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Gnome - New World Encyclopedia

Gnome – New World Encyclopedia

The gnome is a class of creatures legendary throughout Europe and, by cultural transfer, in the United States that has acquired many different meanings, but generally refers to very small people, often men, who live in dark places, especially underground, deep in forests, or more recently in gardens. Most European ethnic groups have had some sort of gnome legends with local variations. Modern traditions portray gnomes as small, elderly men with pointed hats and living in forests and gardens.

Despite the different shapes, gnomes have the common attribute of being able to move through the earth as easily as humans move over it. Paracelsus, a sixteenth-century Swiss alchemist, identified gnomes as a class of nature spirits comprising earth elementals (in contrast to air, water, and fire elementals). The class of gnomes has been considered to include satyrs, pans, dryads, elves, brownies, and goblins, some helping plants and animals, some helping humans, some solitary ones staying underground or in dark forests, perhaps accumulating treasure, and others interacting maliciously or even harmfully with humans.

The garden gnome,

which first appeared in Germany, has appeared in gardens in many parts of the world and has achieved iconic status in popular culture



The word gnome is derived from the new Latin, gnomus. It is often claimed to be descended from Greek gnosis (“knowledge”), but more likely comes from “earth-inhabitant” genomes. [1]


The representation of gnomes has changed quite frequently over the years and has remained different in different cultures. Originally, many of them were conceived as ugly, ground-dwelling creatures that were less humanoid than today’s gnomes. In fact, they were more like little goblins and disfigured fairies, and acted more like animals than humans. In contrast, modern sources often depict gnomes as tiny, stocky humanoids who wear tall, pointed conical caps and dress in solid colors such as blue, red, or green; In this depiction, the male gnome always has a long white beard. [2] They have the intelligence of a human (sometimes thought to be wiser), and they have human personalities.

While their appearances may differ, older and newer traditions share a similar belief in the capabilities of gnomes: they are said to move as easily through the earth as humans walk on it, and the sun’s rays turn them to stone. They are incredibly strong and fast, and are said to possess almost supernatural abilities in manipulating natural material (though they are also said to protect fiercely against any unnecessary damage to land and wildlife).

Gnomes of origin first appeared in the oral tradition of northern European folklore, so it is difficult to determine their exact origins. Gnomes share many characteristics with Norse dwarves, so much so that it is suggested that at one point in Scandinavian tradition, the two were actually interchangeable. At some point, however, a split between gnomes and dwarves occurred. It is unclear whether this happened before or after the dwarves were assimilated into Dutch and German tradition. What is known is that the modern representation of gnomes is more Dutch than Scandinavian. Therefore, it is speculated that the Dutch tradition created gnomes as they are known today from Norse dwarves, and from there the belief of gnomes spread to Germany and back to Scandinavia.

In the sixteenth century, the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus popularized the gnome when he declared that they were the most important elemental spirits. In his view, gnomes represented the earth, specifically stone and minerals, and possessed the supernatural energies associated within these materials.


many creatures based on oral tradition, each culture that incorporates gnomes sees creatures somewhat differently. Below are descriptions of the most common gnome traditions found in Europe.


traditional word for gnomes in Scandinavian culture is Tomte, which was originally coined by Saint Birgitta of Sweden in the 1300s.[ 3] They are also known as Nisse in Norway and Denmark. It is believed that gnomes live 400 years, are hardworking, kind and wise. Family is important to them, and they almost always have fun. Females of gnomes give birth only once, usually to twins. They always live in rural areas, sometimes even on (or under) farms, and will give advice to farmers. They are seen as guardians of nature and animals. Although they are kind to humans, gnomes are still very secretive; They never allow humans to know the location of their burrows, never teach their language to non-gnomes and appear only when they want.

In more recent times, gnomes have been said to be Santa’s helpers, and in Scandinavia, Christmas images generally depict gnomes in the role that elves play in other parts of the Western world. 3]


It often appears in Germanic fairy tales, including those of the Brothers Grimm, The German gnome often resembles a gnarled old man, living underground, guarding buried treasures. Because of this, Swiss bankers are sometimes referred to disparagingly as the “Zurich Gnomes.” Individual gnomes are not detailed or appear very often as characters in stories, but in Germanic folklore, Rübezahl, the lord of the underworld, was sometimes referred to as a mountain gnome.

Germany made gnomes famous in the mid-1800s with the first production of the garden gnome in the town of Gräfenroda in Thuringia, by Phillip Griebel. Griebel made terracotta animals as decorations and created the gnome based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy stories of the gnomes’ willingness to help in the garden at night. Gnome manufacturing spread throughout Germany, with numerous manufacturers large and small appearing, each with its own particular design.


Kabouter is the Dutch word for gnome. In Dutch mythology and Dutch folklore, kabouters are small men who live underground or who are domestic spirits who help in the home. They are generally shy with humans. Males have long, full beards (unlike dwarves, who don’t always have full beards) and wear tall, pointed red hats. In the Legend of the Wooden Shoes, an old Dutch folktale, the kabouter teaches the Dutchman how to make wooden shoes. [4


Dutch illustrator Rien Poortvliet played an important role in the Kabouter tradition with the publication of Leven en werken van de Kabouter (“Lives and Works of the Gnome”) written by Wil Huygen, later translated into English and published as Gnomes. [5] Garden gnomes

After Phillip Griebel produced the first garden


in Germany, the practice quickly spread throughout Germany and into France and England, where gardening was a serious pastime. The descendants of Griebel still make them and are the last of the German producers, all the others have moved production to Poland or China.

Traditional garden gnomes are made from a slurry of terracotta clay poured into molds. The gnome is removed from the mold, allowed to dry, and then baked in an oven until hard. Once cooled, the gnome is painted to the desired level of detail and sent to do its work in someone’s garden. Most modern gnomes are made of resins and similar materials.

Garden gnomes have become a popular accessory in many gardens. In certain places, however, garden gnomes have become the butt of jokes: people have been known to return garden gnomes “to nature”, especially France’s Garden Nains Liberation Front and Italy’s MALAG (Garden Gnomes Liberation Front). Some kidnapped garden gnomes have been sent on trips around the world.

There is a subculture among those who collect garden gnomes, which is frequently satirized in popular culture. Gnomes

have become controversial in serious gardening circles in the UK, and are banned from the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show as organisers claim they detract from garden designs. Gnome enthusiasts accuse organizers of snobbery because gnome figures are popular in working-class and suburban gardens.


in popular culture

Gnomes appear in many books and tales in popular culture. L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, Ozma of Oz, all featured gnomes (called “nomos”). Legendary author J. R. R. Tolkien used the word “gnome” in his early works, The Book of Lost Tales, for people later called Noldor (part of his High Elves). However, he abandoned the term in his published works, as he found that folklore gnomes were so different from his High Elves as to confuse his readers.

Some of the most famous works on gnomes are Gnomes and Secrets of Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet. They are fictional illustrated guides to mythical creatures, and gave rise to the animated series, The World of David the Gnome. Originally written in Dutch, these books depict the Kabouters (Dutch gnomes) as a wise, noble, and civilized race whose natural enemies are trolls, due to their contrasting nature.

In some role-playing games, such as RuneScape, Dungeons & Dragons, EverQuest, Horizons: Empire of Istaria and World of Warcraft, gnomes are presented as a short race of humanoids, closely related to dwarves, exceptionally adept at tweaking and mechanics. They and their allies often have technologies not normally found in fantasy environments, such as firearms or robot-like automata.



  • Huygen, Wil. Gnomes. Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2006 (original 1977). ISBN 0810954982.
  • Huygen, Wil. The complete gnomes. Books by Harry N. Abrams, 1994. ISBN 0810931958.
  • Huygen, Wil and Rien Poortvliet. Secrets of the Gnomes. Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1982. ISBN 0810916142.
  • Russell, Vivian. Gnomes. Frances Lincoln, 2006. ISBN 0711223254.



All links retrieved on June 23, 2017.

  • History of garden gnomes with pictures showing how they are made

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