Most of us have heard of the Christian St. Valentine priest that was martyred for attempting to influence Roman pagans to adopt Christianity beginning in 269 CE.
In fact there were a few of them that were martyred. Looking back through our crystal balls we see further into a pagan history and lore of February 14th and 15th. Romans celebrated Juno Februata also known as Juno Fructifier, Queen of the Roman deities. One noted tradition was for a man to draw a woman’s name from an urn filled with female names. Once drawn, the chosen female would couple with the male who chose her name for a year. This was to celebrate and encourage fertility. Quite a party indeed!
Below photo of a (Bronze Wolf Head 1st Century)
On February 15th the Romans also celebrated Lupercalia revering Lupercus also known as Faunus meaning “The Wild One.” He is a woodland spirit depicting the wildness of nature and fertility of the people. He is presented as Saturn’s grandson.
His sister Fauna also known as Fatua and Bona Dea meaning “Good Goddess.” She was the keeper of Mysteries, a woman only event. Her initiates were women.
The festival of Lupercalia began with priests of Faunus called Luperci turn up at the cave on the Palatine, the alleged spot where the she-wolf was said to nurse Romulus and Remus. Next the Sacrifice of male goats and dogs were offered up by the Luperci priests and the meat eaten by them. The Luperci would anoint themselves with goat’s blood while sporting “Juno’s Cloak,” crafted with torn patches of goat skin. They and their chosen youths would carry about the Palatine cracking folks with their whips on their hands. If a woman was struck with a whip, it was believed she would most likely become fertile and conceive a child. The Lupercalia ended in 494 CE. I’m sure the goats and dogs were grateful.
The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility. Public Domain.
Later thanks to romantics like Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote the first Valentine’s Day association with romantic love in Parlement of Foules 1382. His poem was written in honour of the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard second of England to Anne of Bohemia.
Over time Valentine’s Day transitioned into a billion dollar retail business from sales of roses, chocolates and Valentine cards. Eros the Greek god of erotica who was known to carry two arrows. One was made out of gold to initiate love and the other arrow was made of lead for rejection. Legend dictates that Eros once shot the Greek god Apollo with a gold arrow to fall in love with a nymph named Daphene. However, trickster Eros shot Daphene with a lead arrow so she would detest and reject Apollos’ advances. Quite a practical joker!
Cupid, was given by the Romans to the cherub angels named Putti crafted by artists during the Renaissance. Folks began sending Valentine cards to each other in the 17th century where the infant Cupid image stuck.
Below, Cupid Riding on a Dolphin (1630) by Erasmus Quellinus II
Roses were the favoured flower of Venus the Roman goddess of love and fertility. “Queen of the Flowers!” named by the poet Sappho. the rose is known to be the purest of flowers. The origin of roses began 3000 years ago in Iran. The rose bud stands for strong affection. Place a few Red rose petals to attract love under your pillow when you retire for the evening. Pink roses are to enhance friendships. White rose petals under your pillow will prevent nightmares.
Chocolates, (my favorite!) became a popular Valentine gift over time. In 1868, Cadbury the British chocolate company created Fancy Boxes, which were decorated boxes of chocolates in the shape of a Valentine’s Day heart. Photo below in Public Domain.
Jewelery became a popular gift to receive on this special day. If you are single, do something delightful for yourself like a Spa day or purchase your favorite chocolates.
You’re worth it!
If your birth date is in February up until the 19th you are born under the Air sign of Aquarius. Your birthstone is Amethyst and your flowers are Violet, Iris and Primrose.
A June birthday has the red rose that represents love and fertility by Juno. Roses bloom in June.
Why give a dozen Roses? A red rose represents the giver’s love to their beloved for each month of the year.
No matter how you celebrate, Happy Valentine’s Day!
Written by Nifty Bryn Buckles
Source & Reference:
- North, John. Roman Religion. The Classical Association, 2000, pp. 47 online and 50 on the problems of interpreting evidence for the Lupercalia.
- Beard, Mary; North, John; Price, Simon. Religions of Rome: A History. Cambridge University Press, 1998, vol. 1
- Meaning of flowers 2000 Archived 2008-02-20 at the Wayback Machine
- Roses in vase photo in Public Domain
- Beautiful Spring Girl – background Herbert Dawson, (id-1480350272)