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.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Genii Loci: Communal Spirits of Place

Having returned a few years ago to the general vicinity of my birth, I found myself more than ever considering regional cultus. There's something magical to the land touched by the Missouri River for me; it sings to me about it being my home and blood. I am the 5th generation of my family that has called this space home, and I marked the birth of the 6th generation with my daughter here as well. My husband jokingly refers to this as my spawning ground, but I sometimes wonder if there's truth to that.

I've set to trying to learn what I can classify as the Genii, an ambiguous term for the divine part of spirit in all things with souls. These may be Lares, heroes, natural spirits, or minor Gods; they may be Manes, the spirits of the Dead not quite elevated to the status of Lares yet. They may be somewhere in between, indefinable when not stretched under the pull of over-rationalization that I'm sometimes prone to.

This isn't always an easy task, but it's one I feel is important to undertake. So many times I fall to the trap of keeping my mind intellectually pinned into the space and time that the Roman Empire touched that I build solid walls that trap myself in. So I find myself asking regularly Who are our American Gods? Where do we find Them? And not simply the Spirits and Gods who were here before my European ancestors got here, but those we have created and transplanted as we've settled in this space.


Sometimes it's as easy as a ghost story and a trip to the cemetery to find the answer. Even in the United States, a place ruled by the Christian majority, we will find folk traditions that speak of an underlying belief in the Dead still being played out.

The marking of Marie Laveau's tomb speaks volumes of this. Throwing pennies at Benjamin Franklin's grave also point to it. But traditions can be found in unexpected places. I've come to the understanding that sometimes people become more notorious postmortem, and that is something that we should perhaps take a moment to dwell upon. We may be surprised to find that we stumble across a local Power.

I realized this the day I found myself in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City, brokenhearted over the sudden demise of a relationship and staring through the lens of a camera up at a towering bronze angel that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Unless you've lived in the vicinity of Iowa City, Iowa, you're likely to not know the name Teresa Dolezal Feldevert. Even if you have lived there at some point in your life, you may not recognize the name. However, if I were to say the words The Black Angel, you likely would be able to tell me some version of the local legend surrounding what is considered one of the most famous landmarks in the university town.

There are a dozen stories to explain why the bronze statue turned black. My favorite story involves a husband erecting the statue over his wife's grave, but due to her infidelity during the marriage the angel turned black. Another story involves her being an evil woman, murder and all.

Then there are the myths surrounding the statue itself. The first story I heard about it was that only virgins could touch the statue, all non-virgins would die within a year. Or any girl being kissed under the moonlight near her would die. Sometimes within six months. Sometimes instantly. And, as if that weren't enough, every year on Halloween the Angel turns one shade darker, a reminder of the people the woman buried there killed.

Upon entering the grounds of Oakland Cemetery, it won't take long to find the blackened sculpture of an angel shielding her face with her wings, which is a very unusual position for an angel on a grave monument. She sticks out among the gravestones that seem terribly small next to her. You'll notice that over the century she's been there, her fingers have gone missing due to vandals.

Upon even closer inspection, you'll inevitably find piles of pennies, little trinkets, and the occasional line of acorns placed at her feet. Offerings to the Dead, a woman who had died according to official records in 1924 of cancer. Over the years of living in Iowa City and my visits to Teresa Feldevert's grave, I never failed to find someone had left something for Her. Pennies for the Ferryman, a tradition rooted in the Ancients that seemed to somehow be carried over to the Americas.

Over the years, She's been the witness to weddings, ghost tours, and who knows what else. Everyone I crossed paths with in Iowa City had a story about the Black Angel. I know people who have touched Her, and considering that it's been a decade since and they're still alive, perhaps that part of the curse isn't true.

I haven't returned to that space in nearly a decade now, but if I stop to think about the first day I was there, what directly comes to mind was the presence I felt. Even friends who were not sensitive to subtle energies spoke of the place feeling, well... Creepy. Over the years I've come to acknowledge that if we're not used to being around strong Spirit, we tend to be scared of it. That space in Oakland Cemetery, that giant statue, that space that has become legend to locals... It has become a place of power.

I never encountered anyone leaving things, but I've always been curious as to if they were asking for specific things or not. I like to imagine that each time the story is told, each college student sneaking in to the cemetery in the middle of the night to scare themselves, each person touching the statue on a dare gives the Juno, or Soul, of Teresa Feldevert just a little bit more elevation to the status of Lars.

It fascinates me that we build myths and legends in the present, but as a larger community we regularly fall victim to fear and don't take that final step towards actual cultus.

The true story of Teresa Feldevert? Who she actually was? Well, the feminist in me finds a woman who could be elevated to the space of being one of the Lares, who regularly had physical boundaries and specific groups that They protected.

Teresa Dolezal Feldevert was born in Strmilov, Bohemia. There she had been a practicing physician. When she and her son moved to Iowa City, she worked as a midwife. When the University of Iowa opened its medical school in 1870, it was the public medical schools to admit women. This was an era when a female physician was rare, so many European-trained physicians worked as midwives upon coming to the United States as it was more socially acceptable.

In 1891, her son died of meningitis at 18; he was buried in Iowa City. Teresa moved to Eugene, Oregon, where she married Nicholas Feldevert. With his death in 1911, she moved back to Iowa City. She commissioned a Bohemian artist living in Chicago, Mario Korbel, to make the bronze statue to rest over the remains of her son and husband. And when she died in 1924, her ashes were also placed underneath the Black Angel. History says nothing about her being evil or unfaithful. Nature explains the blackening of the bronze statue as a very natural process of oxidation.

How strange are we that in order to explain things, we must still fall to superstition and build stories that demonize people upon their death... They become murdering adulteresses when we should be noting the importance of her role in the city's history as that of a woman helping birth the next generation.

I have no doubt that the spirit of Teresa Dolezal Feldevert is still in Iowa City, because the people of Iowa City have helped keep Her there. This is not a case of a lost and wandering spirit of the Dead, but instead She has been elevated into something more. People leave pennies. People come to wonder over the immensity of Her family's statue. People break trespassing laws to test the legends they hear and stare into the perceived eyes of immanent death.

If I lived in Iowa City still, I would count her among the Lares of Iowa City. I, too, would leave Her coins, acorns, and other modest offerings; I would spend time pouring prayers and energy into helping Her grow even stronger. It seems only natural to me that She would be willing to continue helping women who are pregnant. Within a regional pantheon then, one could call upon Her to help in birthing and pregnancy complications – Two areas of life that are still regularly dangerous and uncontrolled by mortal hands.

I feel that it's important to do these things... To look out into the present of our current collective community and find those points of Power, wherever They may hide. To sometimes look away from the comfort of our historical sources and Gods who came with us from across the ocean.

Sometimes our most powerful spiritual allies are local if we take the time to find Them. As a supporter of local food and family farms, I regularly say eat local. I should perhaps add to my cultus the rallying cry of Honor Local as well.

So please, if you live in Iowa City or find yourself one day in Oakland Cemetery, leave a penny for me at the grave of Teresa Feldevert, and let her know Camilla Laurentine hasn't forgotten Her. I did my best to create a better, more honorable story for Her. May She grow strong.

What have your experiences been with local Spirits and Gods of Place? Do you have any practice that centers around local folklore? I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to tell your tale here or leave a link.

For the full story of The Black Angel Monument, visit:

Photo: "Black angel iowa city2" by Billwhittaker at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Last modified on
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 -  


  • Anna Applegate
    Anna Applegate Thursday, 12 March 2015

    Wonderful article! I've had experiences both positive and negative working with the land spirits of places I've lived in (not my birth city of Chicago) and visited. We need to be mindful that spirits of wild, uncultivated places aren't necessarily kindly disposed towards human beings--and that's quite okay. I had a terrifying encounter with those types of land guardians when I used to live on Oahu. Once back in The Chi, I was delighted to find, as a new homeowner, that my condo building and the entire subdivision it belongs to was built upon a mass paupers' grave--39,000 mostly nameless dead. What a fitting place to begin a devotional relationship with the Goddess Hel! I blog about such matters on my blog: (Look under the tab "The Powers I Serve" and "Roots and Rootedness.") Blessings bright!

  • Camilla Laurentine
    Camilla Laurentine Thursday, 12 March 2015

    I agree most emphatically that not all spirits wish to have anything to do with humans. There are places we really simply don't belong as humans as well, which is sometimes a hard concept for our greater population to understand.

    And Chicago... My goodness, that is a city filled with spirits. I wish I would have explored it a little more bravely when I lived there than I did. I lived downtown across from the Marshall-Fields building, which had its own dizzying history with the dead. I can imagine you have quite a few stories simply about living in your condo!

    Thanks for the link to your blog! It looks right up my line of interests.

    Be well!

  • Anna Applegate
    Anna Applegate Thursday, 12 March 2015

    That's so cool that you used to live by the Marshall Field's building--you have no idea how much I miss shopping there! (Macy's can't compare!) That building strikes me as "good" haunted. ;-)

    Paying homage to the powers of place is something that's been on my mind a great deal, especially with the stirrings of spring. I hope to do a bit of domestic traveling this year--primarily to attend Pagan gatherings and festivals--and I think about the spirits of the places I'll be going to/camping in. One of the reasons why I like to travel with looseleaf tobacco; you never know when you'll want to make an impromptu offering! In the Chicago-based Fellowship of Isis Lyceum I've been active in for 16 years, we regularly employ a method of giving thanks to land spirits (especially when we're holding our rituals outdoors, which is always ideal) using tobacco, as was taught to our late Priestess-Hierophant by the Ho-Chunk Nation native peoples through the volunteer work she did at the American Indian Center of Chicago. If you'll pardon the pun, it works in a pinch! :D

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information