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The Tradition of Valentine's Day

The  interesting tradition of Valentine's Day is believed to have originated from the pagan customs of the Third Century or Fourth Century B.C., when the Parentalia and Feralia Festivals of Purification were celebrated in Ancient Rome between February 13 and February 18. This was also the time of a Fertility Festival which celebrated a young man's rite of passage and involved animal sacrifices and fertility rituals. February 13, the opening day of the festivals, was dedicated to peace, love and household goods. February 14, the second day of Parentalia was called the Lupercalia...a day some sources believe was dedicated to Juno-Lupa, the She-Wolf. Priests known as luperci from two colleges (Quintillii and Fabii) would meet at the Cave of Lupercal in the Palatine Hill, where a she-wolf was said to have nursed Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome. Vestal Virgins would offer holy salt cakes and the priests would sacrifice a dog and a goat, smearing the animal blood onto the foreheads of youths of noble birth who, clad only in a goatskin thong, later led a band of revelers known as the luperci in the performance of such antics as whipping fields of crops and bystanders with a goatskin strip (known as the februa). Women gently lashed in such a fashion were thought to become fertile...even those known to be barren. The act of such lashings or whippings was known as februatio...both this word and the word februa come from the Latin meaning "to purify." The naming of the month of February is believed to have originated from this meaning. February 15 (the Ides of February) was the second day of Lupercal and the third day of Parentalia...a day some sources believe was dedicated to Juno Februata or Juno the Fructifier, Roman Goddess of Women and Marriage. During the Luperci, the names of willing young women were placed into a box or urn and drawn by lot by every young, unmarried man. The youths and maidens who were thus matched would be considered partners during the course of the coming year, which began in March. Although such matches were generally for sexual gratification, it was not unusual for the pairings to eventaully culminate in marriage.
According to other sources, the tradition of Valentine's Day is derived from a time when hordes of ravenous wolves roamed the immense wilderness area outside Rome where shepherds (the city's earliest inhabitants) kept their flocks. The God Lupercus (from the Latin lupus meaning "wolf") was believed to watch over the herdsmen and their animals and keep them safe from the hungry predators. Every February, in this scenario, the Romans celebrated a feast (also known as Lupercalia) to honor Lupercus in order that no harm would come to the shepherds and their flocks. This celebration continued to be held long after wolves no longer presented a problem to the Roman countryside. Yet another theory on the ceremonial source of this day is that the festival was actually held to honor Faunus who, like the Greek God Pan, was a God of Herds and Crops. As is apparent, the true origin of this festival is so ancient, that even scholars of the Last Century B.C. were unable to officially determine its roots with any degree of certainty. However, there is no question about the importance of the ceremony. Records show that Mark Anthony was Master of the Luperci Colleges of Priests and chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44 B.C. as the proper time for the offering of the crown to Julius Caesar.

With the advent of Christianity, priests attempted to replace such ancient heathen practices. In the Fifth Century A.D., the Church resolved to abolish this pagan celebration by creating its own holiday around the same date and selecting a saint who was remembered for his devotion to love. In A.D. 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the Lupercian Festival, but cleverly retained the Juno Februata lottery. However, in order to lend the festivities Christian meaning and eliminate the pagan overtones, the drawing of saints' names were substituted for the names of unmarried girls. The names were placed into an urn or box and then young people (both male and female) drew a name from the container. During year which followed, the youths and maidens were supposed to emulate the life of the Saint whose name they had drawn. It took some time for this new tradition to garner popularity, but eventually more and more Romans relinquished the Lupercian ceremonies. Nonetheless, young Roman males, who had been hoping to meet potential mates during the time of the Festival, were not totally satisfied with now having a lottery of saints' names instead, and insituted their own custom of offering women whom they admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. By the Fourteenth Century, the Church had reverted back to the use of of girls' names. During the Sixteenth Century, Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geveva, made another attempt was made to institute Saintly Valentines, but it proved equally (of not more) unsuccessful as the first and was certainly shorter-lived. Eventually, the Church looked for a suitable Patron Saint of Love to take the place of the heathen Lupercus. They found an appropriate choice in Saint Valentine.
D
urording to legend, Cupid's arrows come in two varieties: the Golden Arrow, which generally signifies true love, and the Leaden Arrow, which represents wanton and sensual passion. He is also known to sometimes carry a torch with which to inflame desire between men and women. Cupid is not always successful in his endeavors, however. Sometimes his arrows turn people away from those who fall in love with them. In some mythological tales, Venus was scratched by one of Cupid's arrows while playing with her son, the result being that the Godddess fell instantly in love with Adonis...the first man she saw after receiving the wound.
According to some sources, Cupid (as Eros) arose out of Chaos, along with Tartarus and Earth (making him one of the oldest Gods), only later becoming associated with Aphrodite as her winged son. The mingling of Eros (who, in this instance, was considered to have no parents) with Chaos is said to have created the race of birds. In certain mythological tales, it is stated that there was no race of immortals before Eros caused all things to mingle. Other legends maintain that Eros hatched from an egg laid by Nyx, also known as Night. Cherubs are also believed to be descendants of Cupid. Depicted as loveable little winged creatures devoid of either arrows or quivers, cherubs are typically not mischievous, as is their infamous alleged ancestor.
Th
e most well-known legend concerning Eros details his love for the mortal princess, Psyche, who was so beautiful that people began paying homage to her...homage that was due only to Aphrodite. The Goddess of Love soon found her altars deserted while men turned their devotion to Psyche, the young virgin. Calling upon her winged son, Eros, Aphrodite instructed him to cause Psyche to fall in with the ugliest creature he could find. But, when Eros set eyes upon Psyche, he himself fell in love and forgot his mother's command. They became lovers...although Eros forbade Psyche ever to look upon him.
Psyche was happy until her two sisters persuaded her to unmask the identity of this mysterious sweetheart. Eros, fearing what Aphrodite might do to him now that his secret was out in the open, departed from Psyche...their lovely castle and gardens vanishing with him...and Psyche found herself alone in an open field.

As she wandered in search of her love, Psyche came upon the Temple of Aphrodite. Wishing to destroy her, the Goddess of Love gave Psyche a series of tasks, each harder and more dangerous than the one before. For her last task, Psyche was given a little box and told to take it to the Underworld, where she was to obtain some of the beauty of Persephone, the wife of Hades, and put it in the box.

Ding the medieval era of chivalry, the names of English maidens and bachelors were put into boxes and drawn out in pairs. Each couple exchanged gifts and the girl became the man's sweetheart for a year. He wore her name on his sleeve and was bound by duty to attend and protect her (the accepted origin of the phrase, "to wear one's heart on one's sleeve"). This old custom of drawing names was considered a good omen for love and often foretold a wedding. In 1537, King Henry VIII declared, by Royal Charter, that all England would celebrate February 14 as "Saint Valentine's Day" and with the passage of time, February 14 became the traditional date for exchanging love messages and simple gifts (such as flowers or candy), with Saint Valentine becoming the accepted Patron Saint of Lovers.Cupid, Roman God of Love and perhaps the most famous of all Valentine symbols, has always played a role in the celebration of romance. As the son of Venus, he is often depicted as a mischievous, winged child whose arrows pierce the hearts of his victims, causing them to fall in love. Cupid is derived from the Latin word cupido, which means "desire." His Greek counterpart is Eros (from whom comes the word "erotic"), young son of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty, and Ares, God of War. In Greek mythology, Eros has a brother named Anteros, sometimes represented as the Avenger of Slighted Love and sometimes depicted as the symbol of Reciprocal Affection.
Accuring her journeys, Psyche had been given advice on avoiding the dangers to be found in the Realm of the Dead and also cautioned not to open the box, but temptation overcome her and she ignored the warnings. Instead of finding beauty, however, Psyche found deadly slumber. When Eros discovered his beloved lying lifeless upon the ground, he gathered the perpetual sleep from Psyche's body and returned it to the box.

Aphrodite was persuaded to forgive Psyche and Zeus, moved by Psyche's love for Eros, made her immortal, agreeing that the lovers could be united for all eternity. In due time, a daughter was born to them and they named her Volupta, which means "Pleasure."
The fable of Eros and Psyche is usually considered allegorical. The Greek name for a butterfly is "psyche" and the same word means the "soul." Thus, Psyche represents the human soul which, purified by sufferings and misfortunes, is prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness. In works of art, Psyche is often depicted as a maiden with the wings of a butterfly.

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