Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy Lupercalia

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 in milk. 

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