Lupercalia - Calendar of Revelry and Sacred Days

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Calendar of Revelry and Sacred Days

See February Feasts, Candlemas, Little Candlemas, and Imbolc.

The Lupercalia was a complex and ancient Roman festival of purification that also served to celebrate and generate human fertility and honor wolves. Although standard explanations suggest that this festival of fertility and purification was initiated by Romulus and Remus in honor of the she-wolf who rescued and nursed them, the festival is believed to be far more ancient.

The deities who preside over the Lupercalia are Juno and the wild horned spirit Faunus. (See HORNED ONE: Faunus.) Faunus is the primordial spirit of wild nature, the male generative principle. He also mediates the balance between wolves and their prey and between shepherds and wolves.

The religious ceremonials at the heart of the Lupercalia purified the land and its inhabitants for the New Year. (February was the last month of the ancient calendar; the New Year began with the vernal equinox, when the sun entered the first astrological sign, Aries.)

The name “February” derives from two meanings:

Image Februare: to cleanse

Image Juno Februata: Juno of the Fevers of Love or Juno Who Provides Purification

Juno, the ancient Matron of the city of Rome, is the only deity with two months named in her honor: the eponymous June and February. Juno—or Uni—was an Etruscan deity whose presence in the Eternal City pre-dates the Romans.

During the nine days of the Lupercalia, from February 13th through the 21st, dead souls wandered the Earth, consuming the essence of the food and drink that the living offered them.

Today February 14th is St Valentine’s Day, a holiday that for many signifies nothing more than the obligation to buy flowers and chocolates. The roots of Valentine’s Day go deeper. February 14th marked the first day of the Lupercalia. The day honored Juno, in her fertility aspect, and the male spirit Faunus, or Lupercus. On February 14th, Juno and Faunus respond to women’s pleas for fertility.

The annual festival opened with the arrival of the Luperci, Faunus’ “wolf-priests,” at the Lupercal, the cave on the Palatine Hill where the wolf nursed Romulus and Remus. Dogs were sacrificed for purification, goats for fertility. These were eaten by the priests.

Following the priests’ meal, the goatskins were cut up. The Luperci smeared themselves with the blood and dressed themselves in “Juno’s cloak,” the torn patches of goatskin. Pieces of goatskin were formed into whips, known as a februa. Either the priests or specially chosen young boys would then run around the Palatine Hill striking at people with these whips, particularly barren women. Women struck by the februa were believed to be rendered fertile. Conception was believed ensured as was easy childbirth and healthy babies. Women positioned themselves strategically around the hill to guarantee that they would be struck, usually upon their outstretched hands.