Love reigns in mid-February—or at least that is what people would have you believe. Retailers tell you it is sweeter with some bling, fragrance, sweets, love songs or flowers. Chocolatiers, card-makers and florists look forward to a tradition that sends customers flocking to their stores in droves: Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is big business. Candy sales on this day account for about 4 percent of total yearly candy revenue. It is the busiest holiday for fresh flower sales, accounting for 40 percent of annual revenue. This has powerful repercussions on the economy. In the United States alone, this one day of sales added about $18.6 billion to the 2013 gross domestic product.
Ever since its inception, Valentine’s Day has been associated with romantic love. Pampering one’s beloved and making romantic proposals are popular traditions. Of all couples planning to get engaged in a given year, half will do so on this day. Why?
One of the most commonly observed customs of the day is the exchange of love notes called valentines. People used to exchange handwritten notes, but starting with the 19th century, the practice was replaced by the exchange of mass-produced greeting cards. Gradually, Valentine’s Day cards were given to teachers, siblings, parents, friends and dear ones along with sweethearts.
Another popular tradition observed worldwide is to go on a date. Those without a significant other start looking for a date days before the festival. This originated from the popular belief that birds chose their partners on February 14, promoting the idea of this celebration in mid-February as a day of love and romance.
Some lament the commercialization today, believing St. Valentine’s is a Christian festival. But is it? Where did it come from? What significance lies behind the date of February 14? Few people ponder these questions. Does it even matter? Do you know the answers? What is the true root of Valentine’s Day? To the surprise of some, its origin actually goes back over four millennia.
A Christian Custom?
Valentine’s Day falls at the same time as the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. The festival paired young men and women through a lottery system, and they would “fall in love” and marry.
It is historically well established that the early church of Rome blended pagan beliefs and practices, assigning so-called saints to festivals long previously observed by pagans in an effort to win converts. The church’s decision to alter the festivities by assigning it an acceptable name was based on a third-century account of a presbyter who secretly married couples against the edict of Emperor Claudius ii. Though he was beheaded in a.d. 270, he was later honored as the patron saint of love and lovers, St. Valentine.
What then is it that people celebrate on Valentine’s Day?
Lupercalia was celebrated in honor of the pagan god Lupercus, meaning he who wards off the wolf. Authorities, however, agree that this was an ancient, pre-Roman festival handed down from the East. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “the festival itself … contains no reference to the Romulus legend, which is probably later in origin ….” The pagan population of Rome observed festivities beginning on the eve of February 14 centuries before the dawn of Christianity.
Valentinus was a common Roman name derived from the Latin word valens, meaning “to be strong.” Literally Valentinus means “strong, powerful, mighty.”
When Emperor Constantine converted to orthodox Christianity, he was encouraged to break with his pagan past. But the Roman populace of his realm would have none of it. The Christian-professing church decided that the only way to resolve the matter was to let the great masses of the empire (who were now considered members of the church) keep the Lupercalia festival, but under another name and for another purpose.
In the 18th century, English historian Edward Gibbon wrote, “[T]he vestiges of superstition were not so absolutely obliterated, and the festival of the Lupercalia, whose origin had preceded the foundation of Rome, was still celebrated …” (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire).
It becomes quite obvious then, that the “Christianization” of Valentine’s Day is rooted in a much older tradition in honor of the “mighty one” “who wards off the wolf.”
“After the conversion of the imperial city, the 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” (ibid).
But did Pope Gelasius remove this “stain of idolatry”? In a.d. 496, after a long contest, he “Christianized” the festival, renaming it “St. Valentine’s Day.”
Revelation 17 describes a great counterfeit religion set up by this “mighty one” called: “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth” (verse 5). True Christians are admonished to come out of that religious system (Revelation 18:4). By the time the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, the city of Babylon had long been destroyed and left in ruins, but its abominable customs and religious concepts had continued.
The Mighty One
Shortly after the Flood, man began to settle in a plain in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11:2). It was in this land that the city of Babylon was built. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers provided fertile soil for the people to grow crops, but it was overrun with wild animals. At this point a powerfully built man by the name of Nimrod came on the scene. “And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:8-9).
Nimrod’s success as a hunter gained him prestige, and he became a famous leader. He warded off wild animals. To protect the people from this continuous threat, he corralled them into cities with protective walls. This concentration of people increased his power and influence over them. Nimrod’s kingdom became the first mentioned in the Bible (verse 10).
Nimrod was an ungodly ruler; his name in Hebrew simply means “rebellion.” The Jewish Encyclopedia states that Nimrod was “he who made all the people rebellious against God.”
Much of the worship Nimrod established in Babylon was carried out through mysterious symbols. Many of these symbols involved earthly creatures. The Apostle Paul summed up this worship aptly in Romans 1:21-26. To the largely illiterate plebeians of ancient civilizations, symbolism played a major part in their religious worship. Is it any different today?
The Horned One
Lupercus was the Roman god of shepherds, also known as Faunus, the horned god of the forest, plains and fields who made cattle fertile. Like the Greeks before them, the Romans were well known for their sexual immorality, and the Roman festival of Lupercalia was a particular “love” fest—not based on any principle of outgoing concern, but on perverted lusts and free sex.
The Greek equivalent to Lupercus was the god Pan, the god of fields, groves and wooded glens. Depicted with the hindquarters, legs and horns of a goat, Pan was famous for his sexual prowess and is related to all sorts of sexual perversions such as masturbation and bestiality, which he supposedly taught to shepherds.
Pan, a rustic god, was not worshiped in temples or other man-made edifices, but in natural settings, usually caves or grottoes such as the one on the north slope of the Acropolis of Athens, often referred to as the Cave of Pan.
Also highly prominent during Lupercalia was the she-wolf, Lupa, that, according to legend, suckled the infant orphans Romulus and Remus, the supposed founders of Rome, in the cave of Lupercal on the Palatine Hill (the central hill where Rome was traditionally thought to have been founded).
This connection between the grottoes of Athens and the cave of Lupercal proves that the history of this observance long pre-dated Roman times.
Several elements of this deity can be traced back to ancient civilizations. One of these is the depiction of this deity as a horned god. The first deified king of Babylon—identified as the husband of Rhea, the great goddess mother of Chaldea—was Kronos, meaning “the horned, or mighty one.” Ancient coins depict this king as a centaur archer, intended to perpetuate the memory of his fame as a huntsman.
The similarities with the half-man, half-animal god Pan are obvious. Semites called Pan “Baal,” a name often mentioned in the Bible. Baal, Bel, Nimrod, Tammuz, Kronos, Pan, Lupercus and Valentine are all one and the same. And Valentine’s Day was the day originally set aside by the pagans in his honor. Engaging in it is simply Baal-worship!
The 19th-century author Alexander Hislop states: “The meaning of this name Kronos, ‘the horned one,’ as applied to Nimrod, fully explains the origin of the remarkable symbol, so frequently occurring among the Nineveh sculptures, the gigantic horned man-bull, as representing the great divinities in Assyria. The same word that signified a bull, signified also a ruler or prince. Hence the ‘horned bull’ signified ‘the mighty prince’ …” (The Two Babylons).
Ancient Assyrian carvings often show a horned and winged bull. The mighty kings of Babylon and Assyria imitated Nimrod and his successors. Kronos wore horns as the emblem of both his physical might and sovereign power. In popular superstition, this image has become the recognized representation of the devil.
The rites of Lupercalia were directed by a corporation of priests called Luperci. The Luperci began the festival by sacrificing goats and a dog, after which two of the priests approached the altar. They had their foreheads touched with the bloody knife used in the sacrifice and then wiped with wool dipped in milk. The ritual then required that the two young men should laugh. The Encyclopedia Britannica states, “The smearing of the forehead with blood probably refers to human sacrifice originally practiced at the festival.” These priests would cut thongs from the skins of the sacrificed animals and use them to strike people who came near as they circled the city. A strike from one of these thongs, called februa, supposedly prevented sterility in women. The women gladly received the slap, believing that the touch of the februa would render them fruitful and bring about easy childbirth. The name February comes from the Latin februare, meaning “to purify.” The object of the festival was to secure the fruitfulness of the land, the increase of the flocks and the prosperity of the people.
Anciently, it was customary for the mother of a male child to present herself 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. Remember that days in ancient times began at sunset the evening before, and thus celebrations began on the evening of February 14, on Lupercalia, or St. Valentine’s Day.
It was on this day that Semiramis, the mother of Tammuz—the supposed reborn Nimrod—appeared in public for the first time with her son as the original Madonna and child.
Hearts and Cupids
The heart had been a symbol of Nimrod among the ancient Babylonians. According to Young’s Analytical Concordance of the Bible and Strong’s Concordance, the word for heart in the Babylonian language was bel, or bal. It was a symbol of Baal, lord of the Babylonians.
This symbol too would be Christianized by the church in Rome.
Commenting on this symbolism, Hislop asked, “How came it that the ‘heart’ became the recognized symbol of the Child and the great Mother? … [T]he worship of the ‘Sacred Heart’ was just, under a symbol, the worship of the ‘Sacred Bel,’ that mighty one of Babylon, who had died a martyr for idolatry … the infant god, was regarded as Bel, born again” (op. cit.).
Knowing that Nimrod was considered the mighty hunter, it is no wonder then that the heart that commemorates him features so prominently in this festival.
Both Catholic and later Protestant churches retained the pagan trappings and embellishments of the original Roman festival. Hearts continued to be displayed, and lots were still drawn as chance directed. It was also a widely held tradition that the first person of the opposite sex encountered on the morning of St. Valentine’s Day was to become one’s future spouse. At parties people would cast off restraint, often disregarding the inevitable consequences of such lustful revelry.
In Roman mythology, the goddess of sex, beauty, enticement, seduction and persuasive female charm, Venus, had a son called Cupid. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, this name means “desire.” Cupid attended his mother on the festival of Lupercalia and was believed to arouse love by shooting arrows at the hearts of the victims. Cupid was generally represented as a winged boy with bow and arrow.
Hislop explored the origin of Cupid (and its Greek equivalent, Eros). He wrote, “[T]his infant divinity was frequently represented with a heart, or the heart-shaped fruit of the Persea, on one of his hands …. Thus the boy-god came to be regarded as the ‘god of the heart,’ in other words as Cupid, the god of love …. 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” (ibid).
Venus and her son Cupid are simply another iteration of the Madonna and child of the Babylonian mystery religion—Semiramis and Tammuz. After Nimrod’s death, Semiramis is said to have lusted after her newborn son when she saw him. She desired him, so much so that tradition tells us she married her own son! No wonder Cupid’s name means desire.
Valentine’s Day is founded on and saturated with desire and lust. It is only fitting that it is garbed in the symbolism of this original perverted desire of a mother for her son.
The custom of exchanging valentines is also linked with the practice of going steady. Young men and women who otherwise lived separate lives in ancient Rome were paired on the eve of Lupercalia. All the young marriageable girls placed a chit of their name in a big urn. Each young man drew out the name of a girl from the urn, and the two would be paired for the duration of Lupercalia. Sometimes the pairing lasted for a year, until the next year’s celebration. Quite often, the couple would later marry. The custom lasted for a long time until people decided that mates should be chosen by sight, not luck.
Laurence Whistler wrote, “It was about the middle of the month that the names of willing young ladies were put in a box and well taken up, so that each young blood could draw out one at random; the girl thus won was to remain his companion while the gaieties lasted” (The English Festivals). This often led to fornication. The festival was “characterized by wanton raillery and unkindly freedom” (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics).
Many today seek a steady girl- or boyfriend with the request “be my Valentine.” The note may be delivered via text message instead of a note in an urn, but the intent and tragic outcome are often the same.
Be Not Snared
When God set apart ancient Israel as a nation, He warned the people against paganism. “When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods …” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).
God forbade the keeping of these pagan festivals. In His sight, they are abominations. Not only are these pagan festivals vain and purposeless, observing them blinds us to the real purpose for man’s existence.
Centuries later, God reiterated this warning: “Learn not the way of the heathen … [f]or the customs of the people are vain” (Jeremiah 10:2-3).
Don’t casually shrug off the customs of the society around you, but be sure you know their origins. Take time to examine the world’s foolish customs now falsely labeled “Christian.” See them for what they are: idolatry. Don’t be snared by them!
Since the beginning of human civilization, Satan has used pagan celebrations to keep man ignorant of God’s plan and enslaved to his way. But God has given His people meaningful festivals that reveal His plan of salvation for all mankind (Leviticus 23). God commands us to keep these holy days so we may be free from such utter ignorance and confusion.