We’ve come to that part of the year where words of love are as sugary as a box of chocolates; where the bouquets are just as often balloons as they are flowers; where the Cheesecake Factory is completely booked. Valentine’s Day: not a day for cynics, but a day for romance! (And history, obviously.)
Talk to certain scholars about Valentine’s Day, and you’ll almost certainly hear about Lupercalia. A festival celebrated in parts of ancient Rome and Gaul (modern-day Italy and France), it was born of what are now mysterious origins. Descriptions range from lighthearted, largely symbolic antics to fully nude debauchery in the streets - yet in the modern age, many insist that there is a direct tie to a Western Christian holiday dedicated to romantic love.
The names of the holiday, priesthood, and other traditions stem from the Latin word lupus (wolf), but historians don’t agree on most other details. What is clearly known is that it was celebrated on February 15 with specified practices, believed to mark young men’s transition to sexual maturity and bestow fertility upon women.
A male priesthood of Luperci performed animal sacrifices, then cut februa (flaying thongs) from the skin, and ran through the city with them. Women stood in the roads to be struck, symbolically representing being impregnated. (Some accounts hold these whippings to be less than ceremonial, and often involuntary.)
As with so many other festivals, there was a transition from the old ways of celebrating after Christianity came into the Roman Empire. On the one hand, we’re told, Christian clergy adapted pagan celebrations to “purify” rites that were viewed as vulgar, frequently involving drinking, sex, violence, and symbolism thereof. Others claim that in certain cases, it was moreover that pagans aligned their religious calendar to secretly continue honoring their own traditions on Christian holidays.
Did Lupercalia become St. Valentine’s Day, or did Roman pagans simply keep celebrating their familiar feast? On this, too, the history is unclear. Some schools of thought hold that a pope named Gelasius declared February 14 the saint’s day in about 500 CE, while others indicate that the change happened closer to the 14th century - and not at the hands of religion, but in the writings of poets. Many historians even assert that the similar dates were mere coincidence all along.
Debates burn on as bright as the sacrificial fires of the ancient eras. However the association between Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day came about, the modern holiday of love carries its own distinct traditions. Tomorrow on the blog, find out about them and see how others celebrate in today’s world!
Susan (aka the Dragonfly Charmer) is an Indigo Moons staff member and an intuitive reader with over 25 years of experience. She also teaches Tarot classes at the shop. Susan is proud to announce the launch of her Patreon, Dragonfly Academy, as of February 1. Visit her Linktree for all the other places you can find her.
Indigo Moons has everything you need for your spiritual journey. Follow us to learn about the shop, our products, and all things magical!