Pagan origins of our present holy days is so interesting. Really think we should bring back the old traditions.
The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the animals, which were called februa,
dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, in imitation
of Lupercus, and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city, the line
of which was marked with stones, with the thongs in their hands in two
bands, striking the people who crowded near. Girls and young women would
line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was
supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the
pains of childbirth.
Beats Hallmark and candy hearts. The name Lupercalia is derived from the name of the cave, Lupercale, where a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus. I was recently wondering about the derivation of the word February for this blustery month. Most of the other months are fairly obvious as to the origins of their names.
The Roman month Februarius was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification, via the purification ritual Februa held on February 15 (full moon) in the old lunar Roman calendar.
It's wild to see how other cultures arrived at a name for the month.
Old English - mud month and cabbage month
Finnish - month of the pearl for frozen water droplets
Polish and Ukrainian - month of hard frost
Macedonian - month of cutting wood
Our present holiday associated with the date comes earlier in the season than the Roman holiday of Februatio. This is sensible as it was a festival for purification and fertility that would traditionally be timed nearer to Spring.
February occurred later on the ancient Roman calendar than it does today
so Lupercalia was held in the spring and regarded as a festival of
purification and fertility. Each year on February 15, the Luperci
priests gathered on Palantine Hill at the cave of Lupercal. Vestal
virgins brought sacred cakes made from the first ears of last year's
grain harvest to the fig tree. Two naked young men, assisted by the
Vestals, sacrificed a dog and a goat at the site. The blood was smeared
on the foreheads of the young men and then wiped away with wool dipped
The Romans grew to celebrate the holiday of Lupercalia as a form of speed-dating it seems and naturally Christians were appalled.
As Christianity began to slowly and systematically dismantle the pagan
pantheons, it frequently replaced the festivals of the pagan gods with
more ecumenical celebrations. It was easier to convert the local
population if they could continue to celebrate on the same days... they
would just be instructed to celebrate different people and ideologies.
As Christianity gradually advanced through Europe the church replaced
pagan festivals with festivals more suited to the new faith. They kept
the days of the festivals the same to ease the introduction of the new
religion but they changed the name and the reason for the festival. The
Lupercalia's pairing of men and women went against the teachings of
Christianity. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius ended the festival of Lupercalia
and replaced it with St. Valentines Day, declaring St. Valentine the
patron saint of lovers. The pairing of couples was replaced with the
pairing with a saint. The name of a saint would be drawn from a bowl
and the person who chose it would then learn about and try to emulate
that saint for the following year.
Because hooking up with saints is so much more rewarding than hooking up with a flesh and blood partner. Thanks zealots. Bring back Lupercalia! I've already picked out a mascot.
More pictures, some slightly NSFW -- click for full size. (For the link round-up, click here.) What's that dog doing? Don't worry...