Friday, July 8, 2011

Spuriomentals (Thanks Chris!)

This post is inspired by Chris over at Vaults of Nagoh and his article on Ele-meh-ntals, where he made the following comment:

"Despite what the Product Identity-mentals of 4E, and the various Para-, Quasi-, Pseudo- and Spurio-Elementals of late period TSR D&D did to the idea, combining elements is not necessarily a bad thing."
Spuriomentals. What a wonderful, whimsical, devastatingly devious memetically-charged and ideationally-feral thing to fling out into the unprotected blogosphere like that. Of course Chris was referring to the goofy dust/smoke/ooze/etc. elementals of days gone by, but what if we shelved that old baggage for a moment and tried a simple thought experiment for a moment?

Forget the offbeat Gygaxian para-elementals for now. Put them away and consider the notion of a Spuriomental.

Just what might a Spuriomental be?

According to Dictionary.com, spurious is defined as:
  1. not genuine, authentic, or true; not from the claimed, pretended, or proper source; counterfeit.
  2. Biology . (of two or more parts, plants, etc.) having a similar appearance but a different structure.
  3. of illegitimate birth; bastard.
1. false, sham, bogus, mock, feigned, phony; meretricious, deceitful.
That brings to mind a host of intriguing notions. Non-genuine, untrue, counterfeit elementals who are deceitful, phony and bogus who pretend to be beings that they are not, making claims that mislead those who encounter them and making a mockery of all attempts to sort out their actual natures or true identities. A Spuriomental is an otherplanar being who can present itself as a particular form of elemental, even to the extent of imitating their powers to some extent, in order to dupe, deceive and mislead those whom they encounter into a false sense of security by pretending that the Wards or Protection Devices/Spells being used are actually effective when in fact they are not.

Similar to the notion of 'fallen angels,' the spuriomentals misrepresent themselves, sometimes appearing in place of an actual elemental when a spell-caster actually fails to summon one, or perhaps tricking adventurers into believing that they are a particular type of elemental when encountered in a dungeon or during the course of an otherplanar expedition.

Perhaps they are some otherplanar analogous form of doppleganger or mimic.

Possibly they are synthetic creatures formed from psychic residue and faint elemental resonances.

They could even be some twisted and bizarre form of shadow born from a true elemental and imbued with autonomy and a quasi-life of its own through some strange ritual, spell or magical artifact.

Heck, for all we know a spuriomental is some sort of phantasmal forces effect gone terribly wrong due to some sort of elemental contamination or interference.

Maybe they're just some sort of bored otherplanar entity that no one has really managed to figure out just yet.

Whatever they might really and truly be, they seem like a wonderfully mischievous type of entity to spring upon know-it-all spell-casters.


  1. Spuriomental:

    One who use psychic abilities to deceive others.

  2. Well, I have to dissent from the idea that "dust, smoke, ooze" elementals are goofy--I actually think (as I believe it was ZakS that said once) they actually can be more evocative with modern audiences than traditional elementals. I do think the D&D classification fetishism that gave us "quasi-" and "para-" etc. was overdone.

    But anyway, I like your idea here. Maybe spurioelementals are sometimes formed when magic experimentation goes awry or a spell is botched? Perhaps the destrution of a true elemental on the Prime Material Plane has a change of creating one, as roving minor spirits "try on" the elemental residue?

  3. @C'nor: that's as good a definition as any and it leads to some of the same possibilities such as an other planar trickster masquerading as an elemental of some type in order to get adventurer-types to waste scrolls/spells of protection that just won't work against them.

    @Trey: I never used the Gygaxian elementals as presented even in the Little Brown Books because they just weren't as interesting as elementals as understood from sources like Agrippa, Levi, Blavatsky, Crowley, Fortune and others. The whole D&D approach misses the really interesting aspect of these entities--that they are forms of consciousness that operate under a different set of natural laws. Elementals occupy a portion of the spectrum of consciousness as Ken Wilbur likes to refer to it. They are non-human minds that evolve out of matter via a form of repetition and evolution ala Dion Fortune. They are minds that arise from the most primordial building-blocks of matter, indeed they can be said to be the 'mind side of matter.'

    Even if you go back to Aristotle, Plato, etc. the elementals that derive from Neo-Platonism via folklore, alchemy and other curious doctrines are not just blobs of talking goo--they are forms of sentience that inhabit matter much as a higher spirit is said to be able to dominate or possess a lesser living being--and that is the root of poltergeists, golems, homunculi, constructs, automatons, and a lot of other weird things--including the Fey. but this is all way too boiled-down and needs to be expanded into a full essay/article, which has been percolating for some time. It ties into the whole Planes and Chakras thing as well, so maybe now is a good time to get this whole shebang moving along once and for all...

  4. I'd agree on the "globs of goo" part. If you notice, in the City I use Parecelsus' elementals. What I was defending wasn't the Gygaxian presentation, but having was elementals of Dust, Ice, Smoke, etc. as having quite a bit of thematic resounance of modern audiences, I think (cf. Lieber's "Smoke Ghost", "The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity", and my own humble effort the black-dust elementals). I'm not in favor (at least in may on stuff) of expanding elemental to encompass all sorts of spirits as you mention. I guess its cool for a modern or science fictional/science fantasy games (something like Riskail, perhaps) but seems a little "unified field theory" for pre-modern conceptions (or even "official handbook of [x]" sort of conceptions).

  5. @Trey: I fully agree with you on the utility and resonance of Ice, Dust, Smoke entities--especially those creatures taht use such materials to form a pseudo-flesh akin to how aerial demaons are supposed to form mockeries of living bodies from the air itself, or how physical mediums can manifest disembodied appendages from ectoplasm. that stuff is cool and useful. Lieber's story is a great example.

    The unified field thing isn't the outright intent, but it is implied strongly in Agrippa, Levi and quite a few other sources, not just Fortune.

    What I prefer, and didn't expressly clearly before, is an approach that maps out a spectrum of inter-relationships that provides a context for comparing various forms of elementals to other sorts of entities so that it is much more clear what the distinction between a dust elemental and simulacra built up from dead skin cells might be.

    The older traditions, as in the various grimoires, make a strong correlation and connection between spirits of the dead, elementals, the Fey and other beings--this is hardly anything new or modern at all. Much of this derives from sources that have sort of been hiding in almost plain sight--take for example Ullyses/Odysseus and his consulting with the shades of the dead. There is a strong parallel to the mechanics of evocation and elementals as well, especially as it is not always blood that is used to lend a pliable, usable medium for manifestation...such as incense smoke, etc.

    The parallels are there and they are ancient. this does not make all of these things the same, but it does point to some intriguing relationships and opportunities that rarely get explored, let alone exploited...and that was the point I was after, but botched the explanation in trying to squeaze it all into a little box in a hurry.

    The Black Dust Elementals are very well-done. The approach that I'm pointing out supports this sort of thing, and helps open the door to even more variations and derivations in addition.

    Agrippa's division of things into a threefold model is rooted in the Celestial, Telluric and Cthonic arrangement of the ancients...but he prefers to use the term 'elementary' or 'elemental' for the telluric and everyone likes to assume that the cthonic is automatically 'infernal.' This arrangement ties back into the doctrine of interconenctedness as expressed within the Picatrix and other such tomes. These things are not so much inified as interrealted. They are distinct parts of a greater whole. There are relationships and implications that are quite fascinating to consider such as the interaction of the spirits of the dead with the elementals, the evolution of elementals into more sentient/conscious forms, whether or not an elemental can ever 'grow' or capture a soul of its own, and how all of this relates to higher orders of consciousness...and again, this is not modern thought by any means. It's all through the foundational literature of the grimoires and other pre-Renaissance sources of the Western Traditions.

    Paracelsus' is cool, but I prefer something even more old school is all...

  6. Paracelsus' is cool, but I prefer something even more old school is all...

    Delving deeper. I would expect no less. ;)


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