In folklore and superstition, an imp is a creature, usually described as being small and rather ugly, which enjoys playing pranks on people. They originated in Germanic mythology. In many regions, imps were originally seen as being indistinguishable from fairies, both creatures sometimes choosing to help people and sometimes playing tricks on them. Gradually, people came to see fairies as being wholly good and imps as being constantly mischievous.
According to some stories, imps are lonely creatures which long for human contact. They play tricks on people simply as a way of getting their attention, although this usually backfires and only causes people to get angry. Sometimes people agree to befriend imps but the imps continue to play pranks on their new human friends. This may be either because the imps have grown bored or simply because it is in their nature to be mischievous and they cannot help it. The pranks are usually harmless but may be more serious, such as causing people to lose their way in unfamiliar places or taking human babies and replacing them with their own kind.
Imps are usually considered to be immortal but can be harmed by certain weapons or magic spells. There are also said to be ways to prevent them from entering people's homes.
The Lincoln Imp is a small stone carving of an ugly little creature in Lincoln Cathedral, England. The image has become a symbol of Lincoln, appearing on the badge of the soccer team Lincoln City Football Club, who are nicknamed "The Imps" and have a mascot named "Poacher the Imp". According to legend, the Lincoln Imp was originally one of two imps which were sent to Earth by Satan to cause havoc. Having traveled across the north of England, the two imps arrived at Lincoln Cathedral, where they destroyed tables and chairs and made the bishop fall over. An angel emerged from a hymn book and ordered the imps to stop. The first imp was brave and threw rocks at the angel. The second one was frightened and hid under a table. The angel turned the first imp to stone, in which form it remains in the cathedral today, and allowed the second one to escape. There are various stories about what happened to the second imp. Some say that it was turned to stone not far from the cathedral, where people who look carefully see it on a wall to the south of the building. Another account says that it went to St. James Church in Grimsby. It began misbehaving again until the angel reappeared. The angel spanked it on the backside before changing it to stone. The Grimsby Imp can still be seen in the church, clutching its sore behind. A third account says that it is always windy around Lincoln Cathedral, even when it is still everywhere else in the city. The wind which circles the building is the second imp who is always looking for his lost friend.
Some stories tell of imps being bound inside objects, such as crystal balls or bottles. The owners of those objects can call on the imp to emerge whenever they please and demand that the imp grant their wishes. This is described in Robert Louis Stevenson's short story "The Bottle Imp", in which the wishes are usually granted at a terrible price. Furthermore, before dying, the bottle's owner has to sell it for a lower price than the one he or she paid for it in order to avoid going to Hell.