Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The secret society behind Valentine's Day

You've heard the story, I'm sure. A priest named Valentine secretly continued to marry young lovers after the Roman Emperor Claudius banned marriage because he couldn't get married men to go off to war. Valentine was executed on February 14 for his crime.

As a "martyr to love," the Catholic Church quickly made him a saint.

And as they did with Easter and Christmas, the Church quickly appropriated already existing pagan festivals and superimposed a Christianized version over the original. In this case, mid-February had long been festival time regarding procreation, in preparation for the coming fertile growing season.

Nice story. Only trouble is, there's no evidence that Saint Valentine ever existed. And so what if he did? That's not what this story is about.

Mid-February mating has been traced back to ancient Egyptian rites, where men and women of the lower classes determined their sexual partners by the drawing of lots.

However, it is quite possible that the idea of lovers ceremonially pairing up in mid-February comes down to us from ancient Greek and Roman times, perhaps into pre-history, even.

The Greeks and Romans called the Wolf Charmer the Lupicinus. The Lupicinus was a man skilled in singing to or communicating with wolves, convincing them not to attack domesticated animals and livestock. OVer time, mythology evolved that the Lupicinus could actually turn into a wolf.

Eventually, an annual Lupercali festival developed among the Romans, celebrated on February 15, as a perpetuation of "blooding rites" in which the novice hunter is smeared with the blood of his first kill. At the Lupercali festivals, two noble-born children were blooded with the mixed blood of a sacraficial she-goat and a sacrificial dog. The blood of the she-goat represented the flocks that nourished the community and the dog's blood represented the watchful protector of the flock who would be the first to die if wolves attacked.

The children's foreheads were smeared with the blended blood, which was then wiped off with wool. As they were being cleaned, they were expected to laugh, showing their fearlessness and their belief that they were protected by magic against wolves and wolfmen.

The god Lupercus inspired men to dress and behave as wolves at the festival.

Somewhere in time Roman secret fraternities arose known as the Luperci, who sacrificed she-goats at the entrances to their "dens." For centuries, the Luperici held annual rituals of chasing women through the streets, beaing them with leather thongs.

Eventually this violent expression of eroticism mellowed into a man binding his chosen woman wrist to wrist and leading her away to his "den."

Obviously, something had to change to turn this wolf-frenzy of lust into the Christian "knot" of marriage. Enter the story of Saint Valentine, who bound his parishoners not wrist to wrist but in Holy Matrimony.

Into the Middle Ages, Christians in England, Scotland and France celebrated St. Valentine's Day with each young woman putting her name or mark on a bit of cloth and after mixing them well having the young men draw out the name of the woman who would be his sexual partner for the coming year. If they two youngsters hit it off, or if their parents wanted them to remain together, they would then bind themselves in a church-sanctioned union.

The custom eventually spread to the young mena and women of the aristocracy and the landed gentry. By the late 1400s, the upper classes of Europe and England had developed the tradition of allowing their young men to draw a “valentine” with the name of a member of the opposite sex, beside whom he would be seated at a lavish, highly decorated dinner party.

Gradually, the parties gave way to a general exchange of fancy sentiments, written in flourishes and decorated with hearts, arrows, doves and cupids and cherubs, the latter two being left-over deities and icons from a more primitive time. By the 1850s, valentine cards were a commercial success, leading to the vast greeting card, jewelry, flowers and candy industry we know today.

According to Wikipedia:

"The heart (♥) has long been used as a symbol to refer to the spiritual, emotional, moral, and in the past also intellectual core of a human being. Since the heart was once widely believed to be the seat of the human mind, the word "heart" continues to be used poetically to refer to the soul, and stylized depictions of hearts are extremely prevalent symbols representing love."

The Bible and other early writings ascribe to the heart a mystical significance, attributing spiritual or divine traits to the physical organ.

The Book of Jeremiah refers to God as the judge who tries the human heart, and in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the heart was weighed in the balanace against the feather of Maat, who symbolized Truth.

Aristotle and other classical and medieval philosophers and scientists considered the heart to be the seat of thought, reason or emotion.

Wikipedia continues:
The Roman physician Galen located the seat of the passions in the liver, the seat of reason in the brain, and considered the heart to be the seat of the emotions. While Galen's identification of the heart with emotion were proposed as a part of his theory of the circulatory system, the heart has continued to be used as a symbolic source of human emotions even after the rejection of such beliefs.

In European traditional art and folklore, the heart is drawn in this shape: ♥

This shape is typically colored red, suggesting both blood and, in many cultures, passion and strong emotion. It and diamonds are the two red suits in most playing card decks.

What the traditional "heart shape" actually depicts is a matter of some controversy. It only vaguely resembles the human heart. Some claim that it actually depicts the hearts of cattle, a more readily available sight to most people in past centuries than an actual human heart. However, while beef hearts are more similar to the iconic heart shape, the resemblance is still slight. The shape does resemble that of the three-chambered heart of the turtle, and that of the human male prostate gland, but it is very unlikely that the image was patterned after either of these organs.

There are many claims that the "heart" shape actually depict features of the human female, such as the female's pubic mound or vulva. A Sumerian cuneiform symbol for "woman" closely resembles the heart shape, and is believed to directly depict the pubic mound. Others maintain that the heart resembles the shape of the female breasts or the female buttocks, especially when bent over in readiness for copulation. Any of these origins would indicate that the heart was originally a symbol of fertility and sexuality, explaining its current association with love.
The heart shape may also represent a perfectly formed and spread labia.

The piercing of a heart or valentine with an arrow, an obvious phallic symbol, then becomes a straightforward representation of "act of love" — penile-vaginal penetration. You'll never look at the heart-shaped logo on the opening and closing credits of I Love Lucy quite the same way again. "Oh, Luuuu-cy! I'm home!"

Design your own candy heart

| |

This article is cross-posted on SacredFems.com


  1. Very nicely done. I'm impressed with the work on this. What strikes me are the things that remain through time, the heart, St. Valentine, and the proclaimed day for procreation. But alas, it now stands to be a day of Hallmark cards and overpriced dinners.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.