Monthly Columns

Lupercalia: The Ancient Pagan Roots of Valentine’s Day

What is Lupercalia?


It’s a chilly February day, and snow is coming down in my neck of the woods as I write this. I look out my window, seeing the snow fall and am dreaming of warm summer days returning, and my trip to Southern California late last Summer. But, amidst my daydreams, I see a bit of hope; Imbolc is typically when Neo-Pagans celebrate the returning strength of the Sun, and the coming of Spring. For me, Imbolc is about healing, and reconnecting to your inner child/maiden, regardless of gender identity. Lupercalia, celebrated on February 15th, is more focused on love, in all its forms. In my personal practice, Lupercalia is the “follow-up” to Imbolc, embracing the energy of the Great Mother. In her most primal form, I see her as a grey wolf; I see her as The Wolf Mother of Rome, Lupa, whom Lupercalia celebrates.

To sum up what Lupercalia is, we need to examine the mythological founding of Rome. Romulus and Remus, two brothers of royalty who were cast out and whom assassins attempted to kill, was rescued by a Wolf at the edge of the River Tiber. She nursed them with her milk, and took them into the cave for safety, raising them and molding them into their destiny. This, of course, was only possible after her fierce protection of the babies from the assassins, scaring them off. This is a short and summarized version of the myth, but it will be enough for our purposes here. Lupa’s unconditional love, the love of a mother, the love of our Mother Earth, is what, according to this myth, helped shape what would be the Roman Empire. Regardless of how you feel about the Romans, and I myself tend to oscillate between fascination and reverence, and disgust, with this Ancient Empire’s actions over time, we can glean a great lesson about divinity, and ourselves from this. Men would go to the cave of Lupa, and run the streets naked, flogging women they wanted to have relations with (an ancient version of our Modern Valentine’s Cards). Lupercalia was, and is a celebration of love; we’ve discussed the unconditional love Lupa showed for two Human babies she didn’t know. Let’s try to get a larger lesson out of this holiday, shall we?


The Bigger Lesson in Lupercalia, and Valentine’s Day

What about divine love in our lives? Sure, there’s tons of love goddesses to choose from, some of the most popular being: Aphrodite, Venus, Ishtar, Frigga and Freya. We can embrace love in all its forms with these wonderful goddesses, but I think that’s limiting in terms of divine love. Sometimes, love is harsh; I’ve had deities give me a quick kick in the a** when I needed it. Was it harsh, and a little mean, at the time? Sometimes, yes, but that’s what we need as humans. I don’t believe that our troubles and worries fall on deaf ears with the Gods and Goddesses. It’s simply a matter of whether or not they can and want to help.

Lupa entered my life at a chaotic time; I had lost a position doing readings at a metaphysical shop in my area, which I had excelled at for over two years, over petty ego’s clashing and power struggles. Fear of what I knew and what I could accomplish was the root of it. I had curses cast on me, and the Evil Eye sent my way, by people I had at one time considered friends, and family. My destiny was being messed with, and Lupa made her entrance.

I’m an eclectic Pagan, meaning I worship and work with a variety of deities from numerous cultures; however, I started out practicing Roman and Hellenic Paganism, so Lupa had an entrance to my life via Diana. She first occurred to me in a dream: I was lost in a forest, when a terrible thunderstorm broke out. I sought refuge under a Fig Tree, near a river bank. At the time, I didn’t know the significance of this, but I soon would.

A quick lightning flash, and BAM! Lupa appears from behind an oak tree that was struck by lightning (a sign Zeus was ordaining this encounter). She says nothing, but urges me to follow her, wounded, weak and weary, to her cave, for shelter. Once there, I saw a fire, cave paintings from a time before man had become civilized, and other wolves of varying color and species. A loud “awhoo” at a lightning strike cemented that I was exactly where I needed to be. Lupa changed from her wolf form, to that of a beautiful mother figure, with flowing brunette hair and caring, honey golden eyes. She spoke to me: “Your destiny cannot be undone, even by those who seek to use your power for their own, nefarious ends. Rest in my cave as long as you need to, whenever you need to. The other wolves here are of your pack, and, over time, you will meet them in this plane, and in the physical world. You will become a King in your own right, and have domain over your life once more. Do not despair, for this betrayal marks the beginning of something new, and something greater than you could possibly imagine.” She then faded, and I was alone in the cave, sheltered from the thunderstorm, keeping warm near the fire. Over the following days and weeks, and eventually months, a series of powerful transformations would take place in my life, leading me to some of the biggest blessings my life has seen.


A Mother’s Love

Motherly love is something I find we all need, in all stages of our lives. Whether we’re sick, heartbroken, or in my case, spiritually, physically and emotionally attacked, we could all use the loving devotion and healing of a mother figure in our lives. Sometimes, a physical mother figure can’t provide those things; in my case, my mother is very much alive and well. We don’t share the same spiritual beliefs, and this was a situation in which I couldn’t make it understandable to her what was actually happening. So, I embarked on a journey to meet more Mother Goddesses. Lupa was only one of many since then that I’ve come into contact with, without even calling out to them.

What area, or what in your life, could use the tender touch of a mother goddess? Perhaps you’re spending this Valentine’s Day alone, or have recently gone through a breakup? Or, maybe there’s so many things in your life you feel aren’t going right, you don’t know where to turn, what to do next, or even how to get moving on a day-to-day basis. Whatever is going on in your life, rest assured, that the any of the Mother Goddesses can help. Do some research, find ones that you feel drawn to naturally, and call out to them for help. Build a devotional practice. The Mother Goddesses can only enrich your life; that much, I can assure you.


So, why Lupercalia? Why Valentine’s Day?

Lupercalia is a chance to not only remember Lupa’s brave act of unconditional love, but also a day to celebrate love in all its forms. Love isn’t what we see in Hallmark movies; it can be ugly, it can be beautiful, and everything in between. I believe Lupa embodies the spiritual love that we Pagans so often look for when things get rough. As we’ve discussed, Lupercalia was celebrated by the Ancient Romans, with men running the streets naked, and lightly whipping ladies who they wanted to have relations with. Some of these escapades from Lupercalia even turned into full-blow marriages. The theme of love running free and wild is another facet of this wonderful holiday-and deity: our own, inner wilderness being allowed to roam free.

Valentine’s Day is the Modern equivalent of Lupercalia, even though much of the symbolism of the former has been lost over time, subsumed into the latter’s imagery of hearts, red, white and pink. Those colors, and the same themes, come from Lupercalia; how can we, as Modern Pagans, living in a Modern World, embrace this holiday? Certainly, I don’t expect men and women to run the streets naked, flogging each other to consummate a relationship. But, perhaps, we could call on the collective love that is abundant within nature, the universe, and ourselves. After all, The Age of Aquarius is upon is, isn’t it? Venus enters Aquarius on the 16th, conjoining Mercury, Mars, and Pluto there. Expect major shake ups in many areas of your life, and relationships are sure to get a look over for improvements. Ditch the old ways you’ve viewed love. Step into the abundance of it that flows within the very water of the stream in your hometown, or the rain that falls to the Earth, nurturing and hydrating the soil to the many fauna and flora can thrive in the coming months. Start seeing love as abundant, and it will likewise be attracted to you. There’s no telling what will come to you once you do this. This was a lesson that I had to learn the hard way over the past year, and I’m sharing it now, at this time, to hopefully inspire and encourage others to do the same. As a matter of fact, I challenge others to do the same. So much happiness, inner power, peace and many blessings await those who do. Happy Valentine’s Day, and a blessèd Lupercalia to those who will celebrate with me.

For those wishing to develop a relationship with Lupa, I highly recommend Pagan Portals: Lupa: She-Wolf of Rome and Mother of Destiny by Rachel S. Roberts



About the Author:

Hello there! I’m the Modern Merlin, and I’ve been a Pagan, Witch, Sorcerer and Soothsayer for 15 years, worshipping and working with deities and spirits from many cultures, including Ancient Greece, Rome, Norse & Germanic, Celtic as well as Yoruba & Voodoo deities. I give readings and spiritual services on my Facebook Page, The Modern Merlin, as well other free informational posts for everyone to see!