Valentine’s Day Origin: Dead Dogs and A Flog

In Christine on The Scene by Christine McKellar

Dead dogs and a flog…

For years I’ve jokingly offered friends a slightly cynical, abbreviated “Happy VD!” greeting on that special annual holiday expressly designated to celebrate romantic and passionate lovers. However, after delving into the origins of Valentine’s Day, my barb doesn’t seem too far fetched when you consider the original holiday was centered around a pagan ritual that celebrated the sacrificing of goats and dogs, the flogging of women, and the mating of men and women through a lottery process. How romantic is that?

The ancient festival of Lupercalia was held each 15th day of February and was supervised, of course, by male priests even though they were celebrating a she-wolf (lupa) who had rescued and nursed the pagan gods Romulus and Remus: the abandoned mythical twin sons of the war god Mars and the “founders of the Roman Empire”.

The Luperci (priests) would begin the highly-anticipated festival with the sacrifice of goats and a dog, after which two naked Luperci were led to an altar where they were touched on the forehead with a knife coated in animal blood. The priests were then instructed to laugh as the blood was wiped from their faces with wool dipped in milk.

It gets more complicated…

Following all the initial fun, the revelers feasted on the animal flesh, then the Luperci cut the goat and dog pelts into strips that could be used as belts to flog women as all the participants ran (yes, naked) around a small hill. The rational being that a good flogging would make the women fertile (haha! no pun intended!). The men would then each mate with an unsuspecting woman whose name they pulled from a jar. The suspense must have been titillating! And eerily similar to wondering thousands of years later who is going to bestow a Valentine’s card upon whom?

The evolution of romantic love… 

In the late 5th century A.D., Pope Gelasius I eliminated the pagan celebration of Lupercalia and declared February 14 a day of commemoration for  the martyrdom of Saint Valentine, a priest who was executed for secretly joining Christians in marriage. How that day of martyrdom evolved into a hugely embraced and highly commercial holiday for lovers is up for conjecture.

It’s been noted that the red and white colors commonly associated with Valentine’s cards and gifts could well be representative of the blood of the sacrificed animals and the cleansing milk and wool used in the Lupercalia.  Hearts have historically been associated with passion, and spring is most certainly a time for mating among the animal and avian kingdoms.

In other words, that somewhat less than charming pagan ritualistic festival has seemingly remained alive and well for centuries while masquerading under the guise of a smiling Roman cherub named Cupid.

On that note, I wish you all a very fabulous VD indeed! – Christine McKellar