February: A month for purification and love.
This celebration of love originally began as a lunar holiday to honor the primordial Mother Goddess, on the eve of the full moon. She was known as Gaia, Tera Mater, Cybelle, Juno, etc… Juno, became the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. A special purification celebration followed the next day, which fell in the middle of this lunar cycle.
Shortly after 753 BC, the Feast of Lupercalia, replaced this full moon celebration in Februalia. Lupercalia is derived from the word lupus, which is Latin for wolf. This date also marks the founding of Rome.
According to legend, the story of Romulus and Remus begins when they were found as infants abandoned in the woods. Lupercal, a she-wolf, nursed them with her milk. Faunus, also known as Pan, represents the “all” found in nature, who is thought to have taught the infants how to forage in the woods. In this legend, he is sometimes referred to as, Lupercus “he who wards off the wolf”. The twins were later discovered by a shepard, who named them Romulus and Remus. Eventually they went back to the sacred cave, where Lupercal had nursed them. In her honor they created a city of their own, eventually naming it Roma after Romulus.
Lupercalia was a festival of purification and fertility in honor of Lupercal. Each year the Luperci priests gathered at her cave. They planted a fig tree at the entrance to the cave to signify the gifts of the forests. Vestal virgins brought sacred cakes made from the first grains of the previous years harvest and offered them to the fig tree.
Two naked young men (symbolic of Romulus and Remus), assisted by the Vestal Virgins, sacrificed a dog (symbolic of the wolf/loyalty) and a goat (symbolic of Pan/Fauna/nature) at the site. The blood was smeared on the foreheads of the young men and then wiped away with wool (symbolic of purification) dipped in milk (symbolic of love). The youths wore loincloths made from the skin of the goat and led groups of Lupercai priests around the base of the hills of Rome. The occasion was happy and festive. As they ran about the city, the young men lightly tapped women along the way with strips of the goat hide. This act supposedly provided purification from curses, bad luck, and infertility.
In 713 BC, February/Februalia, became an official month in the original Roman lunar calendar. February 14th, became the date that signaled the Eve of the Full Moon.
When the Julian calendar was created in 46 BC, the lunar calendar was replaced with a solar calendar and February became the month that could be shortened from 30 – 27 days. Thus making it the only month that had the possibility of having no full moon at all. Lupercalia continued to be celebrated on February 15th, regardless of the full moon.
Mark Anthony, chose the Lupercalia festival, in 44BC, as the proper time to offer the crown to Julius Caesar. Roman armies took the Lupercalia customs with them, as they invaded France and Britain.
During this time young boys and girls created a custom that began on February 14th, the Eve of the Festival of Lupercalia. The girl’s names were written on pieces of paper and inserted into jars. Each boy then drew a girl’s name from the jar becoming partners throughout the Festival. After being paired, the children would often continue to see each other, fall in love and eventually get married.
Around 260 AD, Emperor Claudius II, of Rome, was having a difficult time recruiting quality men as soldiers. He believed that marriage made the men weak. So he issued an edict forbidding marriage. The ban on marriage was a great shock to the Romans.
An early Christian priest, named Valentine, felt sorry for the young lovers who gave up all hopes of being united in marriage. When a couple came to him, seeking to be married, Valentine secretly obliged. Valentine became the friend of lovers in every district of Rome. Valentine refused to recognize the Roman Gods. This angered Claudius II, who ordered the execution of Valentine on February 14th, 270 AD.
February 14th, unofficially became a day for lovers and Valentine became its Patron Saint. It continued to be observed, in secret, by young Romans who offered handwritten greetings of affection, known as Valentines, to the women they admired.
In the year 496 AD, Pope Gelasius replaced the festival of Lupercalia, with a new church sanctioned holiday.
He declared St. Valentine, as the Patron Saint of Lovers, who would be honored at the new festival of St. Valentines Day, on February 14th. The church also replaced the old lottery with a lottery of Saints. Instead of pulling girls and boys names, young people were asked to pull the name of a Saint, and for the following year, study and attempt to emulate that Saint. The Feast of St. Valentine and the Saint lottery lasted for a couple hundred years, but the church just couldn’t rid the Roman’s love of Lupercalia.
St. Valentine soon became one of the most popular Saints in England and France. The association of Valentine’s Day with romance and courtship grew through the Middle Ages. During the days of chivalry, the single’s lottery became popular again. The names of English maidens and bachelors were put into a box and drawn out in pairs. The couple exchanged gifts and the girl became the man’s valentine for a year. He wore her name on his sleeve and it was his duty to attend and protect her. The ancient custom of drawing names on the 14th of February was considered a good omen for love.
By the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging hand-made cards on Valentine’s Day had become common in England. Hand-made valentine cards were made of lace and ribbons, featuring cupids and hearts. They were handed to the man or woman one loved. This tradition eventually spread to the American colonies.
Today, Valentine’s Day is a major American holiday. According to the Greeting Card Association, 25% of all cards sent each year are Valentines.
“Love all creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of Gods light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. You will perceive the Divine mystery in things and once you have perceived it you will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more everyday. And you will at last come to love the whole world with an abiding universal love.” – Dostoyevsky