A Look Into The Pagan Origins Of Valentine’s Day

Ashley Ryan, aka “Pythian Priestess”, the host of The Occult Unveiled Podcast.

By Ashley Ryan

Many of our modern holidays evolved for thousands of years from pagan origins.

Valentine’s Day is no exception. 

While most people connect this modern holiday to its roots in Christianity, named after Saint Valentine, many historians believe the day originated from the Roman pagan festival of purification and fertility called “Lupercalia.” 

In ancient Rome, the calendar year was only ten months, with February being the last month of the year. February or “Februa” means purification. “Lupercalia,” the festival of purification, celebrated from February 13th to February 15th, took place before the Roman new year. This festival included animal sacrifice, random coupling, and lacerations of women in honor of the mythological founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. 

On the last Day, February 15, priests known as “Luperci” (brothers of the wolf) would gather at a sacred cave called “The Lupercal.” Tradition held that the she-wolf (Lupa) suckled Romulus and Remus in The Lupercal.

This ritual the priestess conducted was to purify the earth, the city, and its people. The vestal virgin priestesses prepared an offering of salted meal cakes. Then the blood sacrifice was made of a male goat and a dog. (Why a dog? “Lupus” is the she-wolf who nurtured both Romulus and Remus, and a dog is the enemy of the wolf.)

The High Priest would use the sacrificial knife to anoint the priest’s forehead with the animal’s blood. Then the blood was wiped with milk and wool. Following this, the priests were expected to laugh. However, there is no apparent reason; some suspect an occult reason. Maybe the priests must laugh in the face of death or laugh for the joy of purification. 

The Luperci would then turn the goat’s hide into strips, or “thongs,” and take to the streets naked, slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide, bringing them purity. Although barbaric to us, this was not a fearful activity; it was done with sport and laughter!

In Plutarch’s description of the Lupercalia, a Greek philosopher, he says many noble Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because they believed it would make them more fertile in the coming year.

According to legend, there was also a matchmaking festival! The young and unmarried women in the city would place their names in a big urn at the start of the festival. The city’s bachelors would then pull out a woman’s name from the jar, and the pair would be coupled together for the duration of Lupercalia. Some couples fell in love and got married.

It wasn’t until the fifth century AD that Pope Gelasius I banned Lupercalia. Later in 496 AD, the Catholic Church declared February 14 a day to feast and celebrate the life of the martyred Saint Valentine, who was said to have been executed on February 14, 269 AD.

But how did we go from whipping women with “thongs” to Cupid and arrows?

The idea that Valentine’s Day is for lovers is thought to originate in the late 14th century with the poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls when a group of birds gather on “Valentine’s Day” to pick their mates for the new year.

Chaucer also wrote in the Boke of Cupide and the Knight’s Tale, expressing awe of the God of Love, Cupid!

Cupid is the Roman God of Desire and Love, traditionally depicted as a young man who would sharpen his arrows on a grindstone whetted with blood from an infant.

During the Victorian era, when business owners wanted to promote Valentine’s Day as more suitable for women and children, they presented Cupid as a chubby baby. 

In celebration of this Lupercalia, my podcast, The Occult Unveiled, is launching Season 4 with a special episode of “Love, Sex, & The Occult.” 

Penny Slinger joins me to discuss her surrealistic work exploring the relationship between sexuality, Eastern mysticism, and the female psyche. Penny has written books that inspire me, including Sexual Secrets and The Path of the Mystic Lover. She shares how the Hindu culture contextualize sex as the road to enlightenment and bonding. 

We are also joined on the podcast by one of my students, Danielle, from Pythian Mystery School, and her newlywed wife. They share details about their handfasting ritual and how they incorporate magick into their marriage and wedding ritual. 

You can listen to this episode on Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, February 14, available on our website or wherever you get your podcasts!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ashley Ryan is the host of The Occult Unveiled podcast, an award-winning screenwriter, producer, and personality who illuminates the little-understood aspects of philosophy, theology, history, and Western esotericism. Ashley Ryan spent half her life silently practicing and studying the occult under a veil of secrecy. In 2019, she went public becoming a popular occult expert and witch influencer known as Pythian Priestess (TikTok @pythianpriestess and Instagram @pythianpriestess). Ashley makes it her mission as a Priestess to assist those searching for spiritual guidance to emerge from behind their veils.

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