Do you not see how mighty is the Goddess Aphrodite?
She sows and gives that love from which all we upon this earth are born.
~ Empedocles ca. 490-430 BCE
Felicitations and good wishes to all, on this most ancient day of Love!
The Parentalia, an eight-day Roman festival honoring dead ancestors, was celebrated at this time. All temples were closed, no marriages took place, and government officials did not show their rank. People visited the graves of their parents and other relatives, bringing offerings of milk, wine, honey, oil, and spring water.
Sunset tonight is the time that would have begun the portion of the Parentalia called the Lupercal. This is a day of fertility dedicated to Juno-Lupa, the Goddess in the guise of Mother She-wolf. Women’s pleas for children were granted by Her, which may be be linked to the origins of Valentine’s Day.
The custom of sending love notes may have originated from the practice of casting lots to draw the names of partners during these celebrations. (Later the Church tried to abolish this practice, suggesting that the names of saints be substituted, but unsurprisingly, it did not catch on).
Coincidentally (or perhaps not), according to some interpretations of the Celtic calendar, today is also the holy day when Arianrhod was ordered to step over the magical truth-discerning wand of Her uncle, Math, to prove Her virginity. Some Neo-Pagans also celebrate this day as the wedding between Danu, Mother of the Land and Cernnunos, God of Nature and the cycles of Life.
But because this was also an important festival time for honoring the Greek Goddess of Love, for many years I have reclaimed this holiday in the name of Aphrodite.
You see, I would rather not give my energy to the various obscure Christian martyrs named St. Valentine. Instead of a day that is steeped in our culture’s underlying fascination with martyrdom, consumerism, conflicted sexuality, and tragic love, I prefer to celebrate the gifts of powerful Aphrodite, whose focus is on the life-affirming joy, sanctity, and pleasure of the erotic.
There are many incarnations of this great Olympian Goddess of pleasure, joy, beauty, love, and procreation. Her power transcends culture and time. She is known as “Aphrodite Marina,” “Maiden of the Sea,” “Aphrodite Urania,” and simply the “Goddess of Love.” Her Roman identity is Venus.
Although one of the most widely recognized of the Greek Goddesses, She probably did not originate in Greece, but was an aspect of the Mother Goddess that came from the sea traders of the eastern Mediterranean. Some scholars believe that Aphrodite is a version of the older Goddess, Astarte.
However, She was not generally thought of as a Mother Goddess by the Greeks. Instead, She was a very important representative of the Maiden. Remember, though, that the Maiden is not usually an untouched virgin. Instead, this term refers to the fact that She is free of ties to marriage or relationship, and is not dependent on a lover or husband for Her power, identity, or security.
Of course, Aphrodite is well known for Her love affairs, which were numerous and rather spectacular, and resulted in many offspring, including Her son, Eros. Her most notable lovers were the Gods Ares, Dionysius, Hermes, Poseidon, and the mortal, Adonis.
Although Aphrodite is beautiful, and beloved by all the Gods and Goddesses of Olympus (no small feat in itself!), She is no wimp. She is very serious about honoring the gifts of love and sexuality, and can be harsh against those who thwart the natural flow in all living beings. To punish Glaucus for refusing to let his mares breed, She caused the mares to throw him from his chariot during a race, after which they ate him. Moral of the story: do not trifle with Aphrodite!
Often known as “The Golden One,” She is worshiped with gifts and ornaments of gold, which, like Her eternal youth and beauty, never tarnish. Doves, snow geese, and lovebirds are also often associated with Her because of their gentle natures. She is a Goddess of flowers, as well.
The echoes of this day for honoring love and the choosing of partners have remained in folk customs and celebrations for thousands of years now, such as those in the Middle Ages, when people believed that birds chose their mates on this day.
In honor of the marriage of the birds, and for the favor of Aphrodite, you might wish to set out special treats for the birds on this day. Of course, any other ways you may wish to celebrate this day are only limited to your imagination!
Today especially, rejecting the subtexts of the Valentine saints, and instead aligning with the messages of mighty Aphrodite, I join with the One Billion Rising revolution. Like most women, I have endured the marginalizing and profanity heaped on girls and women as a matter of course in our society. But I, too, am one of the estimated billion women who have experienced gender violence and rape.
In the name of Aphrodite, I say this: Women’s bodies are holy. Our bodies belong only to us. We are not commodities. Our sexuality is a divine gift and we share it only when and with whom we please. We are sacred and our culture of tolerance for violence, misogyny, intimidation, and exploitation changes now.
So let us rejoice as we obey Aphrodite’s directive that we recognize as good and blessed the erotic forces within ourselves and all of life.
All acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals.