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Happy Lupercalia! Now where did I put that Goat Hide?

February 15, 2012

Now that we’ve all recovered from the revelry and frivolity (!) of Valentine’s Day we can get down to the real business of February – celebrating the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia.


The Lupercalia was one of the most ancient Roman festivals, which was celebrated every year in honour of Lupercus, the god of fertility.

The festival was held on the 15th of February in the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by the she-wolf;

the place contained an altar and a grove sacred to the god Lupercus. Here the Luperci assembled on the day of the Lupercalia,

and sacrificed goats and dogs—animals remarkable for their strong sexual instinct, and thus most appropriate sacrifices to the god of fertility. (reference)


Yesterday, people the world-over shared candy and champagne and bacon-infused-molten-chocolate cake with their loved ones; perhaps without realizing there was a linkage of this sacred ritual/tradition/sacrament back to ancient times.  But neither Hallmark, nor Jesus, invented this tradition – as civilizations have grown and changed over the millenia and as Christianity replaced pagan or other religions, our festivals and rituals changed while still retaining their origins.  The people adapted as their rites and celebrations acquired newly infused meanings.  And so it is with Lupercalia.

Lupercalia, held in the spring (and dated to February 15th as it was recorded as being one month prior to the “Ides of March”) was, on the surface, a festival of purification and fertility.  At that time, the Luperci priests gathered at the cave of Lupercal in eager anticipation of the virgins who came to visit them bearing sacred cakes made from figs.  The culmination of this gathering was when two (naked) young men sacrificed a dog and a goat. These men then donned loincloths, made from the skin of the recently-slaughtered-goat, and led a procession around the town in a reportedly ‘happy and festive’ (interpretation:  drunk and disorderly) manner.  While making their rounds, the men used strips taken from the hide of the recently-slaughtered-goat to strike women as they passed.  And this was not unwelcome, but rather desired and encouraged  – for the women believed that this would make them fertile.  Interestingly enough, it’s from this flogging tradition that the month February gets its name.

Now this particular region of town, the Palatine Hill, became Rome.  And the traditions continued.  When the Roman armies invaded France and Britain and other parts north, they brought the Lupercalia customs with them. One such custom, allegedly, was the holding of a sort-of-lottery.  Although this ‘lottery’ is dismissed by some as merely a myth/legend, it is reported that the names of virginal non-married available maidens were placed in a box and each man drew a name.  That maiden then became his ‘love’ – perhaps forever – or perhaps just for the duration of the festival.


Then, as they were wont to do, the Popes came in and ruined all the fun. In 496 CE, good old Pope Gelasius I banned the festival of Lupercalia. (boo.  killjoy.)

But, naturally, in order to appease the public, Pope G I allowed the holiday to turn into St. Valentine’s Day – although the actual Valentine/Valentinus being honored is also somewhat of a mystery: Valentine of Rome vs. Valentine of Terni vs. Valentine of Africa?  No one knows – battle it out boys.


Some sides argue that St. Valentine’s Day has no pagan/Roman origins or connections to Lupercalia.  The other side contends that putting Valentine cards in a box with your grade school classmates harkens back to the days of the young lads drawing the names of their festival-maiden out of the goat-hide basket.

Interesting debate and an intriguing story. I love this kind of stuff.

Now if you can’t see the workplace/HR connection I may come back and draw the linkages for you.  But if you don’t care about the connection, merely enjoy it as a good history lesson shared in the schoolhouse.

(image unknown but I found it here)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    February 15, 2012 3:45 pm

    Thanks for the history lesson. I love this stuff too.

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