Lupercalia- Another Ancestral Tradition misunderstood!

Despite the popular notion that Gelasius abolished the Lupercalia, replacing it with the ‘Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is no evidence to support this. The closest reference that links Lupercalia to any romantic elements of Saint Valentine’s Day, or the blessed virgin is found in Chaucer, which merges with poetic traditions of courtly love during the Marion Cult in popular tradition. However, we should remember how this geo-centric celebration coincides roughly with the Disirblot held by the Northern peoples in honour of ancestral Female guardians of the people and their lands.

Pagan Rome celebrated Lupercalia, held in February, which proves  interesting due to its relevance the annual wild hunt. As the remnants of archaic pre-Roman pastoral rites that probably originated in the Sabian or Etruscan annual festival for the land and its protective spirits. Lupercalia exhibits several elements fundamental to the Wild Hunt traditions that are shared with the northern peoples.

Lupercalia was a ‘Wolf Festival’ consecrated to Lupa, the she-wolf who nourished and protected the founders of Rome. That wild celebration took place at the mid-February kalends, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, reminding its citizens of the sting of life in death, and death in life. It was a ritual involving the purgation of its citizens of lingering spirits through flagellation by goatskin whips in honour of the Mother Goddess, Juno/Hera whose totemic beast was the goat/wolf.

Two noble youths were chosen from (the two named) ancestral families of Rome to lead the hunt, the Luperci in their riotous pilgrimage through and around the city boundaries. At the Lupercal altar, Vestal Virgins offered salted meal-cakes as a priest of the Luperci sacrificed a male goat and a dog. The foreheads of the two youths were anointed with blood from the sacrificial knife, then wiped clean with wool soaked in milk.

Thongs (known as februa) were cut from the flayed skin of the goat, whereupon the two youths, now adopting the role of wolves, were obliged to break out a peel of laughter, braying loudly as they began their hunt, scattering citizens everywhere as they rampaged, near naked, herding everyone to and from the boundaries of Rome, beating upon everyone they encountered with the thin strips of goatskin, purged under the aegis of Juno/Hera’s sacred goatskin mantle, they each wore. After completion of their circuit along the old Palatine boundary, in an anticlockwise direction around the hill, they returned to the Lupercal cave.

Lupercalia served to remind its citizens of their salvation from savagery and the primitive Sabian and Etruscan pastoralism of Rome founders and ancestors. As simple shepherds and goat herders, they were easy prey to the hunter, vulnerable to predators such as the wolves. In other words, it celebrated Arcadia as the mythical ancestral realm. Italic tradition associates the wolf with the Underworld, the ancestral realms. From the study of funerary reliefs, we can link the Lupercalia with the traditions of the dead, indeed the luperci themselves came to represent their returning ancestors.

Related image

Deemed essential to Rome’s continued safety and well-being, the Lupercalia festival initially occurred alongside traditional and Christian festivals. Despite the banning in 391CE of all non-Christian cults and festivals, Lupercalia clearly continued to propitiate the archaic land spirits and ancestral guardians of the city.

[Text copyright of shani oates, taken from ‘The Wild Hunt’ pending publication. Images are from wiki commons]

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~ by meanderingsofthemuse on February 14, 2019.

One Response to “Lupercalia- Another Ancestral Tradition misunderstood!”

  1. Nice article Shani, it still amazes me how much the modern (religious) ways still celebrate the old, yet with a supposed modern view, overlaying the supposed, outlawed or banned pagan ways . even if the reasons and dates have been changed.

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