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In Germanic folklore, an imp or sometimes daemon is a small demon who is more mischievous than harmful. Various versions of imps appear in the folklore of some other regions of the world as well, often as attendants to gods. The behavior of imps is said to be wild and often out of control, and many myths depict the creatures reveling in pranks and jokes, leading to the use of the word “impish” to describe people who are fond of mischief.
According to tradition, imps are often very small. Depictions of imps in art and sculpture tend to show them on a much smaller scale than other beings, and they are often not very attractive to look at. Some myths also describe imps as trapped inside objects, such as swords, books, and crystal balls. In some cultures, imps were believed to be the assistants of witches and warlocks. Witch hunts often sought familiar spirits such as imps in an attempt to condemn their victims.
In some cultures, fairies are analogous to imps. Both share the sense of being free spirited and fun loving, although some people associate fairies specifically with good, rather than malice, as is the case with imps. Imps and fairies are both fond of misleading people in the folklore of many traditions, and they may be involved with pranks, switches of infants, and similar activities. At times, these pranks may be harmless, but they can also be dangerous or upsetting, as in the case of an imp which leads people astray in marshes.
An imp is generally believed to be immortal, although the creatures may be subject to damage in the mythological traditions of some countries. Although they are immortal, imps are considered far less important than bigger demons and gods, and the relative unimportance of imps is sometimes an important point in folktales about imps in which an imp tries to prove itself. Imps are also often depicted as lonely and hungry for human attention. In some stories, an imp seeks out human companions through its jokes and tricks, while in others imps are depicted as more capricious, playing tricks on their human allies out of boredom or simply their impish nature.
Examples of carved imps can sometimes be found in architecture, especially complex architecture which features complex carvings and themes. Imps are generally carefully hidden, with patient or extremely interested observers being the sole people to spot them. Some works of art also include imps.
The imp is a creature born in Germanic folklore as a type of lesser demon. However, unlike the monsters you might find in Christian stories, Germanic demons weren't always necessarily evil. In fact, imps are well-known for their mischievous nature that's less sinister and more aggravating than what one might expect from a demon.
The imps’ name derives from the Old English word impa, which means "offshoot of a tree." As an “offshoot” of a larger being, imps were seen as lesser demons controlled by higher beings, such as full-fledged demons or deities.
In most instances, imps are considered wild and uncontrollable creatures. They're generally described as small, with horns and sharp teeth and a bony, leathery appearance. They have large ears and bat-like wings with skin that’s been described as gray, reddish-brown, or purplish.
Fairies and Imps
Fairies and imps are often seen as part of the same family of mythological beings. In past instances, the words "fairy" and "imp" were actually used interchangeably, implying some groups of people saw them as one and the same. However, the two beings have a lot of differences that are worth noting.
Imps originated in Germanic folklore as lesser beings who enjoyed wreaking havoc. However, when imp mythology is applied to Christianity, imps are considered a type of demon, even though their personalities don't necessarily align with that idea.
Conversely, fairies were prevalent across European folklore and many people often worshiped them just as they would a god. Ironically, fairies were more likely to show a sinister nature than imps. Whereas imps might be simple tricksters, fairies could be downright evil.
Imps and fairies are wildly different in terms of appearance. Whereas imps are small, bony creatures with horns and sharp teeth, fairies more closely resemble humans in both stature and facial features.
Fairies also have beautiful wings, which are a stark contrast to the bat-like wings of an imp. A fairy’s beauty allowed them to become so revered in much the same way an imp’s unfavorable appearance contributed to their negative reputation.
Imps are mischievous creatures who enjoy playing pranks on the locals. They don't necessarily aim to cause harm, yet they thrive on havoc and chaos. They're frustrating creatures, but they aren’t necessarily sinister.
On the other hand, fairies could fall on either side of the line between good and evil. In fact, most mythology divides them into two courts: Seelie and Unseelie, or light and dark. An encounter with a fairy could lead to a favorable outcome just as easily as it could lead to a person being kidnapped or killed by one of these beautiful creatures.
Do Imps Have Powers?
Imps have a range of magical abilities, but they aren't nearly as powerful as some larger creatures, such as fairies. However, some of their magical powers are pretty impressive.
Most folklore presents imps as having the ability to shapeshift, which is a beneficial skill for their mischievous nature. In addition, they're also able to conjure up fire, and their large wings give them the ability to fly.
Their most impressive skill might be the ability to turn invisible. As mischief-makers, imps need to be excellent spies. Becoming invisible makes it easy for them to spy on the people they want to play pranks on. It also allows them to sneak around undetected more easily.
That said, the imps' most significant strength is their ability to manipulate. They'll switch babies in cradles, lead travelers astray, and perform other elaborate pranks that are often complex but impulsive. However, despite their impulsive nature, imps are one of the most fascinating and complex creatures in mythology.