Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lust & Valentines

Valentine's Day has its real origins in the old Roman holiday of Lupercalia, which was a very lusty holiday. Men who were the priests of Pan would run through the streets in furry loincloths, wielding little leather strips. Women would bare their bodies so that they could be playfully struck with these little leather thongs, stripping themselves in public to offer a larger exposure, it was considered good luck and fertility magic to be touched in this way. Modesty had no place in this ancient festival. People publicly and openly played sexual games and enjoyed sexual pleasure.

Think about how many playful aspects of sexuality had origins in this festival. When did B&D play originate with their leather toys, garments and regalia? Lupercalia certainly popularized at least an aspect of it. How about party games like Spin the Bottle? What other popular sexual play had their origins in these ancient bawdy festivals? Obviously, the festival was popular and hugely celebrated for centuries, and among some parts of the population, it still is.

Lupercalia gets its name from Lupa, the she wolf who suckled the twins, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. They were regarded as aspects of the origin of the wild god, Faunus, the Roman god who was the equivalent of Pan.

As the church became more powerful, they tried to get people to abandon the old Pagan festivals, but the challenge was how to get them to quit doing these things when so many people were having so much fun? Even though church leaders declared participation in Lupercalia to be a sin and forbid people to participate, the people largely ignored the church's orders and rules and continued to party on.

So in the 5th century, the church continued to use the tactic it had used with other holidays they were unable to get the people to give up. Using the strategy, if you can't beat them, join them, they simply renamed the party that people were already going to, and abracadabra! Saturnalia, the celebration of the Winter Solstice becomes Christmas, and Lupercalia becomes Valentine's Day (to name just two). Of course, there is Easter, which changes its date every year because it is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Those fertility rites included the symbology of rabbits and eggs, indicators of plenty of copulation, and that is why it is always amusing to me how the great church holiday is still festooned with decorations of rabbits and eggs. If the people won't quit having parties, just slap a new label on it and announce that it really is an old church celebration.

Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar opens at the scene of Lupercalia, with Caesar and Mark Antony as participants.

Because of the combination of religious and political power, they finally managed to drive the bawdy aspects of the holiday underground.

So the church declared that in honor of an early church martyr, St. Valentine, the holiday would be a celebration of romantic love, affection and dedication. Of course, the original St. Valentine had as much to do with romance as rabbits do with the resurrection. Well, I guess if you are doing it frequently, some people may be praying for a resurrection.

All of the fabrications around St. Valentine being a patron of romance are just that. During the Middle Ages, in the time of writers like Geoffrey Chaucer, all kinds of stories about romance became popular.

The modern greeting card industry dates back to the 19th century, and they, of course, have profited mightily from promoting the sending of Valentine cards (a billion a year, according to the US Greeting Card Association), much the same way as the diamond cartels have profited by inventing and promoting the fiction of diamonds being the symbol of love. Industry has now expanded to promoting the sales of teddy bears and winter pajamas as Valentines gifts since the market is already saturated with heart shaped boxes of chocolates.

So if you are celebrating the real spirit of the holiday this weekend, it is not to be found in buying stuff labeled romantic. It is to be found in lusty playfulness and embracing the joy and pleasure of sex.

1 comment:

whaatamithinking said...

very interesting! except you forgot the part about how St Valentine was locked up in jail and sent his love letter to his love who was the ruler's daughter and he wrote, i love you! from, your valentine. which is why we started calling people our valentines and signing cards, from your valentine.