The month of February is the season of purification and the celebration of light which has its roots in ancient fertility festivals.
The Feast of Lupercalia was an ancient purification festival thought to be of pre-Roman origin, subsuming the earlier Februa, a cleansing ritual held around the same date each spring, from which the name of the month of February is derived. A pagan fertility festival celebrated on 15th February, in which the names of young women were placed in a box and then drawn by men, Lupercalia is thought to have been the precursor of St Valentines Day.
In antiquity Lupercalia was thought to be connected to the Ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia, (from the Ancient Greek 'lykos' meaning 'wolf') and the worship of Lycaean Pan, the Greek horned god of shepherds and flocks. The Lykaia was an archaic festival performed on the slopes of Mount Lykaion, the 'Wolf Mountain' in Arcadia, the primary seat of Pan where his worship began. The secret rituals and myths of this primitive festival has long been associated with werewolves.
In Roman mythology Lupercus (derived from the Latin 'lupus' meaning 'one who fends off the wolf'), like the Greek Pan, is the protector of cattle, the god of shepherds, and often identified with one of the oldest Roman deities, Faunus, the horned god of the forest and plains, who came from Arcadia, who's festivals were known as the Faunalia. The festival of Lupercus, the Lupercalia, is celebrated on 15th February the anniversary of the founding of his temple in which the priests wore goatskins reflecting the near nakedness of the god except for his goatskin girdle. Members of Lupercali would gather in the sacred cave at the foot of the Palatine Hill in Rome, between the Temple of Apollo Palatinus and the Basilica of Santa Anastasia, where Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf (lupa) was known as the Lupercal, where, on the Ides of February, a goat and a dog were sacrificed and Vestal Virgins prepared salt meal-cakes. Youths would then cut the goatskin into strips and run through the streets of Rome clad in animal skin, impersonating male goats, any women slapped with the goatskin were considered to have been touched with the gift of fertility.
The name of the month February was derived from the Latin term februum, meaning 'purification'. The Romans celebrated Februa (Februatio), the festival of ritual purification, around 15th February. According to Ovid, Februare, a Latin word which refers to means of purification by bathing or washing with water, derives from an earlier Etruscan word referring to purging. The later Roman god Februus personified the month of purification, February thus named for the festival. Later the festival, possibly influenced by the Greek festival Lykaia as stated above, became known as Lupercalia.
This time of year was also an important calendar marker to pre-Celtic people of North-Western Europe who built some of their megalithic structures aligned to the rising sun of both Imbolc and its opposite festival of Samhain.
In the Celtic calendar, this period of the year became known as Imbolc one of the four principal festivals of the pagan year. It can be celebrated either at the beginning of February or at the first local signs of Spring but in the northern hemisphere it is usually celebrated on the 1st February, this ancient festival marking the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Imbolc, and this date in particular, is strongly associated with the goddess Brigid; 1st February being the Feast day of the Christian St Brigid. Imbolc is associated with the pregnancy of ewes and ewe's milk, Brigid is often depicted milking a cow.
The 2nd February is also associated with the Christian feast of Candlemas marking the end of the season of Epiphany. Candlemas is also known as "The Festival of Lights", the lighting of candles and fires representing the increasing power of the sun after the long, dark winter. Drawing on some elements of pagan festivals, initiation and purification again being an important aspect of this festival.
Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of her son Jesus. At the end of this time, women were brought to the Temple to be purified and after the ceremony were allowed again to participate in religious services. Candlemas is the day that all the Church's candles for the year were blessed and on Candlemas night, people would place lighted candles in their windows at home.
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