The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Donna Henes Headshot

Valentine's Day: Ancient Festival Of Sexual Frenzy

Posted: Updated:

Valentine's Day has its roots in ancient orgiastic festivals. On February 14, The Romans celebrated Febris (meaning fever), a sacred sexual frenzy in honor of Juno Februa, an aspect of the goddess of amorous love. This sex fest coincided with the time when the birds in Italy were thought to mate.

The ecstatic rites of the Goddess merged over time with those of Lupercalia, the bawdy festivities in honor of the pagan god of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, Pan, which were observed on the following day, February 15.

On Lupercalia, (named, incidentally, in honor of the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus), men and women inscribed their names on love notes or billets and then drew lots to determine who their sex partner would be during this anything goes festival of erotic games.

Sulpicia, a first century BC Roman poet, describes her participation in the events with hearty candor:

"At last love has come. I would be more ashamed
to hide it in cloth than leave it naked.
I prayed to the Muse and won. Venus dropped him
in my arms, doing for me what she
had promised. Let my joy be told, let those
who have none tell it in a story.
Personally, I would never send off words
in sealed tablets for none to read.
I delight in sinning and hate to compose a mask
for gossip. We met. We are both worthy."

Naturally, the fathers of the early Christian Church outlawed the observance of Lupercalia as lewd and heathenish. However, they were quite unable to halt the practice. Eventually it was necessary to create a sainted martyr whose feast day would be observed on February 14th. In this way, the Church could sanction a celebration that it simply could not suppress.

There are, depending on the source, anywhere from three to eight Saint Valentines. Each has a conflicting biography concocted by a different author. But in every version he emerges as the patron of lovers, bowing to the original intention of the occasion.

The first St. Valentine's Day was celebrated in 468 AD. In the beginning, the Church attempted to institute the practice of exchanging billets printed with pious sermons and scripture to encourage a holy attitude. What a dry substitute for a physical experience of divine ecstasy that the people craved. Needless to say, the experiment failed on a grand scale.

By the fourteenth century, the celebration of Valentine's Day had lost all Christian content and had reverted back to the love fests of old, albeit, tempered by more than a thousand years of church-imposed morality built on the separation and opposition of body and soul. One now strove for perfection of the spirit through the repression of the body. Courtly love, which was chaste and pure, was the ideal in the Middle Ages.

Valentine greetings have their roots in the love billets exchanged at Lupercalia, though the very first love letter was written on a clay tablet some four thousand years ago. It was signed, "your loving wife who has had a child."

Charles Duc d'Orléans is credited as being one of the early creators of modern valentines. Confined in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he sent his wife, "poetical or amorous addresses," that is, rhymed love letters. Friendship cards were extremely popular in eighteenth century Germany.

The first American valentines were crude sorts of homemade cards exchanged by the colonists, but in 1723, Valentine "writers" were imported from England. These booklets, which included many verses and messages that could be copied out onto fine gilt or decorative papers in fancy script, were DIY manuals for the creation of a much more sophisticated and finely crafted Valentine project. Commercially printed valentines were introduced in about 1800.

Today we still send each other Lupercalia billets inscribed with the names of our desired romantic partners. And these cards are still, thousands of years later, decorated with cupids and arrows, birds, flowers and hearts. These original symbols of Lupercalia have come down to us intact, but thoroughly sanitized of their original flesh and blood intensity.

The chubby Valentine cherub so familiar to us is an insipid and impoverished characterization of Cupid, the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Eros, the Hindu Kama. He was the son of the Roman Venus and Mercury, the Greek Aphrodite and Hermes. S/he was thus an Herm-Aphrodite, an embodiment of the duality and opposition of the heterosexual union.

The arrows that Cupid shoots are the phallus, the lingham. These projectiles of passion are usually depicted piercing the heart, a graphic image of penetration reminiscent of the arrows that the Hopi shoot into rounded, vulvic bundles of corn as a ceremonial gesture of fertility.

The other symbols are clear, but just what is this heart-shape supposed to signify, anyway? Certainly it bears no resemblance whatsoever to an anatomically correct actual heart.

The zoologist, Desmond Morris speculates that the heart symbol is reminiscent of a bending over buttocks, because our ancestor kissing cousins, the apes, do it from behind. Pulease! Spare me.

The horizontal-double-dip-cone-of-a-shape that we call a heart has to be two round breasts above the magical triangle of love -- a female torso. The heart symbolizes the tits and nether lips of the late Great Goddess, the lusty, busty patroness of the passionate heart, Herself. The archetypal love of our lives.

Let Her never be out of our hearts.