An imp is a mythological
being similar to a fairy or demon, frequently described in folklore and superstition. The word may perhaps derive from the
term ympe, used to denote a young grafted tree.
Imps are considered "fallen fairies" and are often described as mischievous
more than seriously threatening, and as lesser beings rather than more important
supernatural beings. The attendants of the devil are sometimes described as imps. They are usually
described as lively and having small stature.
Originating from Germanic folklore, the imp was a small lesser demon. It should also be noted that, unlike in the Christian faith and stories, demons
in Germanic legends were not necessarily always evil. Imps were often
mischievous rather than evil or harmful, and in some regions they were portrayed
as attendants of the gods.
Imps are often shown as small and not very attractive creatures. Their
behavior is described as being wild and uncontrollable, much the same as
fairies, and in some cultures they are considered the same beings, both sharing
the same sense of free spirit and enjoyment of all things fun. It was later in
history that people began to associate fairies with being good and imps with
being malicious and evil. However, both creatures were fond of pranks and
misleading people. Most of the time, the pranks were harmless fun, but some
could be upsetting and harmful, such as switching babies or leading travelers
astray in places they were not familiar with. Though imps are often thought of
as being immortal, many
cultures believed that they could be damaged or harmed by certain weapons and
enchantments, or be kept out of people's homes by the use of wards.
Imps were often portrayed as lonely little creatures always in search of
human attention. They often used jokes and pranks as a means of attracting human
friendship, which often backfired when people became tired or annoyed of the
imp's endeavors, usually driving it away.
Even if the imp was successful in getting the friendship it sought, it often
still played pranks and jokes on its friend, either out of boredom or simply
because this was the nature of the imp. This trait gave way to using the term
“impish” for someone who loves pranks and practical jokes. Being associated with
hell and fire, imps take a particular pleasure from playing with
To this end it came to be believed that imps were the familiar spirit
servants of witches
where the little demons served as spies and informants. During the time of the
hunts, supernatural creatures such as imps were sought out as proof of witchcraft, though often the so
called “imp” was typically a black cat, lizard, toad or some other form of
Imps have also been described as being “bound” or contained in some sort of
object, such as a sword or crystal ball. In other cases imps were simply kept in
a certain object and summoned only when their masters had need of them. Some
even had the ability to grant their owners wishes, much like a genie. This was the object of the 1891 story The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis
Stevenson, which told of an imp contained in a bottle that would grant the
owner their every wish, the catch being that the owners soul would be sent to hell if they didn't sell the bottle to a new
owner before their death.
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