Monday, February 14, 2011
WOLVES & MARTYRS: THE ORIGIN OF VALENTINE'S DAY
*Ed. Note -- I post this every Valentine's Day because I had fun writing it. FUN is the operative word here. Don't get upset about this.*
Let's talk a little about Valentine's Day. If you want to get all comic book-y, we can call this kind of a "Year One" type story.
In 3rd or 4th century BC, The Parentalia and Feralia Festivals of Purification were celebrated from February 13-18 to coincide with the Fertility Festival. The latter was a ritual not unlike the "Casual Encounters" section of CraigsList. All of the willing females would enter their names into a box and one by one, eligible men would step up for their turn. With a name in hand, the two would go off and what happened next was reffered to as a "rite of passage." Use your imagination for that one.
Before that began however, there was the LUPERCALIA (from the Latin lupus meaning "wolf"). During this day, priests—known as Luperci—from two colleges (Quintillii and Fabii) would meet at the Cave of Lupercal in the Palatine Hill, where a she-wolf was said to have nursed Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome. There, Vestal Virgins would offer holy salt cakes and the priests would sacrifice a dog and a goat, smearing the animal blood onto the foreheads of youths of noble birth. Clad only in a goatskin thong, those same youths would later lead a band of revelers known as the luperci in the performance of such antics as whipping fields of crops and bystanders with a goatskin strip (known as the februa). Women gently lashed in such a fashion were thought to become fertile—even those known to be barren. The act of such lashings or whippings was known as februatio. Both this word and the word februa come from the Latin meaning "to purify." The naming of the month, February, is believed to have originated from these meanings.
Basically, February means "to purify by beating with a goatskin strip."
No flowers or candy hearts yet.
When Christianity was eventually formed, it was attempted to replace the rituals with something a little bit more uplifting. Pope Gelasius outlawed the Lupercian Festival, but kept the name drawing part—just slightly tweaked. Instead of available women, the names of Saints were written on the papers and it was believed that the recipient (boys and girls participated in the drawing) would emulate the life of whichever Saint was chosen. This new system, while much more noble, was a lot less fun. Eventually, it was abandoned and the old "rite of passage" returned.
Those are the ones you don't hear too much about. This one however, is the most widely known part of the origin.
In Rome, 270 AD, Claudius II passed an edict that abolished marriage. He felt that married men made poor soldiers because they were loath to leave their loves ones for battle. The emperor craved a strong army far more than he cared about popularity and banned the act of marriage all together.
Valentine, a bishop of Interamna, disagreed with the Emperor and invited young lovers to come to him in secret to be joined in the sacrament of matrimony. Claudius soon learned of this "friend of lovers" and had the bishop brought to the palace. The Emperor, impressed with the young priest's dignity and conviction, attempted to convert him to the Roman gods to save him from otherwise certain execution. Valentine refused to renounce Christianity and imprudently attempted to convert the Emperor. It didn't work and he was sentenced to death. While Valentine was in prison awaiting execution, he fell in love with the blind daughter of the jailer, Asterius. Through his unswerving faith, he miraculously restored her sight. He signed a farewell message to her "From Your Valentine."
Soon after, on February 14th (or so history claims) Valentine was clubbed, stoned and then beheaded.
To recap, in case you got bored: Valentine's Day is essentially the celebration of blood, sacrifice, random sex, wolves and martyrs.
I want a card with that on it.
(*Note - I wrote this after reading a few different histories relating to Valentine's Day on the Internet. Warren Ellis is responsible for me looking further into it. He has some cards and such available on his site if you're interested. Also, it's entirely possible that none of this is true or historically accurate at all. But it's far more entertaining.)