Could the children of Hamelin have been born-again pagans? Were they not quite down with the Catholic Church? During the Medieval period, EVERYONE in Europe was Catholic...well, almost everyone. Those who weren’t Catholic were subject to suspicion, torture, burning at the stake, wicked stares, or the Spanish Inquisition, and as we are all aware--
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
So let’s delve into the theory that the Hamelin-ites were dirty, foul, wicked, crystal-loving, antlers-wearing, body odiferous, wildly hairy, icky-poo PAGANS!
And a pagan is...what exactly?
First, let’s think about what a pagan is exactly. In the U.S., we have negative connotations of the word, but in actuality, a pagan is…
...any person who practices a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.
(This definition is derived from Wikipedia, the ultimate fount of crowd-sourced wisdom, and thus should be taken with a grain of salt and maybe a smidgen of applesauce).
So according to the definition, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Sikh, and pretty much anyone else who practices any religion other those listed above would be considered a pagan. That’s a pretty broad definition and one I assume most people would object to (or at least those who practice a religion other that the BIG THREE would object to).
Generally, when we think of a pagan, we think of someone who worships nature, like someone who practices Wicca, also known as Pagan Witchcraft.
In regards to the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the Middle Ages, what we have to consider is the fact that the ONLY religion acceptable in Europe was Catholicism. And that was the ONLY form of Christianity since Protestantism hadn’t been invented yet.
Mind-bending fact: The Catholic church is far older than the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Mormon, and every other Christian church. In fact, Catholicism began in the second century AD/CE (although some say it’s older and can be dated all the way back to Jesus and his Apostles), and Protestantism didn’t begin until the 1500’s when Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door of the Wittenberg for the world to see.
The Pagan Piper of Hamelin?
Now for something completely different…
...Let’s get back to this theory that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin originated with a pagan massacre...crazy stuff, man.
Our friend Wikipedia gives this as theory for the origin of the Piper: “Another modern interpretation reads the story as alluding to an event where Hamelin children were lured away by a pagan or heretic sect to forests near Coppenbrugge (the mysterious Koppen 'hills' of the poem) for ritual dancing where they all perished during a sudden landslide or collapsing sinkhole” (“Pied Piper of Hamelin”).
People love their crazy theories, don’t they?
Julian Scutts has a related theory, which he details in his book The Pied Piper of Hamelin At the Crossroads of History, Religion and Literature (available on Amazon) and in a record of an interview he has posted online (“Interview with Gernot Husam”), which serves as the basis for the theory described below.
According to Scutts, Gernot Husam, the one-time director of the Museum of Coppenbrugge, has done his own research into the legend of the Piper. The Coppenbrugge the museum refers to is a region of Germany, and near it is the small town of Hamelin (now spelled Hameln in Germany). This region is punctuated by hills, where Husam (the museum director) came across carved stone figures. Husam was excited by the appearance of these carvings and connected them to a dissertation written by a woman named Waltraut Woller, who had connected the Coppenbrugge to the Piper legend.
In case you missed it--or just don’t want to go back and look it up--the Rattenfangerhaus (“Rat Catcher’s House) has an inscription in stone that reads, in part, “After passing the Calvary [the execution place] near the Koppenberg [hills] they disappeared forever."
Husam connects the “Koppenberg” of the inscription to the Coppenbrugge region. He believes that the “Calvary” mentioned in the inscription “should really be translated as skull or skull cover” (“Interview”). He then connects this description to the word “head,” “which is what ‘Koppen’ means” (“Interview”). His train of thought about the semantic origins of the term “koppen” ends with this thought: “in the Middle Ages itself the concept of Calvary referred exclusively to the head or skull surmounting the jaws of Hell” (“Interview”).
I found this word origin theory intriguing and looked it up. It turns out the translation for “head” in German is “kopf,” not “koppen.” However, one of the northern dialects does use “koppen” as the term for “head,” so Husam is not out of his koppen when he makes this connection.
Husam believes that because of the geographical features of the hills of Coppenbrugge, they were a prime location for certain nature rituals. There are “long approach lanes for marchers, the extensions of which spiral round the dome at the summit,” (“Interview”), similar to the features of the Blocksberg, which is a place in the Harz mountains “where witches are said to perform occult rites” (“Interview”).
I’m going to break away from dear old museum director Gernot Husam for a minute because as an ignorant American, I had never heard of the Blocksberg or the Harz mountains or how they were associated with witches, but I can’t help investigating further. I mean--witches!--that’s like trying not to eat chocolate that’s dripping down your face.
Steenie Harvey in her article “Season of the Witch” has a lovely, evocative description of the mountains:
“Wandering through Germany's Harz Mountains, it's impossible not to realize that you have entered a domain of enchantment, a place where landscape conspires with legend to create a sense of lurking mystery. A terrain of craggy peaks, gloomy forests, and river valleys banked by towering cliffs, the mountains remember folk beliefs dating from pre-Christian times. . . . they are steeped in tales of witchcraft, magic, and apparitions. Stories collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries show that the region's mythic reputation reached beyond Germany. From France to Scandinavia, countryfolk traded fireside yarns of strange happenings on the Brockenberg (Brocken Mountain), the Harz's highest peak at 3,747 feet. Rumor had it that Europe's witches gathered there on Walpurgisnacht, May Eve” (“Season of the Witch”).
The drawing below by Johannes Praetorius from 1668 illustrates the fear people had of the Blocksberg. You can see the devils dancing around as the celebrants wind their way around the hill itself, in the same way Husam described the Koppenberg above.
Getting back to the interview with Herr Husam--
If the idea of witches dancing around a hillside wasn’t weird enough, Husam actually claims to have witnessed the aftermath of a pagan ritual. He says, “I have indeed experienced such an occasion myself at the Wackelstein (a boulder that rocks or wobbles, not being firmly fixed to its pivotal base). I went up there on midsummer’s night, the 21st of June, in fact while it was still twilight and almost dark. When I reached the Wackelstein, what should I see but tea-light candles adorned with flowers on this dish-shaped stone. They were still burning, mark you. There in the middle lay the severed neck of a swan, a remarkable sight, and then there was a rock at the side and this also had niches in it and even here tealight candles had been placed. I think I must have arrived at the spot immediately after the celebration of an occult rite” (“Interview”).
And apparently Husam is not the only one to happen upon such grisly leftovers. A forestry official also “once came across chickens’ bones amid flowers and candles” (“Interview”).
What does this have to do with the story of the Pied Piper?
If you look at the picture of above, you will see three stags (deer) in the middle underneath the trees. Husam equates these stags to three brothers, the counts of Spiegelberg. The brothers “took the stag as the emblem shown on their coat of arms” (“Interview”) and were thought to have taken measures to stop the heathen practices occurring in the hills around their castle.
So according to this theory, on a summer’s day, the youth of Hamelin walked away from town led by a piper in colorful clothing so that they could get their paganism on. What they didn’t know was that the counts of Spiegelberg weren't down with their heathen ways--this was the Catholic middle ages, after all--and when the kids showed up, they were slain by Nikolaus and his men.
“Count Nikolaus of Spiegelberg with the help of his two younger brothers, in order to get into the good books of the Church and civil dignitaries, organized a massacre of youthful miscreants execrated as dancing devil-worshippers who allegedly performed forbidden rites on the Koppenberg” (“Fieldwork on the Pied Piper”).
Thus, the children of Hamelin had indeed met their Calvary, their Golgotha, and were never to return to their homes or their families, their whereabouts forever unknown except for suspicions cast upon the Spiegelberg brothers.
And what happened to the good count? “As to Count Spiegelberg, he disappeared from historical records only weeks after the 26th of June, his last location being Stettin on the east German border. According to which theory you choose, he was either about to embark on an ill-fated voyage in the Baltic and drown with his youthful followers or he was on the run after instigating a bloodbath” (“Fieldwork”).
There you have it--the Hamelinites were killed for being too witchy. “Oooooh, witch-ay woman, see how high she fli-i-ies. Oooooh, witch-ay woman, she got the moon in her ey-hi-hi-eys” (The Eagles “Witchy Woman”).
So which theory do you think is most likely--the children of Hamelin died from the plague, they suffered from the dancing mania, they left for an ill-fated children’s crusade, or they were cut down by a bloodthirsty count?
In my next post, we’ll explore the scenario that experts believe is the most likely, so put on your traveling shoes!
Word and Book Lover.