- Everyone thinks they know the origin of Valentine's Day.
According to the most commonly accepted story, Emperor Claudius of Rome
issued a decree forbidding marriage in the year 271. Roman generals had
found that married men did not make very good soldiers, because they wanted
to return as quickly as possible to their wives and children-and they didn't
want to leave them to fight the emperor's battles in the first place. So
Claudius issued his edict that there should be no more marriages, and all
single men should report for duty.
- A priest named Valentine deemed such a decree an abomination,
and he secretly continued to marry young lovers. When Claudius learned
of this extreme act of disobedience to his imperial command, he ordered
the priest dragged off to prison and had him executed on February 14.
- Father Valentine, the friend of sweethearts, became a
martyr to love and the sanctity of marriage, and when the Church gained
power in the Roman Empire, the Holy See was quick to make him a saint.
- The early Church fathers were well aware of the popularity
of a vast number of heathen gods and goddesses, as well as the dates of
observation of pagan festivals, so they set about replacing as many of
the entities and the holidays as possible with ecclesiastical saints and
feast days. Mid-February had an ancient history of being devoted to acts
of love of a far more passionate and lusty nature than the Church wished
to bless, and the bishops moved as speedily as possible to claim the days
of February 14 through 17 as belonging to Saint Valentine, the courageous
martyr to the ties that bound couples in Christian love.
- February Is for Mating
- Actually, there is no proof that the good priest Valentine
- Some scholars trace the period of mid-February as a time
for mating back to ancient Egypt. On those same days of the year that contemporary
lovers devote to St. Valentine, men and women of the Egyptian lower classes
determined their marital partners by the drawing of lots.
- But the time of coupling that comes with the cold nights
in February before the spring thaw likely had its true origin very near
where Valentine supposedly met his demise.
- Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Wolf Charmer
was called the Lupicinus. Perhaps hearkening back to prehistoric times,
the Lupicinus may well have been an individual tribesman who had a particular
affinity for communicating with wolves. As the tribes developed agriculture
and small villages, it was necessary to have a person skilled in singing
with the wolves and convincing them not to attack their domesticated animals.
The Lupicinus had the ability to howl with the wolves and lead them away
from the livestock pens. In some views, because he also wore the pelt of
a wolf, the Lupicinus also had the power to transform himself into a wolf
if he so desired.
- Rites of the Lupercalia
- The annual Lupercali festival of the Romans on February
15 was a perpetuation of the ancient blooding rites of the hunter in which
the novice is smeared with the blood of his first kill. The sacrificial
slaying of a goat-representing the flocks that nourished early humans in
their efforts to establish permanent dwelling places-was followed by the
sacrifice of a dog, the watchful protector of a flock that would be the
first to be killed by attacking wolves.
- The blood of the she-goat and the dog were mixed, and
a bloodstained knife was dipped into the fluid and drawn slowly across
the foreheads of two noble-born children. Once the children had been "blooded,"
the gore was wiped off their foreheads with wool that had been dipped in
goat milk. As the children were being cleansed, they were expected to laugh,
thereby demonstrating their lack of fear of blood and their acknowledgment
that they had received the magic of protection against wolves and wolfmen.
- The god Lupercus, represented by a wolf, would next inspire
and command men to behave as wolves, to act as werewolves during the festival.
- Lupus (wolf) itself is not an authentic or original Latin
word, but was borrowed from the Sabine dialect. Luperca, the she-wolf who
suckled Romulus and Remus, may have given rise to secret fraternities known
as the Luperci, who sacrificed she-goats at the entrances to their "wolves'
dens." For centuries, the Luperci observed an annual ritual of chasing
women through the streets of Roman cities and beating them with leather
- Scholars generally agree that such a violent _expression
of eroticism celebrated the ancient behavior of primitive hunting tribes
corraling captive women. Once a wolfman had ensnared a woman with his whip
or thong, he would lead her away to be his wife or lover for as long as
the "romance" lasted. Perhaps, as some scholars theorize, this
yearly rite of lashing at women and lassoing them with leather thongs became
a more acceptable substitute for the bloodlust of the Luperci's latent
werewolfism that in days past had seen them tearing the flesh of innocent
victims with their teeth.
- As the Romans grew ever more sophisticated, the Lupercali
would be celebrated by a man binding the lady of his choice wrist to wrist,
and later by passing a billet to his object of desire, suggesting a romantic
rendezvous in some secluded place.
- Christian Marriage
- One can easily see why the early Church fathers much
preferred the union of man and woman to be smiled upon by St. Valentine,
rather than the leering wolf god Lupercus. And, of course, they encouraged
a knot tied securely by the sacred rite of marriage and blessed by the
priest, rather than a fleeting midnight liaison.
- By the Middle Ages, the peasantry in England, Scotland,
and parts of France honored St. Valentine, but their customs seemed very
much to hearken back to ancient Egypt and Rome. On the evening before Valentine's
Day, the young people would gather in a village meeting place and draw
names by chance. Each young woman would write her name or make her mark
on a bit of cloth and place it into a large urn. Then each of the young
men would draw a slip. The girl whose name or mark was on the piece of
cloth became his sweetheart for the year.
- This method of celebrating St. Valentine's Day quite
often led to circumstances and situations that encouraged long-term and
lasting relationships, blessed by the recital of marriage vows in the local
church. If the young couple did not take the necessary steps to become
bound in a church-sanctioned union, the parents of the respective "bride"
and "groom" would actively arrange for the marriage sacrament
to be observed.
- It wasn't long before the peasant method of utilizing
St. Valentine's Day to guarantee the next generation of field hands, construction
workers, and merchants reached the ears of the upper classes, and the custom
became popular among the young men and women of the aristocracy and the
landed gentry. Since the prospect of arranged marriages between successful
families meant far more to the upper classes in Europe than to the peasantry,
parental supervision most often limited the interaction between their children
to be "sweethearts" during Valentine's Day parties.
- By the late 1400s, the upper classes of Europe and England
would come together in homes to celebrate Valentine's Day and allow 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 dinner party.
Hostesses took advantage of the holiday theme to express the tradition
in colorful decorative schemes.
- Gradually, Valentine's Day came to be synonymous with
the exchange of pretty sentiments, written in flourishes on scented paper
and decorated with hearts, arrows, doves, and cupids-those little pagan
deities maintaining their hold on the ancient holiday. By the early 1800s,
young men were taking care to create symbols of their passion on elaborate
cards that they could offer to "My Valentine."
- Today's Customs
- By the 1850s, Valentine's Day cards were being manufactured
and sold commercially in England, and the custom of observing the holiday
with cards to one's sweetheart became popular in the United States in the
1860s, around the time of the Civil War.
- Today, of course, we have vast commercial enterprises
centered around St. Valentine's Day, insisting that callow young men and
seasoned husbands must buy their sweetheart a box of candy, a dozen roses,
a diamond ring or necklace, or at least a five-dollar card. But don't let
the slick advertisers fool you with all this talk of a saint named Valentine
who was martyred for love. Remember that it all began with a hyped-up wolfman
smeared in blood chasing the object of his desire with a leather thong.
- One last word of advice: Forget the whip and stick with
flowers and candy