Valentines just ain’t what it used to be. Those crazy Romans and the Lupercalia…
It’s not all about just hearts and flowers and chocolate, this Valentine’s Day thing. Kinda, sorta, truth be told the upcoming holiday has a history risque enough to set any respectable saint spinning in his grave.
In days of old when men were men and goats were nervous the ‘any reason to throw a party’ Romans celebrated Lupercalia. For about 800 hundred years it was one of those mysterious ‘guy things’. Those of you who didn’t sleep through your Ancient History studies might remember the story of the founding of Rome by the twins, Romulus and Remus. Abandoned as infants, the boys were raised and suckled in a cave by a kindly she-wolf. I mean, hey! she had to be pretty kindly since she didn’t have them for lunch right? To celebrate Romulus and Remus not being eaten by the she-wolf, every year on February 15th, young men and boys would gather at the same cave and perform the rite of passage.
The festival would begin with a sacrifice by the Luperci of two male goats and a dog. Afterwards two young patrician men would be led to the altar and anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk. Afterwards they were to smile and laugh. Hey! What else are you going to do when you find yourself in such a ridiculous situation right?! That guy is still holding the knife and you see what he did to the goats and dog! Anyway, the men and boys would gorge themselves on a big feast followed by a tradition many guys still adhere to to this day. They got good and drunk! The hide from the dog or goat sacrifice was cut into loincloths and leather strips. But that’s not all! The lovely ladies of the town would wait in the streets below for the guys to show up, stumbling down the hillside, smelling of alcohol and burnt goat and dog ready to do what exactly?! Well, give the women a good flailing with the leather strips of course! Ah the good old days right?! And you thought the modern day Americans invented kinky foreplay!
Actually, the flailing would supposedly bestow good fortune and fertility upon the whippee. The whipping was intended as a form of purification. As a matter of fact the name of this whip was februa which is where the name of the second month of our year came from. I don’t remember learning about that in school, do you? Go look it up! It’s true, I’ll wait here if you don’t believe me. Another thing practiced by the Romans about this time was a lottery. Young ladies names were placed in a jar or box and the unwed men of the town would draw out a name and they were paired with the named woman for a few months. What this actual pairing entailed is a source of debate among scholars but of course Hollywood typically goes for the most lurid possible scenario when depicting this event because, after all, sex sells!
But now, back to the flailing thing. Here’s an interesting side note. Ever since I was a kid I always wondered at the shape of the “hearts” we would give to one another on Valentines Day in various shades of pink and red. It really doesn’t look like the shape of an actual heart at all right? But if you turn it upside down it does bear a striking resemblance to a well spanked woman’s bum does it not? Hmmmmmm, there might be something there!
Some of this lore of the Lupes was still practiced right up in to modern times. Divination was a very popular pastime in the 1800’s and girls would put the names of their preferable suitors in a bowl. The name drawn was supposed to foretell the perfect match sure to come. In other places, the first eligible man or woman seen on Valentines Day was deemed to be ‘it’. Tag, you’re it! If you were in pursuit you were supposed to give this person a gift. Much like modern times, if it was a really good gift like say a piece of fine art (Well, I had to put that in there right?!) , you could suppose that one would increase the odds of this person liking you.
Around about the 1860’s Valentines Day went commercial, shortly followed by just about every other holiday. Giving printed greeting cards on all of the holidays became all the rage as printing costs went down due to better printing machinery and techniques. From this grew the modern day cacophony of buying all manner of chocolates, flowers, jewelry and lawn equipment to woo your sweety. What?! Doesn’t everybody give lawn equipment on VD?!
In writing this article I borrowed heavily from the wit and research of Wren Walker from Witchvox. See her original article here for more details. I also grabbed a few tidbits from Wikipedia in case you want to find out more about this stuff. Yeah, yeah, I know Wikipedia this and accuracy that and throw the baby out with the bath water. Blah, blah, blah. Go look it up in your 1975 Encyclopedia Brittanica collection if you prefer! 😉