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What Do We Know About St. Valentine? | A Christian Witch's View on Valentine's Day

Turns out that this guy is a little more complicated than we realize!


Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church, Solomonic Magic, Occult, Left Hand Path, Demonolatry, Demonology, Corinthians, Paul

Along with Imbolc, we’re seeing a much more commercially recognizable and now virtually secular Saint feast day: the feast of St. Valentine. No matter one’s religious background, no matter one’s cultural background, chances are that if you live in America or some place this holiday is marked on calendars, you’ll have gotten whiplash from the sudden transition from Christmas stuff in the stores to Valentine’s Day stuff.


Teddy bears holding velvety, lacey hearts. Big boxes of heart shaped chocolates. Massive bouquets of pink, white, and red roses. Promises of romantic adventures at overpriced Italian restaurants somewhere. You know how it goes.


However, while I do want to talk a little about the romantic possibilities of the day, I of course have to talk a little bit about St. Valentine, too—and the real story of the man, as well as how his feast day became so full of all things love and romance. So let’s dive in.


The Story of St. Valentine


As you might know, save for St. John’s Day and Christmas, most feast days of important figures like Saints have to do with the day they died. So yes—February 14th marks the day that, according to legend, St. Valentine died. He was martyred for his faith and his illegal dealings as a priest, which we’ll talk more about in a moment, and it’s believed he was buried north of Rome, on the Via Flaminia. Problem is, though, that what shaky details we have about him aren’t much to go off, and so the Catholic Church removed him from the general Roman calendar in 1969—though obviously, since his feast day has been firmly cemented on February 14th since the 5th century, that dedication to him wasn’t changing.


There’s a lot of kerfuffle about St. Valentine. It was apparently a pretty popular name back in the day, which means that there could’ve been multiple people that fit the bill for being martyred as a Christian priest. In fact, a lot of the stories we do have may have apparently been a combination of the stories of two different Valentines, specifically. That’s why we gotta take a lot about this 3rd century Christian Saint with a good sized grain of salt—but as you know as magicians and witches, belief can do, and create, a lot of things. Likely, there is one such St. Valentine floating around now—whether an egregorized version of the real man or an outright creation of hundreds of years of Christian imagination.


Either way, we can say this: no matter the truth of his story, he is real now, in our minds and hearts and understanding.


But here are the main things we ascribe to the story of St. Valentine:


  • He was marrying people illegally and helping Christian couples evade Roman law. Men had to serve in the army first and couldn’t get married before that; they had to go to war for the empire, and being married would make that impossible.

  • He was under house arrest by order of Judge Asterius, but when St. Valentine healed the judge’s daughter of blindness, the judge let him go, destroyed all the idols in his house, converted to Christianity, and then freed all his Christian prisoners.

  • He was decapitated for his faith under the reign of Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 270 CE,, and some legends say that his head rolled down a hill, and where it stopped is where they built a basilica. Others say Pope Julius the I built a basilica over his grave in Via Flaminia.

  • The reason we have this idea of “being one’s Valentine” is because he allegedly wrote a letter to the judge’s healed daughter signed, “Your Valentine.”

  • There’s a skull wreathed in flowers in Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome that the Church says is the skull of St. Valentine.


All in all, it sounds like he was a radical man, one who believed in helping people avoid war and stay together in their couples and partnerships above all. The idea of marriage as a radical act to defeat and deny the call to be another cog in a war machine has a beautiful feeling to it, I think.


Lupercalia and Folk Magic of the Day


Now, of course, with that being what we know about St. Valentine, we also have to talk about the obvious elephant in the room: the pagan holidays this feast day is obviously overriding, and the many traditions of folk magic that persisted throughout Christian Europe for centuries after.


Lupercalia was a festival in February that had to do with two things: one being the petitions to the god Lupercus to protect people’s sheep from the winter-starved wolves, and another being a kickstart to the season of springtime flowers and fertility. It very much reminds me of pre-Passover traditions, honestly, because according to the Jewish Study Bible, the whole lamb’s-blood-over-the-door thing may have been a part of ancient near eastern springtime rites, where people would paint the barns and doors with blood to keep demons away and protect the lambs through to the summer, as well as celebrate the general springtime before it became a time centered around the story of Exodus.


Still, women would apparently whip themselves with pieces of goatskin, called februa, to purify themselves for childbirth, and all kinds of fertility festivals would take place. There may have been a tradition where men pull a maiden’s name out of a cup, and whoever gets paired up stays paired for the whole festival day—or even get married. Here’s a bit from the History Channel about it that I think sums it up nicely:


To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.


This took place around either February 14th or 15th, and so with the Christianization of Rome, it was Pope Gelasius that apparently decided to try overriding this holiday with St. Valentine’s feast day towards the end of the 5th century. By doing so, he could redirect all that festival energy to the Saint instead of to all these fun little pagan rituals and rites. But obviously, old habits die hard, and there seems to be something… innate about the way in which people follow the ebbs and flows of nature. Even if it took a while, St. Valentine’s day once again began to be associated with love and romance and all such things related.


It was in areas like France and especially England in the middle ages that the idea of romance and Valentine’s Day would be even more tightly linked together by the belief that all birds began their mating season around this time. Even the English poet Chaucer talks about it in his poem from 1375 CE, The Parliament of Fowls. Here’s a couple stanzas of it:


And in a clearing on a hill of flowers

Was set this noble goddess, Nature;

Of branches were her halls and her bowers

Wrought according to her art and measure;

Nor was there any fowl she does engender

That was not seen there in her presence,

To hear her judgement, and give audience.


 

For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,

Of every species that men know, I say,

And then so huge a crowd did they make,

That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake

Was so full, that there was scarcely space

For me to stand, so full was all the place.


As a result, people began getting into some really interesting traditions to acquire marriage partners and what-have-you. They’d send Valentine’s notes, they’d have funny little superstitions to discover their lover, the whole thing. Some examples come from Country Life’s online article:


Young ladies in England would write the names of prospective lovers on slips of paper, before rolling them in clay and placing them in a bowl of water. Whichever name rose to the surface first, would be their Valentine. In Scotland, names were drawn from a hat three times and if the same name appeared each time then marriage would follow. Of course, it was possible to increase your chances of finding the right name. The name of your Valentine was then worn on your sleeve for the remainder of the day…


To improve their chances of finding true love, single girls could run round a church twelve times without stopping; lay bay leaves sprinkled in rosewater on their pillow; or even eat a hard-boiled egg at midnight, shell and all. A lady approaching old-maid status was advised to try all of the above.


And it wasn’t originally red roses that signified love, but the yellow crocus, which couples wore in honor of the Saint who apparently once brought two people together with a little crocus—and those two were lovers all their lives thereafter. But then came red roses, and then came the popular traditions of giving friends and lovers pretty notes, and by 1900, the concept of mass-printed Valentine’s Day cards became a regular and popular thing. Hallmark, that famous card brand, started selling them in 1913, and apparently they sell 145 million Valentine’s Day cards every year—beaten in number of cards sent only by Christmas.


As you might imagine, the centuries of belief around St. Valentine and the centuries of association with this day as a day of love make this an amazing day for love magic. Just like our English maidens here, doing all their divinations and other things to attract husbands, so too can you perform some great works if you’ve been looking to find love recently. You might even do a novena to St. Valentine, a nine day prayer with an offering to charity or some other good deed at the end, so that he might help you find your partner as he helped so many others come together in the name of God.


Just keep in mind though: this Valentine’s Day also falls on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which we’ll talk about more next week on my Patreon, and even later on my YouTube. If you want to catch my videos as they come out, definitely consider supporting me on Patreon for videos and other fun things, like recipe cards, Interview with the Gods written interpretations, and a private Discord server. (And in fact, you can check out this interview I did with St. Valentine himself back in September!)


Until then, be well, and I hope you enjoyed this little bit about St. Valentine.


Sources:


 

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry

Sara Raztresen is a Slovene-American writer, screenwriter, and Christian witch. Her fantasy works draw heavily on the wisdom she gathers from her own personal and spiritual experience, and her s


piritual practice borrows much of the whimsy and wonder that modern society has relegated to fairy-and-folktale. Her goal is to help people regain their spiritual footing and discover


God through a new (yet old) lens of mysticism.



Follow Sara on Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube, and explore her fiction writing here.


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