Tweet Follow @TheRefinersFire

The pagan origins of Valentines Day

Valentine's Day has become the day for love in American culture, when sweethearts buy cards, candy, flowers, and romantic dinners to prove their devotion to the one they adore. Like many other common holidays, however, Valentine's Day has roots in the ancient festivals of our European ancestors.

The holiday of romance has roots in an ancient Roman fertility rite known as the Lupercalia. Celebrated on Feb. 15th, the Lupercalia was a fertility rite in honor of the gods Lupercus, Faunus (associated with Pan) and the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The celebration began at the Lupercal cave, where the wolf Lupa was said to have suckled the infant Romulus and Remus. Afterward, priests would sacrifice a goat (symbol of fertility) and a dog (symbol of protection) to the gods, anoint themselves with the blood, and run through the streets whipping onlookers with a thong made from the goat's skin. The whipping was believed to help ease childbirth and promote fertility.

Also during the festival, young men would draw the names of eligible girls from a pot or urn. These couples would be paired up until the next Lupercalia, often in intimate ways. This drawing of Valentine lots continued into the Middle Ages in Europe. The young man would wear the slip bearing his Valentine's name on his sleeve, and attend to the lady with flowers, gifts, and words of affection.

As Christianity became more prevalent, the celebration of love became associated with the patron saint of love and couples - St. Valentine. No one has verified the original Valentine to whom the day is dedicated, although two likely candidates have emerged. One Valentine, a priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius, was jailed for secretly marrying couples in defiance of orders from the Emperor that all marriages be stopped. This Valentine was jailed and died in prison for his devotion to love.

Another Valentine was jailed for helping Christians during the 3rd century AD. In prison, he fell in love with the jailer's daughter and cured her of blindness. He was executed on February 14th, 289 AD. All of the Valentine stories were finally combined, and in 496 Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14th in honor of St. Valentine.

Author unknown