Happy Lupercalia

 Lupercalia was a bloody, violent, and sexually charged celebration that included animal sacrifice, random match making and coupling with hopes of warding off evil spirits and infertility.

No one is really sure how far back this Roman festival really goes, but some have traced it back to the 6th century BC. Every year on February 15, the festival began by going to the Lupercal. It is said to have been a Shepard’s festival that was brought to Rome by Romulus and Remus.

The legend has it that the Roman king, King Amulius, orders his twin nephews be killed for their mother’s broken vow of celibacy. They were to be thrown into the Tiber River.

Instead of just being tossed in, a servant placed them in a basket. The river-god is said to have carried the basket down river where it got caught in the branches of a wild fig tree. The twins were rescued by a she-wolf in a den at the base of Palatine Hill. ( this is the area where the city of Rome was founded).
Later, the twins were adopted by a Shepard and his wife and learned the shepherds’ trade. After killing their uncle- King Amulius, they found the den of the she-wolf that raises them and name is Lupercal.
Lupercal was named after the Roman fertility god Lupercus. Lupercalia is the celebration to honor both the God and the she-wolf that raise them.
Fun fact, the god Lupercus may have been created after the fact to give the god type name for the celebration. We are still unsure who the Gods were that were worshipped during this festival. A secondary opinion that people have is that they worshipped the God Pan.

The ritual sacrifice was completed by the Roman’s to start off this festival. There was a sacrifice of a goat and a dog. The goat for fertility and the dog was most likely to honor the she-wolf.  According to scholar Keith Hopkins, this was unusual because pigs, sheep, and bulls were most commonly used as sacrificial animals.

The Roman priests, called Luperci, would sacrifice the goat and the dog, smear the blood on the foreheads of 2 youths, and as they wiped it away with a piece of milk-soaked wool, the youths were required to laugh.
After the Ritual Sacrifice, came "the feast." 

After the Ritual Sacrifice, i.e. blood/wool excitement, Lupercalia's main attraction was the runners. The sacrificed goat’s skin was cut into thongs and girdles to be worn by the athletes.(called februa)  Then two sets of runners (a third set would be added later) would make their way through the streets of the city, whipping whomever they met on their way. According to some accounts, women would volunteer to be whipped because it was believed to bring fertility,getting whipped was supposed to make you more fertile, so the more whippings, the more fertile! However, more important and makes the birthing process easier for them.
This was a symbolic gesture of purification of the men and a symbolic purification of the land.
During the Lupercalia festival, men chose women’s names from a jar and would be coupled with them for the festival. Sometimes, they would stay together until the next year’s festival, or even get married. This was added to the history of the celebration in 1756, in Alban Butler’s Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (Vol. 2, s.v. February XIV, St. Valentine, Priest and Martyr).

As the years passed, things changed and by the 3rd century, the voluntary nature of this ritual seemed to be less voluntary. Hopkins claims that a mosaic featuring a Lupercalia celebration features “two men forcibly holding a naked woman face upwards, while a third man, half naked, whips her thighs ... The men’s drunken hilarity is matched by the beaten woman’s obvious pain."

When the feasting was over, they would cut the skin of the goat into strips or thongs (called februa). The men would them run around naked, or nearly naked, whipping women with the thongs. A lot of women welcomed the lashes as they believed it to be a fertility consecration. (Getting whipped was supposed to make you fertile, so the more whippings, the more fertile.) This was a symbolic gesture of purification of the men and a symbolic purification of the land.
During the Lupercalia festival, men chose women’s names from a jar and would be coupled with them for the festival. Sometimes, they would stay together until the next year’s festival, or even get married.
This was added to the history of the celebration in 1756, in Alban Butler’s L

One long-standing debate about Lupercalia is the degree of nudity. There are definite references to nudus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean naked. It could just mean “having one’s main garment removed,” possibly in reference to the runners wearing goat skin loincloths. But other writers were explicit in mentioning nudity as part of the festivities. It remains an open question whether the festival was PG-, R-, or X-rated.

Today, Lupercalia is probably most famous for what happened on February 15, 44 BCE. That day a “naked, perfumed, drunk” Mark Antony was one of the runners while Julius Caesar watched the proceedings from a throne. Antony went up to Julius Caesar with a diadem (a type of crown or headband) and—in what later historians have said was almost certainly scripted—attempted to give it to Caesar and proclaim him king. The crowd's initial response to this action was tepid, but when Caesar refused the crown, they cheered. Antony tried again, Caesar refused again, and the crowd exploded. Caesar ordered the crown taken to the Temple of Jupiter because Jupiter was Rome’s one king. The purpose of this exercise has been debated. Some propose Antony did it on his own to either flatter Caesar or embarrass him, while at the time, it was thought that Caesar orchestrated the stunt as a way to test the waters for whether the people would accept a king. Either way, it didn't really work out for Caesar, he was assassinated one month later.

St Valentine
Saint Valentine was said to be a priest named Valentine, who was imprisoned and beheaded by Roman Emperor Claudius II for assisting persecuted Christians and secretly marrying Christian couples in love. He even tired converting Claudius to Christianity while he was imprisoned. He was beheaded on February 14, which later became known as Valentine’s Day.
So how does this tie in with Lupercalia?
Well, after the Catholic church declared Valentine a saint, a pope in 494 CE, Pope Gelasius I eliminated the pagan festival of Lupercalia. He decided that February 14 would be the day to celebrate Saint Valentine, who had become known as the patron of lovers. February 14 fell smack dab in the middle of the Lupercalia festival that typically happened somewhere between February 13-15.
This is up for debate as the Valentine’s Day celebration can only be traced as far back as the Middle Ages, well after Pope Gelasius and Saint Valentine.
Some Christian choose not to celebrate Valentine’s Day because it is based on the pagan festival of Lupercalia.  

Symbols used for Valentine’s Day:

  • The color red, which symbolizes the blood of the ritual sacrifice of the goat and the dog.
  • The color white, which symbolizes the milk with which they would soak the wool is before wiping the blood from their heads. It also symbolizes new life and protection.
  • Phallic symbols- these can include Athamas and wands.

Ritual Ideas to Celebrate Lupercalia:

If you are interested in celebrating Lupercalia, there are some things that you can do that are inconspicuous and people may not realize that you’re not celebrating Valentine’s Day.
  • You can make an offering of ground meat or milk on your altar. This offering can be to the God Pan or the God/Goddess of your choice.
  • Go to your local farm or farmers market and get some fresh milk. Have a feast that includes this milk.
  • Have a big celebratory dinner with some friends or other couples. Celebrate the love that you have for your friends and your partners.
  • Do something super romantic for your partner. I can’t really go into detail because everyone has different ideas of what is romantic.
  • Create a ritual to a Goddess of Love and Fertility.


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