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The PIED PIPER & the terrible costs of rejecting shadow

This Jungian Life

Release Date: 03/16/2023

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The Pied Piper story holds a dark secret that has repelled and fascinated us for over 500 years. It asks, "What does it cost to banish our shadow?"

 At its surface, it looks like a simple morality tale cautioning us to be prudent and fair. Rats overrun a town, and the locals are beside themselves. A magical piper vibrantly dressed offers a solution too good to be true. His pipe weaves a tune that leads rats to their doom – and they drown in the ocean so neatly. Thrilled at first, then cunning and foolish, the town leaders refuse to pay the piper for his service. In turn, he entrances all but three children and takes them away forever.

Historians wonder if the account is an artifact of a devastating plague. The Lueneburg manuscript from about 1440 CE records the following event: “In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colours, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.” But tragedy was common in the middle ages, and death a constant companion, so why has this account remained vital?

The enduring interest in the Pied piper lies in its symbolic resonance with psyche. When we place the events in our imaginal world, our curiosity is liberated, and our questions become more interesting. What are the pestilential rats inside us? What happens when we ask another person to solve our inner problems? How does the unconscious react when we trick and devalue the inner and outer figures who help us along our way?

Rats populate our inner and outer world. We use them as pharmacological proxies and share about 69% of the same DNA. We keep them as pets even as others work tirelessly to exterminate them from our buildings. In some cultures, they represent prosperity and are tended to as the reincarnation of family members. But foremost, they are survivors and adaptors living side by side in every human endeavor.

We project much shadow on rats accusing them of spreading disease and taking our food without permission – those ratfinks. They hold our unsavory instincts; like all shadow-invested objects, we want them gone! But why are we thankless when someone helps us achieve that? Freud’s Taboo insights suggest anyone associated with our ‘filth’ becomes impure, so degrading them engenders relief.

Complications with money play another part. We’re quick to promise payment when our need is aroused but grim when it’s time to write the check – our mounting credit card debt bears witness to that. Paying the piper evokes dread when we fail to imagine the complete cycle of exchange, and our inner infant is indignant being charged for restoring comfort. Shouldn’t it be free?!? We project our psyches into money and use similar terms for its fluctuations – inflation, depression, and devaluation. Handing over our cash feels like we’re sacrificing an inner potential, surrendering it to our creditors.

 This may be a key that unlocks the fairytale.

 Perhaps it’s warning us that there’s a cost to banishing our shadow. Strangely, rats, money, and children carry a similar symbolic valence. They all suggest unrealized potential. The vitality in our rat-shadow could have fueled a midlife renewal. Money could have turned our desires into realities. And our children could have carried our hopes into the future.

 Perhaps demonizing any aspect of our potential puts all of it at risk, and banishing it to the unconscious may trigger strange, irresistible compulsions that can lead us astray.

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