Cyprian, who stirs up sweet passion in the gods and subdues the
tribes of mortal men and birds that fly in air and all the many
creatures that the dry land rears, and all the sea: all these
love the deeds of rich-crowned Cytherea.
(Homeric Hymn V - To Aphrodite)
Today (February 14) is what is commonly known as St. Valentine's Day - a time when millions of people flock to card shops and chocolatiers to pick up something that says 'I love you' for their significant other. Even though everyday should be a day of affectionate expression to the person that lights one's heart, it is good that at least one day out of the year is earmarked for LOVE.
What many people don't know is that, yes there was a St. Valentine (a priest in Rome who was martyred in the 3rd century) but he was not associated with love or affection until Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about him in such a fashion in the 14th century. It is quite probable that the real origins of St. Valentine's day, are the Roman festivals of Lupercalia (February 15), which involved purification and fertility rites, and the festival of Veneralia (April 1), in honour of Venus Verticordia (the 'Changer of hearts').
As with many Christian days, the origins are strongly pagan, invented by the church to help along conversion of the masses to the new religion. Pope Gelasius (AD 492-496) abolished the Lupercalia and established a day to honour the Virgin Mary. The St. Valentine association came later. All the politics of religion aside, this is a time of year when our ancestors worshipped Love, prayed for fertility, and honoured the sanctity of marriage - this is also the ancient Athenian month of Gamelion, dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.
Most of us would be hard-put to find a pagan temple in our communities, especially in North America, but perhaps it is fitting that at this time of year we take our wishes for love, intimacy, longing and genuine affection to the people that embody these most inspired feelings. Perhaps the people we love are the temples or statues where we should lay our offerings? And that is an altar at which we should do homage for not just one day but everyday that we live and breathe.
There the moist breath of the western wind wafted her
over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there
the gold-filleted Hours welcomed her joyously...they brought her to the gods, who welcomed her when they saw her, giving her their hands. Each one of them
prayed that he might lead her home to be his wedded wife, so
greatly were they amazed at the beauty of violet-crowned
(Homeric Hymn VI excerpt - To Aphrodite)