homelink Invoking Animal Magic
A guide for the Pagan priestess

"Deciphering the Mouse Mysteries"
(Book Excerpt)

It was a wickedly cold night, but my partner, my cat and I were snug in our bright, rather cramped apartment. The three of us watched in idle curiosity, then in amazement, as a mouse sauntered over to the cat dish, selected one piece of cat food, then dashed for cover. Even the cat was too surprised to react. There was no reason to covet the food of the arch enemy, since there was plenty of human food in the apartment that was not touched. The act has to go down as one of the cheekiest gestures of all time. The cat stood guard over her dish for the next two days, until she caught the brazen thief on a second raid.

Mice are as prosaic as bats are mysterious. Mice are common, ordinary. A woman whose looks are unremarkable is described as “mousy.” Mice are quiet, plain, timid, unassuming. They breed prolifically and live only a few years in captivity—even less on the prowl, since they have so many predators. Everyone knows about mice.

Mice have been scurrying around my brain for many years, ever since I heard the god Apollo called The Mouse Catcher. Most encyclopedia entries don’t even mention this obscure connection, let alone explain it.

Years later, mice scooted across my brain with that crazy story about the goddess Diana changing the stars to mice and making it rain mice. The story says she did it to impress other witches, but why mice?

In medieval times Inquisitors considered the mouse a witch critter. Witches supposedly used mice as familiars and changed themselves into mice. The magical connection of bats with witches is obvious. What is so magical about mice, when they’re not raining from the sky?

Even crazier is the mouse remedy in English folk medicine curing everything from diabetes to bedwetting. Mice are abundant the world over, but they are not ubiquitous as healing ingredients. If mice did have intrinsic healing properties you would expect to find them prominent in Chinese medicine, where animal derivatives are common. I’ve found rats as a prescription for hair loss, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t some additional medicinal applications for rats and mice, but they aren’t a panacea in Chinese medicine, like snakes. The mouse appears in the Dianic creation myth as Diana from her dark body births the light god Lucifer. As she seeks to devour him into her darkness, he flees before her “like the mouse before the cat.” So Lucifer is light, but he’s also a mouse. The stars are light. Diana changes the stars to their twin form, mice, and no wonder the witches are impressed: it’s a clever conception, as well as a miraculous deed.

But the story still doesn’t satisfy. Why is Lucifer the light god also a mouse? Mice are gray or brown. Sure we have white mice today as pets or lab animals, but wild mice are dark, and conspicuous white mice could not survive in an unprotected environment for long.

Turns out, white mice have been selectively bred for a long time. The art of fancy mouse breeding goes back more than 3,000 years, to temples of Apollo along the coast of Anatolia, or perhaps to the worship of an even older mouse god superseded by Apollo. As the cults of Apollo and Artemis spread throughout the Mediterranean, so did mouse worship. There was even a mouse temple in the Greek city of Alexandria, on the coast of North Africa.

Church mice may be poor, but temple mice lived a life of luxury. Observers said the mice were given a bed at the foot of the Apollo’s altar and permitted to roam freely. The mice were used as a type of early economic forecasting, with more prolific breeding portending a more prosperous year.

Of course the mouse-light god in the Diana story is named Lucifer, not Apollo, but Lucifer is Latin for “light-bearer” and could easily have been a title of Apollo as the god of light. Lucifer is associated with the morning star Venus, and Christians declared him identical with Satan. The old male gods often became libeled as the Christian anti-deity, especially when the cult of the old god proved intransigent.

Before becoming Christianized, the Romans brought the worship of Apollo to their conquered northern territories. Apollo by this time was the god of healing, geometry, music, prophesy and many other things. He superseded the worship of many gods that were probably gods of light or healing. If the mouse association accompanied Apollo to the British Isles, this would explain how the mouse remedy got started there.

Wait, wait a minute, some people are thinking. If the mouse was sacred to Apollo, wouldn’t that make it a crime for his followers to kill a mouse, or at least make mice a socially unacceptable meal? What about the death penalty in ancient Egypt for killing a cat? What about the cultural prohibition in India against eating beef?

Let me explain something about the Celts.

The ancient Celts ate anything they held sacred. There are those who contend they even ate the king in ritual sacrifice. There might be conditions on how a sacred animal would be eaten, but it most certainly would be on the menu at some point during the year. This was a way of imbibing the attributes of the animal-god. If Apollo is the god of healing and his sacred animal is the mouse, what would a sick Brit do? Eat a mouse.

The medicinal mouse came onboard with waves of English and Scottish immigrants to America. The ailments linked with the mouse remedy, though they span a wide province, are most heavily concentrated in areas having to do with bodily fluids, especially lung congestion and bladder problems. A Boston health professional in 1890 discovered a family of English extraction feeding mouse stew to their children to prevent bedwetting. It’s too bad the art of mouse cuisine has died out. In my years as a family therapist I’ve had some bedwetters I couldn’t fix, and I’m sure eating a mouse would have cured them.

With the coming of Christianity, mice took on an evil flavor. The Old Testament defames mice as unclean animals, so this could be where Christians got their prejudice. Andrew Lang in Custom and Myth states the Israelites themselves became prejudiced against mice during their long stay in Egypt, where mice were reviled. However, Robert Graves, in The Greek Myths, asserts the Israelites were reacting to a mouse cult in Palestine, citing passages in the Bible describing or denouncing what certainly sounds like mouse worship.

Why there should be a mouse cult in the first place is puzzling to some, but this is related to the disease and destruction that mice bring. While Egyptians responded to the mouse problem by cultivating the cat goddess, other cultures cultivated the mouse god himself, beseeching him to keep the numbers of his tribe in check. Thus Apollo is not only the mouse god, but the mouse destroyer. Apollo as mouse god steals grain, but he also protects grain. Apollo as mouse god brings disease, but he also brings healing.

The major attribute Christians ascribed to mice, surprisingly, was not disease or thievery, but lust. With the celibate’s fascination for all things sexual, clerics used to breed mice in order to observe firsthand the nature of lust. They also maintained that white mice were more “lustful” than dark. It’s a good thing we already know about the Apollonian white mouse temples, or we’d have another crazy mouse riddle to figure out. The fact that Christian clerics associated mice with witches, mice with lust and white mice with greater sin suggests a reaction against the Pagan mouse god. (For the sake of thoroughness, I asked some mouse breeders if their white mice were more fertile. They told me no.)

In seeming contradiction to their notion of mouse hypersexuality, monks touted the mouse as a corroborator of the Virgin Birth, since mice supposedly conceived by licking salt. This notion has been around since at least classical times. Salt has positive associations in Christianity as well as witchcraft, but none that explain its mechanism in parthenogenesis.

The Japanese could have told Christians that the male mouse is necessary, since fancy mouse breeding was already popular in Japan at the time of the first missionaries. Rich men liked collecting varieties of mice, as the mouse was a symbol of wealth and wisdom. The first published work on the principles of genetics came not from Mendel but from a Japanese mouse breeding tract.

For many Native American tribes, the mouse possesses a special wisdom, because her smallness gives her a unique perspective. The mouse’s small size also gives her humility, which is an important component of Native spirituality. The mouse plays a prominent role in Hyemeyohsts Storm’s novel Seven Arrows, about Plains Indians struggling to keep traditions of peace alive while facing the threat of annihilation. The mouse in this story represents the principle of scrutiny. He examines everything closely and reflects on it carefully. In order to get perspective he has to travel long and far, as he can only see one detail at a time.

Maybe that’s why the tidbit about the Mouse Catcher nagged me for so long. It was an insignificant piece of trivia that, combined with other small details, added up to something bigger. Mouse magic is powerful; do underestimate the humble mouse.

Publication Date: July 26, 2013
Publisher: Moon Books

©Hearth Moon Rising 2013