This post is about mouse poop, but first I’d like to start with a confession: the last time I’ve “done ritual” was September 2015, with a local ADF grove for the autumn equinox. Before that it was sometime in the summer of 2014 with my then-partner, and then again that November with an attempt to corral nearby Pagan communities into some semblance of unity. At some point, “doing ritual” was a regular part of my practice, but moving away from the Pagan group I founded at college, to a very conservative part of the state where the nearest groups are at least an hour’s driving distance away… you can imagine how ritual has slipped from my life.
I’m not sure I can give a good explanation of what I think ritual is. When I think of “doing ritual” it includes something that is pre-planned, rather than spontaneous prayer or devotional offerings (though prayer and devotion can certainly be part of ritual!). For myself, ritual has included observances of the Wheel of the Year, practicing Senut when I was with Kemetic Orthodoxy, and participating in last year’s Reunion with the Otherfaith. It has been a long, long while since I’ve done ritual as a solitary; perhaps last Reunion over a year ago counts, but because the Otherfaith started as a far-flung internet thing, online socialization happened before, during, and after the holy week, so I never felt alone in that sense.
I regularly flametend for the Clann Bhride Cill, but for some reason keeping Brighid’s flame, even with recurring prayers, songs, and symbolic actions, doesn’t feel like “doing ritual.” This probably has more to do more with my own set of standards and definitions than it does with the importance of tending my Lady’s flame. Obviously each flametender would have their own feeling toward what they do for their shift!
There are many reasons for why ritual has slipped from my life: three years in graduate school is a good place to start, as is moving back home, experiencing two breakups (and two new relationships!), depression, and physical disability. Some of these have changed, like my finishing my degree last month and settling into a new relationship with a partner who gives me a great deal of comfort and joy. Some of these, like mental illness and chronic back pain, are still with me to this day. As I’ve grappled with the general sense of imposture syndrome that seems to leech onto everyone in their 20s, I realize that I will never feel ready for all the things I want to get to in life. I also realize that a lot of being an adult isn’t necessarily knowing what to do, but going out and doing something and getting experience that way. It’s been a difficult lesson to learn for someone who struggles with self-esteem and being a high achiever when I was younger. It’s tempting to quit when I run up against a wall of things I don’t yet know or understand.
Which brings us back to mouse poop.
My house has been host to a few new friends as the days have gotten colder, and despite the successful deployment of mouse traps we are, apparently, still experiencing a rodent problem. I myself love mice because I once rescued two baby mice from a high school biology experiment (and if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the kind of person I was as a teenager, I don’t know what will). Their names were Ferdinand and Alonzo (again, I was that kind of kid) and they lived to the ripe old mousey age of two and a half before going to the great cheese wheel in the sky. So even though I know wild mice pose a health risk and I was seeing droppings all over my house, and even though once a mouse was so bold it ran out in front of my lazy dog, who did nothing, thanks sweetie, I was still kind of excited to be sharing my home with rodents again.
When I cleaned off my Brighid altar for my cill shift Saturday night, I found that mice had been doing more than sharing kitchen and living room space. Part of cleaning involves taking off each piece on the altar – the art work, the brats from past Imbolcs, the water urn – and shaking off the altar cloth. As I moved the candle used specifically for flamekeeping, I looked down and saw the unmistakable sight of two mouse droppings alongside the burnt candle wick. Not only that, but there was a decent amount of fur and scored wax in the shape of rodent teeth.
This is a seven-day candle, the kind that’s several inches high with smooth, glass sides, and one that was furthermore sitting inside a large vase. So at some point – probably while I was out of the room, but I also enjoy the idea of this happening while I was sleeping and unawares – a mousey friend jumped several times its height, plopped itself into my unlit candle, and decided to see if wax was edible.
I don’t know if I can explain why this scenario made me so delighted, why I laughed and smiled as I cleaned out my candle, why I felt the tiniest bit of regret at having to melt away the bite marks for my flametending shift. It was unexpected. It was silly. It was probably gross to anyone who wasn’t me. And while I don’t think Brighid sent that mouse as any sort of sign, I’m finding meaning anyway from the evidence left behind by my fellow devotee.
Life is complicated, weird, serious, and oftentimes sad. Ritual helps us mark this reality, but it also gives us the opportunity to put a pause on the normal way of doing the work and experiencing the world. It means we clean out things that haven’t been cleaned in a while and discover that even when we were wrapped up in our own perceptions, life was continuing merrily along without our prompting. And while a live mouse is probably not the most sanitary thing to include on an altar, I do think in its own way the little fella gave some extra blessings to my cill shift this cycle.
(Featured image credit to Hy’Shqa.)