They’re pretty sneaky, so perhaps you haven’t noticed gnomes vacating gardens to infiltrate the Christmas season. Last year, I absolutely had to have one. It was made of fresh evergreen boughs; I christened him Mr G as I placed him in my squat, square planter box. He was so darn adorable, I couldn’t help but smile every time we crossed paths. Sometimes I even LOL’d, gave him a high-five, said, “Merry Christmas Buddy,” then imagined him saying, “Back at ya!” in his tiny voice.
I can’t really put a finger on why he tickled my fancy so. Perhaps it was his shyness, hiding his eyes and mouth like that. Was he spying on us through that red felt cap? Sleeping? Was he smiling? Frowning? Bored? And then there was the open way in which he held his red-mittened hands, like he was game for anything.
There he stood all season – shaped much like a stout Christmas tree – through rain, sleet and snow, brightly and spritely decorating my front stoop.
Having never been much of a fantasy or sci-fi reader – or gnome owner – I thought it was high time I got some history on these mythical creatures. They go back, way back, to the 16th century and Paracelsus, the great Swiss alchemist, one of the forefathers of modern medicine.
According to faena.com, “Since time immemorial, paganism and esoteric philosophy have sustained the existence of elemental beings that coexist with us on astral planes or in a dimensional superposition – these are only perceptible to some people, generally children, shamans or the initiated.”
Hmmm. Perhaps as I age I’m returning to the wonder of childhood and notions of “elemental beings”?
Paracelsus classified these beings in accordance with each element of Earth: gnomes/earth, mermaids/water, fairies/air, salamanders/fire. faena.com goes on to say, “Each thing is the result of contest between the elements – balanced or unbalanced, the dance of the complements – and from each thing and each relationship we can obtain fire, water, earth, air as needed. This understanding brings us closer to a vision of nature as a complex entity that expresses itself in different forms, but that keeps an order and a secret language – that, if we access it, it promises to hand us a treasure (the jewels that elemental beings keep).”
So, since gnomes are of the earth, it makes sense that you tend to find them in gardens. And because I’m a realist, always aiming to be grounded in reality and truth, it makes sense that I’d be attracted to such a creature.
It’s good to be reminded that nature – from which we arise – is complex. As much as we try, all can never be known. But, if one stays open, perhaps secrets will be revealed, gifts received?
Here’s a description of gnomes, by Nicolas-Pierre-Henri de Montfaucon de Villars, 1670:
“The Earth is filled almost to the centre with Gnomes or Pharyes, a people of small stature, the guardians of treasures, of mines, and of precious stones. They are ingenious, friends of men, and easie (sic) to be commendded (sic). They furnish the children of the Sages with as much money, as they have need of; and never ask any other reward of their services, than the glory of being commanded. The Gnomides or wives of these Gnomes or Pharyes, are little, but very handsom (sic); and their habit marvellously (sic) curious.”
Gnomes represent good luck, protection, nature, fertility and abundance. Says paloverdespulse.com, they “… can serve as a reminder of the importance of these values and the role we play in protecting and appreciating the world around us.” Put that way, the gnome makes a good symbol for promoting a greener, more sustainable way of life.
Whether you’re home for the holidays or not, whether you have a gnome for the holidays or not, I hope the image of a wee creature who has your back – and could pop up from under your feet at any moment to offer you a precious stone or two – fills you to the brim with holiday joy this season.
Website image: Mr G, a Rita Hartley watercolour