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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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.”


I've written about the Parentalia and the Feralia before, but since the former is one of the most important festival periods in Roman polytheism, it doesn't hurt to write about it again. Especially with the tendency towards simplicity this year.

February, you see, is considered the final month of the Roman calendar, though to me it seems to be a liminal space after walking through January, which is both the end and beginning like the God it is named after. February is the first step of the new year towards approaching the year as a ritual of its own. February is for purification.

To the Romans February could be a month to make sure our religious obligations are finished for the year, so that we may start the first official beginning of the year in March fresh. The name comes from the word that means purify. Interestingly, the Parentalia, which was the precursor to the Catholic All Saints and All Souls Day before their dates were moved on the modern calendar, is 9 days long, which happens to be the number of days after coming into contact with death that a Roman was considered to be profaned, or ritually impure. No temples were opened. No sacrifices or offerings were given to the Gods.

The number of days for the Parentalia has meaning, and that meaning is this is the time of year that we appease the Dead and remind Them that we still honor Them. It's the time of year where you remember those who you came from and those passing in the last year who you loved dearly. It's 9 days where you honor the Manes (the Dead) and the Lares' (the Heros and Collective Ancestors) roles in your life, and you are allowed more time to mourn.

What I've learned in this life so far is that American culture does not allow for mourning in the way that it should. In fact, we continue to move further and further away from it while we systematically fear aging and death. This has started the erosion of cultural customs that I knew as a child. For instance, I rarely see cars pull over these days for a funeral procession, which used to be standard when I was a child.

After seeing one of the cemeteries my Ancestors were buried in had been left unkempt, I said to friends on Facebook that we should be taking care of our Dead. This was met with people saying they preferred to care for the living instead. As if these tasks were either/or. Or that they had not had good relationships with those they knew personally who had passed, as if their family lines had magically started in the recent past and not had countless generations before. There's a common misunderstanding that in order to honor one's Ancestors, that we must focus on the Dead who we have known. That simply isn't so.

Parentalia allows us to get into touch once again with grief and mourning. It gives us the chance to come to terms with the fact that, while it may get easier with time, we're still allowed to feel a pang of loss when thinking on those who have crossed the river. We're allowed to honor where we've come from, even if we're not entirely sure of where that is.

We feed the Dead, and we recognize that They have Their hand in taking care of our world. Because it's what family does, and whether it is family of birth or family of choice, that drive to care, to love, and to help doesn't end with death.

If you feed your Dead, you'll discover this truth as I have.


I have a lot to thank my Ancestors for this Parentalia, but the greatest thing I'll thank Them for is for is the continuation of my daughter's well-being. My daughter who now understands the Ancestors as an everyday part of her life. Our blueberry girl. I know They're as proud of her as I am.

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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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