Among the most ancient and mysterious Roman holidays, the veil of distant history cloaks this rather boisterous pagan festival.
The ancient festivities began and ended between February 13th-15th.
Reputed as “The Original Valentine’s Day,” Lupercalia celebrates fertility, love, and sexuality, and sets the stage for springtime cleansing rites. Instead of flowers and chocolates, the festival was marked by more ominous rituals, including sacrifices.
Over the years Lupercalia increased in popularity among the Roman people and transformed into a festival that primarily celebrated fertility & childbirth. This festival was so loved that it even survived after the Western Roman Empire fell. Unfortunately, in the 5th Century Pope Gelasius banned the festival due to its nudity and drunkenness and then replaced it with a much more sober occasion called the the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
Even though Lupercalia stopped being widely celebrated after the 5th century I do think it’s telling that we celebrate our own modern fertility festival, Valentine's Day, at about the same time as Lupercalia.
Although various gods have been suggested as central to the event, many believe this lively winter holiday traditionally honors the playful, lusty god, Lupercus.
Two brothers, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned to die near the Tiber river. Fortunately, the river carried them to safety. But they endured several other perilous trials before becoming the mythological founders of Rome. Along the way, a she-wolf named Lupa found them and suckled them for nourishment. Many believe this is where the name “Lupercalia” originates.
HOW TO CELEBRATE IN MODERN TIMES
If you want to celebrate Lupercalia with a modern take, decorate your altar with symbols of love, fertility and romance. Hearts, phallic symbols, the color red, and rose petals all make nice inclusions.
Many of the common Valentine’s traditions correspond nicely with Lupercalia, which makes decorating for this pagan holiday “incognito” pretty easy.
Try writing a long, sappy love letter to your significant other, or planning a romantic evening at home.
For a more ritualistic approach, make an offering of ground red meat. I recommend burying it as opposed to the traditional burnt offering, which is . . . frankly kind of stinky.
If you would like to have some fun with the kids, visit a local farm to pick up some fresh milk and plan a morning meal around it.
Lupercalia is also one of the key times on the Wheel of the Year for early spring fertility rites. Both Lupercalia and Ostara make nice dates for fertility casting.