The Pied Piper Edit
As Odin was the leader of all disembodied spirits, he was identified in the middle ages with the Pied Piper of Hamelin. According to mediæval legends, Hamelin was so infested by rats that life became unbearable, and a large reward was offered to any who would rid the town of these rodents. A piper, in parti-coloured garments, offered to undertake the commission, and the terms being accepted, he commenced to play through the streets in such wise that, one and all, the rats were beguiled out of their holes until they formed a vast procession. There was that in the strains which compelled them to follow, until at last the river Weser was reached, and all were drowned in its tide.
“And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives–
Followed the Piper for their lives.
From street to street he piped advancing,
And step for step they followed dancing,
Until they came to the river Weser,
Wherein all plunged and perished!”
As the rats were all dead, and there was no chance of their returning to plague them, the people of Hamelin refused to pay the reward, and they bade the piper do his worst. He took them at their word, and a few moments later the weird strains of the magic flute again arose, and this time it was the children who swarmed out of the houses and merrily followed the piper.
“There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling;
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farmyard when barley is scattering,
Out came all the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.”
The burghers were powerless to prevent the tragedy, and as they stood spellbound the piper led the children out of the town to the Koppelberg, a hill on the confines of the town, which miraculously opened to receive the procession, and only closed again when the last child had passed out of sight. This legend probably originated the adage “to pay the piper.” The children were never seen in Hamelin again, and in commemoration of this public calamity all official decrees have since been dated so many years after the Pied Piper’s visit.
“They made a decree that lawyers never
Should think their records dated duly
If, after the day of the month and year,
These words did not as well appear,
‘And so long after what happened here
On the Twenty-second of July,
Thirteen hundred and seventy-six:’
And the better in memory to fix
The place of the children’s last retreat,
They called it the Pied Piper Street–
Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
Was sure for the future to lose his labour.”
In this myth Odin is the piper, the shrill tones of the flute are emblematic of the whistling wind, the rats represent the souls of the dead, which cheerfully follow him, and the hollow mountain into which he leads the children is typical of the grave.
Bishop Hatto Edit
Another German legend which owes its existence to this belief is the story of Bishop Hatto, the miserly prelate, who, annoyed by the clamours of the poor during a time of famine, had them burned alive in a deserted barn, like the rats whom he declared they resembled, rather than give them some of the precious grain which he had laid up for himself.
“‘I’ faith, ’tis an excellent bonfire!’ quoth he,
‘And the country is greatly obliged to me
For ridding it in these times forlorn
Of rats that only consume the corn.'”
Soon after this terrible crime had been accomplished the bishop’s retainers reported the approach of a vast swarm of rats. These, it appears, were the souls of the murdered peasants, which had assumed the forms of the rats to which the bishop had likened them. His efforts to escape were vain, and the rats pursued him even into the middle of the Rhine, to a stone tower in which he took refuge from their fangs. They swam to the tower, gnawed their way through the stone walls, and, pouring in on all sides at once, they found the bishop and devoured him alive.
“And in at the windows, and in at the door,
And through the walls, helter-skelter they pour,
And down from the ceiling, and up through the floor,
From the right and the left, from behind and before,
From within and without, from above and below,
And all at once to the Bishop they go.
They have whetted their teeth against the stones;
And now they pick the Bishop’s bones;
They gnaw’d the flesh from every limb,
For they were sent to do judgment on him!”
The red glow of the sunset above the Rat Tower near Bingen on the Rhine is supposed to be the reflection of the hell fire in which the wicked bishop is slowly roasting in punishment for his heinous crime.