Hot pagan sex and lustful gods and ancient wolf goddesses and
potential marriage and more sex and more than a little crazed giddy divine
animal blood sacrifice.
All followed by some nice light whippings administered by nearly naked
grinning boy-men, casual flagellations by goat-skin, some joyful
thrashing in the name of fertility and purity and, you know, sex. Ahh,
The original, that is. Before it was called Valentine’s Day, back when
it was called Lupercalia, a big Roman festival in honor of the
fertility god Lupercus, before the ever- scowlin’ church got a hold of this
ancient and rather odd and blood-pumped Roman lust- fest, co-opted it and
de-sexed it stripped it of its more salacious and admittedly libertine
joys, as the church is so tragically wont to do.
Because as everyone knows, the church is nothing if not all about rigid
joyless dogma and romantic abstinence and mountains of little chalky
candy hearts. Mmm, sanctimoniousness.
Tried to convert it into a mildly consecrated (read: bland, not naked)
day, the church did, “Christianize” that naughty pagan fest, and
failing that because no way are you gonna trump ancient sex and lust with
uptight chastity and faux-purity, they tossed in Saint Valentine to the
mix, invented some nice legend, tried to turn this most funky of pagan
holidays into an homage to saccharine romantic love and cherry nougat
chocolates and Hallmark schmalz.
Did they succeed?
Basically, it went something like this: In ancient Rome, on the 15th of
February, in an altar called the Luperci sacred to the god Lupercus, in
a cave in which the she-wolf goddess nursed founding twins Romulus and
Remus, Luperci priests gathered and sacrificed goats and young dogs,
the former for strength, the latter for purification and in honor of
their strong sexual instinct and because it was a fertility deity and this
is just what you did if you were a happy pagan citizen a couple
thousand years ago.
Some hunky boys of noble birth were then led to the shrine, where the
priests would dab their foreheads with a sword dipped in the animal
blood, after which our baffled youths were apparently obliged to break out
into a shout of purifying laughter because that’s what the rite called
for and no one is quite sure why and, well, wouldn’t you?
Then, a feast. Meat. Wine galore. Followed by the slicing of goat skins
into pieces, some of which the priests cut into strips and dipped in
the blood and then handed to the boys, who would take off and run through
the streets, gently touching or lashing crops and bystanders —
especially women — with the skins along the way to inspire fertility and
harvest and because hey, half-naked laughing boys wielding bloody goat
skins — what’s not to love?
Actually, the women eagerly stepped forward to be so stroked, believing
that such a blessing rendered them fertile (even if they were sterile),
and procured them ease in childbearing, and made them look all gothy
and cool and sexy.
“This act of running about with thongs of goat-skin was a symbolic
purification of land and men,” says one rather dry, scholarly website on
the topic. “For the words by which this act is designated are februare
and lustrare, and the goat-skin itself was called februum, the month in
which it occurred Februarius, and the god himself Februus.” So, you
know, there you go. February. Purity and lust and sex and gods. Really,
what else do you need?
Then came the sex lottery. Oh yes. Say it like you mean it. Pretty much
only have to say the words, “sex lottery,” and already you’re like,
damn, count me in, sure beats dinner and a movie.
And all the young lasses in the city would place their names in a large
urn, and the city’s eligible bachelors would choose a name out of the
urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman, often
resulting in marriage. You know, sort of like the Mormons. Only with actual
sex. And booze. And without the creepy undergarments.
But if there’s one thing the sexless butt-clenched church really hates,
it’s sex lotteries. And free thinking. And good porn. Condoms.
Margarita enemas. Literature. But especially sex lotteries. Go figure.
So along comes Pope Gelasius around 486 A.D. and declares, let’s say,
oh, February 14 to be dedicated to a saint, and we’ll call him Saint
Valentine, who might or might not be an actual martyr whose true history
is murky at best, given how church records show at least four martyrs
with the name Valentinus, whoops, oh well.
And of course, they outlawed the yummy sex lotto, the church did,
changed the names in the urn from lusty single women to the names of pious
saints to be emulated, whee what fun, and jammed their new holiday right
up against the February 15 date of Lupercalia.
Which also had the added bonus of stomping all over the normal February
14 day of honoring Juno (Roman Goddess-queen of women and marriage),
and focused it all on the makeshift Valentine, and voila, here we are:
Hallmark cards and candy hearts and poisoned Ecuadorian rose workers. In
But of course, the modern V-Day isn’t all bad. And this is not to say
we should necessarily return to the old ways, a little bloodletting and
lashing and animal sacrifice and random sex lotteries. Except for maybe
Because everyone knowns that right under the cheap veneer of
Valentine’s Day mega-marketing and hollow churchly romance is yet another
delicious excuse to have more sex and indulge in fleshly pleasures and lick
chocolate syrup off your lover’s tailbone.
In other words, the church both succeeded in their hostile takeover,
and failed miserably. Sure Valentine’s Day is all romance and sentiment
and Malaysian-made stuffed teddy bears on the outside, but it’s all raw
oysters and sly spankings and salacious romps and whipped-creamed
nipples and soft divine bedroom cooing, inside.
Which is exactly as it should be. Which is exactly how we still,
without even realizing it, manage to recall our delicious Lupercalia, take a
big lick of ye olde pagan ways, regardless of everpresent churchly
frowning and ‘Be Mine’ twittering and chubby Cupid chinz. Deep earthly sex
and hoary gods and fertile lust and voluminous feasts of meat and
You’re soaking in it.
Because it’s always good to know where your manufactured holidays
really come from.
Always healthy to pay homage to the true origins, realize how much
calculated deceit has happened along the way.
Just like Christmas and Easter and Halloween and any major holiday
worth mentioning that the church gutted and renamed and from whose moist
tremulous soul they tried to suck the pithy throbbing joy, ya gotta
give props to the old gods, throw a karmic kiss to Lupercus and Juno and
the she-wolf. Word.
So. Buy those giant red balloons. Nab that $29 heart-shaped diamonelle necklace.
But don’t forget to acknowledge that deep-down, gnawing, sly urge you’re doubtlessly harboring to rush out into the streets and wait for the laughing naked boys and get yourself gently lashed with bloody goat skins and then go have sex.
Just like the pagan lust-monkey you so wish to be.
You go, Lupercus.