lupa

Lupercalia

So... Whose name got paired with yours during the festival of Juno Februa? (An article about Juno Februa at the Wikipedia site debunks the idea of a lottery in classical times.)

The Lupercalia, a festival of purification and fertility, was observed on February 15. It was uniquely Roman, but its origin is lost in time. Even the Romans of the first century BC were at a loss to explain which deity was being honored. Some thought it was likely Faunus, the god of agriculture and of shepherds; others suggested Lupercus, protector of flocks against wolves. Still others said it was Rumina, the goddess whose temple stood near the fig tree under which the she-wolf had suckled Romulus and Remus.

Priests called Luperci conducted the festival; it was their sole purpose. Vestals brought sacred cakes made from the first ears of last year's grain harvest to the fig tree in front of the Lupercal cave on the Palatine hill. Then two naked youths, assisted by the Vestals, sacrificed a dog and a goat at the site. The blood was smeared on the foreheads of the young men and then wiped off with wool dipped in milk.

The youths then clothed themselves with loincloths made from the skin of the goat and fashioned whips from the hide as well. They led groups of priests around the pōmērium, the sacred boundary of the ancient city, and around the base of the hills of Rome. The scene was accompanied by laughter, rowdiness, and horse-play.

As they ran about the city, the young men lightly struck women along the way with the strips of goathide. (It is from these implements of purification, or februa, that the month of February gets its name. Other implements associated with purification were brooms, pine boughs, and wool.) The lustration supposedly provided purification from curses, bad luck, and infertility. Some women even bared their flesh to assure better results!


photo credit: Leo C. Curran

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