St Valentine’s Day or Ancient Pagan Sex Rite?
Pagan Origins of a Popular Christian Festival
As an estimated one billion cards* are exchanged this St Valentine’s Day spare a thought for the ancient Pagan custom that the Catholic Church has tried to hide from you, for St Valentine’s Day is the Eve of Lupercalia, the Pagan Roman festival of fertility.
Love is a Lottery
In fact, the 14th of February was the day specially set aside for love lotteries in Pagan Rome. A holiday devoted to Juno, Queen of the Gods, and patroness of marriage, the 14th was also the day on which young girls’ names were written on slips of paper and thrown into jars to be picked out by the boys. Chooser and chosen would then be partnered for the duration of the Lupercalia festival. Such arbitrary pairings often resulted in lasting relationships. The Catholic Church later substituted the names of dead saints in place of those of flesh-and-blood girls to subvert the lusty Pagan practice.
The Lupercalia proper began on the 15th of February with animal sacrifice and ritual flagellation. After slaughtering a goat and dog in the sacred grotto of the she-wolf who suckled the legendary founders of Rome, the young men would run through the streets whipping women and crops with the flayed hide of the goat to promote fertility. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Lupercalia, far from being restricted to Rome, was practised in other cities in Italy and Gaul.
Dating from remotest antiquity, the Lupercalia was celebrated until as late as the reign of Anastasius I in 491-518 CE. It was towards the end of the 5th century in 498 CE that Pope Galesius decided to dedicate the Eve of Lupercalia to the long-dead priest. The lottery system was banned as being un-Christian and the Pope did his best to make people forget about other un-Christian ideas such as fertility.
However, the Pagan principles of the people proved irrepressible. Memories of the Roman Lupercalia combined with folklore beliefs in Britain and France that the 14th of February marked the beginning of the mating season amongst birds to ensure that this day would persist in the popular imagination as a day of love.
The oldest extant Valentine message is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415 to his wife. He had good reason to write: he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after being captured at the Battle of Agincourt. It proved a popular idea and some years later it is believed that Henry V hired John Lydgate to compose a Valentine missive to Catherine of Valois.
Despite such early precedents, St Valentine’s Day did not become a widely celebrated event in Britain until the 17th century. Printed cards did not appear until the late 18th century, but it was not until the 1840’s that Esther A. Howland entered the history books as the first person to sell the first mass-produced Valentine cards in the United States.
The Magic of Love or Love Magic?
But why send a card and why make it anonymous? Either we believe one of the Christian legends and accept that we all celebrate the giving of a love token of 3rd century priest by sending a replica, or look deeper into the significances of giving and anonymity. The act of giving, stripped of any moral sentiment, is usually one of status modification, for example, how many times do you hear people boasting of how they give to charity? However, in this instance the giver’s identity is carefully concealed. The card itself acts simply as the vehicle of the giver’s desire. The message that accompanies such cards is most often in the imperative, Be My Valentine, Be My Love, and so on. The structure of this exchange is remarkably similar to many magical formulae.
Christians Against the Fun
Even the Christians, originally responsible for foisting St Valentine on this festival, are re-assessing their position. Biblestudy.org, amongst many others, has come clean and admitted that Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with a long dead saint, and everything to do with our Pagan heritage. Of course, they were horrified and immediately wanted to ban it:
It is about time we examined these customs of the pagans now falsely labeled Christian. It is time we quit this Roman and Babylonian foolishness – this idolatry – and get back to the faith of Christ delivered once for all time. Let’s stop teaching our children these pagan customs in memory of Baal the sun god – the original St. Valentine – and teach them instead what the Bible really says!
So, the next time you ask someone to be your Valentine, try not to forget that you are engaging in a millennia old fertility rite and, what is more, dabbling in a little magic to boot.
* Figures according to the Greetings Card Association.
Lupercalia, the Real St Valentine’s Day
The Ancient Pagan Festival of Lupercus, Roman God of Fertility
The Lupercalia was one of the most ancient Roman festivals, which was celebrated every year in honour of Lupercus, the god of fertility. The festival was held on the 15th of February in the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by the she-wolf; the place contained an altar and a grove sacred to the god Lupercus. Here the Luperci assembled on the day of the Lupercalia, and sacrificed goats and dogs—animals remarkable for their strong sexual instinct, and thus most appropriate sacrifices to the god of fertility.
Sacred Cave of the She-Wolf
The Lupercal was the cave or grotto at the foot of the Palatine, in which the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome; from it issued a spring. It seems to have been a sanctuary of some sort, and at least had a monumental entrance. This sacred cave of the she-wolf gave its name to the priestly order of Luperci and the fertility festival of Lupercalia.
Pagan Priests of Fertility
The Luperci were the priests of the fertility god Lupercus. They formed a college (sodalitas), the members of which were originally youths of patrician families, and which was said to have been instituted by Romulus and Remus. The college was divided into two classes, the one called Fabii or Fabiani, and the other Quinctilii or Quinctiliani. These names, which are the same as those with which the followers of Romulus and Remus were designated in the early Roman legends, seem to show that the priesthood was originally confined to certain gentes.
- Plutarch, ‘The Life of Romulus’ [Plut. Rom. 21]
- Plutarch, ‘The Life of Julius Caesar’ [Plut. Caes. 61]
- Smith, 1875:718
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Valentine’s Day has got nothing to do with a Christian saint, but everything to do with kinky Pagan sex rituals. Get the free history download: Valentine’s Day origins in Lupercalia.
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