“From Your Valentine”
ON February 14 in the year 270 C.E., a young Roman named Valentine was beaten and beheaded because he would not renounce Christianity. To the little daughter of the jailer who had charge over him and who had befriended him, he left a note. He signed the note, “From your Valentine.” For centuries thereafter the phrase “from your Valentine” meant only friendship. But around the year 1400 it took on a new meaning.
Many centuries before this the early Greeks believed that the deity Pan was the god of the flocks and shepherds. Greek myth says that when Pan was born he was full grown, with horns, beard, goat’s feet and a tail. The arts picture him as a voluptuous, sensual, dancing creature. With the rise of the Roman Empire, Pan was adopted by Rome as their god Faunus, also called Lupercus. His wife Luperca, in the form of a she-wolf, was supposed to have nursed Romulus and Remus, the founders and builders of the ancient city of Rome.
The priests that served in the temple of this demon god were known as Luperci. Clothed only in goatskins, in mid-February these priests went about striking women with goatskin thongs, claiming it would promote fertility. Other mystic and sexual rites of this ancient spring love festival included the giving of young women to men by a sort of lottery. The names of girls were shaken up in a box and drawn by the men.
All of this went on, of course, many centuries before young Valentine signed his note to his little friend, “From your Valentine.” When the Catholic Church rose up and began taking over the control of Rome, it absorbed practically all the pre-Christian feasts of Greece and Rome, and included in these was this spring love festival of the Greek god Pan. And in keeping with the Catholic Church’s practice of giving Christian garb to cover over the pagan origins of such feasts, it dubbed this one St. Valentine’s Day.
Certain embellishments were added. The game was enlarged by letting girls, in turn, draw boys’ names out of the box. The one chosen became the Valentine for one year of the one choosing. During the Middle Ages Valentine’s eve and the day following, February 14, were celebrated with much the same sensual frolicking that characterized the original pagan festival. Cupid, the god of fertility pictured as a winged boy or youth, added his bow-and-arrow activities to the occasion. During the last century Valentine cards with their lace trimmings and sentimental verses were introduced to dress up the old mythologies.
So goes the travesty, the linking of young Valentine’s tender sentiments of friendship with a small child to the fertility rites of ancient demon gods and goddesses.