To Melvin J. Lasky
Dear Mr. Lasky, September 1956
Best thanks for sending me the three issues of Der Monat with James P. O’Donnell’s article “Der Rattenfiinger von Hameln”and the replies by Hans Scholz and Dr. E. Schmitz-Cliever.
I have read them with great interest and can fully concur with the views of the latter two writers.
The historical facts reported by O’Donnell would never have sufficed to give rise to so strange and uncanny a legend.
In contributing-at your request-a few words to the discussion, I would like to lay stress on the reality around which the legend revolves.
H . Scholz has done this too, and rightly warned against over-looking it.
As a psychiatrist, I give due weight to the reality at work here: to a power emanating from the unconscious, the nature of which I discussed years ago in my essay “Wotan” an essay which is not always read with pleasure.
The psychic powers at whose mercy men found themselves were in former times called “gods,” and this had the advantage of assuring them the necessary fear and devotion.
Wotan is a restless wanderer, an ancient god of storm and wind, unleashing passion and frenzy.
His name means literally “Lord and Maker of Fury.”
Adam of Bremen wrote in 1070 or thereabouts: “Wodan id est furor.”
His essence is ecstasy; he is a turbulent spirit, a tempest that sets everything in motion and causes “movements.”
Among these were the orgiastic midsummer’s day dances mentioned by Dr. Schmitz-Cliever; the religious movements of the Middle Ages named by H. Scholz also bore the mark of this perturbing spirit.
The exodus of the children from Hamelin comes into this category.
It should be noted that music is a primitive means of putting people into a state of frenzy; one has only to think of the drumming at the dances of shamans and medicine-men, or of the flute-playing at the Dionysian orgies.
Leibniz mentioned St. Vitus’s dance as a possible cause of the events at Hamelin.
In this connection I would like to draw attention to a related, though far more dangerous, manifestation of collective frenzy upon which Wotan has likewise left his mark.
This is the “going berserk” of Wotan’s followers, a regular seizure that drove them to madness and gave them supernatural strength.
Not only single individuals were seized in this way, but whole crowds were swept along and infected with the “berserker rage.”
It was a mass frenzy, to which other people gave the expressive name furor Teutonicus.
The exodus of the children from Hamelin may be conceived as a less brutal movement activated by the same “ecstatic” spirit.
The rat-catching Pied Piper himself must have been possessed by the spirit of Wotan, which swept all those who were liable to such transports-in this case children-into a state of collective frenzy.
As to the disappearance of the children in the mountain, it should be remembered that legends often banish into a mountain certain heroes in whose death the populace cannot or will not believe, and whose return is expected, with fear or hope, in the distant future.
For the psychologist this is an apt way of saying that though the forces represented by the banished and vanished children have momentarily disappeared from consciousness, they are still very much alive in the unconscious.
The unconscious is perfectly symbolized by the dark, unknown interior of the mountain.
It scarcely needs mentioning that a reawakening of these forces has actually taken place.
Another aspect of this disappearance is the state of “being lost to the world” which is frequently reported in connection with ecstasy and more particularly with “going berserk.”
According to legend, the hero becomes invisible or is transported to another place, or occasionally his double appears, as when he is seen in battle, while in reality he is sunk in trance-like slumber.
That reports like these may have to do with parapsychological phenomena should not be dismissed out of hand, for such phenomena are associated to a great extent with highly emotional states.
But as yet there is no possibility of a scientific explanation.
From a psychological point of view the motif of the rats, which seems to have been added afterwards, is an indication of Wotan’s connection with the daemonic and chthonic realm, and with evil.
Wotan was banished by Christianity to the realm of the devil, or identified with him, and the devil is the Lord of rats and flies.
The story of the Pied Piper, as well as the medieval movements mentioned by H. Scholz and Dr. Schmitz-Cliever, are symptoms of a pagan spirit working in the unconscious and not yet domesticated by Christianity.
There are other such symptoms, of a more pacific nature -alchemy is one of them-which I have investigated at considerable length in my writings.
This spirit the more readily takes possession of our consciousness the less our consciousness is willing to reflect upon its origins and roots.
With kind regards,
C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 330-332.