Not in the ancient world where the importance of the month sacred to Februus, an Etruscan god, was fruitfulness.  And to the Romans it was a “month of purification.”

February really means “purification.”  It comes from the Latin Februum, “to atone” or “to purify by sacrifice.”  And that was exactly the purpose of the popular Roman holiday called the Lupercalia which was held each February 15th until Christianity edged it out.

After goats and a dog had been sacrificed to Faunus (or Lupercus), a half-man, half-goat fertility god; priests donned the skins of the slain animals, then ran around one of Rome’s sacred hills, the Palatine, carrying the goat-hide strips called Februa.

Women who wanted to become pregnant turned their backs as the priests came by or held out their hands to receive lashes with the Februa.  This February rite insured fruitfulness for people, crops, and cattle.

Whether or not it was successful, the Lupercalia disappeared – first transmuted in AD 494 into the Catholic Feast of Purification and later into St. Valentine’s Day.  But February is still with us and still means “month of purification.”

© 1996 – 2009  The Writers Drawer

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