Feeling more than a little ridiculous, I start walking South from the Temple of Apollo.
I must have accidentally spoken that thought aloud, though, as a soft voice replies.
“Imagine how it feels for the god of mice to end up being carried by a mere mortal, like some sort of pet!”
I am still a bit weirded out by whatever spell Artemis cast to help me talk with “Elder Ones” like Sminthus the mouse, as if I were a theological version of Dr. Doolittle.
I am however intrigued by his title.
Earnest: So, does “god of mice” mean humans worshipped you for your power over mice, or that you were worshipped by mice?
Sminthus: Both, but not in that order.
S. You do realize that all us lesser gods are a kind of fusion between the intersubjectivity of physical beings and deeper, eternal realities?
E. Uh, yeah, sure. I knew that. Totally.
S. Ah. Okay. So, what you humans perceive as natural processes we experience as spiritual personas. For example, if Zeus represents the core principles of civilizations, then we can associate Cronus with biological evolution, and Uranus with the preceding astrophysics and geology.
E. Wait, really?
S. How should I know? I’m only a mouse! But Apollo said those terms might give you a useful frame of reference.
E. Ah, I think I get it. So you would represent “mouseness” as part of the mammalian pantheon under Cronus?
S. Exactly! For us Elder Ones, everything that you consider “survival of the fittest” — such as feeding, mating, nurturing — is experienced as an act of worship. Yes, there are concrete biological and informational components to each of those, but the underlying motive is best characterized as “worship.”
E. Sorry, what? I didn’t hear anything after the phrase “Elder Ones.” I’ve been dying to figure out what that means, ever since Artemis said that is what her spell allows me to talk to. Does that refer to just gods like you, or to all animals?
S. In principle, everything created before Adam and Eve counts as your Elders, even atoms and stars. However, you can’t converse much with atoms or most animals as you don’t share many concepts. As the god of house mice, I already had a connection to human societies, which only deepened when Apollo became my tenant.
E. Wait, are you saying you are Apollo’s landlord, not his pet?
S. Something very much like that, yes. Didn’t you ever notice how the older gods are tied to, and sometimes actually are, animals?
S. Yes, exactly. Before Christ walked the earth, all of creation was trapped in a cycle of birth and decay. We gods were created to bring structure out randomness, and each generation of gods inherited strength from the one who came before. Particles to
atoms to stars to planets to geology to chemistry to plants to animals to humans.
E. Wait. So you are “hosted” by a plant god, the way you host Apollo?
S. Sure. The god of grains, to be precise. She’s sweet, but fickle. An ancestor, or perhaps variant, of Ceres.
E. Wait. How can a god be it’s own ancestor?
S. Sigh, I keep forgotten how identity-centric you humans are, especially modern ones. Mortals are anchored to a unique concrete identity through their bodies, what you call the physical word. Gods are more abstract, like concepts. Uranus and Zeus are both sky gods, so they represent much the same essence, but they are also personas with a family relationship.
E. What? That doesn’t make any sense!
S. Don’t you also worship a Father and a Son that share the same essence?
S. Anyway, that’s why I’m here. The pre-human gods have been fighting against Satan for many epochs. Adam was supposed to be our king and lead us into the final battle, but you know how that turned out.
E. Yeah. So were you supposed to be part of his army?
S. Um, not exactly…
E. Can you elaborate?
S. ….Sigh, if I must. As the god of house mice, I was begotten during the time of Cain. This was after the fall, and the curse. We post-Adam gods… well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
E. Because you had been trusting Adam as your connection to God, and when he fell you were left as orphans?
S. Well, yes, but in some ways worse. My father knew Adam, and knew God. But to me, they were just stories. And frankly, not very pleasant ones.
E. Wait, are you saying you started to worship Satan?
S. No! I would never! Don’t say that!!
[I stare at him, waiting for him to go on]
S. [in an even smaller voice]. At least, we didn’t think it was worship. We were just trying to survive, you know. We… we cut a deal. He would leave us alone. We just had to share our offerings with him. And, y’know, sometimes, help him out…
[I didn’t know mice could cry. Maybe only their gods do. I reach up and gently stroke him with my finger]
E. It’s all right, Sminthus. We all did what we had to, to survive. He is the god of this world, after all. Or at least, he was.
S. [sniffling] That’s the really sad part. By the time Christ came, we had been in bondage for millennia. Satan had infected all our thinking. Even Apollo, noblest of the gods, had become addicted to having his own worshippers. He resisted the coming of the Messiah, refusing to acknowledge His claim.
S. In many ways, the destruction of his temple was a mercy; not just for him, but for me. Apollo really is the sun god. He brings light and life, but he can also be haughty and merciless. Losing his exalted status brought out the worst in him. And me, if I’m being honest. Our relationship became… strained.
E. So…how did you end up in the Well of Souls?
S. As I told you, we lesser gods are primarily conceptual beings. Apollo’s temple anchored us to not just the material world, but each other. When I lost that connection, I reverted to my ancestral fear of humanity. I started running, seeking the deepest, darkest hole I could find. Eventually I ended up… where you found me.
[He pauses. I let the silence linger, as I reflect on his story, and all he went through.]
E. So… how did you survive?
S. Ironically, by using the tricks Apollo taught me. Paradoxically, I am the god of mouse-catchers as well as mice.
E. Ah! Because because human (and feline) hunters had to work to understand you, which is a form of worship.
S. Right, just as mice had to understand their foes. You can think of me as embodying the ecological balance, determining who must live and die for the species to thrive.
E. So that is what gave you the wiles to hide under Satan’s nose?
S. Well, I don’t like to brag, but we mice think of ourselves as the most direct heirs of the mammaliaform lineage. We survive both dinosaurs and devils by being small and shrewd.
E. Ah! Is that why you became a totem animal to human clans who valorized sneakiness over strength?
S. Exactly. Though sneakiness is more properly part of my brother Rattila. I prefer the term “stealthy” or even “inconspicuous.” We don’t just avoid being seen, we work hard to appear inoffensive and inconsequential even when discovered. In fact, that is what drew me to you!
E. Wait, what?
S. When you were in… that place, you sought to disarm Satan by avoiding direct confrontation. You prolonged your life and achieved your mission by abandoning your pride. By the laws that govern such things, that stratagem tapped into my power and essence, which brought me to you.
E. Huh. Okay, that makes sense. But while stealth seems a vital tactic, especially at the beginning, that isn’t sufficient for developing a winning strategy. No offense intended!
S. None taken! I am also the god of knowing my limitations. That is why we are going to visit my cousin, the coyote.
E. Huh? Then why are we going South instead of West?
S. That… is an interesting story. But you can ask him yourself. Because… we are already there.
[I look up, and receive the shock of my life]
To be continued…