Me and a close friend of mine were talking about the imp one night so I decided to divulge into it's world and see what I can find and learn.
The word imp is a very old term and derived from the term ympe which is used to denote a young grafted tree. The imp is also known as emp, himpe, hympe or Ymple. The imp and the tales originated from the world of the German fairy tales where he is known as a small lesser demon who is often portrayed as a mischievous being. The imp was considered very mischievous but not harmful or evil until later in history.
The imp was thought to be small and not very attractive at all who was wild and was very uncontrollable. Some cultures held the belief that they were the same as the fairies because of their nature and tendencies of playing pranks and tricks. Later in history the two classes became separated with the imp thought of a being of the evil nature and the fairies being good.
Some of their pranks would be misleading travelers astray also switching babies; true attributes of the fairy race. These little creatures were thought to do this because they yearned for human attention even though the imp were seen as a lonely little creatures because only the strong and patient humans could deal with their trickster character.
The imp was described as a creature with very small wings, a tail, horns and cloven feet. Sounds familiar? They are very fond of music and have the ability to shape shift at will. This is just my opinion and not based on facts but my thought is that the above description is due to the influence of the church. During the witch craze that took over Europe by leap and bounds, the imps were thought to be familiars of witches and wizards by shape shifting as black cats, lizards, toads and bats. These familiars were thought as spies and informant agents to the devil as well as his children.
Some cultures held the belief that they could be damaged or harmed by certain magical weapons and enchantments. They could be caught or held in certain magical objects like swords, crystals and stones. When they were needed then they would be summoned by their captures. Just like the genie some would or could grant their master's wishes. The alchemist Paracelsus ( 1493 - 1541 ) was thought to have an imp in the crystal pommel of his sword.
Some historians believe that the imp had a connection to the Greek god Pan which was very unlikely because their origin is Germanic.
Some classes of imps from different cultures were the following:
Tentirujo - In Cantabria in Northern Spain was a malicious imp with pointed ears that tries to change the behavior of young lonely girls. Under the cover of invisibility, he would stroke the maids with a mandrake until the girls became passionate and joyful. Some legends held that he was an agent of Masabakes, a female demon of lust, who indicates in which house the Tentirujo should act.
Argiduna - From the Basque folklore was an imp that is light like and appears at night. It was thought as a leprechaun who could manifest the night as light.
Patuek - was an imp which was used by man to reach their aim or do some special tasks.
Trenti - also known as El Trent was an imp of moss, typical of Cantabria. He was also known as 'musgoso' or 'simiot'. He is very difficult to see because he is said to be covered by moss, mushrooms, leaves and ferns. You can only see or distinguish his green eyes and back face. He dwells in the poor areas of the forest that are rarely disturbed by humans. In the summer he sleeps under the trees but in the winter months he prefers a shelter such as caves, crevices or hollow trees. He loves to ambush walkers by frighten them but one of his favorite stunts was pulling on maids' skirts.
What lead me and my friend to a discussion of this mysterious creature of folklore and legends was because we were discussing about someone who could be considered an imp. In-fact through the research for this post I found that to described someone who showed the characteristics of an imp was known as being 'impish'.
I believe we all have a little imp in all of us.