15 February 2023

Syncretism Rules OK

 A very ancient festival, today ... the Lupercalia.

How do we know that it is so old? Because it has no particular god associated with it.

Let me explain. 

Roman religion was originally rather different from Greek religion. Forget all those colourful gods and goddesses with the glamorous stories: they date from when Rome was invaded by Greek culture and mythology; the time when the old Roman Juppiter/Jove suddenly found himself garbed in all the Greek stories about Zeus. Furthermore, new Greek-style stories were invented and pegged onto the newly "Greco-Romanised" deities.

That did happen to the Lupercalia. Ovid has a diverting tale to explain why the Luperci did their run through Rome in a state of nakedness. Pan/Faunus, you see, saw Hercules and Queen Omphale ("Tummy Button") walking together while they were in their trans-dressing phase. He noticed which cave they entered to sleep, and when the night was safely lightless he crept into the cave and, as one does, groped around a bit. Discovering a bed upon which reposed a figure in exotic feminine garments, his interest was aroused. Yours might have been, too. But, of course, his further researches led to an unexpected if dramatic denouement.

So that's why the custom of dispensing with clothing at the Lupercalia first began. According to Publius Ovidius Naso.

Very 'Greek' in style, although pretty certainly invented by Ovid himslf ... or perhaps I should use the word 'Hellenistic', because it has an aetiological slant: that is to say, it gives the aition ... cause, origin ... of the custom by which the two colleges of Luperci charged naked up and down Rome's Via Sacra as they whipped the women who held out their hands.


Two or three years ago, a new academic dictionary of the Irish language came out, which gave us an exciting new piece of information about at least one lost detail of Irish philology.

What follows below is not ... NOT ... a rather poor joke just invented by me. Honest.

The word Leprechaun "is now thought" (as we moderns confidently say) to be a derivation from, a corruption of, Lupercus.


There is surely scope here for combining a splendid piece of ritual Revivalism with some good inspiring Syncretism. 

PF and Co could galumph naked round Rome whipping the women in the beautiful and ancient act of purification designed to increase their fertility. The superb liturgical craftspersons of the worship dicastery would have no difficulties grafting the Lupercalia onto the glorious Cult of Pachamama. And, in return, our beloved Amazonian brethren and sistren would benefit immeasurably from a healthy influx of naked Leprechauns.

You know it makes sense.


Prayerful said...

I read of the leprachauns - luperci connection a little while back. Early Irish monks were inveterate peregrini, making their way to Rome, at times settling in places to the great profit of the Faith in Dark Ages Europe. Pope Gelasius in the late fifth century claimed a degraded crew partook of this Festival, and despite objections of the Roman Senate make efforts to end this Festival. Popes, famously the later Pope St Gregory the Great wrote explicitly that rustic customs and times should be given a Christian understanding, and from very roughly that time and the Feast of the Purification or Candlemas on 2 Feb and a third century soldier martyr St Valentine took on traits of that Festival. Perhaps some Irish monks were in Rome in the late fifth century and mixed Roman and Irish lore. While an Irish ruler could call on an ollamh and others of a class of learned lay men, the roaming monks had the opportunity to mix those tales, which were all written down first by monks after an unknowable oral history. They, along with Anglo-Saxon monks had to learn Latin mostly from scratch, so this clever mingling of legends might've seemed natural, having acquired the luperci element at source. Perhaps.

Arthur Gallagher said...

I suspect that PF keeps company with those who would much rather whip men.

Patrick said...

Don't give them any ideas!