Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Scurrilous Beginnings of Valentine's Day

May the Doggy of the Goddess bring you happy heart
blessings this Valentine's Day!

From Discovery News

The Seedy, Scandalous History of Valentine's Day

Rossella Lorenzi
Mon Feb 13, 2012 04:26 PM ET
Forget roses, chocolates and candlelight dinners. On Valentine's Day, that's rather boring stuff -- at least according to ancient Roman standards.

Imagine half-naked men running through the streets, whipping young women with bloodied thongs made from freshly cut goat skins. Although it might sound like some sort of perverted sadomasochistic ritual, this is what the Romans did until A.D. 496.

Mid-February was Lupercalia (Wolf Festival) time. Celebrated on Feb. 15 at the foot of the Palatine Hill beside the cave where, according to tradition, the she-wolf had suckled Romulus and Remus, the festival was essentially a purification and fertility rite.

Directed by the Luperci, or "brothers of the wolf," the festival began with the sacrifice of two male goats and a dog, their blood smeared on the faces of Luperci initiates and then wiped off with wool dipped in milk.

As thongs were cut from the sacrificed goats, the initiates would run around in the streets flagellating women to promote fertility.

Finally, in 496, Pope Gelasius I banned the wild feast and declared Feb. 14 as St. Valentine's Day.
But who was St. Valentine? Mystery surrounds the identity of the patron saint of lovers.  Indeed, such was the confusion that the Vatican dropped St. Valentine's Day from the Catholic Church calendar of saints in the 1960s.

There were at least three men by the name Valentine in the A.D. 200s, and all died horrible deaths.
One was a priest in the Roman Empire who helped persecuted Christians during the reign of Claudius II. As he was imprisoned, he restored the sight of a blind girl, who fell in love with him. He was beheaded on Feb. 14.

Another was the pious bishop of Terni, also tortured and beheaded during Claudius II's reign.

Some 33 years later, Duke Charles of Orleans wrote what is considered the oldest known valentine in existence. Imprisoned in the Tower of London after being captured by the English, in 1415 the French nobleman wrote his wife, Bonne d’Armagnac, a rhyming love letter, which is now part of the manuscript collection in the British Library in London. The first two lines of the poem were: "Je suis déjà d'amour tanné. Ma très douce Valentinée." (I am already sick with love, My very gentle Valentine). It was an intense but unfortunate love: Bonne d’Armagnac may never have seen him again. She died before Charles' return to France in 1440.


I don't remember if I ever posted this information on "St. Valentine" from Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, but whether I did nor not, here it is!  Interesting stuff!

Valentine, Saint

The original Valentine's Day in the ides of February was Rome's Lupercalia, a festival of sexual license.  Young men chose partners for erotic games by drawing "billets" - small papers - with women's names on them.  christians denounced these prototypical valentines as "heathens' lewd customs."(1)  Churchmen tried to substitute saints' names and short sermons on the billets, but people soon reverted to the old love-notes.(2)  February was sacred to Juno Februata, Goddess of the "fever" (febris) of love.  The church replaced her with a mythical martyr, St. Valentine, who was endowed with several contradictory biographies.  One of them made him a handsome roman youth, executed at the very moment when his sweetheart received his billet of love.(3)

St. Valentine became a patron of lovers perforce, because the festival remained dedicated to lovers despite all official efforts to change it.  Even in its Christianized form, the Valentinian festival involved secret sex worship, called "a rite of spiritual marriage with angels in a nuptial chamber."(4)  Ordinary human beings engaged before witnesses in an act of sexual intercourse described as the marriage of Sophia and the Redeemer.  A spoken formula said, in part, "Let the seed of light descend into thy bridal chamber, receive the bridegroom... open thine arms to embrace him.  Behold, grace has descended upon thee."(5)

During the Middle Ages, St. Valentine was much invoked in love charms and potions, since he was a sketchily Christianized  version of such love-gods as Eros, Cupid, Kama, Priapus, or Pan.


(1)  Brewster, 104.
(2)  Hazlitt, 608.
(3)  de Lys, 358.
(4)  Angus, 116.
(5)  Seligmann, 65.

According to Wikipedia, there were no less than 14 different "Valentines" who were martyred and could have been the role-model for the eventual fictional character decided upon -- nominally the Bishop of Terni (of course it would have to be a bishop; no mere nobody would do!)

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