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A gnome is a mythical creature characterized by its small stature and subterranean lifestyle. According to Paracelsus, gnomes are the most important of the elemental spirits of the earth element, and they move as easily through the earth as humans walk upon it. The sun's rays turn them into stone. In other traditions, they are simply small, mischievous sprites or goblins. Some sources claim they spend the daytime as toads instead of in stone.

Often featured in Germanic fairy tales, including those by the Brothers Grimm, the gnome often resembles a gnarled old man living deep underground and guards buried treasure. Because of this, Swiss bankers are sometimes disparagingly referred to as the Gnomes of Zurich. Gnomes feature in the legends of many of central, northern and eastern European lands by other names: a kaukis is a Prussian gnome, and barbegazi are gnome-like creatures with big feet in the traditions of France and Switzerland. In Iceland, gnomes (vættir) are so respected that roads are re-routed around areas said to be inhabited by them. Further east, tengu are sometimes referred to as winged gnomes.

Individual gnomes are not very often detailed or featured as characters in stories, but in Germanic folklore, Rubezahl, lord over the underworld, was sometimes referred to as a mountain gnome. According to some traditions, the gnome king is called Gob.

Rudolf Steiner, and other theosophists before him, lectured at length on gnomes, and especially their supportive role in the development of plant life (and biodynamic agriculture). Rupert Sheldrake has written a good deal about morphogenic fields, an idea Terry Pratchett used in his Discworld books many times.

The word "gnome" is said to derive from the New Latin gnomus and ultimately from the Greek gnosis, meaning knowledge. According to myth, gnomes hoarded secret knowledge just as they hoarded treasure.

See also


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