What is Exactly Valentine's Day all About?

St Valentine's Day
when wild birds mate...

St Valentine's Day, the day of days for lovers, is held on February 14. In 2009, it is a truly fabulous day for romance, as the Sun (guys) and the Moon (gals) are in a beautiful aspect. On this day Mercury, the cosmic messenger, also moves back into Aquarius, so quirky communications will be well-received. Read on to find out about the meaning and origins of Valentine's Day, the Festival of the Wolf Goddess!

St Valentine's Day (February 14th) is nowadays a fabulous festival of mating and dating, set in memory of more than one early Christian saint called Valentine. However, its origins really have little to do with these early holy men, for it is in effect a christianized version of the older, ancient Roman festival of the Lupercalia, the Festival of the Wolf Goddess.

The Festival of the Wolf Goddess

The Lupercalia was a fertility festival of the wolf goddess, Lupa (the mythical wolf-nurse of Romulus and Remus), combined with the Festival of Juno, the queen of the Roman pantheon. Juno's festival was held on February 14, the eve of the Lupercalia, which began on the 15th. Ancient days were reckoned from evening to evening rather than from midnight to midnight as we do now (hence the prominence of "eve's", as in Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Halloween, etc). The festival featured orgiastic rites, typical of ancient matriarchial societies. According to Plutarch's Life of Caesar, it was originally celebrated by shepherds and had some connection with the Arcadian Lycæa.

On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia, it is said that the names of Roman maidens were written down and placed into jars (this must have been fairly late, as literacy was not the primitive strongpoint: ed). Each youth would draw a girl's name from the jar and would then be partnered with her for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted a whole year; sometimes they would fall in love and, in later patriarchial times, marry (the ancient goddess actually frowned on marriage...).

Fertility Magic

During the festival, goats and dogs were sacrificed in the cave of the Lupercal and the blood was smeared on the heads of the youths, then washed off with milk as a purificatory symbol of sacred rebirth. According to Plutarch, these youths were naked except for the animal skins and carried strips or thongs made from the sacrificial skins, which they used to strike the women as they rushed ecstatically through the streets around the Palantine Hill, where the cave of the Lupercal was located.

At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped to an easy delivery, and the barren to pregnancy. — Plutarch, Life of Caesar
This was fertility magic, concentrated through the creation of the magic circle around the hill. It is likely that, in the most ancient times, the girls would have been the pursuers and struck the boys, but like most myths, this has probably been altered to suit later preferences. In Christian times this feast was renamed the festival of the Purification of the Virgin.

Saint Valentine

Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius was finding it hard to get soldiers to join his military legions, for Roman men did not want to leave their lovers and families. Claudius therefore cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.

Now Saint Valentine was a priest at Rome, in the days of Claudius II. He and Saint Marius are said to have aided the Christian martyrs and secretly married couples; for this deed, Saint Valentine was dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and have his head cut off. He suffered his martyrdom on the 14th of February, around the year 270.

The fathers of the early Christian Church in Rome sought to do away with the pagan element in these feasts, by substituting the names of saints for those of maidens. And as the Lupercalia began about the middle of February, the pastors chose Saint Valentine's Day for the celebration of this new feast, replacing that of Juno and Lupa. So it seems that the custom of young men choosing maidens for valentines, or saints as patrons for the coming year, arose in this way.

Nowadays we write and send cards for Valentines. Reputedly, there are more Valentine's Day cards sent each year in the USA than any other kind of card, save Christmas. Beats thwacking the maidens with thongs, I suppose. This custom has become vastly popular since the invention of the "penny post", because in earlier days, postal delivery was too expensive for most of us. Also the post before the introduction of the postage stamp was paid for by the recipient, rather than the sender. Not ideal for Valentines!

When Wild Birds Come Together...

Should we still celebrate these ancient festivals? With the decline in organised religion and the fragmenting of community, many of us in the West (and increasingly in the East) have lost touch with the grounding energies that revitalise us and our relationship with the Earth, the Cosmos and ultimately the Spirit. Seasonal festivities like Valentine's day mark pivotal phases in the ebb and flow of the tides of being, which once were more obvious in the agricultural and pastoral societies of the past. It is beneficial for modern people too to tune in and realign with the natural flows of the planet, so that we are able to restore the natural flows in our own energy systems by harmonising with a Nature that has been long suppressed.

Interestingly enough, St Valentine's Day is traditionally the time when wild birds come together to mate.