Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lupercalia, Valentine's and Wolves

Image from wonderfullywomen

It's said that Valentine's Day is named for an obscure third century  Roman saint who martyred on February 14. It took a few centuries for this celebration to be associated with the traditions of courtly love. But what has Valentine's Day to do with wolves?

(By the way, I'm not referring to the kind that whistle at women, but the four-legged furry kind.)

To answer the question, we need to go back to the early Roman festival of Lupercalia, held on February 15. The name of the festival has the same root as lupus, the wolf, and the priests were called Luperci. This was possibly related to a deity that protected herds from the predation of wolves. There may also have been a connection to the wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Lupercalia also involved fertility rites. Celebrants carried out ritual sacrifices involving goats, dogs, blood, wool, and milk. As they ran around the Palatine Hill, thongs of skin from the sacrificial animals were used to strike women; those who were hit in this way were believed to be made fertile. 

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