commentary, philosophy, and outright rants

Archive for February, 2010

Happy Lupercalia!

So what is this Lupercalia, anyway?

Lupercalia is the original “Valentine’s Day”.  In fact, St. Valentine’s day, as appropriated by the Christian Church, has nothing to do with romantic love. The Greeks had three different words for love: Agape (divine love), Filios (brotherly love), and Eros (romantic love). While the Lupercalia had to do with the fierce, unbridled expression of Eros, the Feast of Saint Valentine has to do with the other two.

“One of the most revered spots in the city of Rome in ancient days was the cave at the base of the Palatine Hill called the Lupercal, with the sacred fig tree hard by, under whose shadow, as the story went, a she-wolf suckled Remus and Romulus. Here, on February fifteenth (old calendar), a goat and a dog, together with certain salt cakes baked by the Vestals, were sacrificed…A bloody knife, fresh from the sacrifice, was smeared across the brows of two youths of aristocratic families, probably leaders of two colleges of priests called Luperci. The blood was wiped off with wool which had been dipped in milk, and the youths were compelled to laugh… in the rites of the Lupercalia the smiling of the youths smacks of the grinning of wolves, and so, by the principle of similarity, the Luperci became wolves so far as magic was concerned… The Luperci, clad only in a magic girdle made of the skins of the sacrificial goats, made a purificatory circuit of the city, beginning at the Lupercal, forming as they ran a magic circle… As the youths ran, they smote the hands of any women who placed themselves in their path. There seems to have been no incantation or prayer accompanying this rite. We know that lashings of this sort were believed, among other peoples, to expel evil influences of all sorts and to stir up the reproductive powers; and the Romans, in historical times, believed that this was the object of the lashings at the Lupercalia. The fertility of the goat was by some mysterious force transferred to the women through this contact. Inasmuch, too, as primitive peoples closely associate fertility in women with fertility in crops, the rites may have been intended to promote productiveness of the soil as well.”
-Eli Edward Burriss, Taboo, Magic, Spirits: A Study of Primitive Elements in Roman Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1931) 160-163.

So, blood, goats, horniness, sex, and fertility. Red, hearts, men, women.

On the other hand, Valentine’s day: Named after St. Valentine, an executed, celibate Catholic priest. The Christian Church used the feast day of Valentine to replace the Lupercalia and emphasize communal respect and love of the Christian God. None of that behaving like a wild goat, being horny, sexual, and fertile. Not to mention the whipping with goatskins.

Me, I prefer Lupercalia. Other people may still prefer to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine, Martyr – even though the Catholic Church itself kicked him off the calendar back in 1969 (possibly due to his inability to stem human sexual expression…)

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