The month of February sees us focus on Love and Romance as we all hope to be remembered by that someone special in our lives on Valentine’s Day. When researching the history of this day, I was interested to find that its origins reside in an ancient pagan Roman festival known as Lupercalia. This was virtually an erotic carnival, celebrated every year on the 15th February in honour of Lupercus, the Roman god of fertility.
Its origins go back to the Romans as a shepherding people. The rituals involved the sacrifice of goats (proverbial for their sexual energy) by young noble men who then ate and drank heavily, clad themselves scantily in the goat skins, from which they also cut long, thin strips. Holding these thongs in their hands, they ran through the streets of the city, lightly lashing everyone they saw, especially women, who used to gather voluntarily for the purpose, since they believed that this ceremony rendered them more fruitful, and procured them an easy delivery in childbirth.
The second day of the Lupercalia celebrations was sacred to the Goddess Juno Februata, Juno the Fructifier (of the fever of love). On this day, more sedate Roman youths, not interested in being involved in the lupercalian ceremonies, drew names of young ladies who were to be their romantic/sexual partners for that evening, (sometimes the couples chosen would continue this partnership for the remainder of the year). Although the lottery for sexual partners had been banned by the church as ‘heathen’, the mid-February holiday celebration continued. The church, unable to stop the practice so enjoyed by young men and women, searched for a suitable substitute saint to patronize the day. So, St Valentine was to become the chosen one.
Thus, it became a tradition to give the beloved and admired one handwritten messages of enamoured and romantic intention, containing St. Valentine’s name inscribed within. To draw the name of a saint would require that the man or woman would have to emulate that saint’s celibate qualities for at least one year. So instead of honouring a ‘pagan’ God or Goddess, St. Valentine, a Christian icon, was honoured. In this way the Church sought to contain all the youthful erotic energy within the bounds of right-
thinking saints’ cults. (Yeah, right!) Despite the efforts of the Church, Valentine’s Day continued to echo Lupercalia in at least one respect – men and women, married or single, would draw lots to select a “Valentine.” Once paired, the couple exchanged gifts and sometimes love tokens as well. The custom of lottery drawings to select Valentines persisted well into the eighteenth century. Gradually, however, a shift took place. No longer did both parties exchange gifts; instead, gift-giving became solely the responsibility of the man!
This new twist helped to finally bring an end to the random drawing of names, since many men were unhappy about giving gifts (sometimes very costly) to women who were not of their choosing. Now that individuals were free to select their own Valentine, the celebration took on a new and much more serious meaning for couples. The first written valentine is usually attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans. In 1415, Charles fought his lonely confinement by writing romantic verses for his wife. By the sixteenth century written valentines were so common that St. Francis de Sales, fearing for the souls of his English flock, sermonized against them.
Manufactured cards, decorated with Cupids and hearts, appeared near the end of the eighteenth century. A purchased valentine became the most popular way to declare love during the early decades of the nineteenth century. Miniature works of art, the cards were usually hand painted and were often lavishly decorated with laces, silk or satin, flowers (made from the feathers of tropical birds), glass filigrees, gold-leaf or even perfumed sachets. Did you know that the current popularity of Valentine’s Day owes much to the modern postal service? Until the mid-1800’s, the cost was not paid by the sender of the letter but the receiver! Imagine receiving a Valentine card, paying the postage due, then reading that you were “…valued beyond rubies” by your Valentine. Even more ironic… discovering that your Valentine card was from an unwelcome suitor!
So, until the advent of the penny post, most valentine cards were hand delivered by the prospective lover. Valentine’s Day greeting cards are still very popular (only more Christmas cards are sent), but red roses and chocolates now often accompany the card. And the card itself has changed quite a bit. Recent developments include cards that play romantic music; let you record a romantic message; even “scratch-and-sniff” cards!
However you choose to celebrate this year, spare a thought for our pagan sisters hanging around on Roman street corners waiting to be lashed by scantily clad young men with a goat leather thong. Makes the red rose and card routine a bit boring by comparison!!
Happy St Valentines Day one and all.
Kerri is a woman of goddess, a priestess, an international workshop facilitator, speaker, writer and author teaching and sharing on the goddess, sacred sexuality and the divine feminine. Her intention is to invoke the goddess back into women’s lives and to awaken their hearts and their authentic sexual nature in order to know themselves as divine. She is an initiated Priestess of the Goddess with the Order of the Pomegranate Grove and wrote her masters thesis on HIEROS GAMOS: Sacred Sexuality Ancient and Modern”.
When working through the vibration of the White Lotus Temple, Kerri experienced a deep transformative initiation at the altar of Kwan Yin where energetic layers of resistance to self-love were dissolved, creating a heart space that birthed a new direction in her life. Now moving into the wisdom years of her life, Kerri acknowledges that the heart energy of love is the healing balm through which she creates change and renewal in the world. The compassion of the Boddhisatva Kwan Yin is eternally embedded in her work and her life as she shares her love of the sacred feminine.
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