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Most of us know about Valentine’s Day traditions, but what Lupercalia traditions can a modern witch adopt? What did the Ancient Romans do to celebrate during this festival?
Lupercalia was the Ancient Roman pagan festival held in Rome every February 15 and is associated with fertility, sex, ritual sacrifice, and romance. Its traditions mixed with St. Valentine’s feast to become what we know today as Valentine’s Day.
The actual rituals of Lupercalia are a bit mysterious. Some say there was a love lottery, while there is evidence of women’s ritual whipping to encourage fertility. Many of the traditions of Lupercalia would be inappropriate for modern witches, such as the ritual sacrifice aspect.
So what were the traditions of Lupercalia? What did this festival mean for the ancients? And how can a modern witch celebrate Lupercalia ethically?
What Does Lupercalia Mean?
1st century BC scholar Marcus Terentius Varro said, “the Luperci [are so called] because at the Lupercalia they sacrifice at the Lupercal … the Lupercalia are so called because [that is when] the Luperci sacrifice at the Lupercal.” (mentalfloss.com)
This explanation isn’t really helpful in explaining what the holiday is all about.
Ovid suggested that Lupercalia was celebrated to honor Faunus, a Roman pastoral god. Livy instead suggested it was for Inuus (or possibly Lupercus), a god of fertility. This tracks with Lupercalia as being the ancestor of the modern Valentine’s Day.
Lupercus was the divine lover of Februa. He kept the wolves away from the shepherds and sheep. His blood was associated with fertility.
Another suggestion is that Lupercalia honored a wolf goddess named Luperca. Since Lupercalia may have started as a way to celebrate Romulus and Remus, who were both suckled by a wolf, this could make sense.
The fact is, we don’t know what Lupercalia was celebrating or what it meant. What we do recognize is that it was a time of debauchery, feasting, and lots of sex.
Is Lupercalia A Real Holiday?
Lupercalia was a real holiday for the Ancient Romans! These days, it has been superseded by Valentine’s Day. While these two holidays may not have much in common now, it is suggested by some that the early Christians used Valentine’s Day to stamp out any future Lupercalia celebrations.
Pope Gelasius wrote a letter in 494 AD criticizing Christians for participating in this pagan festival. While it’s unlikely that Pope Gelasius purposefully replaced Lupercalia with a feast for St. Valentine, modern people have mixed rituals for both festivals to make up today’s Valentine’s Day.
But some modern witches are trying to bring back this holiday. It was featured in the Netflix show The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, which has added to its popularity.
Will Lupercalia make a return? It’s possible, but hard to know until pagan gatherings and festivals can start up again. We will have to see how people try to recreate the holiday in the coming years.
How Did Romans Celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Many of the traditions of Lupercalia would get you arrested today. Here are a few of the ways that Romans celebrated their ancient version of Valentine’s Day:
The first thing to be done during the festival of Lupercalia was a sacrifice of goats and dogs. The men would then use these sacrifices in whippings to increase female fertility.
Outside of Lupercalia, dogs and goats were not usually used for sacrifices. Pigs, sheep, and bulls were the more common sacrifices in Ancient Rome.
This sacrifice was followed by smearing of blood on two children’s foreheads, who were expected to laugh as this happened. The two youths probably represented Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
After the men made the sacrifices, they ran through the streets and whipped women with the hides of the animals they had sacrificed. At first, this was done voluntarily by the women, though it eventually may have been less voluntary.
Supposedly, the whipping was to increase the fertility of women.
The love lottery may or may not have actually happened. If it did, however, the ritual would have gone like this. First, women would have put their names in a jar.
Then available men would draw a name from the jar.
The couple would spend the rest of the festival together, most likely enjoying the fertility just given to the women when they were whipped.
Lupercalia Traditions To Start This Year
As we just read, many of the traditions of Lupercalia would get modern pagans in a lot of trouble. We can’t just go around whipping people and sacrificing dogs.
What we can do, however, is reinterpret these old traditions with modern morals in mind. This is possible when we consider what the spirit of these rituals was.
These rituals were mostly aimed at increasing the fertility of the people. So modern Lupercalia rituals should be focused on fertility, as well.
Here are some options for your modern celebration of Lupercalia:
Sacrifices To The Gods
All festivals are an appropriate time to offer sacrifices to the gods if you work with them. Offerings of meat, chocolate, honey, or wine are good choices for Lupercalia.
Offerings to deities of fertility and love are most appropriate at this time.
Working The Land
Working on your garden is a way of tending to the fertility of the land. Pour some of your energy into the land around you to ensure fertility for the year to come.
Pour out some sun water where you plan to plant your garden.
Draw up plans for where you want to plant everything. If the soil isn’t frozen, dig in and work the land and prepare it for spring.
Drinking Sun And Moon Water
Sun and moon water can both increase fertility. Make sure to make your magick water in a closed jar, so nothing contaminates it and makes it unsafe to drink. Drink it within a day of making it for safety.
Lighting Red Candles
Red candles are associated with fertility, passion, and sex. Light a few of these candles during Lupercalia to welcome in a year of fertility and love.
Of course, you can’t run through the streets the way the Ancient Romans did. But consensual whipping is always an option, and so is self-whipping with something like a birch whisk. These are commonly used in saunas to increase blood circulation.
You can do this to increase fertility, either of the body or creativity, business, or other projects.