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Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 18

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.”

Robert Browning.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

H. Kaulbach

By Permission of the Berlin Photographic Co., 133 New Bond St., W.

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.”

Robert Browning. [29]

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

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.’”

Robert Southey.

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, [30]

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!”

Robert Southey.

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.

Irmin

In some parts of Germany Odin was considered to be identical with the Saxon god Irmin, whose statue, the Irminsul, near Paderborn, was destroyed by Charlemagne in 772. Irmin was said to possess a ponderous brazen chariot, in which he rode across the sky along the path which we know as the Milky Way, but which the ancient Germans designated as Irmin’s Way. This chariot, whose rumbling sound occasionally became perceptible to mortal ears as thunder, never left the sky, where it can still be seen in the constellation of the Great Bear, which is also known in the North as Odin’s, or Charles’s, Wain.

“The Wain, who wheels on high

His circling course, and on Orion waits;

Sole star that never bathes in the Ocean wave.”

Homer’s Iliad (Derby’s tr.).

Mimir’s Well

To obtain the great wisdom for which he is so famous, Odin, in the morn of time, visited Mimir’s (Memor, memory) spring, “the fountain of all wit and wisdom,” in whose liquid depths even the future was clearly mirrored, and besought the old man who guarded it to [31]let him have a draught. But Mimir, who well knew the value of such a favour (for his spring was considered the source or headwater of memory), refused the boon unless Odin would consent to give one of his eyes in exchange.

The god did not hesitate, so highly did he prize the draught, but immediately plucked out one of his eyes, which Mimir kept in pledge, sinking it deep down into his fountain, where it shone with mild lustre, leaving Odin with but one eye, which is considered emblematic of the sun.

“Through our whole lives we strive towards the sun;

That burning forehead is the eye of Odin.

His second eye, the moon, shines not so bright;

It has he placed in pledge in Mimer’s fountain,

That he may fetch the healing waters thence,

Each morning, for the strengthening of this eye.”

Oehlenschläger (Howitt’s tr.).

Drinking deeply of Mimir’s fount, Odin gained the knowledge he coveted, and he never regretted the sacrifice he had made, but as further memorial of that day broke off a branch of the sacred tree Yggdrasil, which overshadowed the spring, and fashioned from it his beloved spear Gungnir.

“A dauntless god


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