Did you know Lupercalia, an ancient pagan festival, was celebrated in Rome long before the emergence of Saint Valentine, and may be considered the very first celebration of love? The pastoral tradition was observed to honour fertility and fidelity – perhaps the original core values of romance and mating.
The name Lupercalia, or “Wolf Festival”, came from the tradition of honouring Lupa, the she-wolf who nursed the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, who then founded Rome. Celebrations took place between February 13-15 near the cave of Lupercal on the Palatine Hill, where Rome was said to be founded. The Luperci, or “brothers of the wolf”, conducted the ceremonies and directed the rites wearing only goatskins. For this reason they are sometimes thought of as Pagan Priests of Fertility. Following a sacrifice of two male goats and a dog, a great feast was shared among participants to promote fertility and ease childbirth in women.
The public performance of pagan rites was outlawed by the fifth century, but a small group of Christian Romans continued to celebrate Lupercalia until taunting in the high courts led to its abolishment by Pope Gelasius. However, pieces of Lupercalian tradition and references to its celebrations can be found throughout art history and legend. William Shakespeare in particular has ensured the survival of the pagan tradition by setting his well-loved play, Julius Caesar, in Rome during the Lupercalia.
Incidentally, the almond, which is a known aphrodisiac, has been a symbol of fertility throughout the ages, and can perhaps represent continual celebration of Lupercalian values. The aroma exuded by the almond is thought to induce passion and arousal, particularly in the female. Its shape is also representative of the seed in the womb.