Saturday Symbol: Rat
By DrLibbyNugent, May 29 2021 08:26AM
One of the stories from my childhood that used to particularly fascinate and frighten me was "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", in which a rat-catcher leads away an infestation of rats with enchanted music. The piper is later refused payment, so he in turn leads away the town's children. Depending on the version, at most three children remained behind: one had a walking impediment and could not follow quickly enough, the second was deaf and therefore could not hear the music, and the last was blind and therefore unable to see where he was going. These three informed the villagers of what had happened when they came out from church. This image of irresponsible parents and both lost children/left behind children terrified me and to this day I still have an irrational dislike of rats.
I am not alone in my irrational dislike of rats, they have long appeared in popular European culture as symbols of dirt, disease and the realities of survival. The rat is feared as it is tenacious and has an enormous ability to survive in a vast range of conditions, oddly linked to humans by our shared evolutionary successes. Rats have go wherever humans have go, living alongside us in our basements and sewers, occasionally we see them scurrying around bins, or in alleys reminding us of our waste, inequality, and deadliness as they nocturnally feast on our rubbish.
As with all fairy tales and myths we can hear the story and its symbols on a literal level and think about what might have really happened in the town of Hamelin-maybe experiences of the plague etc We can also hear the story more symbolically - What happens when our psyche and social conscious suffer from a symbolic plague of rats? What do rats represent to us? Do we try and get rid of them? What happens when we refuse to pay the fee for their removal?
I am aware I am writing this at the end of May 2021 when in Australia there is a plague of rats.
So what associations do we have with rats?
• Rats are connected to dirt.
• Rats are considered to bring infections.
• Freud believed rats to be phallic symbols.
• Freud also felt that rats represented dirty children: screaming, crying, and biting vermin. As vermin, rats symbolize unwanted children or unwanted siblings.
• Rats can also represent unwanted or dirty thoughts.
• Rats are hoarders and they stock up on grains for the winters. They can cause large scale destruction to farmers. As a result, rats are not welcome anywhere.
• In the Bible, they are deemed as animals too lowly to be eaten.
• Superstitions and myths surround rats in many parts of the world. Many of these depict the rat as a trickster.
• China, the rat is associated with money; when you hear a rat scrabbling around for food at night, it is said to be ‘counting money’. ‘Money-rat’ is a disparaging way of referring to a miser.
• The rat’s wedding is a big event in China. There are paintings of rat bridal processions showing rat bride and rat people.
• To look like a drowned rat.
• To smell a rat.
• To rat on someone.
• Like a rat up a drainpipe.
• Rat race.
• King rat
• Like rats leaving/abandoning a sinking ship
• Lab rat
• Love rat
• Rat in the kitchen
• Rug rat
• Rat pack
• You dirty rat
• Don’t give a rat’s ass
• To get rat arsed/pissed as a rat
• Rats nest of problems
• Rats may be symbols of poverty, decay and disease, but they also signify a certain abundance of waste, or at least that there’s some extra food lying around.
• Rats have been used to invoke a fantasy of a predatory relationships of rats on humans which in turn is used as a symbol to evoke a predatory relationship of the homeless, refugees, unemployed on society.
• In 1895, Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, established a population of domestic albino brown rats to study the effects of diet and for other physiological studies. Over the years, rats have been used in many experimental studies, adding to our understanding of genetics, diseases, the effects of drugs, and other topics that have provided a great benefit for the health and wellbeing of humankind.
• Rats have a keen sense of smell and are easy to train. These characteristics have been employed, for example, by the Belgian non-governmental organization APOPO, which trains rats (specifically African giant pouched rats) to detect landmines and diagnose tuberculosis through smell.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts?