Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ante Diem XV Kalendas March

Modern Date : February 15th

Ante Diem XV Kalendas March
Fifthteenth Day to the Kalends of March

This day (NP), is for special religious observance.

This was the day on which, in 44 BC, Mark Antony offered Julius Caesar the crown of Rome, which he refused.

February is also a month in which particular reverence was shown to the spirits of deceased ancestors. This was a month devoted to fertility, both of men and women, and of the land.

The Lupercalia is the ceremonial climax of the Dies Nefasti preceding this day. This was a time of purification and religious celebration. As with the rest of the month of February, the object of much of the ceremony was the remembrance and honor of deceased ancestors, as well as the celebration of fertility and the coming Spring. Luper relates to lupus, or the wolf which popular myth held had reared Romulus and Remus

The Lupercalia was one of the most important Roman festivals, a rowdy fertility festival loosely connected to the legend of the wolf that suckled the twin babies, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, in her cave the Lupercal on Palatine Hill. Although eventually fixed on the 15th day of February, it was probably once a full moon festival (when the month started at the new moon).

On this day, a band of priests called Luperci gathered at the Lupercal, sacrificed goats and a puppy and made offerings of a sacred grain mixture, mola salsa. Two youths were smeared on the forehead with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off with swatches of milk-soaked wool. After a feast, they stripped off their clothes, wrapped themselves in the still-warm, still-wet skins of the sacrificed goats and ran around the circumference of the hill, striking everyone they met with goatskin thongs, called februa. Being struck by these whips was considered lucky for women who wanted to become fertile.

The whipping may have served several functions. It may have stirred up the blood. Or it may have been considered an expiation, a way of driving out sins and demons (as the Japanese expelled them at Setsubun by throwing beans (Feb 5)). A similar custom is found at Carnival time in France and Germany: inflated pork bladders, said to contain the souls of the dead, are attached to sticks and used to beat members of the opposite sex. In some shamanic traditions (Buryat and Mongolia), decorative whips of long braided silk ribbons are used to tap clients on the back or hands to cleanse them during healing ceremonies.

When the Pope first tried to ban the Lupercalia in the 5th century, there was so much outrage that the papal residence was completely surrounded by the angry mob. He backed off and the festival was not officially banned again until the next century.

Red is the color of the day as it is with Valentine's Day, the day invented to replace the Lupercalia. Fertility and sexuality were likewise replaced with the puritanical pipedream of sexless Love.

108 Lanterns
On the third day after the Feast of Lanterns, in most Chinese provinces, people arrange 108 small lamps on a table in the shape of the Chinese character shun, meaning agreeable or smooth. A large lamp in the center represents the god of Longevity. They light the lanterns, burn incense and offer sweet rice balls to the gods.

Japanese Zen Buddhists celebrate this day as Nehan, literally the sleeping holy day, honoring the Buddha's attainment of parinirvana.

In the Norse calendar, this day is sacred to a noted animal communicator: Siegfried, greatest of all warrior heroes, who understood the songs of forest birds after slaying the dragon Fafner and inadvertently tasting its blood.

This day is also the birthday of another famous fighter, the hero scientist and warrior astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564), whose severe personal ordeal of sacrifice for the truth, he was held under house arrest, and forbidden to publish or to speak in public, for some 16 years, was the price of the knowledge we have had since about the physical properties of the solar system. The story of how Galileo smuggled his secret writings out to his students, who sped them by courier to bolt holes from Leyden to Paris to Prague, is one of the world's great true stories of the theft of fire.

John Frum Day
Finally, for the people of Tanna Island in Vanuatu, this is John Frum Day, named for the semi-mythic figure whom the islanders invoked as far back as the 1930's in prayers for liberation from their colonial oppressors. During World War II, when the U. S. air force used Tanna as a supply base for the Pacific campaign, John Frum became a composite hero resembling the American fliers whose largesse to the local people in the 1940's made them the deities of the famous cargo cults that erected wooden control towers and airplanes in an effort to bring back the airmen and their bounty. John Frum Day features a ceremony of flowers and flag raising, face painting, singing and dancing, a military parade of men dressed in camoflauge and carrying bamboo rifles, and a feast at which there are, presumably, prayers for Spam.

Ante Diem XVI Kalendas March

Modern Date : February 14th

Ante Diem XVI Kalendas March
Sixteenth Day to the Kalends of March

This is one of the dies nefasti (N), a day on which no legal action or public voting could take place. The dies nefasti of February were days of religious ceremony honoring the dead and heralding the rebirth of the Spring and its associated fertility.

The Parentalia
The Parentalia was a celebratory period in which ancestors were honored. It lasted from February 13 through the 21st. The temples would all be closed during this period. Offerings of small amounts of wine, bread, a sprinling of salt, or flowers were made at the tombs.

February is also a month in which particular reverence was shown to the spirits of deceased ancestors. This was a month devoted to fertility, both of men and women, and of the land.

Valentine's Day
In Christian calendars, Valentine's Day, the famous feast of the lovers. According to one legend from Greece, which has been celebrating Eros, erotic love, on this day since very ancient times, this is the day on which young doves mate during the transition from winter to spring. As doves mate for life and live in a happy fidelity that other beings rarely approach, 2/14 has embodied ever since the loyalty of true love. The symbol that has stuck for this day is the heart pierced by an arrow, fired by (who else?) Eros (Cupid), who has always ruled this day.

There is no connection between this holiday and either of the two St Valentines (a Roman priest martyred in the third century and a martyred bishop) although many legends have been invented to explain it. One story says that Claudius II during a time of unpopular military campaigns cancelled all marriages and engagements, hoping thereby to channel the energy of the young men into the martial arts. Supposedly Valentine, a priest in Rome during this time, secretly married couples, thus incurring the wrath of the emperor and martyrdom.

The custom of sending valentines may derive from the custom of drawing lots (names of partners) at the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia or with the worship of Juno Februata in whose honor on the eve of her feastday (Feb 15), according to "Lives of the Saints", boys drew names of girls. St Francis de Sales trying to abolish this heathen practice in the mid-sixteenth century suggested drawing the names of the saints (with boys drawing the names of female saints, and vice versa). This does not seem to have caught on. According to Hutton(The Rise and Fall of Merry England), the custom of sending valentines began in England in the 15th century, and was more popular at first among the middle classes, who sent signed valentines (not anonymous ones). In Japan it is now the custom for women to give chocolates to men on this day, particularly their superiors at work.

In the Middle Ages, people believed that birds chose their mates on this day. This was the time of year when the courtship flights of birds, particularly of members of the crow family, were visible.

There was a folk superstition, mentioned by Shakespeare that the first person you meet on Valentine's Day will be your true love. Ophelia plays with this idea when she says to Hamlet

Good morrow, 'tis St Valentine's Day
All in the morn betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your valentine.

Month of Parmuti
In the ancient Egyptian calendar, the month of Parmuti begins on this day. The Neter associated with this month is Renenutet, the serpent-headed protector of children and goddess of good fortune and fertility.

Trifon Zarezan
Bulgarians celebrate the patron saint of vineyards (on either this day or the 17 of February) by pouring out a libation of red wine on the earth, ceremonially pruning vine shoots, electing a Vine-king and dancing in masks. The ceremonies in his honor completely incorporate elements from the Thracian cult of Dionysus.