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A Short History of Lupercalia

February 11, 2020

 

As I was watching the second part of the Netflix TV show Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (the reboot of Sabrina the Teenage Witch) I was intrigued when the characters celebrated a Valentine's Day like holiday called Lupercalia. Said to be a lust-filled pagan tradition observed by the free-loving witches, it sparked my interest as a possible alternative to Valentine's Day traditions on February 14th - a day I would soon rather forget.

 

Lupercalia is traditionally celebrated on February 15 and has been traced back to 6th century Roman times when according to ancient Roman legend, King Amulius ordered his twin nephews Romulus and Remus to be thrown into the Tiber River to drown in retribution for their mother's broken vow of celibacy. Legend has it that a servant took pity on them and places them in a basket instead ala. Moses from the bible. The twins were rescued and cared for by a she-wolf in a den at the base of the Palatine Hill before they were adopted by a shepherd and his wife, and when they twins grew older they sought revenge on their uncle and dubbed the she-wolf Lupercal after the Roman fertility God Lupercus.

 

The festival of Lupercalia is a sexually-charged and bloody affair, taking place originally at Lupercal cave on Palatine Hill with the sacrifice of male goats and a puppy by a group of Roman priests. Afterwards the foreheads of the priests - who are naked and referred to as Luperci - are smeared with the animals blood using the sacrificial knife. The blood is than removed by a piece of milk-soaked wool while the Luperci laughed - something that is depicted quite accurately in the Sabrina reboot. 

 

Soon afterwards a feast of the newly scarified goats began as Romans devoured their entrails, as well as salt cakes that some of the virgins would make. They would then drink copious amounts of alcohol and the oiled up men would run naked around the area striking women with lashes made of goat hide, which the women welcomed as a sign of fertility. The nakedness was said to be in celebration of an ancient legend where the Roman God of the forest, plains and field, Faunus apparently wanted to sexually assault the mistress of Hercules, who tricked him into accidentally fondling Hercules instead. Faunus however wasn't the God of the holiday, but remains to be a unique aspect of the celebration.

 

During Lupercalia, the men also randomly choose women's names from a jar and coupled with them for the duration of the festival, often coupling up for years afterwards. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are a goat or a puppy) Lupercalia is no longer celebrated in Rome due to the fact that Pope Gelasius banned the ceremony in the 5th century. The pope mentioned it was more of a fertility festival than a purification rite and there was pestilence when the ritual was performed and the debauchery has ceased amongst everyone other than those still tied to pagan religions.

 

 

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