Today is the festival of Lupercalia, the ancient Roman observance of fertility and the coming spring. Not to be confused with the commercialized martyr’s celebration held yesterday, Lupercalia is a holiday sacred to the god Faunus, and the mythical she-wolf who reared Romulus and Remus the semi-mythical founders of Rome. It was considered an important holiday of religious observance and purification.
“Lupercalia ” by Domenico Beccafumi
There are many lurid accounts of what goes on during Lupercalia, some make it seem like an excuse for copulation and frivolity. One of the best descriptions I have found on the web comes from W. J. Kowalski’s excellent Roman Calendar page.
“The rites of this day included the sacrifice of a goat or a dog at the cave-grotto known as the Lupercal. With the sacrificial blood wiped across their foreheads, the youth partaking in this ceremony would then run the circumference of the Palatine hill, perhaps about 5K, tracing the traditional route of the city boundary traced by Romulus the day he founded Rome. In the process, girls who approached the runners would be brushed or splattered with the februa, thongs of sacrificial goatskin, presumably bloody, symbolically blessing them with fertility. Red is the color of the day as it is with Valentine’s Day, the day invented to replace the Lupercalia. Fertility and sexuality were likewise replaced with the puritanical pipedream of sexless Love.”
Most (non-Pagan) people wouldn’t even know about Lupercalia if it were not for the constant stream of Valentine’s Day articles in the press. The favorite trend amongst bored newswriters and editorial columnists seems to be talking about the ancient pagan influences of a particular holiday. This has done more to further an awareness of ancient (and modern) paganism than any Pagan advocacy group could hope to attain. So as more people grow sick and tired of the Valentine’s Day expectations, perhaps I’ll be hearing more “blessed Lupercalias” in the future.
A very blessed and fertile Lupercalia to you all!