Lupercalia: Celebrate the Coming of Spring

Alpha & his family
Lupercalia: Celebrate the Coming of Spring

February was considered the final month of the Roman year, and on the 15th, citizens celebrated the festival of Lupercalia. Originally, this week-long party honored the god Faunus, who watched over shepherds in the hills. The festival also marked the coming of spring. Later on, it became a holiday honoring Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome after being raised by a she-wolf in a cave. Eventually, Lupercalia became a multi-purpose event: it celebrated the fertility of not only the livestock but people as well.

To kick off the festivities, an order of priests gathered before the Lupercale on the Palatine hill, the sacred cave in which Romulus and Remus were nursed by their wolf-mother. The priests then sacrificed a dog for purification, and a pair of young male goats for fertility. The hides of the goats were cut into strips, dipped in blood, and taken around the streets of Rome. These bits of hide were touched to both fields and women as a way of encouraging fertility in the coming year. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. There is a theory that this tradition may have survived in the form of certain ritual Easter Monday whippings.

After the priests concluded the fertility rites, young women placed their names in a jar. Men drew names in order to choose a partner for the rest of the celebrations — not unlike later customs of entering names in a Valentine lottery.

To the Romans, Lupercalia was a monumental event each year. When Mark Antony was the master of the Luperci College of Priests, he chose the festival of Lupercalia in 44 BC as the time to offer the crown to Julius Caesar.

By about the fifth century, however, Rome was beginning to move towards Christianity, and Pagan rites were frowned upon. Lupercalia was seen as something only the lower classes did, and eventually the festival ceased to be celebrated.

 

Author

Patti Wigington, Paganism/Wicca Expert
Article published on & owned by About.com

Origins of Lupercalia

WOLVESOrigins of Lupercalia

Type of Holiday: Ancient

Date of Observation: February 15

Where Celebrated: Rome

Symbols and Customs: Blood, Februa, Goat, Milk, Wolf

Colors: Red and white, in the form of BLOOD and MILK , both played a part in the earliest observance of the Lupercalia. Nowadays these are the colors associated with Valentine’s Day, to which this ancient festival has been linked.

Related Holidays: Valentine’s Day

ORIGINS
The Lupercalia was a festival in the ancient Roman religion, which scholars trace back to the sixth century B . C . E . Roman religion dominated Rome and influenced territories in its empire until Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the third century C . E . Ancient Roman religion was heavily influenced by the older Greek religion. Roman festivals therefore had much in common with those of the ancient Greeks. Not only were their gods and goddesses mostly the same as those in the Greek pantheon (though the Romans renamed them), but their religious festivals were observed with similar activities: ritual sacrifice, theatrical performances, games, and feasts.

The Lupercalia festival was held in honor of the WOLF who mothered Romulus and Remus, the legendary twin founders of Rome. During the original Roman celebration, members from two colleges of priests gathered at a cave on the Palatine Hill called the Lupercal-supposedly the cave where Romulus and Remus had been suckled by a she-wolf-and sacrificed a GOAT and a dog. The animals’ BLOOD was smeared on the foreheads of two young priests and then wiped away with wool dipped in MILK . The two young men stripped down to a goatskin loincloth and ran around the Palatine, striking everyone who approached them, especially the women, with thongs of goat skin called FEBRUA . It is believed that this was both a fertility ritual and a purification rite. It may also have been a very early example of “beating the bound, or reestablishing the borders of the early Palatine settlement.

There is some confusion over which god the Luperci or priests served; some say it was Faunus, a rural deity, and some say it was Pan, the god of shepherds who protected sheep from the danger of wolves. All that is certain is that by Caesar’s time, the annual ceremony had become a spectacular public sight, with young men running half-naked through the streets and provoking much good-natured hysteria among the women. February 15 was also the day when Mark Antony offered Julius Caesar the crown. Thanks to this historic event, and Shakespeare’s account of it in his play Julius Caesar, the Lupercalia is one of the best known of all Roman festivals.

It is interesting that such a rustic festival continued to be celebrated in Rome for centuries after it had been Christianized. Its survival can be partially credited to Augustus, who rebuilt the Lupercal in the first century B . C . E ., thus giving the celebration a boost. It continued to be observed until 494 C . E ., when Pope Gelasius I changed the day to the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. There is some reason to believe that the Lupercalia was a forerunner of the modern VALENTINE’S DAY: Part of the ceremony involved putting girls’ names in a box and letting boys draw them out, thus pairing them off until the next Lupercalia.

Source:
The Free Dictionary

Happy Lupercalia To All Those Celebrating Today!

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Lupercalia

This was an ancient Roman festival during which worshippers gathered at a grotto on the Palatine Hill in Rome called the Lupercal, where Rome’s legendary founders, Romulus and Remus, had been suckled by a wolf. The sacrifice of goats and dogs to the Roman deities Lupercus and Faunus was part of the ceremony. Luperci (priests of Lupercus) dressed in goatskins and, smeared with the sacrificial blood, would run about striking women with thongs of goat skin. This was thought to assure them of fertility and an easy delivery. The name for these thongs— februa —meant “means of purification” and eventually gave the month of February its name. There is some reason to believe that the Lupercalia was a forerunner of modern Valentine’s Day customs. Part of the ceremony involved putting girls’ names in a box and letting boys draw them out, thus pairing them off until the next Lupercalia.

Fun and Useless Facts about all those ‘Fat Tuesday’ Traditions

Magic in the woods
Fun and Useless Facts about all those ‘Fat Tuesday’ Traditions

This year’s Mardi Gras, a festival marked by an endless cyclone of feathers, costumes, beads and booze that whips through city streets all over the world, is well underway. It’s been called the wildest fete in the U.S., and for good reason: Every year, droves of partygoers flock to New Orleans to take in the floats, the festivities and the food, and to leave their mark on the Big Easy.

Mardi Gras, meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, has its origins in medieval Europe. What became a legal holiday in Louisiana in 1875 was once a Christian holiday with roots in ancient Rome. Instead of outright abolishing certain pagan traditions, like the wild Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia, religious leaders decided to incorporate them into the new faith.

What became known as the Carnival season was a kick-off to Lent, a sort of last hurrah before 40 days of penance sandwiched between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Eventually, the celebration spread from Rome across Europe to the colonies of the New World.

Since its early days in New Orleans in the early 18th century, Mardi Gras has grown to colossal proportions and includes several familiar traditions, like bead throwing, mask wearing and coconut painting, that are widely practiced today but whose origins may have been forgotten.
Here are the real meanings of five popular Mardi Gras Traditions.

The Wearing Of Masks
Masks are an integral part of Mardi Gras culture. During early Mardi Gras celebrations hundreds of years ago, masks were a way for their wearers to escape class constraints and social demands. Mask wearers could mingle with people of all different classes and could be whomever they desired, at least for a few days.

In New Orleans, float riders are required by law to have a mask on. On Fat Tuesday, masking is legal for all Mardi Gras attendees – although many storeowners will post signs asking those entering to please remove their masks first.

The Flambeaux Tradition
Flambeaux, meaning flame-torch, was the tradition of people carrying shredded rope soaked in pitch through the streets so that nighttime revelers could enjoy festivities after dark. They were originally carried by slaves and free African Americans trying to earn a little money. Crowds tossed coins at the torch carriers for lighting the way for the floats.

Today, flambeaux carriers have turned the tradition into something of a performance. Torch bearers dance and spin their kerosene lights – something the original parade planners didn’t intend.

The Throwing Of Beads
The tradition of bead throwing starts with their original colors. The color of the beads was determined by the king of the first daytime Carnival in 1872. He wanted the colors to be royal colors – purple for justice, gold for power and green for faith. The idea was to toss the color to the person who exhibited the color’s meaning.

The beads were originally made of glass, which, as you can imagine, weren’t the best for tossing around. It wasn’t until the beads were made of plastic that throwing them really became a staple of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Rex, The King of Carnival
Every year in New Orleans, a king is crowned. His name is Rex, the king of the Carnival, and he first ascended to the throne in 1872. History has it that the very first Rex was actually the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia who, upon a visit to the U.S., befriended U.S. Army officer George Armstrong Custer during a planned hunting expedition in the Midwest.

The Duke’s visit to Louisiana was organized by New Orleans businessmen looking to lure tourism and business to their city following the devastating American Civil War.
Every year, the Rex Organization chooses a new Rex, always a prominent person in New Orleans. He is given the symbolic Key to the City by the Mayor.

Handing Out Zulu Coconuts
The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is one of the oldest traditionally black krewes – or parade hosts – in Mardi Gras history. The organization is known for handing out Zulu coconuts, or “golden nuggets.” The earliest reference to these coconuts appears in 1910.

The first coconuts were left in their original hairy state, but years later, Zulu members started painting and decorating them. Getting a Zulu coconut is one of the most sought after traditions during Mardi Gras.

By Philip Ross
International Business Times

About the Origins and History of Valentine’s Day

About the Origins and History of Valentine’s Day

By , About.com

The origins of Valentine’s Day may be a bit disappointing. Valentine’s Day is probably named for a saint. Its transformation into a love-fest seems to have been catalyzed by a single Englishman in the 14th century — well beyond the termination date for bawdy Roman fertility festivals, like the Lupercalia.

Chaucer first linked the February holiday of Valentine’s Day, a martyred saint’s day, with romance, and even then, not really romance, but birds mating. Then, after some centuries of an increasingly popular association between Valentine’s Day and romance came the development of cheap-to-mail paper Valentine’s Day cards and the birth of an American holiday in the mid-19th century.

It may not be fair to say that Valentine’s Day has its origin in antiquity, but there were romantic spring holidays (Gamelion and Lupercalia) and a St. Valentine or 2.

Valentine’s Day Saint #1:

There may have been a real Valentine, a 3d-century priest who defied Emperor Claudius II’s ban against wartime marriages. According to legend, Valentine performed secret marriages until he was discovered, put to death, and buried on the Flaminian Way. [See Oruch for why this doesn’t work historically.]

Valentine’s Day Saint #2:

There’s another legend in which a Valentine, persecuted for helping Christians, restored the eyesight of his jailer’s blind daughter, and then maintained a secret correspondence with her to which he signed his name “your Valentine.”

Another Derivation of Valentine:

Even more speculative is the notion that Valentine’s name was originally “Galantine,” signifying “gallant,” a word with more obvious associations with courtship. The shift in consonant to “v” is explained as the way medieval French peasants pronounced the letter “g.”

Valentine was a popular name among the Romans, with emperors named Valens and Valentinian.

Christianization of Lupercalia:

Another theory is that Pope Gelasius I replaced the pagan festival of Lupercalia with the Christian Feast of the Purification, which was celebrated on February 14, 40 days after Epiphany. This is based on Bede who wrote about pagan customs in February, and not specifically Lupercalia. Oruch says it wasn’t until the 16th century that the pagan ceremony of Lupercalia was said to be behind Candlemas (February 2).

February’s Special Holidays:

Imbolc, Oimelc, Brigit’s Day, The Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, Ground Hog’s Day, and Candlemas are all holidays that occur in the first half of February. Some believe the Christian holidays are simply renamed pagan ones.

References for Origins of Valentine’s Day:

  • “The Fashioning of a Modern Holiday: St. Valentine’s Day, 1840-1870,” by Leigh Eric Schmidt; Winterthur Portfolio Vol. 28, No. 4 (Winter, 1993), pp. 209-245.
  • “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February,” by Jack B. Oruch Speculum, Vol. 56, No. 3. (Jul., 1981), pp. 534-565.

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Calendar of the Sun for February 14th

Calendar of the Sun

14 Solmonath

Lupercalia

Color: Black and red
Element: Earth
Altar: Drape with black and set with the figures of wolves and a straw goat. There should also be a shallow bowl filled with the blood of a recently slaughtered animal, and a knife in the blood, and a goatskin whip.
Offerings: Cakes baked of “mola salsa”, heavily salted meal from the first ears of  harvested during the last year. An agreement to  the predator and prey within you.
Daily Meal: Goat meat. Bread or cooked grains.

Lupercalia Invocation

Within us is the goat
Who is sacrificed
Who gives up its life
Who is torn apart
That others may live.
Within us is the wolf
That does the tearing,
Who is pitiless,
Who is implacable,
Who is the life for which
The prey lays it own down.
We are both wolf and goat
And to devalue one
Is to shame the other.

Call and Response:
Hail, Creature of Prey, Sacrificed One!
Hail, Predator who accepts the sacrifice!
Hail, Pan, Goat-God who runs on swift hooves!
Hail, Loba, Wolf-Goddess, who pursues him!
May we fear no pain!
May we fear no pain!
May we fear no !

(Two who have been chosen to do the work of the ritual stand naked before the altar. One takes the whip and whips the open presented palms of each person, saying, “Let the spirit of the Goat come into you.” The other takes the bloody knife and carefully wipes it across the foreheads of everyone present, saying, “Let the spirit of the Wolf come into you.” All join in a group howl.)

[Pagan Book of Hours]

The History of Valentine’s Day

The History of Valentine’s Day

The origins of Valentine’s Day trace back to the ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia. Held on February 15, Lupercalia honored the gods Lupercus and Faunus, as well as the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

In addition to a bountiful feast, Lupercalia festivities are purported to have included the pairing of young women and men. Men would draw women’s names from a box, and each couple would be paired until next year’s celebration.

While this pairing of couples set the tone for today’s holiday, it wasn’t called “Valentine’s Day” until a priest named Valentine came along. Valentine, a romantic at heart, disobeyed Emperor Claudius II’s decree that soldiers remain bachelors. Claudius handed down this decree believing that soldiers would be distracted and unable to concentrate on fighting if they were married or engaged. Valentine defied the emperor and secretly performed marriage ceremonies. As a result of his defiance, Valentine was put to death on February 14.

After Valentine’s death, he was named a saint. As Christianity spread through Rome, the priests moved Lupercalia from February 15 to February 14 and renamed it St. Valentine’s Day to honor Saint Valentine.

What’s Cupid Got to Do with It?

According to Roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Cupid was known to cause people to fall in love by shooting them with his magical arrows. But Cupid didn’t just cause others to fall in love – he himself fell deeply in love.

As legend has it, Cupid fell in love with a mortal maiden named Psyche. Cupid married Psyche, but Venus, jealous of Psyche’s beauty, forbade her daughter-in-law to look at Cupid. Psyche, of course, couldn’t resist temptation and sneaked a peek at her handsome husband. As punishment, Venus demanded that she perform three hard tasks, the last of which caused Psyche’s death.

Cupid brought Psyche back to life and the gods, moved by their love, granted Pysche immortality. Cupid thus represents the heart and Psyche the (struggles of the) human soul.

Fun Facts

  • Approximately 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. Half of those are sent through Care2 (OK, maybe not HALF… or even half of half… but we are growing fast!)
  • In order of popularity, Valentine’s Day cards are given to: teachers, children, mothers, wives, sweethearts, Koko the gorilla.
  • The expression “wearing your heart on your sleeve” comes from a Valentine’s Day party tradition. Young women would write their names on slips of paper to be drawn by young men. A man would then wear a woman’s name on his sleeve to claim her as his valentine.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

care2.com

Calendar of the Sun for February 14th

Calendar of the Sun
14 Solmonath

Lupercalia

Color: Black and red
Element: Earth
Altar: Drape with black and set with the figures of wolves and a straw goat. There should also be a shallow bowl filled with the blood of a recently slaughtered animal, and a knife in the blood, and a goatskin whip.
Offerings: Cakes baked of “mola salsa”, heavily salted meal from the first ears of grain harvested during the last year. An agreement to study the predator and prey within you.
Daily Meal: Goat meat. Bread or cooked grains.

Lupercalia Invocation

Within us is the goat
Who is sacrificed
Who gives up its life
Who is torn apart
That others may live.
Within us is the wolf
That does the tearing,
Who is pitiless,
Who is implacable,
Who is the life for which
The prey lays it own down.
We are both wolf and goat
And to devalue one
Is to shame the other.

Call and Response:
Hail, Creature of Prey, Sacrificed One!
Hail, Predator who accepts the sacrifice!
Hail, Pan, Goat-God who runs on swift hooves!
Hail, Loba, Wolf-Goddess, who pursues him!
May we fear no pain!
May we fear no pain!
May we fear no pain!

(Two who have been chosen to do the work of the ritual stand naked before the altar. One takes the whip and whips the open presented palms of each person, saying, “Let the spirit of the Goat come into you.” The other takes the bloody knife and carefully wipes it across the foreheads of everyone present, saying, “Let the spirit of the Wolf come into you.” All join in a group howl.)

Santa’s Many Faces: Shaman, Sailor, Saint

Santa’s Many Faces: Shaman, Sailor, Saint

Holly, Jolly Old Elf, Other Traditions Show Solstice’s Mongrel Past

by Kathie Dawn

Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice is a tradition with its roots in the ancient past, twining from hunter-gatherer cultures through the Old Religion of Europe, influenced by the rise of Christianity from the Middle East. A look at some of the history can help you design your personal Solstice traditions.

Santa the Shaman

For tens of thousands of years, we humans have celebrated the seasons, the lunar and solar cycles and other natural events. While our bodies are not as strictly regulated as animals’ regarding mating, migration or hibernation, we are deeply affected by our circadian rhythms, the lunar pull and our hormones, which interact with the sun. According to Jeremy Rifkin in Time Wars, “Chronobiology provides a rich new conceptual framework for rethinking the notion of relationships in nature. In the temporal scheme of things, life, earth and universe are viewed as partners in a tightly synchronized dance in which all of the separate movements pulse in unison to create a single organic whole.”

Our ancient ancestors felt this connection without benefit of scientific explanations. Following their hearts and beliefs, they played their part in that dance. “Our holiday celebrations evolve in a cycle. We even refer to it as ‘The Wheel of the Year,'” notes Richard Heinberg in Celebrate the Solstice. “Being aware of the different cycles in life, and understanding our place in them, were a part of our development as humans.” In this cycle, in northern regions, Winter Solstice is often seen as the ending of the old year and the beginning of a new year.

In the early European cultures, a shaman of the Herne/Pan god led Winter Solstice rituals, initiated the new year, rewarded the good, punished the bad, officiated at sacrifices and headed fertility rites, according to Tony van Renterghem in his book When Santa Was A Shaman. This Herne/Pan god went by many names, always portrayed as dark, furry or wearing animal skins, with antlers or horns and – up to the seventeenth century – with an erect penis. Van Renterghem asserts “these (Herne/Pan) shamans sang, danced, jumped over fires in sexually symbolic fertility rites, some involving the besom, the broom-like phallic rod.”

Shamanic traditions survived into historic times. Leaders and kings who wanted to see themselves as divine priest-kings – such as Moses and Alexander the Great – were depicted with shamanic horns. Shamanic horns on Moses shows an overlapping of pagan and Judeo-Christian beliefs that also appears in celebrations at Solstice.

Santa as a Christian and a Sailor

“(Christmas) was a seeming Christian answer to the pagan festival Natalis Solis Invicti, which carried with it the flavour of merrymaking of the Roman Saturnalia,” Vivian Green writes in A New History of Christianity.

Christianity grew up with paganism, specifically Roman paganism. The Roman Empire ruled the land where the cult of Christianity was formed. The beliefs of this new religion were radically different from most pagans’, and many people assumed the group would quickly die, as do many fads. But within 300 years, the cult was considered an unlicensed religion within the Empire. While the Romans had a long history of assimilating the gods of the conquered peoples into their own religion as a way of easing the transition, this was not easily accomplished with Christianity. There were a couple attempts to wipe out the religion, but the Christians maintained their foothold in the Empire by appealing to the lower classes and the illiterate.

Constantine called the Nicean Council of 325 after he reunited the faltering Empire. Having converted to Christianity, he wanted to bring unity and a single leadership to the faith. The emperor was openly hostile to pagans. Peter Partner, in Two Thousand Years-The First Millennium: The Birth of Christianity to the Crusades, tells us that “although pagan beliefs were not in themselves made illegal, many of the institutions that supported pagan worship were in effect proscribed.” A semblance of the Old Religion was allowed to continue, but only lip service was paid to religious tolerance.

As Christianity marched on, entire tribes were converted. Charlemagne instituted a “baptize them or kill them” campaign against the “barbarians” on his borders. The conversion of Germanic peoples to Christianity changed the texture of the Roman Christian church.

Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks, circa 590, and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, circa 720, both expressed anxiousness about the wealth and privilege the church received as rulers and great magnates were converted. The church had to absorb these rulers’ values and culture, with the end result that “Christianity had been successfully assimilated by a warrior nobility,” according to John McManners in The Oxford History of Christianity. This was a “nobility which had no intention of abandoning its culture or seriously changing its way of life, but which was willing to throw its traditions, customs, tastes and loyalties into the articulation of a new faith.”

The mass conversion “did not sweep away pagan culture in a few moments,” writes McManners. “We are reminded every year by the feasts of Christmas, the Winter Solstice celebration of the northerners for which the nativity of Christ is a cheeky Christian misnomer, and of the New Year, in Roman usage the great pagan feast of Lupercalia. In Rome the ancient fertility rites of Carnomania were still celebrated annually in the presence of the pope, as late as the eleventh century.”

Pagan customs persisted within the heart of Christianity, and both faiths coexisted at the outer borders of the new religion’s territory. While many people assume Christmas celebrations have a dark, distant pagan origin, it would be more accurate to say the two grew up together.

As Charlemagne began his conversion process, the legend of St. Nicholas was born. He was said to have been the Bishop of Myra in Lycia, now Turkey. According to “The Origin of Santa Claus” at http://www.religioustolerance.org, “He is alleged to have attended the first council of Nicea; however, his name does not appear on lists of attending bishops.” http://Www.religioustolerance.org calls him a “Christianized version of various pagan sea gods – the Greek god, Poseidon, the Roman god, Neptune, and the Teutonic god, Hold Nickar.” Crichton dates St. Nicholas even earlier, claming he was imprisoned in 303, during the Roman emperor Diocletian’s effort to return the Empire to the worship of its old gods. Later, Constantine supposedly released him.

Nicholas was credited with many miracles, including aiding sailors at sea, providing dowries for young women who otherwise could not marry and using prayer to resurrect three little boys who had been killed and pickled in brine. He performed miracles even after his death on December 6, 342; a mysterious liquid dubbed the Manna of St. Nicholas was collected annually from his tomb and used to heal the faithful. The tales of St. Nicholas spread to Russia as Christianity converted the Eastern world. He became known as “Nikolai Chudovorits,” the Wonder Worker.

By the seventeenth century, the patron saint reached Siberia, where tribes of nomadic horsemen lived. These tribes lived in tents during the summer, but north of the Arctic Circle, they needed something sturdier during winter. Their timber huts became buried in snow, with the only way in or out being by ladder through the smoke holes in the roof. Their annual renewal ceremony, according to Crichton, took place with their shaman entering a trance and climbing on a symbolic journey through the smoke hole. Christian tradition overtaking the indigenous religion, Nikolai became a Super Shaman, acting as a “mystic go-between for the people and their new Christian God.” He would descend the smoke hole, another way of jumping over fire, to deliver gifts.

Nicholas traveled other directions as well, to reach the Normans, who as well as conquering England in the eleventh century engaged as traders and mercenaries in lands they did not control. They ruled the seas, and learned about St. Nicholas at Myra. As they had done with other saints elsewhere, the Normans accepted St. Nicholas into their belief system. Traveling with the Normans, St. Nicholas spread up the rivers and into the towns. A basilica was built in Bari, which became a great shrine to Nicholas. During the Crusades, countless people passed through Bari, making their obligatory stops at the shrines. From there, St. Nicholas traveled throughout the continent and beyond.

Dutch Santa and His Moorish Slave

In the fifteenth century, the Netherlands became a Spanish territory. Trade with the Indies and Americas made the Netherlands an important area. Spaniards filled the government and religious offices, and they brought St. Nicholas with them. To this day, the Dutch “Sinter Klaas” arrives by boat from Spain, dressed as a bishop with the tall hat and miter, riding a white horse. As was fashionable at the time during the Spanish Empire, Sinter Klaas had a Moorish slave who became known as “Zwarte Piet.”

In Crichton’s book, we find that “many of the customs surrounding Sinter Klaas are vestiges of an older, pre-Christian religion. Checking up on naughty children, riding a white horse, and leaving food out at night, can all be traced back to Woden or Odin.” In Finland, St. Nicholas “assumed human form, adopting the older name of ‘Joulupukki,’ which literally means Yule Goat, and again harks back to Odin and the Old Norse customs.”

In van Renterghem’s work, we see that the Herne/Pan side of St. Nicholas was further restored. In 1581, the Dutch declared independence from both the Roman Catholic pope and the Spanish monarchy. Zwarte Piet, Sinter Klaas’ dark servant, was returned to the fore as their shaman-god. When the Church tried to denounce Zwarte Piet as a devil, the Dutch retaliated by drawing him as a Spanish-looking devil, further aiding the Dutch cause. Children were encouraged to be good, or they would be carried off in Zwarte Piet’s bag to Spain.

As the legend of St. Nicholas grew, he often had helpers who were easily traced to pagan roots. According to WorldBook, examples of these helpers include Knecht Ruprecht in Germany, Pere Fouettard in parts of France and Hoesecker in Luxembourg.

The Protestant Reformation ended the religious observance of Christmas temporarily in some places, more permanently in others such as England. This sparked several inventions that seemed even more pagan-oriented than the newly outlawed Christmas. In Germany, the Protestants invented “Christkindl,” “a Christ child figure often played by a girl in a white robe with a veil and a star on her head – another legacy from the Roman Festivals,” from Crichton’s perspective. In Hungary, where Catholicism again replaced Protestantism, “the religious St. Nicholas, the secular Christkindl and the fur-clad Weihnachtsmann (Christmas Man) all exist side by side.”

In North America, the Puritans made it a punishable offense to celebrate Christmas. But when Dutch settlers sailed to Manhattan, the figurehead on the flagship was none other than Sinter Klaas. Gradually the name was changed to Santa Claus.

In England, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert helped re-invent Christmas, and Santa was reintroduced to England around this time. As a British gift-giver, Santa Claus had many rivals including CheapJack, The Lord of Misrule, Knecht Rupert and Father Christmas.

In the United States, Santa Claus was further refined in literature and illustration. In 1822, Clement Clark Moore wrote The Night Before Christmas. In 1863, Thomas Nast used childhood memories of a small fur-clad fellow to create images for Harper’s Magazine. In the 1930s, Santa hawked Coca-Cola, and in 1939, Robert L. May added Rudolph to the reindeer herd. By the 1960s, Santa had become quite commercial. During Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church concluded that St. Nicholas had never been officially canonized, recognizing the probable source of his notoriety as being pagan gods and legends.

Many other modern Solstice traditions have such pagan origins. Mistletoe was sacred to the Greeks and Romans as well as to the Celts, who according to When Santa Was A Shaman, “called this mistletoe ‘Thunder-Besom’ (from the besom, or broom, an ancient sexual symbol of male and female organs)” – which besom dates back to the Herne/Pan shamans. “The Germanic tribes believed that all who passed under the mistletoe were kissed (blessed with sexual power) by Freya, their goddess of fertility.” The modern practice of a kiss beneath the mistletoe could still be seen as a minor fertility rite.

Whether performing in a pageant or dressing up as the jolly old elf for the kiddies, putting on Winter Solstice costumes also has ancient origins. Crichton notes that “in all primitive religions when a player dons a mask he is deemed no longer an ordinary man. For himself and those who take part in the ritual, he embodies the spirit he is impersonating.”

It should come as no surprise that we continue with rituals and practices that some believe are 10,000 years old. Children still play with toys from the 5000-year-old tale of Noah’s Ark. We still use the names of 2000-year-old Germanic and Greco-Roman pagan gods and festivals to identify the months and the days of the week. So too, we keep Santa in his many masks.

How Pagans Can Renew the World

Winter Solstice in northern climes is often a time of world renewal and the New Year. Theodor H. Gaster’s New Year: Its History, Customs, and Superstitions outlines the rites of nearly all ancient New Year and world renewal ceremonies as following the same four steps: mortification, purgation, invigoration and jubilation.

In mortification, whose root-word “mort” means death, it is easy to see death symbolized in how the life of the people and the land slowed down. Often during this time, no business was transacted. The king was either ritually or actually slain, depending on the custom. Sometimes this involved mock combat between Life and Death, or Old Year and New Year. His death paid for the evil of the past year.

Next, the community purged itself of all evil influences through fires, ringing of bells and cleansing with water. Life was then invigorated with positive steps that symbolized renewal. The people and the land were made fertile and productive again by a deliberate release of sexual energy. Then, in jubilant celebration, feasts and other merriment were enjoyed. Life had prevailed. Nature and the community would continue for another year.

Drawing on this outline and the superabundance of Solstice ideas and examples, today’s pagan can create a personal tradition. To gain a deeper connection between you and the cycle of Solstice, try adding something new. Visit a sacred site, or spend time with the land where you live. Visit a place where you can observe wild animals. Where possible, plant a tree, or some green plants indoors. Watch the sunrise and the sunset on Solstice Day, and feel a connection with your ancestors. Play the Super Shaman for your friends and family. Attach a note to each gift you give with something amusing about the person, and have everyone read the note aloud.

Food and drink can play a part. Adopt a certain dish to be made only at this special time of year. Or pass around a large chalice, reminiscent of the English Wassail bowl, pronouncing blessings or words of jest to the person who receives it from you.

However you do it, make the Solstice holiday a time of getting rid of that which weighed you down in the past and tying up the year’s loose ends. Find ways to symbolize the renewal that the New Year brings, and mark the time most joyously. Whether you celebrate alone, in a small close-knit group or as one of thousands, have a happy Solstice.

Goddess Of The Day: VENUS

 

Goddess Of The Day: VENUS
Lupercalia (Rome)
 
Themes: Love; Passion; Romance; Sexuality
Symbols: Doves; Flowers; Berries; Trees; Pine Cones
 
About Venus: Venus was originally an Italic goddess of blossoms; hearts and flowers have slowly become attributed to her loving, passionate energies. In fact, her name became the root for the word to venerate – to lift up, worship, or esteem. So it is that Venus greets prespring efforts for uplifting our hearts with positive relationships.
 
To Do Today: During Lupercalia, an ancient predecessor of Valentine’s Day, single girls put their names in a box, and unmarried men drew lots to see with whom they would be paired off for the coming year. To be more modern-minded, try pinning five bay leaves to your pillow instead to dream of future loves. If you’re married or otherwise involved, steep the bay leaves in water and drink the resulting tea to strengthen the love in your relationship.
 
To encourage balance in a relationship, bind together Venus’s symbols, a pine cone and a flower, and put them somewhere in your home. Or, to spice up a passionate moment, feed fresh berries to each others and drink a berry beverage from one cup (symbolizing united goals and destinies).
 
In Roman tradition, anywhere there’s a large stone adjacent to a tall tree, Venus is also there. Should you know of such a place, go there today and commune with her warm, lusty energy.

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By Patricia Telesco