When I was a child, my mother read to me a book called The Mouse’s Bride (at least, that’s what I think it was called). It was a picture book about a mouse who went off into the wide world to search for a bride. He wanted to marry the daughter of the most powerful creature on earth and so went looking for that creature. He went to the sun, the cloud, the wind, and finally to a tower before finally settling on a mouse bride. Over and over his protest was that if his bride wasn’t the daughter of the strongest creature in the world, he didn’t want a bride at all.
As a child I found this story frustratingly hard to understand. Family financial instability taught me early on that compromise and settling for less was simply the way life worked; if you couldn’t have the thing you wanted, you’d have to manage with something lesser or with nothing at all. The mouse’s insistence on something that was the very best of anything and his refusal to accept anything second was very confusing.
As an adult, I understand this story a little better.
Not long ago an acquaintance of mine expressed surprise that my home wasn’t simply swimming in altar icons. I suppose that’s justified; most pagan who’ve been around the community long enough accumulate all kinds of witchy shit. I have a lot of weird books but that makes up the biggest share of witch shit. I definitely don’t have icon figurines or even a lot of pagan-flavored artwork. I’ve used the same color printout for Loki’s icon for, uh, 13 years I think. His first icon actually printed out hot pink. I used that for a year at least, probably two. But bottom line, I really have comparatively few.
I’ve been getting to know Loki’s feminine aspect for several months now; this relationship has actually been intensifying over the past few years and it shifted to our main mode of interaction a while ago. She doesn’t have Her own altar exactly; Loki simply has Loki’s altar. Though Loki is only ever just Loki, I’ve found it useful to treat the two as distinct entities (not different, not separate, but distinctive). Loki’s altar has a feminine mode and a masculine mode; Her icon is veiled in feminine mode, generally uncovered otherwise.
I’ve thought about making an altar for Her because She deserves one. In this home, She’s pretty much entitled to one. Why wouldn’t She be? The icon was a bit of a sticky issue. I hadn’t ever seen images that struck me as both suitable for use as an altar icon and illustrative of Her character to a degree that it would be evocative of Her presence. Only one really came to mind and I couldn’t find a large enough version to make it worth printing out. (There are actually more potential altar images of Her out there than ever before, which is really excellent.)
Clicking around through Etsy I came across a listing for a pair of prints by a California artist – andthere She was. The picture wasn’t perfect, wasn’t really HER, but it was close enough to be the reminder that icons ought to be and it was well-done enough to be worthy of a place on an altar. I saved some money and bought the pair. They were both nice, but one was especially ideal.
The little package finally arrived today. I hurried home from work imagining that I’d set up the altar cabinet I’ve been working on, find a nice frame, and have a welcoming home ceremony to integrate this new image into my spiritual home. But looking at the picture as it came out of the package something was wrong. Something was deeply, fundamentally wrong and I remembered the mouse and his all-consuming search.
My disappointed, sullenly angry reaction told me that what I was looking for wasn’t an altar icon. I was actually hoping to bring home in visible form something else entirely. When that didn’t happen, I was immediately sad.
The pictures are lovely, there’s no problem on that count. No, the problem was me and my expectations and hopes and desires.
In spirit work and in devotional practice, it is essential to learn from our emotional responses. We have to learn from ourselves, from our expressions in this world and our reaction to it, because we have no other doctrine to study. We are our own teachers. This might suck and we might feel resentful over the fact, but fact it remains. Our devotional relationships occur in the private spaces of the heart; no witness or guide is present except for Them. Spirit work too occurs in a place no human can follow. When we long for the presence of human teacher it’s important not to forget our very first human teacher in this work: ourselves.
This experience reminds me to be conscious of my motivating desires. What I want is Her. What I got is a picture. What I wanted was Her, so I decided the best way to get Her was by buying a bit of wood pulp and ink. What I wanted is Her and at some point I decided that She could be purchased and possessed and held and framed. I wanted Her and never noticed that I was trying to pay shipping for something entirely separate from Her.
You see how the breakdown between desire and hope and expectation and final result can occur? It happens an awful lot.
Contrary to what some detractors might say, idol worshipers generally don’t place the entire weight of divine presence into a single physical object. These items are at best a window, a vessel that concentrates a small portion of divinity into a time and place so we can better notice it. Someone actually familiar with the Power in question would not be inclined to think otherwise, I imagine. Therefore expecting such an object to be more than what it has an inherent capacity to be – a window, at best – is folly.
Well, no one has ever been able to accuse this mouse of excessive wisdom.
She will be welcomed home with full celebration. She will be loved and honored and cared for with as much attentiveness as my meager mortal mentality is capable of. Hopefully I will not make such a painful-to-me mistake again for a long time.
(Yes, there will be pictures but not until everything’s set up and I stop feeling sorry for myself.)