gg presents...   The Gnomes of Italy 


            The mythology and folklore of Gnomes is well known in northern and Eastern Europe, and has been described and illustrated in many books and references, most thoroughly and delightfully in the book “Gnomesby Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet. In fact, many other European cultures also have their own myths, stories, and names for these beings (e.g. in Sweden they are called “Tompte”). This broad distribution of very similar descriptions and stories, and other evidence, leads us to the hypothesis that a race of tiny intelligent, human-like beings may actually still exist which, like man, live in most areas of Europe, and which has survived by adapting to local climate; geography; availability of food, shelter, and security; local animal and human populations; and many other factors. A curious finding is that most “Gnome Myths” describe a culture very similar to what we know of the Celts. One might even speculate that the two cultures developed in parallel, since the Celts acknowledged the existence and cooperation of Elves and Gnomes, and that the range and migrations of the ancient Celt peoples throughout Europe and into Italy parallel very closely the distribution of the Gnomes. Is there some connection between these two races of beings? Is it possible that the later settlement of the Celts into England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland was also accompanied by a similar movement of Gnomes, and that these Gnome Myths later evolved into what we now know as the “little people”, “faeries”, and leprechauns?

Most descriptions agree that adult Gnomes are generally human-like in appearance, but accounts of their size differ, from about 15-20cm (6-8”) tall, up 50-70cm (20-30”). Although small, they are wiry, tough creatures, possibly the smallest race of rational intelligent beings, and definitely the most crafty and nimble. They live a very long time (200-300 years) and accumulate much wisdom. They are resistant to poisons, but they are vulnerable to being injured because of their small size. Most display a lusty exuberance and love of food, wine, and celebration, as well as a razor-keen wit, and a fondness for sarcasm. Compared to humans, The Gnome has the same basic anatomy and physiology, but is powerfully built, with proportionally larger head, arms, hands, and feet, but shorter legs. Their ears are large, and older adult males tend to have bushy hair and beards. Since Gnomes are gatherers, not hunters, the average Gnome diet contains a large proportion of gathered nuts, seeds, berries, mushrooms, and they also cultivate other vegetables and fruits. In addition, they do enjoy the occasional bit of meat or fish, offered or left behind by local carnivores, and cooked over a small fire. In a rural setting, gnomes live either in rural underground homes or in tree-homes made from bits of stone, wood, bark, and other things, found or “borrowed”. In an urban environment, they live in abandoned buildings, basements, and attics of older buildings. They developed and adapted bronze and iron technologies early on, and are master stone masons, carvers, and tool makers; versatile craftsmen who are very resourceful and ingenious in their use and manipulation of raw materials to their meet their needs. They are also adept at acquiring (borrowing) and adapting materials, tools and technologies of their Human neighbors.

Gnomes, due to their long lives, and large stock of wisdom, usually stay neutral during conflicts, and tend to help resolve the disagreements of other groups. Invention (they call it “tinkering”) with mechanical devices is their genius, but not their only skill. Let others bash their heads against the world, trying to get what they want – the Gnomes know the Truth. They manipulate rather than force, persuade rather than pummel. If you want to undo a knot by hacking it to death, ask a human. If you want it carefully unraveled, just ask a Gnome.

            Until recently, it has been thought that all Gnomes generally look alike, favor the colder climates, and that the southern end of their range in Europe ran from Central France, into Austria and the Czech and Slovak Republics. These northern European Gnomes are portly little characters with large white beards, and they favor simple, bright-colored tunics and tall conical hats. These are also the fellows depicted in the popular press, and in the typical “Garden Gnome” and other “collectible” art and sculpture. They live in woodlands and plains, and have sometimes been found living in farmers’ barns and even people’s homes, although they tend to avoid undue contact with humans.

            However, in the myths and legends of the region of Liguria, in northeast Italy, many tales are told of a local sub-group of Gnomes. These Italian Gnomes (Gnomo, Gnoma, singular, and Gnomi plural) have roughly the same general appearance as the better-known northern Gnomes, and are most probably derived from the same ancestors. However, these Italian Gnomi (both the men and women) are taller and a bit slimmer, possibly in response to the milder climate, or perhaps it’s the “Mediterranean Diet”. Their dress is also different, favoring lighter-weight clothing, sandals, and soft, floppy caps.

            Also, while the northern Gnomes are often depicted as gentle, carefree, and eternally joyful, the Italian Gnomes are a more serious and intense culture, dedicated to maintaining the earth (Gaia) and it’s ecology. They are also given to heroic adventures to protect the environment from destructive humans, and to assist any of their fellow forest dwellers. They continue to study, and adopt (borrow) the raw foods, materials, technology, and tools of the Humans, when and where it will benefit them and the Earth. This is not to say that they are not happy, since they do enjoy the warmth and love of their family and friends, especially at their frequent family, clan, and tribe “festas”, which are famous for the quality and quantity of their wine and foods, and for their singing and dancing. However, they also welcome quiet evenings at home, dozing by the hearth, or playing quiet games with their children and grandchildren.

            Finally, I believe that “GLI GNOMI”, a Southern European Gnome Culture that that developed in parallel to the ancient Celtic cultures, still persists today in the mountains, villages, and even cities of Liguria and Northern Italy.