Imps, who were thought to be witches’ familiars during the seventeenth century, shared with their mistresses a predilection for flying up chimneys. The idea that witches did so was imported from Europe and can be traced back to the ancient Germanic goddess Holda, the matron of witches who flew with her sisters on a broomstick and, in the days prior to Santa Claus, swooped down chimneys delivering gifts to children. The association between imps and chimneys may have been further cemented by the practice of employing young, agile boys as sweeps. Testimonies from Hawthorne’s time show that these youngsters, permanently caked in black soot from their labors, struck fear into the hearts of wealthier children who associated them with the devilish “black man” of folklore.
One of Hawthorne’s finest short stories, ‘Feathertop’ (1852), features a witch whose unseen familiar resides in her chimney. Read it here.