Bad Fairy Case File #310: The Imp

OFFENSES: Tricks, pranks, foolishness

DESCRIPTION: Small, ugly, sometimes be-winged and horned 


PROVENANCE: German folklore

An imp is a small and feeble creature found in German folklore, whose temperament falls somewhere between fairy and demon. They are often portrayed as dark, ugly creatures, sometimes with horns and wings and sometimes resembling ugly old men.

They are generally considered harmless and unimportant, and this fact is infuriating to imps, and is sometimes a driving force behind an imp’s tricks and pranks, desperate to prove himself important.

Imps in many stories are generally benevolent, but their tricks can sometimes get them into trouble, or may cause unexpected harm on those they are pranking. They are described as wild and mischievous, but what is often overlooked by storytellers is the imp’s desire to be loved by humans. Their endless pranks and tricks, merely a means to get the attention of people, usually backfire, angering the humans or scaring them away.

Because the term ‘imp’ is is somewhat general, and sometimes synonymous with ‘fairy’ or ‘demon,’ imps appear in different tales with strikingly different behaviors and abilities.

In some tales, imps are assistants to witches, warlocks, and wizards. In other tales, they have the power to grant wishes, like a genie. In some they are trapped inside of objects such as swords or crystals, and require special human maneuvering to free them.

Images of imps can be found in art and architecture around the world, usually apparent only to the most observant eyes. The stone image at right is carved into the pillars and ceiling of the Medieval Cathedral of Lincoln England, where it was said to be turned to stone by an angel after terrorizing the church.


Contemporary Fairy Wands

We love the traditional materials used for fairy wands, but who says you have to stick with convention? Creative artists have taken fairy flight with new approaches for wandmaking.

This Gorgeous Wish Keeper Flourite Magic Wand from Darlene of Queenie88 is great for both collecting and play. Fluorite, an isometric mineral known for its fluorescent quality, connotes its root etymology meaning “to flow”. What could be better for directing positive energy inward and outward with this exquisite wand. The artist added a special feature: when the acorn end (pictured below) is turned, it reveals a secret opening just large enough for a small scroll. We love that!

Contemporary materials chosen for wands can be as easy as paper and ordinary household items. Probably not of interest to the collector, but definitely appropriate for festivals, parties, and play, this whimsical Paper Doll Ornament Fairy wand, (at right), from Dora Haymond of Avalon Steampunk. With ribbon and sparkle accents, the fairy can be removed from her wand (via her clothespin body) and pinned as an adornment or tree ornament.

Laurel Kotewicz of Wire Princess fashions sweet treatments in twisted copper like this Pink Pointed Stone Centre Princess Fairy Wand (below). A pink stone bead centers the regal yet “girly-girl” aspect of this wand. (And we hurrah the usage of this metal for wandmaking — we devoted a whole article to copper wands!)

DIY options:



The Real-Life Damage of Changeling Lore

A lot of Changeling lore focuses on the perspective of the parent: the frightening, unspeakable thought that the child they’re caring for may not be their own, and the strange, complicated lengths that they go through to get their “real” child back. But if we shift attention to study the perspective of the “changeling” child, a different terror emerges.

Even if we concede that these thoughts were the paranoid superstition born out of the ignorance of a pre-scientific age, it does not alter the fact that the belief in changeling lore was very dangerous territory, as the children suspected of being changelings were seen as being “otherworldy” and therefore “not quite human.” This opened the door to inhumane treatment. In the words of Martin Luther, “such a changeling child is only a piece of flesh, a massa carnis, because it has no soul.”

One changeling tale from the Shetland Islands sums up the abuse: “Nothing will induce parents to show any attention to a child that they suspect of being a changeling.” What could be more  damaging to a child than parental neglect? In fact, these initial rejections from parents and other loved ones may have a part in the child developing antisocial and other “abnormal” behaviors.

When we look at the descriptions of changeling children found in folklore, they are surprisingly run-of-the-mill behaviors, such as frequent crying, speaking very little, laughing to themselves, and being interested in unusual objects. There is evidence that many of these cases were of children with autism, a mental disorder unknown to people in this time period. But surely not all suspected changelings were autistic. In Angela Bourke‘s book Reading In A Woman’s Death: Colonial Text And Oral Tradition In Nineteenth-Century Ireland, she writes, “It is not difficult to imagine the variety of physical and mental illnesses, from anorexia to tuberculosis to postnatal and other depression, for which the discourse of fairy abduction might be found appropriate.”

Parents who believed that their children were changelings often tried to perform one or more special rituals found in folklore that were supposed to determine whether or not the child was a changeling, or cause the fairies who made the exchange in the first place to return the original child. Some of these rituals were dangerous and even torturous to the “changeling” child, and could result in death. Leaving the child in a dangerous place was not rare. But most were designed simply to trick the changeling child into revealing itself for the non-human it was suspected to be. One such trick that shows up in many changeling tales has the parent brew a special concoction, usually in an untraditional cooking pot such as egg shells, which would then cause the changeling to remark something like, “In the many years I’ve been alive, I’ve never seen such a thing as cooking a brew inside of egg shells.”

In their lengthy paper on Social Exclusion Roy F. Baumeister and C. Nathan DeWall lay out a number of studies that have been done which suggest that rejected children are more likely to behave aggressively, display antisocial behavior, refuse to coopaerate, and “exhibit a number of cognitive deficits such as impaired logical reasoning,” as well as reducing self-regulatory behavior. In turn, “children with poor self-control are less accepted and less popular with peers… and has been implicated as a central cause of criminality.”

Read more about Changelings here.