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Lupercalian Valentine’s Day

It’s Hearts ‘n’ Flowers time again, or maybe it’s Whips ‘n’ Floggers time for you. Whatever your fantasy or fetish—unless you live by yourself in an igloo with no wireless, or somehow manage to steer clear of love and sex the rest of the year—it’s futile to resist around Valentine’s Day.  Images of ideal love surround you: the soft-lit couples embracing, kissing or strolling on a sunset beach, baby cupids fluttering around them, candy hearts dripping with cream, dashing young men slipping gleaming diamond rings on feminine fingers, lovely young ladies gazing adoringly up (always up!) into their one guy’s eyes, lush lips parted in a sweetly suggestive “O”.

These images simultaneously make you feel good and bad. You feel good, because who but a romantic zombie isn’t turned on by all that fluttering, embracing and dripping cream? Bad, because real-life love rarely measures up to the Valentine ideal—at least not in that gauzy goody-goody eternally youthful way, plus all that candy just puts on weight. As we so often confront in this bloggamy: The Ideal is the Enemy of the Real.

The Saint Valentine Day Hallmark Fantasy

Consider that Valentine’s Day as we know it is based upon a capitalist’s fairy tale. The High Holiday of Love was essentially concocted by the 19th century American greeting card industry.  To increase card sales, Hallmark’s predecessors spun a romantic tale of a Christian martyr we now know as Saint Valentine who married young couples secretly and illegally in pagan Rome, where mean old Emperor Claudius had forbidden his soldiers to marry.  In reality, there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine, and there’s no real evidence that any of them did anything remotely like this. But the Ideal is often more compelling than the Real. As the story usually goes, after Saint Valentine was arrested and refused to recant Christianity, he was condemned to death. While imprisoned, he healed his jailer’s blind daughter, who fell in love with him. Before he was executed, on February 14 (of course), he left the girl a farewell note, which she could now see and read (thanks to his saintly ophthalmological skills), signed “your Valentine.” If that sounds Hollywood, it’s because it’s just as much make-believe.

It also makes you feel horribly left out if you don’t happen to have a very special someone, a “Valentine” of your own, upon whom you can spend limitless cash (Xmas, birthdays, anniversaries or Valentine’s Day, that’s always your purpose, according to the Hallmark holidaymakers).  If you are fortunate enough to have a beloved Valentine and a few discretionary pesos to spend, the pressure on the two of you to make this day and night awesomely romantic is intense and debilitating, often turning otherwise happy homes into Saint Valentine’s Day Massacres (emotionally speaking) by February 15.

It’s enough to make you want to whack someone, maybe even your special someone.

Whip it Up for Lupercalia!

The idea of celebrating exclusive, romanticLOVE on what we call Valentine’s Day is a relatively new invention. But the tradition of honoring all-inclusive, natural LUST around February 14 pre-dates classical times when Ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia, an archaic festival of the now obscure old shepherd god Lupercus (or perhaps Faunus, the Roman Pan), and a celebration of communal sexuality, purification, fertility, the rush of hormones, the howl of the wolf, the crack of the whip and the coming of Spring.

Several millennia before anyone even contemplated the initials BDSM, Lupercalia (or The Lupercalia) celebrated the joy of communal erotic whipping.  According to this custom, on or around February 14th, two colleges of pagan priests, the Luperci Quintilii (founded by Romulus) and the Luperci Fabii (founded by Remus) met at a cave called the Lupercal at the foot of the Palatine hill in Rome. It was here that the she-wolf (Lupe) is said to have suckled the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, after their uncle had ordered them tossed into the Tiber.  The priests would sacrifice a goat or two and anoint the foreheads of several of the community’s most virile young men, the Lupercii, with goat’s blood and milk, at which the young men were expected to laugh uproariously.  Then it appears that they all stripped naked, cut leather thongs from the goat’s skin, used one thong to gird their loins and made whips with the other pieces.  At this point, they got very drunk and ran through the streets, joyously brandishing their Lupercalian leather thongs, whipping the young ladies who were also probably quite drunk, and would gladly offer up their behinds for the “blessing” of being lightly flogged, often accompanied by “much rowdiness and horseplay.”

So apparently, the idea of celebrating Valentine’s Day with whips and floggers is even more traditional than hearts ‘n’ flowers. The ancient Romans believed that such gentle whips, flogging (and maybe a little light spanking?) ensured fertility. Not as scientific as an IVF clinic, but it probably did whip the local populace up into a frenzy for sex. And in this bloggamist’s humble opinion, all that blatantly sexual whipping and flogging is a lot more interesting than candy hearts and paper cards.

Seems it was a little too interesting for the early Catholic Church which squelched Lupercalian enthusiasm by not only making the holiday illegal, but placing the more Church-friendly, relatively chaste celebration of Valentine’s Day right on or around the same day, as well as appropriating as its signature hue the classic Lupercalian color of goat’s blood smeared on human skin: red.

Not that there’s anything wrong with red hearts and roses, or lovers enjoying a candlelit Valentine’s dinner for two followed by gifts, candy and hours of intimate lovemaking–if you can even move after all that dinner and candy.

As for my beloved husband of 20 years and me, we will be honoring the “Feast of Saint Valentine” by opening our “Speakeasy” to a Lupercalian celebration with whips, floggers, no pressure to be “in love” (unless you just are), but lots of opportunity to feel the love and an erotic sense of community.  Of course, unlike the old Roman Lupercalia, we will probably have at least as many ladies whipping and whacking the menfolk as vice versa, plus same-gender whacking.  It’s the Bonobo Way.

What’s with all the whacking?  It’s fun!  It’s safe sex. And if you stick to the buttocks, it’s difficult to do damage.  But it’s more than that.  If love is going to hurt—as it so often does, despite all the flowery cards and candy fantasies—around Valentine’s Day, then you might be better off getting your buns beaten than your heart broken.

So if the sugary soft-sell of Valentine’s Day hype is giving you a toothache, consider whipping up a little Lupercalia yourself this season.

Dr. SUSAN BLOCK is an internationally renowned LA sex therapist and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels.  Commit Bloggamy with her at http://drsusanblock.com/blog/  Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzy. Email comments to her at liberties@blockbooks.com

© Feb. 10, 2011.

Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is a world renowned LA sex therapist, author of The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure and horny housewife, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. For information and speaking engagements, call 626-461-5950. Email her at drsusanblock@gmail.com  

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