Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pagan Roots of Valentine's Day

The pagan roots of Valentine's Day are difficult to trace, but let's celebrate it the Wiccan way with spells, rituals, love and sex with your significant other!

With Spring now on the wing, my winter-weary heart turns to the siren call of Valentine's desire. I want nothing more than to snuggle and cuddle with my partner, and to give myself over to the pleasure of our bodies.

Note: As a Wiccan who is also bi-sexual, it is important to honor and respect the coupling of all adults, regardless of gender orientation.

Sadly, the card and chocolate industries have hijacked this holiday until there no way to know where the sentiment ends, and the commercialism begins.

As an Eclectic Wiccan, I try to refocus away from the secular and back onto the spiritual. The Goddess we all celebrated on Imbolc is ready to extend her blessings to your Valentine's Day celebrations.

I redress my home altar with appropriate colors, then work some candle magick giving thanks for the people in my life that I love, and asking that my heart opens to receive additional relationships.

As a Wiccan, I adhere to the faith's most basic precepts:

"Bide the Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust...Mind the Threefold Law ye should – three times bad and three times good...Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill – an it harm none, do what ye will."

This means that I perform NO rituals to compel someone to love me. Instead, I perform rituals that send love into the Earth, and give gratitude to the Goddess and God for the love that continues to blossom in my life.

This is also a time that some Pagans and Neo-Pagans perform hand-fasting ceremonies outdoors, akin to marriage ceremonies.
February has long been associated with love and romance, going back to the days of early Rome. Back then, February was the month in which people celebrated Lupercalia, a festival honoring the birth of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of the city. As Lupercalia evolved and time went on, it morphed into a festival honoring fertility and the coming of spring.

But, isn’t Valentine’s Day a Christian day, named after a Christian saint? When we consider the matter more closely, we don’t find a strong relationship between Christian saints and romance. There is a lot of debate and disagreement among scholars about the origins of Valentine’s Day. We’ll never be able to disentangle all of the cultural and religious threads in order to reconstruct a complete and coherent story, but the pagan connections to the date are much stronger than the Christian ones.

February 14th and Juno Fructifier or Juno Februata

The Romans celebrated a holiday on February 14th to honor Juno Fructifier, Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses as well as goddess of marriage. In one ritual, women would submit their names to a common box and men would each draw one out. These two would be a couple for the duration of the festival (and at times for the entire following year). Both rituals were designed to promote not only fertility, but also life generally.

February 15th and Feast of Lupercalia

On February 15, Romans celebrated Luperaclia, honoring Faunus, god of fertility. Men would go to a grotto dedicated to Lupercal, the wolf god, located at the foot of Palatine Hill and where Romans believed that the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were suckled by a she-wolf. The men would sacrifice a goat, don its skin, and run around, hitting women with small whips, an act which was supposed to ensure fertility.

Lupercalia, or "Wolf Festival," was partly in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

Lupercalia was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral festival, observed on February 13 through 15 to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. The religious ceremonies were directed by the Luperci, the "brothers of the wolf (lupus)", a corporation of priests of Faunus, dressed only in a goatskin. As Lupercalia evolved and time went on, it morphed into a festival honoring fertility and the coming of spring. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, a possibly earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name.

Lupercalia's Love Lottery

For part of the celebration, young women would place their names in an urn. Eligible men would draw a name and the couple would pair of for the rest of the festival — sometimes even longer. As Christianity progressed into Rome, the practice was decried as Pagan and immoral, and done away with by Pope Gelasius around 500 C.E. Although recently there's been some scholarly debate about the existence of the Lupercalia lottery, it's still a legend that brings to mind ancient matchmaking rituals — perfect for this time of year!

A More Spiritual Celebration: Around the same time that the love lottery was being eliminated, Gelasius had a brilliant idea. Why not replace the lottery with something a bit more spiritual? He changed the love lottery to a lottery of the Saints — instead of pulling a pretty girl's name from the urn, young men pulled the name of a saint. The challenge for these bachelors was to try to be more saint-like in the coming year, studying and learning about the messages of their individual saint.

St. Valentine, Christian Priest

According to one story, Roman emperor Claudius II imposed a ban on marriages because too many young men were dodging the draft by getting married (only single men had to enter the army). A Christian priest named Valentinus was caught performing secret marriages and sentenced to death. While awaiting execution, young lovers visited him with notes about how much better love is than war — the first “valentines.” The execution occurred in 269 CE on February 14th.

St. Valentine, Second and Third

Another Valentinus was a priest jailed for helping Christians. During his stay he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and sent her notes signed “from your Valentine.” He was eventually beheaded and buried on the Via Flaminia. Reportedly Pope Julius I built a basilica over his grave. A third and final Valentinius was the bishop of Terni and he was also martyred, with his relics being taken back to Terni.

Christianity Takes Over Valentine’s Day

In 469, emperor Gelasius declared February 14th a holy day in honor of Valentinus (remains unclear which Valentinus) instead of the pagan god Lupercus. This allowed Christianity to take over some of the celebrations of love and fertility which had previously occurred in the context of paganism. Pagan celebrations were reworked to fit the martyr theme — Christianity did not approve of rituals that encouraged sexuality. Instead of pulling girls’ names from boxes, both boys and girls chose the names of martyred saints from a box.

Valentine’s Day Turns to Love

It wasn’t until the Renaissance of 14th century that customs returned to celebrations of love and life rather than faith and death. People began to break free of some of the bonds imposed upon them by the Church and move towards a humanistic view of nature, society, and the individual. Moving towards more sensual art and literature, there was no shortage of poets and authors connecting the dawning of Spring with love, sexuality, and procreation.

Modern Valentine's Day Around the end of the 18th century, Valentine's Day cards began to appear. Small pamphlets were published, with sentimental poems that young men could copy and send to the object of their affections. Eventually, printing houses learned there was a profit to be made in pre-made cards, complete with romantic pictures and love-themed verse. The first American Valentine cards were created by Esther Howland in the 1870's, according to Victorian Treasury. Other than Christmas, more cards are exchanged at Valentine's Day than any other time of the year.

Valentine’s Day and Divination

As with so many other holidays that have pagan roots, divination came to play an important role in the development of modern Valentine’s Day. People looked to all sorts of things, primarily in nature, in order to find some sign about who might become their mate for life — their One True Love. There were also, of course, things which came to be used to induce love or lust.

That is why modern Wiccans often employ methods of divivination like Tarot Cards, scyring, and lucid dreaming to envision their true loves!

Commercialization of Valentine’s Day

Today, capitalist commercialism is the biggest aspect of Valentine’s Day. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on chocolate, candies, flowers, dinners, hotel rooms, jewelry, and other gifts used to celebrate February 14th. There’s a lot of money to be made from people’s desire to commemorate the day. Only Christmas and Halloween come close in the way that modern commercialism has transformed and adopted an ancient pagan celebration.

Valentine’s Day as a Pagan, Commercial Holiday

Valentine’s Day is no longer part of the official liturgical calendar of any Christian church; it was dropped from the Catholic calendar in 1969. It’s not a feast, a celebration, or a memorial of any martyrs. A return to more pagan-like celebrations of February 14th is not surprising — and neither is the overall commercialization of the day. Millions of people all over the world celebrate Valentine’s Day in one fashion or another, but it’s unlikely that even one of them celebrates it in an even remotely religious manner.

This has resulted in some backlash among religious leaders in some societies. Some of the negative reactions are due to the pagan and commercialized elements, but some must be attributed to the long-term Christian character of the day.

In India, Hindu nationalists threatened anyone caught observing any Christian holidays, including Valentine’s Day. Some young lovers ccaught in public together on Valentine’s Day were even assaulted. Government officials in Saudi Arabia prohibited Muslims from doing anything at all associated with Valentine’s Day.

A few Christians seem to be interested in restoring some semblance of religion to Valentine’s Day, though not in any traditional sense. They don’t want to use it as a means for memorializing saints, but as a means to evangelize. In Kansas, for example, Christians sent roses to high school girls that were accompanied by Bible verses. It’s not clear whether they were trying to reclaim a lost Christian holiday or merely trying to appropriate a secular, commercial holiday for their own purposes.

The truth, though, is that American culture has so taken over Valentine’s Day that no amount of Bible verses will be able to change things. Commercial interests make so much money from Valentine’s Day that they aren’t going to accept any changes that won’t lead to even more profits. Christians helped make Valentine’s Day a cultural holiday, and now it’s entirely out of their hands.

I, however, refuse to accept this. As a Wiccan, I find Valentine's Day the perfect day to honor the Gods and Goddesses, as well as the earth, from where all love begins.

So, remember your own spiritual link to your partner, and spend some quality time between the sheets to reinforce that sacred union. We often enjoy tantra or Tantric inspired Wiccan love-making. Experiment for what is best for you and your beloved, that's often more than half the fun!

(Here's a great book if you don't know much about Tantric Sex and want a quick course: Tantric Sex for Women: A Guide for Lesbian, Bi, Hetero and Solo Lovers.)

— Danu's Daughter

1 comment:

  1. ‎"Happy Valentine's Day"... "A LOVE STORY":

    Best Regards,
    Michel Michaeljohn.