Do ut Des: Adventures in Roman Revivalism

A blog dedicated to talking about Roman Polytheism and how it can be applied to our modern lives through the eyes of a Revivalist.

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Camilla Laurentine

Camilla Laurentine

Camilla Laurentine is a mother, artist, writer, and craftswoman wandering about the Midwest. She is a Roman Revivalist and American Pagan. Her path is a living, continuously changing entity that could best be described as a syncretic blend of the Continental Europe, honoring a careful balance of Spirit-informed gnosis and scholarly study. She is currently training as a death midwife and home funeral guide with big dreams of building temples and a safe sanctuary for those struggling with spiritual and mental health issues. Camilla is a sibyl and teacher, available for spiritual consultation and mentoring. You can find her jewelry and art at her Etsy shop: Wunderkammer by C. Laurentine - http://www.etsy.com/shop/wunderkammerbycl

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Adorn the Dead with Roses

(image: Two hands in black and white cupping the bloom of a deep red rose)

I had tentatively started a post on the Roman months of May and June being filled with rose festivals and how the adornment of roses and violets marked both life and death in the Roman world during the months of May through mid-July. I was mentally filling this essay with how we could all stop to honor our Beloved Dead in the summer with roses and all the historical bits I could yank out of my tumbling, sometimes foggy mind.

And then on June 12th, while I drank my coffee, the news filtered in that there had been a mass shooting in Orlando.

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The Parentalia: Honoring the Ancestors and Beloved Dead

It is bedtime. My daughter and I are cuddled up, and it is story time. This is our nightly ritual. Some nights, when she's not so tired, we read myths. She is nearly 4, and her attention span is not that of an adults, so most nights we read about My Little Pony or Olivia like your normal family.

Tonight, though, she brings me Neil Gaiman's Blueberry Girl. There was a point where I couldn't read through it without crying, and I'm secretly thankful that I've steeled myself slightly to the beautiful prayer the author wrote for his daughter.

Within the first few pages, my daughter grabs my hand to still it, and looks a long time at the picture of beautifully aged women looking lovingly over a wandering, wondrous girl. She asks, “Are they the Ancestors?”

I'm suddenly tearing up anyway. This time my eyes are welling up with pride. She's connected it. She's starting to understand the nature of Ancestors – That They watch over us.

Until this point, I've avoided using anything but English words for the Gods (which for a Roman polytheist can include at least some of the Ancestors), but on this night I kiss the top of her head and say with pride and delight, “Yes, these are special Ancestors. We call Them the Matronae. They are the Big Mothers who look after us and make sure we have a good life.”

“Matronae,” she says, turning the R into a W. It's adorable. It's amazing to hear the word on the lips of the young, fae-like creature my entire world has come to revolve around. It means even more as I slowly write a book about the Matronae of the Missouri River.

My daughter gets it. She understands.

Maybe I'm not failing as a parent as much as I thought.

“It's Parentalia,” I remind her. “This is a time for the Ancestors.”

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Looking Forward and Back

(A picture of a marble bust of Janus Bifrons, his two bearded faces back-to-back.  He looks forward and back.)

I find myself in 2016 wondering exactly where the last of 2015 went. It's a rather easy question to answer in reality. It went to art. It went to family. It went to study and research. To resting. To respecting my spirit's need to pull back and sit within myself. To slow down for the sake of my body.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I grew up with a copy of Will Durant's "Caesar and Christ" in the house. It had a big fold out map in it. The Roman Empire cover
7 Ways Allies of Minority Religions Can Support Polytheist and Pagan Parents

 Recently on a Facebook discussion about raising children in our varied polytheist traditions, one of my dearest friends, who is an ally to those of us living as practitioners of minority religions, asked what allies can do to help those of us who are dedicated to raising our children within a polytheist home. I didn't respond, because at the time I was trying to decide what kind of help in the task would be helpful. And I've been thinking about it since then almost daily.

So Daniel, if you're reading this, here is my answer finally... You know how sometimes it takes a decade to get my thoughts together on things, and I want to thank you for your endless patience.

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Unpacking Piety

Do ut des means “I give so that you may give.” It is one of the defining points of Roman polytheism, and it is the most important. It is in these 3 Latin words that we can lay out how the Romans viewed their Gods. It is in these 3 Latin words that we can lay out a different approach than what we likely grew up with in regard to relationships with the Gods and society as a whole.

Ask someone in the Pagan community about Roman polytheism and you will regularly hear that it was contractual to the point of lifelessness. Actually, ask a lot of Roman polytheists the same, and they will repeat that statement as well, preferring to take the outdated tone of early scholars of the Roman religion, who regularly were Christian and carrying on a long tradition of upholding their perceived superiority through biased writing and opinion.

...
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The Lemuria: Folk Magic and Ghosts in Ancient Rome

One of the reasons I was so deeply attracted to Religio Romana was the attention that is given to the Dead and the Ancestors. In February, the end of the traditional Roman religious year, the month is spent paying our dues to those powers higher than us that perhaps we've neglected either knowingly or unknowingly. This shows up with the observation of the Parentalia and the Feralia within it, both to recognize the Lares, the God/Spirits of our more spiritually-developed Ancestors and Heroes, and the Manes, the Spirits of our Beloved Dead and, in my personal tradition, the Spirits of the Unclaimed Dead.

The month of May, a month of purification and possibly named after the Maiores (Ancestors), also has an ancient festival in it focusing on the Dead. But this time it is not for the Manes, the “good” Dead, those who had been given proper rites in burial and were offered cultus by their families, but the Lemures, the angry, restless Dead.

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The Kalends at Three

Tomorrow marks the Kalends of April, the first day of the month. In Ancient Rome, this was the day that state-sanctioned sacrifices were made to Juno, Janus, and the Lares. The date of the Nones, the day all other monthly festivals were publicly announced, was given. While a few syncretic Roman Revivalists follow the lunar cycle of marking the Kalends, which would be when the first sliver of a new moon could be seen in the sky or (not quite as accurately) the new moon, most of us observe the first of the month as the Kalends. That was how it was marked for the majority of Rome's history.

Most months, I work extra hard to make sure that I cook a modest but well-balanced meal for my family from scratch on this day. We offer at the lararium, or shrine to the Lares and household Gods, that sits in the middle of our dining room table. In my home, we bring the Gods to the table with us when we eat. We offer the first bites of food from our plate to the Lares, giving Them what They are due, along with all food that might happen to fall onto the floor. With a toddler in our house, the Lares get fed well with all the food that falls.

The rest of the religious duties of the day fall on me, though, and that's because I'm technically the only person in the house of this religion.

Except this is going to change this month. It was agreed upon many years ago that any child I had would be raised within my religion, since my husband is an agnostic humanist who loves Christmas. Now at 3-years-old, I feel like my daughter has hit that magical age where she's ready to start really learning about the Gods (though she continues to insist there are only 2 Gods) and participate in her mother's religion.

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