Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Werewolf holidays: Lupercalia

One of the werewolf holidays and celebrations of this new discussion is Lupercalia. Today is it tied with Valentine's Day, an exchange of gifts, cards, flowers, food, all tokens of love, and a reminder of one's beloveds.  For Lupercalia, the werewolf holiday, it is also a season to cherish ones mate with gifts and affection. It's also a time to be on heat and look for a partner.

In ancient times, Lupercalia began in Italy and it started as a holiday to celebrate the goddess Luperca. Her alternative name is Lupa. This goddess is a great she-wolf, who nurtured, fed, raised twin baby boys Romuls and Remus, the sons of Mars, god of war. As the Wolf was most a sacred animal to Mars, and the woodpecker the most sacred bird to Mars, both the mother wolf goddess and a spirit woodpecker helped to adopt and nurse the infants.

The biological mother of the two baby boys was Rhea Silvia, a beautiful priestess of the goddess Vesta, who swore an oath to celibacy. The god Mars loved her and impregnated her during a visit, and she bore the twins. (There is a confusion to the tale that the father might've been Hercules). Her father and uncle had her and the twins sent to death as punishment for breaking her chastity vows. Rhea Silvia was to be buried alive, and in other versions she and her sons were placed in a box and thrown in a river to drown.  The boys and their mother was rescued by Tiberinus, a river deity who found the box caught among twigs of a fig tree. He later married Rhea Silvia.

The children were raised by the motherly she-wolf Lupa/Luperca in her warm cave inlaid with leaves and herbs. The wolf goddess had a cult that identified her as a protectress and mate of the wolf god Lupercus. She has also been confused with Acca Larentia, a goddess of sexuality and considered a prostitute, but she might've been a local fertility goddess Dea Dia, who was lesser version of the goddess Ceres.  She was the famous goddess of growth, nurturing, creation, fertility, agriculture, fruit, motherhood, seed corn, and also guardian of the underworld. Her characteristics include nursing of children and it's possible that Lupa the She-Wolf was Ceres in disguise.

The two boys Romulus and Remus become shepherds when they left the cave. They are both soon identified by rivals as the missing sons of Rhea Silvia and taken before their granduncle the king. After arrests and threats of death, both brothers escape after killing their evil grand uncle and are offered a throne. They locate a new site to build their own kingdom after having a spiritual vision of six vultures, and became the founders of Rome. Today the symbol of Rome is a she-wolf who raised the founders of Rome. The animal sacred to Italy is a wolf.

The celebration of Lupercalia or "Wolf Festival" is far older than Rome itself anyway. It was over the three days from the 13th February, 14th February and to the 15th February, in honour of the wolf gods Lupercus and Lupa, who would protect the people and domestic animals from malicious spirits. Around this time, goats and dogs were sacrificed, and priestesses prepared cakes as offerings. It was a time mostly celebrated by peasants, farmers and shepherds, who needed the help, power and protection of the wolf gods. During the 5th Century, the pagan celebration was outlawed and Christianised, made into Valentine's Day in celebration of Saint Valentine held on 14th February, as it is what it's known today.

Now this day is mainly linked with romance and love hearts but there are strange aspects. In some parts of Europe, Valentine's Day is about the protection of honey, plants, vineyards, seeds and fields, and considered the time when Spring is about to wake up, animals leaving their hibernation and bees and butterflies returning. It has fertility connotations and positive reminders that the sun is coming back to lighten and warm the land again. For lycanthropes, therianthropes and werewolves, Lupercalia Day is a holiday of love and blessing the soil.


Art is by Jen Philpot
The Roman festival Lupercalia

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