Mystic & The Mind: Of Mental and Spiritual Health

The landscape of mental health and spirituality in relation to the Pagan and Polytheist experience is vast and regularly uncharted territory. How can we gather the tools to help those that are experiencing spiritual emergence? What happens when emergence becomes an emergency? How can we support our community members who experience mental illness? And is it possible that there is a spectrum of experiences relating to mental health and spiritual transformation instead of a dichotomy? This blog explores the realm of mental health's intersection with spiritual health, both from a personal perspective and an academic one.

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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.

 First, I feel the need to address those who say we shouldn't raise our children within a religion; that it's indoctrination and wrong. My daughter is getting a well-rounded religious education akin to that of the Unitarian Universalists, which comes from my experience of teaching religious education within a society there. So while my daughter at 3 is learning about age-appropriate praxis and theology of her mother's religion already, she will also be getting an education about other religions as she gets older, and she will be free to move away from my religion should she want to. At no time is she forced to be involved in the religious life of my home, but I never exclude her from being a part of it should she choose to. Do I hope she carries on honoring the Gods of her mother? Yes, yes I do, and I think most parents out there would say they hope the same of their children.

And now with that said... A few ideas for how to be a good ally to a Pagan or Polytheist parent trying to raise their child the same:

1. Speak out against those attempting to build a theocracy in the United States. This is probably applicable to other countries as well, but since I'm a mother in the US I can't really speak from experience elsewhere. What I do know is I've lost sleep at night worrying that one day my daughter will lose the ability to make choices about her own body, the right to her religious practice of choice, and will be denied certain healthcare choices due to others' beliefs that don't match her own. I worry that she will have a state-paid worker deny her a marriage license to marry who she loves, making life ridiculously easier legally should something happen to her spouse. I worry that someone will decide to take away her children because of her beliefs. I worry one day she will be fired from her job because of her religious beliefs. I worry that one day I'm going to have to face off with her school board when they try to take away her religious jewelry and don't understand why I have a problem with a Christian-centric choir program like I dealt with in high school. I worry she'll be bullied for her religious beliefs, receive death threats in her locker, and have teachers outright ignore it like I had to deal with.

I worry she'll come home in tears, because she realizes that the majority of people around her genuinely believe she will not be going to heaven with them because she doesn't believe that the Christian God is the only God there is. I worry I'll have to get the ACLU involved.

I worry. I worry a lot, and unfortunately my worry is based on my own experiences.  I need everyone around me supporting religious freedom for everyone, even if they may not believe my religion is right. I need people accepting the fact that while the United States might have been founded (at least partially) by Christians, the laws were worded to afford people like me, who you know and love, our civil rights and liberties. I need people speaking out about what is going on in our country right now. I need them screaming at the top of their lungs.

I need them to realize I write under a pen name to protect my daughter and my husband, because there are people out there that may hurt them in one way or another if they knew I was a Polytheist and Pagan. This isn't paranoia. This is reality. This is my reality, and I don't want my daughter to face that as a reality... Please, speak out when someone you love is spouting off hate. I've been at this minority religion gig for 20 years. I have a 3-year-old. I am exhausted and heart-broken by people not understanding that involving religion in law hurts people. Help me.

2. Vote against those trying to take away our rights and putting religion into law. In all elections. All of them. Not just the big ones. Please. Democracy works only if we participate in it. I need you voting for school boards and city council just as much as I need you voting for the president, because these have a direct impact on the life of my family. I need people in offices like this who don't work under the opinion that their religious values have anything to do with the way things are run.

3. We give gifts for Saturnalia and Yule in my house, and I'd really love it if others considered giving my daughter a gift for her religious holiday and not your own. Or, if you're going to give her a Christmas gift, which I get if you're uncomfortable with the thought of Saturnalia or Yule, at least wish her a Merry Yule or Joyous Saturnalia. Recognize that there are other religious holidays out there during that time of year, and that my daughter and I are celebrating, too. I can't begin to explain how lonely it is to be the only one celebrating a holiday and how frustrating it is to be expected to engage in holidays of other religions' without any recognition of your own. I feel very pressured to celebrate Christmas, and no one around me tends to get why that's a problem.  Even those who aren't Christian.

4.  It's not just Yule and Saturnalia either. It's almost all religious holidays or even our daily and monthly rituals. If it's not against your religious beliefs to celebrate with my family, it would be really great to have people join in. It gives you a chance to learn something about the beliefs of your friend, but it also helps me teach my child that the religion she's being raised within is one of community and hospitality. It's not something that has to be hidden in the safety of our home's walls. We can help be the change that leads to acceptance, and you can help me raise a child who understands that it's okay to be involved in the religious life of those they love and care about while not necessarily being part of that religion.

5) Books! Let me just say that outside of Wicca and Wicca-influenced Paganism, it's basically impossible to find quality books on the various European polytheist traditions other than mythology books. And if they're out there, they need some heavy-handed editing, are a shot in the dark if they're going to actually be useful or not, or are written by people without any experience in parenting and/or religious education. Even the mythology books out there are sometimes not that great. They're translated and written by people who don't believe the Gods are real or realize there are people out there still believe in Them; the bias leaks through. It's hard to find books, so I need as much help as possible in finding books that teach concepts of my religion that are important: hospitality, reciprocity, being a good citizen, social justice, or even the Gods in a way that makes them real.

These concepts aren't always things found in religious books. Last night I was reading a book to my daughter that was given to her about hula. As we got further into it, Pele was talked about as a living Goddess. The next page talked about the Ancestors of hula. I was able to engage my daughter in a conversation about the Gods and Ancestors in a way that I was struggling to because of this, and it was so helpful. So very, very helpful.

So when you run across a book that does this, remember it is a book I would love to have in her library. The stories that make the Gods real and not just myths that ancient people used to believe in, the books that teach concepts even in an indirect way... These help me raise my daughter, and I am grateful for that.

But also when selecting a book, please make sure that if you buy a book specifically about religion that you aren't buying a Wiccan book for a Roman Revivalist or Heathen child. There are some vast differences in religions there. Not all people who use the Pagan label are Wiccans, and not all those practicing polytheist religions consider themselves Pagan, which is another can of worms you probably don't want to open. So unless you know the exact religion and have read the book, maybe stay away from anything that says “Pagan” in the title or on the back.

6) Expect to hear questions and be witness to discussions about religious beliefs that you may not share, and understand that it's not your place to explain things unless you are asked by a parent to do so. Recently we took a trip to see my husband's parents. My husband has never explained that I'm of a minority religion to his parents, and up until this point it's really not been a big deal. They're not particularly religious.  I've not hidden it, but I've just not announced it, even if our wedding included a prayer to Juno and was far from a traditional modern American wedding.

At home when we put food into the middle of the table, it's a portion that goes onto our shrine for the Gods, and we don't eat it. I hadn't thought to prepare my daughter for the fact that this isn't what happens in others' homes, and so she kept asking the first night we were there if the food in the middle of the table was for the Gods. She's 3, her pronunciation isn't always the best, and her grandparents couldn't understand what she was asking. And since I really didn't want to have “the talk” with my in-laws while on pain medication from traveling, I just quietly said to my daughter, “No, this is our food to eat.” Which, I'm sure, was confusing as all get out to her, and I felt it was rather rude to not explain what she was asking to her grandparents...

I guess suggestion 6.5 is to have that talk with the host ahead of time for your friend/spouse/partner/sibling/etc that there's another religion literally coming to the table if the person coming to the table is comfortable with you doing so. It was never a problem before I had a kid, but suddenly I have a child who doesn't understand why her questions aren't getting answered, I feel rude for not explaining, and at the same time I don't want to be in this position where I have to either ignore my daughter's questions or come out of the religious closet in the middle of dinner when I had no intention of doing so (or at the very least wasn't mentally prepared for it). And really? Really? It comes off as being ashamed of my religion to my kid, which is the very last thing going on, but more of a “I don't know if this is a safe place to discuss this, and I don't want to have to explain to my 3-year-old that not everyone is safe to talk about religion around. And what if this other person says something about Jesus being the only way in front of my child, because how many times have I heard that in my life from people I love dearly?”

But mainly just be willing to sit through a minor discussion about religious differences. I'm not asking you to offer to my Gods in your house if that's not what you normally do, but just understand that my child may want to know why you don't. Please let me explain it to my child, and realize I may not even ask for you to explain it in your own words. I promise I can explain your belief in a neutral, respectful way; I used to be a religious education teacher to a group that welcomed all religions. I have spent most of my life studying religions, not just my own. That much I have mentally prepared myself for.  And while not all polytheist and pagan parents likely have this same experience as me, our religions aren't usually the only religions we've been involved with in our lifes.  Most of us are converts from other faiths and traditions.

7. Finally, don't be afraid to practice your religion in front of my child if that's what you normally do in a situation as long as you don't pressure her to join in. While I ask that you don't engage her in conversation about why your God or Gods are the only way, I really appreciate her being exposed to situation where people are different than her, where she can learn how other people engage in their religion, and generally that not everyone does it like those in the Laurentine household. It's my job to educate her on theology, but I'd be remiss in demanding no one expose her to other beliefs and practices.

I'm sure there's more, but that's what came to mind today. Thank you for being willing to be up to the job of being an ally to someone in a minority religion. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but to a mom like me who has experienced abuse and discrimination at the hands of others due to my religion, it means the world.


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Camilla Laurentine is a mother, artist, writer, and craftswoman wandering about Memphis, TN. 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 has 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 -  


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