All about Lent, Fasting, Valentine Day, Spring Festivals,
Mardi Gras, and at the root of it all, February. And, other bits and pieces of information you probably cared less to know about.
But, I'm telling you anyway.
OK, so what the heck is Lupercalia? Good question for starters. Well, it's an ancient Roman fertility festival associated with Spring. Actually fertility festivals date all the way back to the Babylonians, they seem to have started a lot of Spring festivities. However this one is truly Roman since it traces its beginnings to the actual founding of Rome by, supposedly, Remus and Romulus, who were suckled by a she wolf some 700 years BC (thus luper). But, we won't go into their history here.
Lupercalia was such an ancient Roman festival that even the Romans of the first century BC forgot its origin and to which gods it was dedicated and even the meaning of some of its symbolism. It surely must date back to, Rumina or Romina, the She Wolf and founding goddess of Rome.
And, it is also a sort of purification festival which was supposed to appease the gods and thus, being appeased, good things would be forthcoming. Goats were sacrificed and, naked young men covered only in the skins of the sacrificed goats, would run around the Palatine, an ancient Roman temple site, striking at young women with strips of goat skin to promote fertility. Yeah, that seems reasonable.
"Neither potent herbs, nor prayers, nor magic spells shall make of thee a mother," writes Ovid, "submit with patience to the blows dealt by a fruitful hand."
The instruments of this purification were called februa thus the month of February, which was when the festival was held. Usually on the 15th day.
It was at the Lupercalia in 44 BC that Mark Anthony ran up to Caesar, as he watched from the Rostra, and offered him a laurel wreath as a token of kingship, but Caesar refused it. One month later he was dead.
"You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse, was this ambition?"
-Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene ii.
What began almost 2800 years ago as the most celebrated festival of Ancient Rome entered the Christian era as Valentine's Day. The ceremonies did not stop before young boys and girls were paired and their names were placed in an urn from which a young man would draw the name of a girl he would protect, honor, and court until the next Lupercalia. Even as late as the time of William Shakespeare the celebration was mentioned in literature.
But, by the time of William Shakespeare we had Christians and we had Lent, and of course Christians, being Christians, did not look kindly upon such carryings on, and rather than fornicate and celebrate they fasted for 40 days, thus supposedly appeasing their God. But, they still hung on to a saint called Valentine who was martyred about 400 AD and declared a saint by Pope Gelasius in 496 AD. Thus, we have blessed these young celebrating boys and girls. But then, they had to go along with a forty day cooling off period, Lent, before another fertility celebration, this one really started by the Babylonians for their goddess Astarte, which the Christians call Easter.
Well, what about the rest of the Spring celebrations? Way back about the time of the Reformation the French did not take kindly to fasting from food and drink for forty days even if they were Christians, so they took up where the Romans left off and started Mardi Gras. That name is also associated with a Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, or Carnival). It marks the last day or last opportunity of revelry and indulgence in food and drink before the temperance of Lent.
But, who started Lent? Well, you know who, it started about 400 AD too. The Roman Empire was headed for hell in a hurry. The Gauls and the Huns were coming from all directions and of course the Christians had renamed the Roman Empire the Holy Roman Empire. And, we had all sort of new found ways to bow before our God for forgiveness. The Roman pagans turned Christians now prayed, instead of fought, for their freedom. Guys like Augustine took all the young boys into monasteries and some relation of Augustine called Benedictine, whoever, took all the young girls to nunneries, wherever. And, there they stayed and prayed and fasted and wrote Biblical interpretations for the next several centuries before the French took it upon themselves to revolt and revel. Thus again we have all the original fertility celebrations tempered with temperance once in a while before we continue celebrating.
Seems a great way to do things. We have now mingled the Christians with the pagans in such a way that every one gets into the act. Now about every two or three months we have a celebration or else a cooling off period of some sort. I'm sure we need both.
Leo C. Tha's Me
The Ol' Preacher, His Self.