What is Lupercalia?

February 02, 2024

Lupercalia references the legend of Romulus and Remus, the twins suckled by a she-wolf

Reviving Lupercalia: Wolves, Romance, and Rituals of a Forgotten Festival. 

Said to be the Roman origin of Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia is a festival dedicated to cleansing the spirit and promoting fertility. Literature lovers may know it as the setting for Act One of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. This ancient feriae, or festival, was celebrated by Romans from the very birth of the city until it was outlawed by Pope Gelasius I in 494 CE. Centuries after its erasure, modern pagans and witches are bringing back this ancient celebration. 

Roman Origins
To understand the origins of Lupercalia, you must first understand the legend of the founding of Rome. It is believed that two twins, Romulus and Remus, who were abandoned by their parents, sought refuge in the Lupercal Cave on Palatine Hill. There they were suckled by a she-wolf, called lupa in Latin. One of the twins, Romulus would later become the founder of Rome, but not after many battles with his twin brother. A festival was created to celebrate the story of the twins and the founding of Rome, and this became known as Lupercalia.  

Some sources name February 15th as the official festival day, while others say that it took place over several days, usually February 13th-15th. During Lupercalia, Sodales Luperci, a “priestly college” made mostly of aristocrats, would perform a purification ritual for the entire city. Since March is considered the New Year on the Roman calendar, the month of February was dedicated to purification in preparation for the coming year. The priests would sacrifice two animals at the Lupercal Cave, typically a goat, a symbol of fertility and abundance, and a dog, said to be the enemy of the wolf. The priests would ritually smear the blood across their foreheads before taking part in a large feast. Once they had plenty of food and wine, the Luperci would run through the city, usually naked, with makeshift whips made from the hide of the animal sacrifices. They would playfully strike anyone they met with their whips, and women were encouraged to bear their backs for the strikes to ensure fertility in the coming year.  

Finding Modern Meaning

As the Catholic Church took over Roman life, the festival was forced into a more “modest” expression. The Luperci started wearing clothing and the whips became more painful and mean-spirited. Eventually, the festival was outlawed entirely for its impure associations. Even so, the holiday is making its comeback with modern pagans and witches. Many celebrate Lupercalia in place of the secular Valentine’s Day, which maintains much of the symbolic aspects of the ancient festival. Today, pagans use this festival to purify their homes and workplaces as well as practice sex magic with their partners or themselves.  

As fertility was a large theme of Lupercalia, those trying to conceive may take advantage of this time to perform a fertility bath or candle ritual. However, fertility magic was not only used for human fertility; the ancient Romans would also perform rituals for agricultural fertility around Lupercalia. If you have a garden, you may spend time ritually cleaning it up and blessing it to ensure an abundant
harvest this year. Many Roman gods were associated with Lupercalia, making it a great holiday to connect with a deity of your choice. The most common figure is Faunus, but ancient texts also suggest Mars, Juno, Pan, Lupercus, and Bacchus were all celebrated during this time. The festival of Lupercalia is an excellent reason to host a lavish feast and perform group rituals in honor of these gods. Some good ingredients for any Lupercalia rituals would include goat’s milk, red wine, basil, rose petals, and red raspberry leaf. You can gather all ritual supplies from our pagan supply store: visit us online or in our Asheville. NC brick and mortar store.