Happy Lupercalia: Wolf Valentine's Day
The Origins of the Lupercalia
Lupercalia was started to honor a forgotten fertility god, but during the Augustan period, the god Lupercus had been invented to explain the festival, according to the Dictionary of Roman Religion. Adkins and Adkins, authors of the book, state that Faunus might have been the god of Lupercalia.
The Lupercalia Festival Itself
The festival was held on February 15th, the day after the modern Valentine's Day Celebration. The month of February occurred later in the Roman calendar. Celebrants would gather at the Lupercal cave on the Palatine Hill in Rome, where Romulus and Remus were suckled by their adoptive wolf mother, according to Roman legend. Note: she-wolves suckling infants is a common trope. Try telling a she-wolf not to breast feed in public.
The Latin for she-wolf was slang for prostitute. Servius, a 4th century pagan commentator on Vergil, says that it was in the Lupercal that Mars ravished and impregnated the twins' mother. (Servius ad. Aen. 1.273)
Luperci Priests made sacrifices of goats and dogs as part of the festival, and two young people were smeared by the blood of the sacrifice and then wiped away by wool dipped in milk. As part of the Lupercalia celebration, young men would go through the streets whipping people, mostly women, with strips of goat skins to encourage fertility.
The occasion was happy and festive. It is from these implements of purification, or februa, that the month of February gets its name. This act also supposedly provided purification from curses, bad luck, and infertility. Not to mention some kinky fun.
During Lupercalia the names of available maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love - for the duration of the festival, or sometimes longer. This was just as good as online dating!