Winged Cupids? Why?
Valentine’s Day is big business. Sales on this day account for about 4 percent of total yearly candy revenue—and 40 percent of annual revenue in fresh flower sales. In the United States, this one day of sales added $18.6 billion to the 2013 gross domestic product.
Millions of people observe the holiday by pampering loved ones, buying gifts and making romantic proposals. People exchange mass-produced greeting cards and love notes called valentines. Dating is common—a custom that originated with the belief that birds choose their partners on February 14. Of all couples that get engaged in a given year, half do so on this day.
Some lament the materialism and commercialization that dominate this observance today, believing St. Valentine’s is a Christian festival. But is it? Where did it come from? What is the significance of the date of February 14? What are the true roots of this day? Few people ask these questions. But the answers will tell you whether you want to join in.
A Christian Custom?
“Christian” observance of Valentine’s Day is rooted in a much older tradition. Valentine’s Day stems from the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was kept centuries before the dawn of Christianity. The pagan population of Rome observed festivities beginning on the eve of February 14. Using a lottery system, they paired young men and women, who would fall in love and marry. It was celebrated in honor of the god Lupercus, meaning “he who wards off the wolf.”
When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he was encouraged to break with his pagan past. But the Roman populace would have none of it. The Christian-professing church decided it would permit the great masses of the empire (who were now considered members of the church) to continue to keep it, but under another name and for another purpose. “[T]he vestiges of superstition were not so absolutely obliterated,” English historian Edward Gibbon wrote, “and the festival of the Lupercalia, whose origin had preceded the foundation of Rome, was still celebrated ….” Yes—authorities agree that the festival predates the days of Rome. “[T]he Christians still continued, in the month of February, the annual celebration of the Lupercalia; to which they ascribed a secret and mysterious influence of the genial powers of the animal and vegetable world. The bishops of Rome were solicitous to abolish a profane custom, so repugnant to the spirit of Christianity; but their zeal was not supported by the authority of the civil magistrate: the inveterate abuse subsisted till the end of the fifth century, and Pope Gelasius, who purified the capital from the last stain of idolatry, appeased, by a formal apology, the murmurs of the senate and people” (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire).
The church often won “converts” by assigning so-called saints to pagan festivals and making them “Christian.” In this case, it gave the festival an acceptable veneer by linking it with a third-century account of a priest who secretly married couples against the edict of Emperor Claudius ii. Though this man was beheaded in a.d. 270, he was later honored as the patron saint of love and lovers: St. Valentine. In a.d. 496, after a long contest, Pope Gelasius “Christianized” the festival, renaming it “St. Valentine’s Day.”
But did this decree actually remove the “stain of idolatry”? Can simply changing the name of a festival really remove such a stain?
The horned one
Lupercus was the Roman god of shepherds. He was also known as Faunus, the horned god of the forest, plains and fields who made cattle fertile. The Romans, like the Greeks before them, were well known for sexual immorality. The Roman festival of Lupercalia celebrated perverted lust and free sex.
The Greek equivalent to Lupercus was the god Pan. Depicted with the hindquarters, legs and horns of a goat, Pan was famous for his sexual prowess and supposedly taught perverted sexual practices to shepherds. Semites called Pan “Baal,” a name often mentioned in the Bible as an object of pagan worship.
Several elements of this deity can be traced back to ancient civilizations, including his having horns. The first deified king of Babylon was Kronos, meaning the horned one, or mighty one. Ancient coins depicted him as a centaur archer, memorializing his fame as a huntsman.
Ancient Assyrian carvings often show a horned and winged bull. The symbol frequently occurred in the sculptures of ancient Nineveh, the Assyrian capital; the giant horned man-bull depicted the greatest of Assyrian divinities. Today, this image of the horned one has become embedded in our society’s popular depictions of the devil.
These symbols further reach back to the originator of Babylonian society, Nimrod, who founded Nineveh and the Assyrian kingdom (Genesis 10:11). He was a “mighty one in the earth” and a “mighty hunter” (verses 8-9). Like Lupercus, “he who wards off the wolf,” Nimrod defended people from wild animals by organizing them in cities—a measure that also brought them under his subjection. He was an ungodly ruler; his name in Hebrew means “rebellion.”
Baal, Bel, Kronos, Pan, Lupercus and Nimrod are all different iterations of the same being. And Valentine’s Day was a day pagans originally set aside in his honor.
The rites of Lupercalia were administered by priests called Luperci. The Luperci began the festival by sacrificing goats and a dog, after which two of the priests approached the altar. Their foreheads were touched with the bloody knife used in the sacrifice and then wiped with wool dipped in milk. Encyclopedia Britannica states, “The smearing of the forehead with blood probably refers to human sacrifice originally practiced at the festival” (emphasis added).
The priests also cut thongs from the skins of the sacrificial animals and struck people who came near. A strike from one of these thongs, called februa, supposedly prevented sterility in women. Women gladly received the slap, as they believed that a touch of the goatskin would render them fruitful and bring easy childbirth.
The name February comes from the Latin februare, meaning to purify. The festival was meant to secure the fruitfulness of the land, the increase of the flocks, and the prosperity of the people.
Anciently, mothers of male children customarily presented themselves for purification 40 days after giving birth. The winter solstice was celebrated for millennia as the rebirth of the sun, and the birth of the sun god of the ancient pagans, Baal. We have already seen that Baal, Nimrod and Lupercus are all one and the same.
Prior to calendar changes, the winter solstice took place on January 6, instead of on December 25. Counting 40 days from that solstice brings us to February 15. Days in ancient times began at sunset the evening before, and thus celebrations began on the evening of February 14—Lupercalia—St. Valentine’s Day.
Nimrod’s mother, Semiramis, is said to have desired and lusted after her newborn son, Tammuz, when she saw him. Tradition says she married her own son.
Hearts and cupids
The heart had been a symbol of Nimrod among the ancient Babylonians. The word for heart in the Babylonian language was bel, or bal. It was a symbol of Baal, lord of the Babylonians. Knowing that Nimrod was considered the mighty hunter, it is little wonder that the heart features in the festival commemorating him.
In Roman mythology, the goddess of sex, beauty, seduction and female charm, Venus, had a son, called Cupid. Encyclopedia Britannica says this name means “desire.” Cupid, who attended his mother at Lupercalia, and was believed to cause love by shooting arrows at the hearts of the victims. He was generally represented as a winged boy with bow and arrow.
Alexander Hislop explores the origin of Cupid (and the Greek equivalent, Eros): “[T]his infant divinity was frequently represented with a heart, or the heart-shaped fruit of the Persea, in one of his hands. … Thus the boy-god came to be regarded as the ‘god of the heart’ …. To identify this infant divinity with his father ‘the mighty hunter,’ he was equipped with ‘bow and arrows’ … taking aim with his gold-tipped shafts at the hearts of mankind” (The Two Babylons).
Venus and her son Cupid are simply another iteration of the Babylonian mystery religion’s Semiramis and Tammuz.
One widely held St. Valentine’s Day tradition involved pairing up. Boys and girls who otherwise lived separate lives in ancient Rome were paired on the eve of Lupercalia. Every young marriageable girl would place her name in a big urn. Each young man would draw out a name of a girl and became paired with her for the duration of Lupercalia. This often led to fornication.
Many today seek a girlfriend or boyfriend with the request “be my valentine.” The note may be delivered via text message instead of on a note in an urn, but the intent and outcome are often the same as they have been for millennia.
Be Not Snared
When God separated ancient Israel as a nation, He warned the people against paganism (e.g. Deuteronomy 12:29-31). Hundreds of years later, God reiterated this warning through the Prophet Jeremiah: “Learn not the way of the heathen …. For the customs of the people are vain” (Jeremiah 10:2-3). God forbade the keeping of these pre-Christian festivals. He viewed them as abominations.
Often people justify participating in such things, considering them innocent and harmless. They casually shrug off their pagan origins and say, “That’s not how I am observing it.” But Scripture forbids this carelessness. These customs, even those with a false Christian veneer, are actually idolatry. Don’t be ensnared by them.
God has given His people meaningful festivals that reveal His plan (Leviticus 23). He commands us to keep these genuine days that picture His plan to save all of mankind from the blind confusion with which Satan has kept all of mankind ignorant.
God does want us to keep annual celebrations and observe certain days. And He does forbid us to keep alternative days of mankind’s own invention. It matters which days you keep. But if you choose to keep God’s holy days, not only will you be free of the stains of paganism and sin, you’ll begin to understand the truth about God and His plan that will bring you more excitement and thrills than millennia of pagan holidays ever could.