Shakespeare himself opens his much-loved tragedy, Julius Caesar, amidst the colorful spectacle of Lupercalia, though (not surprisingly) he only refers to it in the vaguest poetic terms.
Among the most ancient and mysterious Roman holidays, the veil of distant history cloaks this rather boisterous pagan festival.
Scholars argue about even the most fundamental elements, including which god(s) are honored, what rites are traditional (or have evolved from tradition) and whether or not it predates even Roman times.
So what do we know about it?
The ancient festivities began and ended between February 13th-15th.
Reputed as “The Original Valentine’s Day,” Lupercalia celebrates fertility, love, and sexuality, and sets the stage for springtime cleansing rites.
Although various gods have been suggested as central to the event, many believe this lively winter holiday traditionally honors the playful, lusty god, Lupercus.
Is there a myth associated with Lupercalia?
Well, of course! This is, after all, Greco-Roman tradition we’re talking about.
Two brothers, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned to die near the Tiber river. Fortunately, the river carried them to safety. But they endured several other perilous trials before becoming the mythological founders of Rome. Along the way, a she-wolf named Lupa found them and suckled them for nourishment. Many believe this is where the name “Lupercalia” originates.
This is interesting! I want to play.
If you want to celebrate Lupercalia with a modern take, decorate your altar with symbols of love, fertility and romance. Hearts, phallic symbols, the color red, and rose petals all make nice inclusions.
Many of the common Valentine’s traditions correspond nicely with Lupercalia, which makes decorating for this pagan holiday “incognito” pretty easy.
Try writing a long, sappy love letter to your significant other, or planning a romantic evening at home.
For a more ritualistic approach, make an offering of ground red meat. I recommend burying it as opposed to the traditional burnt offering, which is . . . frankly kind of stinky.
If you would like to have some fun with the kids, visit a local farm to pick up some fresh milk and plan a morning meal around it.
Lupercalia is also one of the key times on the Wheel of the Year for early spring fertility rites. Both Lupercalia and Ostara make nice dates for fertility casting.