June 26, 1284 is the day when, according to legend, the Pied Piper led all of the children out of the prosperous German town of Hamelin. The Pied Piper has been the subject of much speculation and literature. There is no solid proof that he ever existed – some believe that the children of the town died of a mysterious disease, left the town for a Children’s Crusade, or may even have been led away by a pagan cult in the nearby woods. Whatever happened to them, it is thought to have happened on this date.
According to the great folklorists, the Brothers Grimm and the poet Robert Browning, the town of Hamelin was overrun with rats. They town leaders were so desperate that they hired a man who claimed to have magical powers that would allow him to lead the rats out of the town by playing his flute. He did so, but the elders refused to pay him. In return, the piper played on his flute once more and led all the children out of the town, never to be seen again.
The town was likely so desperate to be rid of the rats because of the way they are viewed in European society. They are thought to be harbingers of doom and disease, likely because of the part they are thought to have played in the spread of the Bubonic Plague and other illnesses.
Interestingly, the rat is not seen in this light everywhere. The temple of Karni Mata in India is dedicated to rats, as they are thought to be the relatives of a goddess, and the reincarnated souls of children who have died.
Whatever you think of rats, and whatever happened to the children of Hamelin, something weird happened, and we’re left with little more than a spooky –and very cool- story!