Saturday, April 4, 2020

The God of Dust

((In honor of World Rat Day, which is apparently a real thing, I thought I'd slightly tweak and then finally implement a little idea I came up with a long time ago.))


"Three garbs have We- dust, cobwebs, and skin of flea. Long is Our tooth, for we hide from the blinding torches of truth."
- A snatch of skitterrhyme scrawled above a waste receptacle slot in the Basilica of the Blissful Calculation (Dormitory #12).

"[...] Lastly, all members of the Dutiful Staff and Most Enlightened Faculty are encouraged to remain alert, as you doubtless have been without need for admonishment nor reminder, of the traces of queer murine totemism which have of late infiltrated the Lower Colleges..."
- Agendum 261, CMOE DIX.

"Is this what the kids are into these days? Inventing gods? Incorrigible."
- Senior Editor Onsaro Adelbramp; Provost of the Board for Historical Ordination, Associate Vice-Dean of Affairs for ITU Publishing, and clueless old dodderer.

The Ivory Tower University, despite its pledge to pursue universal "truth" is not exempt from creating its own myths, folklore, and an urban legendarium murky and tantalizing enough to keep even the most exhausted undergraduate study groups riveted during cramming season¹. There is nothing wrong with myth-making by itself. In fact, I would consider it something of a sign of a healthy community- it means that their society is still thinking, dreaming, and being creative. However, certain myths sometimes lead one to wonder just what in the world that community was dreaming about when it thought them up.

A favorite example of mine is the God of Dust & Lost Things, popular among the residents of the Lower Colleges. The God of Dust is, when dignified with the attention of our resident theogonists, designated as a "small" god- both figuratively and literally speaking.

Its influence is said to be limited to the area in and around the ITU campuses, though some especially smitten young students claim that its reach even extends into the lower city and the world beyond. It exists where dust, dead insect husks, shed skin cells, and other detritus of the ages accumulate, dwelling in shady corners and forgotten storage rooms. When it takes a physical form, it is said to be fond of appearing as a small black rat with a skeletal head and tail. In this form, it finds and steals away any small, half-interesting item which anyone has ever lost. The god's warren somewhere deep below the university is said to be snarled with enormous stacks of knickknacks, bits and bobs, odds and ends, and a veritable ocean of lost change in denominations that are no longer recognizable, let alone acceptable as legal tender.

The god is lonesome, but not lonely. It has no altars, no priests, and no proper worshipers. Only the occasional undergraduate gives lip-service and offerings to it in the desperate hope that it will bring back some item which they have lost. This is done by leaving another item of minimal but equal value in a small, dark corner somewhere and then returning to the spot a few days later. The desired item is rarely left in its place, if any at all is given. It is unclear if the god has difficulty understanding human reasoning, or if some bored individual makes the rounds at night, looting places where the skeletal rat is believed to dwell. Sometimes it does seem to work, however, and this serves to reinforce a less-than-joking belief in Ol' Dusty. Rough, sketchy, and discreet images of rat skulls denote popular sites of invocation across campus.

One side effect of the playful, surreptitious "veneration" of the god among young undergraduates is the proliferation of a form of poetry known as Skitterrhyme. Skitterrhyme was originally a type of praise poetry directed at the God of Dust. The earliest recorded ones jokingly extol its "virtues" such as doing absolutely nothing with its massive yet useless hoard, or boring holes in the walls to keep tired academics awake at night. They displayed an extremely rudimentary rhyme scheme and virtually nonexistent meter, but over time the arrhythmic style became more sophisticated and mathematical. The words themselves also began to be coded with meaning, until finally the staccato hymns began to be used to gossip and share secret messages in public. There are about a dozen different cyphers for skitterrhyme today, spread out across the various dormitory houses of the ITU.

A popular story is that the god presides over an entire court of lost and little things, some of which could be the cast-off remnants of other, forgotten gods.

It is both the creator and ruler of a race of animated dust bunnies, who hold the god in distant reverence while going about their lives collecting dander and evading the brooms of the indefatigable but woefully underfunded Custodial Corps, which is often the butt of jokes among the student body- and the faculty, for that matter. The dust bunnies are believed to know the secret of how to summon and gain the permanent favor of the god, but none have ever been found living to question.

The ultimate enemy of the God of Dust is said to be a great, desiccated sparrow corpse which was reanimated by the spirit of the wind, to blow all dust away forever. Sparrows, alongside squirrels, are a ubiquitous and often very annoying sight around the university, so it is somewhat of a natural antagonist to set against this strange underdog.

The earliest attested references to the God of Dust & Lost Things is from an encyclical reminding members of the university staff and faculty to report any and all instances of skitterrhyme or unsanctioned and/or ironic religiosity to the old Committee for Mythological Ordination. This encyclical was published a few years before the committee was disbanded in the wake of Article 921, which de-problematized certain rites in the interest of expanding minority religious freedom on campus. Because this publication dealt with an informal belief in or at least playful acceptance of the God of Dust which was so entrenched in the Lower Colleges that the excruciatingly blind upper councils took note of it, it is safe to assume that the god had existed for at least a few decades before that point, placing its origin as far back as one hundred and fifty years in the past, at the time of this writing.

I personally suspect that the legend was created, or at least greatly contributed to, by our small but consistent body of exchange students from Serminwurth. While it is presumptuous of me, I can think of no other city that affords such respect to the rat without trying to ascribe any sort of lofty, unrealistic ideals to it.

¹ Which is to say, all semester ever semester.

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