Whatever your plans for Mardi Gras this year, you’re actually giving more than a passing nod to the spring fertility festival of Lupercalia.
Lupercalia (which superseded the even older spring rite known as Februa), celebrates the Roman god Faunus, or Lupercus (“he who wards off the wolf”, the protector of cattle). Other theories cite Lupercalia as the cave where the twins Romulus and Remus were suckled by a female wolf. The festival, which occurred between February 13th and 15th, predates modern religious practices (including the Romans and Christianity). Faunus later became associated with wood spirits known as fauns, satyrs, and orgiastic drunken followers of Dionysus.
According to Wikipedia, the festival was celebrated by temple priests known as Luperci, who, wearing only goatskin girdles, ran up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter; striking those they met with shaggy thongs. Women stood purposely in their way, and like children at school, presented their hands to be struck, believing that the action increased their fertility or eased pregnancy. No doubt alcohol, naked frivolity, and laughter have always been part of this celebration.
So Happy Lupercalia to you. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.