Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia and the wolf

Did you know Valentine’s day has its roots in an ancient festival that celebrated the primal power of the wolf.  Aroooo… Yes, that was a happy Valentines howl! May the wolf be with you.

Although the day shares its name with St Valentine (a Christian saint who was martyred in the third century AD), historians believe its origins go back much further to a pagan festival known as Lupercalia. The word is derived from ‘lupus’, the Latin for wolf, and the celebration was a fertility ritual that took place in Rome, between 13-15 February, to protect and purify the city.

Lupercalia had its own priests who were called Luperci, brothers of the wolf. After a great feast, they smeared the faces of young men with blood and dressed them in animal skins to run half-naked among the townsfolk, dancing and whipping them with strips of goat hide called thongs or ‘februa’. These instruments of purification gave February its name. And the strange custom was considered good luck, especially for women who wanted to conceive.

Adam Elsheimer, ‘The Lupercalian Festival in Rome’, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats. Wikimedia Commons


Plutarch says: ‘Many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy. (Life of Caesar, 61)

It was a wild party which was finally suppressed by the church in the fifth century. Pope Gelasius I claimed only the “vile rabble” were involved and announced a new feast day in its place, Saint Valentine’s Day.

The precise origin of Lupercalia isn’t known. But the festival was held at the Lupercal, a cave where a legendary wolf raised Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.  It’s thought Lupercalia was held to honour the she-wolf.


All of which makes me wonder if we should be sending ‘Lupercalentine’ cards on February 14. I think Alpha would approve. Here’s a message of love and magic from his story, The Mirror of Pharos. Happy wolf day!

Read chapter one of The Mirror of Pharos.
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Alpha the wolf, illustrated by Amanda Pike


Valentine’s Day, by Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay
Romulus and Remus statue, by NatashaG, Pixabay