Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Because of the recurrent use of the term, it is possible to give quite a detailed description of how imps are, or were, viewed by the superstitious. A being described as an imp would be more likely to be mischievous than seriously threatening, and to be a lesser being rather than a greater one - an attendant on an important supernatural being. The attendants of the devil are sometimes described as imps, but this is an unusually malign usage of the term. The term carries an implication of liveliness and small stature. They are usually, but not invariably, assigned male gender.
Imps are the least evil of all demons, in common mythology and superstition. They are described as dark, shadowy creatures - while mischievous and somewhat destructive; they do not go to the extremes of, for example, gremlins or poltergeists. Imps are shape-shifters - preferring a shadow-form similar to, either, a weasel or a spider; they slink or skitter about, running from one pool of shadow to another. The trickery ascribed to them is, generally, confined to missing, misplaced, or moved articles (socks, keys, etc.) and stubbed toes - if the table apparently moved out and intercept your foot, that might be ascribed to an imp. Some accounts of imps claim that they are desperately lonely, and always travel in pairs or in mobs.
There is some discussion as to whether any form of demon could have some good in its nature. Some accounts of imps treat them as capable of being turned to good, because they are so desperately lonely they would do almost anything - even commit good deeds - to have a committed friend; however, it is regarded as almost impossible for any imp to fully forsake its "impish" ways.
The Ancient Greek demi-god Pan has some features in common with an imp, but this is unlikely to be a direct connection, since the imp concept probably belongs to Germanic rather than classical tradition. However, Imps are sometimes described as fond of music, and capable of being charmed into making a promise to aid, and "do good" in that manner through music - though there is always likely to be some mischievous trick to be attached to the barter.
The ambiguous status of imps is reflected by the fact that the name is used as the name for a subunit of a pack of Brownies. Useful description for certain small children exhibiting 'impish' behaviour. It has also been adopted as a brand name for a variety of commodities where an image of small size, liveliness, and cheekiness was sought, for example the Hillman Imp car, and as the acronym IMP (for "Interface Message Processor") it was used by early Internet routers (see IMP).
Children's animation set in the realm of Dante's Inferno: Imps!
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