The Pagan Truths Behind Those Valentine Hearts

HAVE YOU ever wondered how the months of the year got their names? They are based on Roman words, and many of them make perfect sense. September, for example, means seventh. October eighth, November ninth, and December tenth. Most of the remaining months bear the names of gods or goddesses. January is for Janus. March, the first month of the Roman year, is named for Mars. April, based upon the Etruscan name Apru, is for Aphrodite. May is Maia’s month; June is for Juno; July and August are named for Julius and Augustus Caesar respectively.

So what about February? It doesn’t even sound like a god’s name — does it? Actually, there is an Etruscan god called Februus, god of the underworld. He is represented with fire and associated with purification. The Romans used goatskin strips, dipped in blood — items they called februa — to cleanse the hillsides and even women prior to the coming of the New Year (March).Every February 15th, during the Festival of Lupercalia (a celebration with roots in the Etruscan worship of Februus), Roman citizens went a little nuts. During this season, dedicated to Romulus and Remus and their wolf mother (Lupa) and to Faun (the Roman version of Februus), a group known as the Luperci (Brothers of the Wolf), an order of Roman priests, gathered near the sacred cave Lupercal, revered as the home of the she-wolf, Lupa, who raised Romulus and Remus.

The Luperci sacrificed a goat and a dog (presumably, the goat represented Faun while the dog stood in for a wolf) — their blood would provide purification for the rites. The goat’s skin was cut into thin strips, dipped into the blood, and beaten against Palatine Hill to purify the land. These men — no doubt caught up in these bloody rites — would also flail passing woman with the strips, called februa to cleanse them and boost their fertility.

Toward the end of the rites, single women placed their names into jars. Single men took turns drawing the names, spending the final hours of Lupercalia with the young lady. The ‘ides of February’ were thus spent in romantic (let’s face it, the word here is really lustful) embraces, which may be the true source of February 14th’s association with ‘romance’.Yes, we’re told that an imprisoned Christian named Valentine sent notes to his jailer’s daughter — or that he sent letters of encouragement to friends — or that Valentine opposed the emperor Claudius’s policy of outlawing marriage for soldiers. These stories have roots in the 3rd century, and may have truth in them, or they may simply have provided a convenient way for pagan practices to gain Christian acceptance.

But what about February 14th? Lupercalia began on the ides — or 15th day — of February. The day prior to Lupercalia belonged to Juno, wife of Jupiter, and goddess of marriage. Some historians associate Juno with Lupa, the she-wolf. Sources say that the names drawn on Lupercalia often resulted in marriages, so the festival of Juno (known as the orgiasticfestival — you do the math) and Lupercalia probably blended into one.Well. Those Valentine hearts take on a whole new meaning now, huh? No matter what the pagan roots — Christians can reclaim such days for Christ. Use today to share His love for all humanity. Jesus Christ died and rose again so that you and I might have eternal life — now that is love.