No I’m not using the word “bloody” like an Australian adjective because I have mixed feelings about the day. The original Valentine’s holiday, long before it was named after the Saint, was indeed a bloody pagan ritual in ancient Rome.
Originally known as Lupercalia, and celebrated on the ides of February (Feb 15th not the 14th), the day was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, along with the honoring Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
You may recall learning that Romulus and Remus as babies were deserted in a forest, found by a she wolf, and cared for by her in a cave until they were later found.
So on February 15th, the pagan priests would return to the cave and sacrifice a goat and a dog – the goat for fertilization and the dog for purification. They would then cut the goat hide into strips and soak them in the sacrificial blood. Returning to the streets of Rome they would whack any female in sight with the bloody strips as well as beating the crop fields with them. It was believed that this would help the women become more fertile for the following year and also guarantee a good harvest in the growing season ahead.
Apparently the young women of Rome liked the idea and would venture into the streets to be touched by the bloody strips. But what has this got to do with our celebration of Valentines today?
Here is the connection perhaps. At the end of the day a lottery would be held. The names of all eligible men and women of Rome would be placed into two jars and couples would be matched from the drawing. They were then given the green light to do their best to produce an offspring in the following year. Some would go on to marry, but it seems there was no obligation implied by the ritual.
Later when the Christians took over from the Pagans, they didn’t approve of this ritual – but the Romans were pretty attached. So over time they changed it to Valentine’s Day as we know it – a celebration named after a Saint and still about love but without the added responsibilities. I’ll leave it to you, my dear readers, to decide if that was a good idea or not. Either way, have a Happy Valentines!