So Valentine’s day is a little over a month away and I don’t have a Valentine, and it is unlikely that I will have one, which is why, this year I think I am going to celebrate Lupercali. It just seems somehow more attractive than sitting at home alone. And well because it has werewolves. And I have a werewolf costume so it seems like I have everything I need. Though I won’t be chasing boys through the streets and whipping them.
The annual Lupercali festival of the Romans on February 15 was a perpetuation of the ancient blooding rites of the hunter in which the novice is smeared with the blood of his first kill. The sacrificial slaying of a goat-representing the flocks that nourished early humans in their efforts to establish permanent dwelling places-was followed by the sacrifice of a dog, the watchful protector of a flock that would be the first to be killed by attacking wolves.
The blood of the she-goat and the dog were mixed, and a bloodstained knife was dipped into the fluid and drawn slowly across the foreheads of two noble-born children. Once the children had been “blooded,” the gore was wiped off their foreheads with wool that had been dipped in goat milk. As the children were being cleansed, they were expected to laugh, thereby demonstrating their lack of fear of blood and their acknowledgment that they had received the magic of protection against wolves and wolfmen.
The god Lupercus, represented by a wolf, would next inspire and command men to behave as wolves, to act as werewolves during the festival.
Lupus (wolf) itself is not an authentic or original Latin word, but was borrowed from the Sabine dialect. Luperca, the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, may have given rise to secret fraternities known as the Luperci, who sacrificed she-goats at the entrances to their “wolves’ dens.” For centuries, the Luperci observed an annual ritual of chasing women through the streets of Roman cities and beating them with leather thongs.
Scholars generally agree that such a violent expression of eroticism celebrated the ancient behavior of primitive hunting tribes corralling captive women. Once a wolfman had ensnared a woman with his whip or thong, he would lead her away to be his wife or lover for as long as the “romance” lasted. Perhaps, as some scholars theorize, this yearly rite of lashing at women and lassoing them with leather thongs became a more acceptable substitute for the bloodlust of the Luperci’s latent werewolfism that in days past had seen them tearing the flesh of innocent victims with their teeth.
As the Romans grew ever more sophisticated, the Lupercali would be celebrated by a man binding the lady of his choice wrist to wrist, and later by passing a billet to his object of desire, suggesting a romantic rendezvous in some secluded place.