blood stream. Without their assistance there would be no warmth.
Although it must seem as though these mysterious fire elementals would be purely destructive in nature, they were also seen as having an important connection to the themes of regeneration, renewal, and rebirth. The English theosophist and visionary Geoffrey Hodson said of this aspect of the fire elementals:
In colour golden-yellow and flame-like, they resemble gigantic men built of flame; in the hand of each a spear and on the head a golden crown of living fire. Flames shoot forth from them on every side; every change of consciousness sends forth a tongue of flame; every gesture flings a flood of fire. They form an august body of solar fire-angels who, each at his station where the petal-shaped tongues of flame rush forth, encircle the sun. Through them passes power, to be transformed in passing, lest its naked energy should destroy the system which, by their mediation, it regenerates and transforms. They shield the solar system lest the fiery power should blind the eyes of those to whom it is a source of light, burn those to whom it is a source of heat and shatter those to whom it is a source of power.
The purpose of the universal fire is to regenerate and to transform; to ensure continuity of growth by means of change, and to insure that no part or parts of the universe should become static, resistant and inert. The element of fire is an expression of the divine Will which exerts a ceaseless forward pressure upon all life and manifests in all form as an inward urge towards a more perfect expression of the ensouling life. Fire has the special function of maintaining universal movement and its denizens possess that fiery quality which transforms and regenerates and, when necessary, destroys."
This invisible element of fire is at work behind the whole system, as are its agents. In every rock, in every stone, jewel, plant, animal and man, it ceaselessly exerts an influence in the direction of change; because of its presence nothing in Nature can ever stand still; it ensures the growth of the system. Its power is wielded, not only by the nature-spirits who labour instinctively in the cause of change, but by the great fire angels who consciously produce all changes throughout the system, so that the new birth which results may grow ever nearer and nearer to the likeness of its archetype in the mind of God.
As feared and ferocious as they are said to be, there have been many throughout the ages who would try to summon these elementals, with varying results. One of these was Hobson himself, who claimed to have met with a fire elemental in a vision, which he likened to being a type of “angel,” and taken on a tour of the spirit’s realm. Hobson would say of this journey:
I seemed to be standing with him submerged in a sea of fire, which was homogeneous and all-pervasive, yet translucent and transparent. I seemed also to see the sunflower formation of the fire aspect of the Solar Logos and His System, as if the angel and I were standing on one of the petals. Though the distances and dimensions of this fire-world were so colossal as to be physically incomprehensible and beyond measure, yet at this level they were well within my grasp, and the fact that I was standing completely submerged in a veritable cataract of flame as it rushed past and swirled about me, did not prevent me from seeing the whole of it and its shape, as if I were also looking down upon it from above. I could trace its source in the sun and see its limits where the tip of a petal touched the Ring-Pass-Not, or edge, of the System. I was not able to discover the relation of the physical sun to the fiery sun, but the relative size and luminosity were such that the physical sun would be almost lost in its fiery counterpart.
Under the angel’s guidance I moved about within this world of fire but, however great the distance we covered, the same aspect always presented itself. Whether we rose or fell in the sea of fire, or crossed a wide area of flame, the System continued to appear like a sunflower presenting its full face towards us. Contradictory though this may sound, it will be intelligible to those who are familiar with the idea of the fourth dimension. At the fire-level, however, the apparent directions of space, or characteristics revealed by superphysical cognition, are more than four. The appearance of the solar Fire Lords was glorious and awe-inspiring. Their stature must be gigantic. Though they did not approach the size of the main petals themselves, as they stood like an inner corolla round the central fiery heart of the flower they were large enough to be noticeable from points near the outer edge of the System. When we approached the centre, they were seen to be solar colossi, and at one of our resting places a single Fire Lord completely filled the field of vision. Their forms were definitely human, though every cell in their bodies resembled a roaring furnace, while flames leapt and played about them continuously. I was not able to see their faces with any distinctness and their eyes were shaded from my view—perhaps by a merciful providence—but I received the impression of beauty quite as strongly as I received that of power. Their beauty was not so much that of shape and form, though their bodies are inexpressibly beautiful.
One prominent tale of contact with a fire elemental was relayed by the occultist William Mistele, who was supposedly able to make psychic contact with an Atlantean magician by the name of He'adra, who claimed to have summoned a great fire spirit called “Pyrhum.” Mistele would say of this bizarre encounter:
Almost without effort, Pyrhum shifted between his world and that of He'adra's. He'adra's voice and the energy field he had created had already opened the gate. Pyrhum only needed to step into that space of blazing red light to perceive He'adra face to face. In turn, He'adra perceived Pyrhum coming toward him in the magic mirror which was at one end of his room. A moment later Pyrhum stepped out of the mirror and into the room--the salamander's body appearing physically in our world by virtue of the energy medium of fire He'adra had created.
He'adra perceived in front of him a being like a man in appearance, but the air around him was blurred as if heat were distorting the image of his body or as if his aura was pulsing within its own internal light. Pyrhum's eyes were like doorways through which could be seen the fires burning inside the earth. And Pyrhum's voice, when he spoke, was grating and impatient like the voice of a commander who has just captured a city to which he has laid seize for months. And there was a resonance in his voice, something altogether subterranean and plutonic, like the deep, dim rumbling of the earth's mantel as it splits and rubs against the edge of a continent.
It was said that for any sorcerer or magician to summon a fire elemental required great purity of soul and profound grasp of magic to even hope to control the spirit or even survive the ordeal. Mistele would explain of this with a message that had come apparently from Pyrhum himself, which says:
Less than a handful of mortals have ever walked by my side and survived. And only one or two were willing like you to enter the domain where I reign without having to disguise their fear and trembling. I oversee all fire on earth and I care not much for your race. I am not arrogant. I just have no respect for human beings because they have not sought to discover the power hidden in their hearts. They think power is external to the self, that it is found in the ability to bind matter or subject other living beings to their will.
Those who sojourn into my domain are enamored with faith-- they want something for nothing without offering anything in exchange. They attempt to enchant me by pronouncing fearsome and terrible names of gods, goddesses, and dieties from various religions. What nonsense! Do they think they can badger me when I can command a sea of magma to stretch out its hand in a strand rising two thousand miles until it punctures the surface of the world and forms mountains three miles tall? These magicians can not even command their own body to pump blood to the part of their heart muscle which is suffocating because an artery is clogged.
Do they expect me to get down on my knees and obey their command? They vainly imagine they are united with God as they babble on raising their voices higher in pitch till it breaks into a shriek. They think by speaking the words of God or by pronouncing His name that somehow their voice is magically transformed into His Voice or their authority into His own. Magicians are often more entertaining than jesters or clowns. The great bards will not speak of me in a song lest they risk being drowned in an abyss without entrance or exist. And so even at night when your race falls asleep I am unable to appear in your dreams. Even the tongues of flame with which dragons speak in your fairy tales and myths neither hint at nor reveal a trace of my existence. I dwell within a realm well-hidden beyond human reach or belief.
Whether such entities really ever existed or not, they have clearly made their presence felt in legend and lore, and one is left to dwell on what to make of it all. It is all certainly an interesting peek into a realm of the paranormal and spirituality that is rarely touched upon, and ranks as an intriguing historical oddity. Even if we fail to comprehend them, cultures around the world will no doubt continue to revere the elements of nature, and that of fire will always have a prominent place amongst them.