by Dr. G.F. Pranzarone
Dear Dr. P.,
I love St. Valentine's Day. It's so romantic. It’s such a contrast to the sex-oriented relationships you see on the soaps today. What do you think?
Yes, Virginia, there is a Valentine's Day!
Valentine's Day! Romance. Sweethearts, flowers, chocolate candies, the freshness of youth, and budding spring loves, proclamations of enduring devotion fidelity--or is it ll this seemingly innocent?
Tell me. If you happened to learn the origin and history of the February Valentine's Day rituals, and really understood the significance of all of the symbols of this day, o you think you still would want to celebrate Valentine's Day? I can hear Steve Martin say "Well, listen to this . . ."
Let's examine the season and its symbols: February, the paper card or Valentine, the heart, Cupid, Cupid's arrow, the color red, the chocolate, the box for the chocolate, he flowers, the white lace on the card and on the box, the white color in contrast to the red, and of course, St. Valentine. I hope I haven't missed anything.
February: February has been the traditional time of year, after the winter solstice and during the apparent lengthening of the daylight period, that finds many animals, birds, mammals, with us among them, beginning the yearly frenzy of incipient spring mating and reproduction. Mardi Gras festivals, and carnivals of various sort have occurred worldwide at this time of year. Sexual inhibitions fall like icicles off of a hot roof. It's amazing what people will do while masked or otherwise weirdly costumed (as little as the costume may cover) during this traditional February party time. Valentine's Day is our second shot at the revelry after the end of the big party a week or two earlier.
The Romans held love and fertility celebrations in February. These were called the Lupercalia, a time of love, eroticism and sexual license. February was sacred to, and named for, Juno Februata, goddess of the "fever" (febris) of love. Like Mardi Gras and Carnival, a wild time was to be had, and it is interesting to learn how the enthusiastic revelers paired-up ("hook-up" is the current term). It was done by public raffle.
Valentine's Cards: During the Lupercalia party time in Rome, young men chose their sexual partners by a drawing of "billets"-small paper cards-with women's names on them (according to Barbara Walker's 1983 Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets). Christians later denounced the use of these cards as a lewd and pagan custom. The Church tried to substitute the exchange of prayer and sermon cards a this time of year, but the people reverted to hand-made love notes. The commercialization of the Valentine card occurred in recent history at the end of the Victorian Era.
The Heart: This symbol takes some knowledge of religious history and anatomy to explain. Eventually we'll see that there is a connection between the heart symbol and Cupid. But we start with Cupid's mother Venus.
Venus was the Roman name for the Greek goddess of beauty, Aphrodite. Aphrodite was beautiful all over but was unique in that her buttocks were especially beautiful. Her shapely rounded hemispheres were so appreciated by the Greeks that they built a special temple to Aphrodite Kallipygos, which literally meant "Goddess with Beautiful Buttocks" (this is true, no lie). It was probably the only religious building in the world that was dedicated to buttock worship. The month of April (Aphrilis) is named after Aphrodite, and of course on April Fools' Day people become the butt of jokes.
No less an authority than Desmond Morris (in his 1985, Body Watching: A Field Guide to the Human Species) states that the origin of the heart symbol with its deep cleft, was probably the shape of human female buttocks seen from the rear, and not an actual heart. Imagine a Valentine's heart here, but upside down, with the point up. Can you visualize it? Any student of anatomy will tell you that real hearts are amorphously fist-shaped and colored bluish-brown with fatty streaks of yellow-white. Real hearts are not red and shaped like a Valentine.
Today we have some females admitting that they too can appreciate a shapely set of male buttocks. But others don't have their hearts in this sort of appreciation of male good-looks.
Cupid goes about shooting his arrow into hearts? This symbolism requires closer scrutiny.
Cupid: Cupid was the name given by the Romans to the Greek god Eros (who was called Kama by the Hindus in India). He was the god of Love, Desire and Lust. Just as Venus was the mother of Cupid, Aphrodite was the mother of Eros in ancient Greek religious mythology. We see here that the goddess of Beauty gives birth to the little god of Love, Desire, and Lust. Ain't that the truth?
It is from Cupid's Greek name, Eros, from which we get the words erotic and erotica. Erotic means "of, or concerning, or tending to arouse, sexual love or desire;" and "dominated by sexual love or desire." Which means literally "to desire greedily or avariciously." This is synonymous with lust and lusting after someone. Erotica is a sexual turn-on.
This Cupid was no innocent kid, even though he was a cute cherub who flew about naked shooting people in the heart with his arrows. He was the god of desire and lust, not romantic love, and this was "heavy business" even for that period in history.
Now we have school kids exchanging with each other hearts with pictures of Cupid on them! We need paper Valentine detectors as badly as the metal detectors. Where are the morality police when we need them? Or at least, where are these kids' mothers? And speaking of mothers . . .
Cupid"s relationship with his mother Venus was not entirely wholesome. The situation seems to antedate Freud's notion of the Oedipus complex. Several paintings form the Renaissance, whose artists were more familiar with Greek and Roman religious mythology than are we, show a rather incestuous relationship existing between Cupid and Venus.
In Bronzino's (1545) famous painting, Cupid kisses his mother on the lips, fondles both of her breasts and one nipple, while she caresses-no kidding-his arrow. Incidentally, his buttocks are prominently displayed. Michaelangelo did a similar painting of Venus and Cupid, as we see in copies. The original was lost. It was possibly burned by an art critic offended by the painting's perverse eroticism. Most of this is in art historian Edward Lucie-Smith's 1991 book Sexuality in Western Art.
Cupid's Arrow: Do I really have to explain the obvious symbolism inherent in Cupid's arrow? But there really is interesting historical background on Cupid's archery.
Cupid's adventures in India were nastier than his in Europe. Being know as the god Kama, in India he represented passionate, lustful sexual desire. There he was a professional. The famous sex manual of India (For experts only, please) the Kama Sutra was named after him.
In Hinduism, Shiva is one of the Big-Three manifestations of Brahma. Kama (a.k.a. Cupid and Eros), was induced by lesser Hindu gods-who were jealous of Shiva's dominance-to distract Shiva with love and desire. Kama was about to shoot his "flowery" arrow of lustful fire and passion energy into Shiva when Shiva saw him and incinerated Kama with a white-hot blast of yogic energy from his third eye. The light was so brilliant that it greatly diminished the brightness of the sun.
Of course, in Hinduism there is reincarnation. Kama returned as a tree. Arrows are made from straight tree saplings. The arrows aren’t “flowery” any more, but are rigid and deadly effective. And since then, Cupid prefers to do his mischief by candlelight, moonlight, or even total darkness.
Even today, we may be struck by Cupid's arrow and be rendered distracted and stupefied by the vision of the beloved. Falling in love is irrational, and we choose neither the time or place of this event. We are shot through-and-through, and we attend only to the beloved whose presence and vision launched Cupid's arrow. I guess we're defenseless humans and not fire-spouting gods. Falling in love is involuntary, and we can't predict when it will hit. But Cupid's out there-lurking with his arrow.
The Color Red: Red is the color of life, of blood, of menstruation and of sexual excitement. In China red is joy. Chinese brides wear red! Lips of the mouth have historically been reddened, as opposed to other colors, by cosmetics, pinching or biting.
The “sex flush” described by Masters and Johnson in their 1966 book, occurs during high levels of sexual excitement just before orgasm in fair-skinned people, and is a reddening blush on the face, lips, neck and chest, and genitalia of the lover. Passion is red, anger is red, and so is the Valentine heart (see “Heart” above). We also know the implications of the terms "scarlet woman," and "red-light district."
Chocolates: The supposed link between love and chocolates has been written to death. Nevertheless, on Valentine's Day we traditionally offer chocolates to our intended valentine and not any other confection. Why?
Presume that they do contain the “love drug” phenyethyamine (PEA) in sufficient amounts to inflame and excite the intended lover. Your own brain normally produces this chemical when you are in love, and when you are in the presence of your beloved. PEA intoxicates you. It feels great to be in this state. The Aztecs used chocolate as an aphrodisiac. When we present chocolates we are saying, "These chocolates are a love philter intended to excite you in my presence so that you will fall in love with me as I have already fallen for you."
I recall that Dorothy Parker once said, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."
The Box: The chocolates are in a heart-shaped box of course. In Freudian dream symbolism (as Freud says in The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900) any type of container or vessel, such as a box, is symbolic of the female genitalia-essentially the vulva and vagina. (See “Heart” and “Red” above)
Flowers: There is no escaping the reality that flowers are the genitalia of plants. Flowers are sexed as male or female. Flowers emerge during the plant's reproductive phase and they are the site of reproduction. The male pollen joins with the female element of the flower and fertilization occurs, just as the similar process occurs in the genitalia of humans. The female flower then produces the new embryonic plant seed for the next generation.
So, what are we saying when we present our intended beloved with a dozen beautiful, red, long-stemmed, genitalia (I mean roses)? I won’t say anything about long-stems.
There's a candy shop in our town that produces chocolate roses for Valentine's Day. These are obviously a double-whammy message intended for the person who receives them.
White Lace: Traditionally we see white lace on the candy box and on the heart shaped card. Ask any Victoria's Secret catalog subscriber about the significance of lace. It is the predominant feature of expensive lingerie. Of course, lacy lingerie is worn for its practicality, ease of care, and pure comfort-and is not intended to be seen (here I speak ironically).
But there is a more intense and deeper meaning behind the lacy white, especially when contrasted to the color red which symbolized the principles of woman, and this is the white which symbolizes the male's essence, the Hindu Soma, or semen. Traditional Hindu wedding colors are red for the woman, cream-white for the man, and gold for the fire of creation.
St. Valentine: There is genuine question as to whether a historical person with this name ever existed. He may be a mythical replacement for the Roman goddess Juno Februata, or even for Eros, Cupid, Kama, Priapus, or Pan.
Again, according to Barbara Walker's Encyclopedia, several contradictory biographies exist for him. One described him as a handsome Roman youth who was executed the moment that his lover received his "billet" of love. He was also described as a tutor to young ladies who was martyred for his faith. There was some attempt to deny his existence and suppress the celebration.
Nevertheless, his myth persisted and he became the patron saint of lovers. His name was much invoked during the Middle Ages as part of love charms and potions. Recall that this was during the pre-chocolate era before Columbus.
Conclusion: Our holidays and celebrations are today the product of our collective history back centuries through many cultures. Now we know the "real truths" behind our Valentine's Day rituals, customs and symbols. I am caused to wonder if our upright (uptight?) citizens and parents could now condone the pagan erotosexual significance and former activities that evolved into Valentine's Day.
Of course, we don't now behave like they did then during Rome's Lupercalia. We are so much more civilized. We could just add Valentine's Day, this pagan celebration of wanton and uncontrolled erotic passion, to Halloween, that pagan celebration of witchcraft, spiritualism and Satanism, as a special target of rightful fundamentalistic Christian scorn and hostility.
But, I don't think Valentine's Day will ever go away. Valentine's Day, or something like it, has been around for a very long time. It's the middle of February. It's been a cold winter. Can spring and its warm romantic love be far away?
Incidentally-to that special someone out there-would you, could you, still be my Valentine?
Disheartedly yours, with tongue in cheek,