Here is my contribution to what is arguably the most romantic day of the year.
Be sure to send it (or link it) to all of your loved ones, preferably those who are single, hate Valentine’s Day or love a bit of dark (and somewhat skewed) history.
For maximum enjoyment, read it out loud a few days before Valentine’s Day and after a couple of glasses of your preferred alcoholic beverage.
Hey you, the one with the big gloomy frown!
Yes I’m talking to you. Don’t look so shocked.
Why have you been actively avoiding all those mushy romantic posts on Facebook and WordPress for the past week? What’s with that big blank space in your diary on February 14th? Why do you roll your eyes every time you see a big Valentine’s Day get-a-treat-for-your-special-someone sale advertised on TV?
Oh, I get it. No really, I do.
It’s because you’re single, right? Or is it because you’re just sick to death of all of this, as you call it, ‘commercialised Hallmark holiday bullshit’?
Maybe it’s a little from column A and a little from column B.
No, wait! I’m not mocking you; honest!
Listen; just listen to me, okay? You’re perfect, you’re just the type of person I want to talk to.
I want to tell you something that is really important. You could go as far as to say that it may even save your life.
Are you sitting down? Okay, here it goes, then.
I am going to tell you the terrible truth about Valentine’s Day.
What!? You already know the truth? Not only that, you also know the origin of Saint Valentine’s Day already?
Okay, let’s hear it then. I’m all ears.
Woah, woah, woah…where the hell did you hear that?
Secret marriages? Old men in funny looking hats?
Valentine’s Day was never a Christian celebration! That’s like calling Christmas a Jewish celebration.
For crying out loud, it isn’t even supposed to be called Valentine’s Day!
Your ignorance astounds me, it genuinely does.
Now listen up, I’m going to give you a very important history lesson.
Before some guy came along and decided February 14th should be named after some other guy, February 14th was part of a three day festival of purification.
During the time of Ancient Rome it was known as Lupercalia, or ‘Wolf Festival’. It was said to be a celebration dedicated to the founders of Rome, Remus and Romulus as well as the she-wolf who raised them.
Of course, that was how the Romans celebrated it. Long before they took over the tradition, the festival was held by a group of nomad shepherds. These shepherds lived in an unmarked region which overlapped with Rome, hence how the Romans came to know of the festival.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter who holds the festival, what matters is what occurs during the main ceremony of the festival.
Before the ceremony began, a group of priests (the Romans called them Luperci or “brothers of the wolf”) would gather at a special cave. They believed this was where the twin boys Romulus and Remus were raised by their wolf mother.
At this cave, the priests would perform a purification ceremony. This ritual was very specific and as such entailed the use of very specific objects. This included two male goats, a dog, a small bronze dagger, sheep wool and the milk of a pregnant she-goat.
The ceremony always started with the sacrifice of the two male goats and dog with the dagger. Once that had been performed, two young men would be led to the altar. It was of utmost importance that these young men were of noble birth.
The head priest would then wipe the sacrificed blood off the dagger using a swab of wool. Of course, the wool must have already been soaked in the she- goat’s milk overnight. It couldn’t have just been given a quick dunk; it must have absorbed the milk completely.
After this has been done, the two young men would have their foreheads anointed with the sacrificial blood off of the wool.
The next step was a crucial part of the ritual. With blood dripping down their foreheads, the two young men would have to laugh. Their laughter must have been loud enough to echo throughout the interior of cave. The louder and the more joyful it sounded, the better.
I know this sounds weird but trust me; I’ve been studying this ceremony for decades.
The hides of the sacrificed goats would then have to be stripped clean off. Some of the skins would be draped over the priests while others would be cut into lengths and dipped in the sacrificial blood.
The priests would then run back into town, slapping any crops, buildings or women who they happened to pass with the lengths of goat skin.
For Romans, this process was thought to have helped increase fertility in women and reduce complications during childbirth. They also considered it an important cleansing ritual that would purify their city and chase away evil.
At least they got part of it right, I suppose.
The Lupercalia Festival went on for many centuries.
Then the Christians came along, scrutinised the festival’s apparent deviousness and banned its proceedings in Rome. By the end of the 5th century, Lupercalia was no more.
Oh, so you found that interesting, did you? You say it’s opened your eyes to the misconceptions of the past?
Well, I’m glad to hear that, I guess.
Do you remember how I said this ceremony was celebrated long before the Romans? Well, it’s true. The purification festival has been going on for a very long time. I dare to say that it was around even before the nomad shepherds existed. They just recorded the finer details of the ceremony and the Romans managed to perfect it.
I suppose the only thing the Romans got wrong was how often the ritual needed to be done. They always performed it once a year whereas the shepherds estimated it only needed to be carried out once every century.
Perhaps the Luperci were just being safe.
What’s that you say? How long has it been since the last ritual?
Well if we assume the ceremonies stopped at the end of the 5th century, the last one would have been done approximately 1500 years ago.
That’s fifteen ceremonies that have not been performed.
I would consider that a pretty damn lucky streak. The shepherds estimated that the amount of times the ritual could be avoided was maybe eight or nine times. They weren’t stupid enough to give it a try, of course.
What’s that? What would happen if the ceremony wasn’t performed?
Unfortunately my friend, that is where my knowledge on the subject stops.
However, I’m certain the shepherds did have some idea what the ramifications were of not performing the ceremony. The problem is that all they seemed to refuse to tell anyone who wasn’t a shepherd.
No really! I have read a replicated recount of a shepherd who was brutally killed by other shepherds for insinuating that he was going to write the consequences down for future shepherds to read.
I guess they didn’t like to keep records of it. I wonder how they would feel knowing the ceremony hadn’t been performed for nearly an entire millennium.
Fifteen missed ceremonies going on sixteen missed ceremonies.
If you want my opinion on the absence of purification ceremonies, I’d say it’d be kind of like if you skipped insurance payments. Sure, you never think anything bad will happen, so you might not make a payment for a little while. You might even drop the payments entirely and laugh it all off as a useless investment. Then all of a sudden, something bad happens to you, but oops! You didn’t make any payments, so you’re on your own. You’d be in some serious trouble, I imagine.
Now replace insurance with purification ceremonies, you with the entirety of humanity and something bad with something bad which may have ramifications for all life as we know it.
Yeah, looks pretty bleak, doesn’t it?
Could we do something about it, you ask? Could we perhaps make preparations to begin this ceremony as soon as the 14th comes around again?
I’m assuming you didn’t know that the three day purification festival actually starts on the 12th and not on the 14th, right?
Oh don’t fret; it’s only one more missed ceremony. We’re doing pretty well so far, I think. Surely one more isn’t going to be that big of a deal.
We can afford to miss one more insurance payment, can’t we?
Besides, this gives us plenty of time to start getting ready for next year.
So, what do you want to do first then? Find the goats or round up some rich frat boys?