I never really knew the full story of the Pied Piper until I heard a reference to it not long ago. This reference inspired me to do a little research on the Pied Piper and his story. The full legend titled, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, was expanded into a full narrative in the 16th century, in which the “piper” is a rat-catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the citizens refuse to pay the piper for his services, he retaliates by turning his magic on their children and leads them away just as he had the rats. The story further evolved into a fairy tale in later centuries.
The legend of The Pied Piper is actually said to reflect a historical event in which the people of Hamelin, Lower Saxony, Germany lost their children. The character of the Pied Piper has later been referenced as a symbol of the children’s death by plague or catastrophe. Other theories have suggested that the Pied Piper has been likened to a religious leader who lured children away on a disastrous Children’s Crusade (an intention to peacefully convert Muslins in the Holy Land to Christianity resulting in bands of children marching to Italy and children being sold into slavery). (Information courtesy of wikipedia.org)
(image courtesy of tumblr.com)
In any case, the legend of the Pied Piper has resulted in it being widely used metaphorically. Merriam Webster defines the term “Pied Piper” as:
- A charismatic person who attracts followers
- One that offers strong but delusive enticement
- A leader who makes irresponsible promises
We all may know a ‘Pied Piper’ of sorts. (The ‘Pied Piper’ in present day society may be male or female, but following along with the traditional Pied Piper being male, I will continue to refer to him as such.) It’s also important to add that the Pied Piper of the past, and even our current day ones, may have begun with good intentions. The Pied Piper from the legend offered his services and expected to be paid for them. When he was not, the piper took matters into his own hands to obtain revenge. The present day Pied Pipers may have commenced in a similar fashion – with the best of intentions, but with an alternate ending. Perhaps the legend continues itself even today.
The Pied Piper is one who can say the right things to his “followers” or friends in order to rally up support and confidence in his own actions and behaviours. The Pied Piper may even feel that he is entitled to behave in a certain way because he has this support from his friends. This “power trip” of sorts can often lead to more feelings of entitlement including the taking of things to which ownership is not his, as well as bullying others in order to achieve what he desires.
Befriending the Pied Piper can be enticing, alluring, and almost intoxicating. The Pied Piper offers back to his friends the same sort of support, encouragement, and confidence which he manages to acquire from them – the attitude of ‘stick with me and we will conquer the world’. There isn’t much thought or care given to those outside the circle of the Pied Piper. He is able to delusively entice his followers into believing that what they wish and desire to accomplish can and will be done, regardless of who gets hurt or stepped on in the process.
The Pied Piper is also a leader who promises things that may not necessarily be responsible, considerate, or work for the greater good of the greater whole. The Pied Piper’s view is very self-centered – ‘what is best for me and best for my interests and intentions’ are first and foremost his concern. The Pied Piper may also lie in order to cover up false promises or irresponsible, insensitive actions in order to portray a better image of himself to others. The Piper may mislead others into believing certain things or into behaving in certain ways which are contrary to how they might normally conduct themselves.
In politics, we have often heard the term “Pied Piper” being used to criticize political leaders and their decisions. Variations of the term “paying the pied piper” have evolved from the original legend and have often been explained as such: one should not do anything or have anything done unless you are willing to pay the consequences, ill or otherwise. The term “paying the piper” is also used in meaning that one is suffering the consequences of wrongdoing. I guess what this means in terms of the Pied Piper himself is that he should be ready to suffer his own consequences of wrong doing as well.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a blog post nor any amount of lamenting that we can do that will change the fact that the metaphorical Pied Piper exists and will continue to exist. Some of us are only able to see what we need for ourselves and do not consider how it may affect others. Some of us rally up the support of friends in order to feel better about ourselves, to foster our own self-confidence, and to encourage and rationalize our own behaviours, at times to the detriment of those who find themselves outside of our circle. Which leads to the wondering… what happens to those who stop listening to the Pied Piper’s tune?
As is often the case, those who “unfollow” the Pied Piper (their choice or his) find themselves left out in the cold, struggling to find a new place to fit in to the world. The Pied Piper does not have patience for those who no longer care to hear his melody. He moves on to new listeners, new followers, new confidantes, and to those who can help advocate his newest missions. It’s a sad, but true, reality.
I guess the lesson behind the legend of the Pied Piper, and what we can learn from this story even five centuries later, is that for every action there is a successive reaction. For every decision made, there are consequences which result. For all that is dished out, one’s own deserved helping will be received in turn. Even more simply, ‘what goes around comes around’. Perhaps it is possible to believe that the Pied Piper will eventually be enticed by his own tune and find himself lead to his own demise.
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