From February 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia. This festival honours Lupercus, a god of shepherds, their flocks, and fertility. The priests of the festival were called the Luperci. The Luperci were the masters of the festival's rituals. They sacrificed male goats and a dog. The Luperci dressed in goat skins and used strips of goat hide from those sacrificed to strike, or mark, young women. This was done in a gentle manner and not painfully. Often young women would seek out the Luperci and hold their palms out to be struck.
It was a joyous occasion, the air festive. The purpose of the ritual was to encourage fertility in women, to encourage lactation in new, or soon to be mothers, and importantly, to encourage matchmaking between couples. Childless women especially would seek out the Luperci to be marked and encourage pregnancy. As noted, it was a festive time, and like the Valentine's Day of our time, things sometimes became too merry. The Emperor Augustus forbade men that were deemed too young from participating. They tended to drink too much and become overly enthusiastic with their reveling. Foods were given out, libations taken, and the colour and flavour of the festival was much like our modern celebration of Valentine's Day, but without the crass materialism of post modern consumerism.
|Icon of Valentine|
Like many of our ancient traditions, this old pagan festival was synchronized into Christian beliefs and Lupercalia evolved into Valentine's Day. There are several legends about a man called Valentine. The most common one is there was an early Christian named Valentine. He was executed on 14 February, in the 3rd century. Valentine was imprisoned in Rome for helping Christians and was known to have secretly married Christian couples in love. The lore states that while Valentine was a prisoner he tried to convert the Emperor Claudius to the new faith. Claudius was not impressed and had the poor Valentine beheaded.
Valentine became a saint and was the patron of lovers. In the late 5th century Pope Gelasius I banned the festival of Lupercalia and declared 14 February the feast day of Saint Valentine. Christians began to celebrate Valentine's Day... but the people continued to embrace all the customs and nuances of the old pagan Lupercalia. The colours red and white were used in Lupercalia, red for the ritual blood and white for milk to represent fertility. The memory and veneration of Valentine continued, but so did also the earlier traditions from Lupercalia.
|The god Cupid|
|Victorian Valentine's Day Card with Cupid|
Lupercalia was an old festival even in ancient Rome. It shares similarities to the old Celtic Imbolc which takes place on 1 February. The festival and rituals ultimately go back to our distant past and shared Indo-European religious spiritual beliefs.
So there you have it on this Valentine's Day - I give you Lupercus, Cupid, and ole Valentine, we should celebrate them all on this day. Do enjoy your Valentine's Day.