Gnomes are a type of little people that are often found in earthen environments such as forests, caves and gardens. They are similar to elves, dwarfs and pixies in many ways. They also have a number of differences.

Gnomes have found a niche of enthusiasts and aficionados in modern culture. Many people decorate their gardens with ceramic gnomes, or put them in their yards. It is believed that doing so can bring good fortune to their house, or protect it from bad luck or evil spirits.

While these adorable little people may not have risen to the popularity of elves and fairies, they have gained a significant following over the years.

  • They can be cheerful and helpful or devious and mean.
  • They are highly associated with forests, nature and gardens.
  • The “g” in the word “gnome” is silent.
Old Gnome Creatures

Physical characteristics

Gnomes are often pictured wearing pointed, cone-shaped red or orange hats. These hats may be one of the easiest ways to identify a gnome. They are often portrayed as being older, with male gnomes often depicted as having long, gray beards. They may at times be portrayed as wearing small spectacles, too.

You may often see one of these little beings carrying tools, such as a pick-ax or a shovel. They do quite a bit of work for little people after all!


According to various sources, the word “gnome” may come from “genomoi”, or “genomos”, a Greek word that means “earth-dwellers”.1

These little people began showing up in texts in a book written by a man of many talents named Paracelsus.

This particular book was first published in 1566. The book was devoted to these elemental creatures and he interchangeably used “gnome” and “pygmy” to refer to the earth elementals.

Paracelsus describes gnomes as:

  • Standing two “spans” tall. A span was the distance between two opposing parts of the same hand, like from the fully-extended pinkie and thumb.
  • Extremely cautious with humans.
  • Practically able to swim through earth and stone.
  • Their roles as guardians and overseers of mines and treasures greatly overlaps with dwarves from German folklore. By the 19th Century, gnomes are swept under the same category as goblins, sprites and other “domestic spirits” and said to do various things for upstanding members of the community.
Gnome Creatures

powers and abilities

Gnomes are so closely associated with earth that they can move about soil and rock better than any burrowing mammal. Stories fail to mention if gnomes leave a trails behind when they move through such materials.

While being incredibly tiny might not seem like much of a power, it does make them harder for humans to notice. A gnome could just hide in the shadow of a modest-sized rock, if not right behind it, until a human loses or changes attention. It also means that they could easily dislodge gemstones without damaging their value-smaller hands mean more precise strikes with a mining pick.

interesting facts

  • Two fun kids movies have been released over the last decade that have featured gnomes. The first was Gnomeo and Juliet, in 2011 by Walt Disney Studios, and the second was Sherlock Gnomes in 2018.
  • A lesser known Disney movie titled “The Gnome Mobile” features the two children from Mary Poppins. In the movie, the children and their grandfather discover that gnomes are real, and save their forest homes from devastation.
  • The knocker and goric of Celtic tales and the koropokkuru of Japan’s Ainu indigenous people are comparable to gnomes.
  • Gnome is a common player race in several fantasy games. These sorts of characters tend to be predisposed to wielding picks and hammers in combat, competent inventors and tinkerers and able to communicate with burrowing animals and/or earth elementals.
  • The common interpretation of having gnomes being gifted with scientific pursuits may come from their creator’s own pursuit of alchemy.
  • Swiss bankers used to be known as the “Gnomes of Zürich” due to their job overseeing collections of gold stored deep underground.

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