Mazzikim: Imps in Judaism
[When mazzikim go wild. Illustration by Alfred Feinberg]
For three reasons people should not go into a ruin, because of suspicion [of sexual misconduct there], because of the danger of collapse, and because of demons."
…."Because of demons" - And why not suffice [to discourage people] with the considerations of suspicion or collapse? You might have the case of a new ruin, and two people who are honorable. If there are two people, then what consideration of demons is at hand [mazikim are thought to strike the solitary traveler]? In a place which demons inhabit, there is danger [even to two] (Berachot 3b)
As is the case with most Jewish sources, demons are less a matter of earth-trembling, infernal weapon-wielding, balrog-like soul-ripping hell hounds, then they are impish creatures who inflict ill fortune and ill health. Like leprechauns and elves, Mazzikim take advantage of human carelessness, as in this humorous example of what can happen by ignoring the rule that doing anything in pairs is bad luck:
And if a man forgot himself [and drank exactly two drinks] and happened to go out, what is his remedy? Let him take his right-hand thumb in his left hand and his left-hand thumb in his right hand and say thus: You [two thumbs] and I, surely that is three! [i.e. an odd number] But if the demon hears him and replies, You and I, surely that is four!? [i.e. three plus the demon are four] let him reply to him, You [the demon that is now four] and I are surely five[he finds something to add to the grouping]! And if he hears one saying, You and I are six, let him reply to him, You and I are seven. This once happened until [someone reached] a hundred and one, at which point the demon exploded (Pesachim 110a).
The term mazzikim becomes more widely used in the Middle Ages, being RaSHI’s preferred term for imps.
The Zohar teaches that the term refers to the spirits of evil men after they have died.
Zal g'mor - Go learn more by reading the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050