[An updated version of a 2008 post, because it's Valentine's Day. Wishing you lots of delicious, sensual delights.]
Much has been shared about the history of the modern Valentine's Day, celebrated in Westernized cultures as a holiday of love (or friendship, in some places) and symbolized by 'Valentine's Cards', flowers, chocolate, and romantic dinners.
If we want to explore the deeper meaning, and bring that energy into our current experience, we can take a look at how our ancient ancestors felt about and celebrated their version of Valentine's Day in mid-February.
Juno and Lupercalia in Ancient Rome
If you enjoy sleuthing beneath the surface for gems of delicious meaning, you'll find that the mid-February holiday that became known as Valentine's Day has its roots in the Roman's February celebrations of the Great Mother Goddess Juno and the festival of Lupercalia.
The February festivals in Rome, including Juno Februa and Lupercalia, were festivals that celebrated purification, health, the return of the light, or sun, both literally and metaphorically, and the return of the growing, or fertile, season.
Following the early-February cross-quarter festival (Imbolc, Candlemas), Juno Februa was a 'cleansing' festival or a time of purification ... what we might describe as clearing out the clutter or releasing the dross, the non-essential, and/or that which blocked or negated spiritual experience and realization.
No prudes, they, though they did seem to occasionally fly headlong into outright excess -- I mean, seriously, they even had 'vomitoriums' so that a full stomach didn't stop them. Woo hoo!
Most accounts refer to these Roman festivals as the precursors to or the origins of our Valentine's Day, but the Roman culture featured myths and religious references that had far older roots, even if some or many are lost in antiquity.
For example, some reference has been made to a 20th century B.C. Persian 'day of love' in what would be mid-February to us. Perhaps that's the earlier tradition that brought us those 'risk everything for Love' mystic-poets, Rab'ia, Rumi, and Hafiz.
There is a long, long lineage of many of these myths and festivals, adopted and customized by conquering or evolving cultures, and more than a few center around deep gratefulness and celebration for love, and for the returning light, fertile soils and wombs, and warming sunshine in the lengthening days.That's luscious.
Even now, we can find reason to celebrate such things, and our ancestors had even more reason to do so. Gratitude and Love, after all, require no specific religion and yet are among the central tenets of many. Without them, life seems lackluster.
When Rome became Christianized, unbridled passion and fertility rites in the public square (or anywhere else, for that matter) were frowned upon, to say the least.
And so, as often happened with the emerging Roman religion, pagan holidays and themes were appropriated and Christianized to aid conversions, with the pagan god or goddess replaced or Christianized into a Saint, the sacred site decorated with a church, and the revelry replaced by a much more somber, much less sensual tone.
Enter St. Valentine, for whom there are several references of origin, the favored one being a bishop who secretly married young lovers when the Roman Claudius II outlawed marriage to more conveniently draft men into the Roman armies without pining away for beloveds left behind. Other stories have him martyred for refusing to bail on his Christian affiliations. Either way, needless to say, that didn't go well for Bishop Valentinus.
Later, in the tradition of flowery and courtly love that resurfaced for a bright, shining moment between the Dark Ages and the Inquisitions, the version of romanticism we might recognize today was born -- some accounts credit Geoffrey Chaucer, though perhaps other poets and troubadours were singing such themes as well.
And 'valentines', chocolates, and flowers found their way into our contemporary times.
At the heart of it, it's about Love...and Sensuality.
Ultimately, we find ourselves back to the core of it: a holiday celebrating Love and luscious sensuality.
We can enjoy this on a purely material-sensual level -- with chocolates, flowers, and sweet words and kisses exchanged with our beloveds. We can spread the Big-Love to other valentines, too, who bring joy and love into our lives.
And we can align with our heart-power and vibe it out into the world. That feels pretty good, too.
And a creative eco-conscious challenge: make the gift-giving more meaningful by buying local artisan-crafted or homegrown ones, or making them yourself as a meditation of Love.
Or we can celebrate Valentine's Day, one of the days in February's festivals of purification and returning light and Love, by reflecting, meditating on, cultivating, and expressing the value and virtue of Love, loving-kindness and its relations. Or, gladly, we can do both.
Wishing you loads of Divinely Inspired Love, sustainably grown flowers, delicious foods, sensual oils (gotta have 'em!), and really yummy fair-trade chocolate to all (check out NibMor - soooo good).
Ever devoted to the path of the Heart and the Big Love (and sensuality),
Image Credits: heart from Pixabella; Roman festing (romanempire.net); and Tristan & Isolde from John William Waterhouse.