Friday, February 10, 2012


With Valentine’s Day in view, I’ve been reading about it in the book, “Curiosities of Popular Custom,” (printed in 1897), along with related topics on Candlemas and St. Brigid, (because I view Valentines as an extension of the goddess Brigid’s feast, based on the ancient practice of having a festival spread over a week or more, especially due to periodic calendar adjustments).  Like many, this book brings up the theory that in ancient times, young people drew names of the opposite sex, to be temporarily paired with a young man or woman in honor of the goddess Juno Februata; this might also tie in with a belief that birds chose their mates at this time.  [Note however, that the practice in honor of Juno may just be speculation, as modern scholars can’t relate this to any classical texts.]  Later, the Church supposedly tried to suppress this custom by substituting the practice of drawing the names of saints, so a young person would give a year’s devotion to whichever saint he or she drew.  This wasn’t pursued with a great deal of enthusiasm, so the day soon enough reverted to the practice of drawing names of the opposite sex.  Especially charming is the French usage, tied in with the tradition of courtly love, where the sentimental bond was such that, “During the year each stood to the other in the relation of Cavalier and Lady of Beauty, the knight being bound to the honor and defense of his fair one, for which she repaid him in smiles and silk favors.”

Many practices and superstitions have grown up around Valentines.  One usage that was prevalent, though something people expressed more playfully than seriously, was the notion that the first member of the opposite sex that you laid eyes upon on Saint’ Valentines would be your chosen one for the year.  This even applied to married people, and people of all ages, for the famous diarist Samuel Pepys and his wife had fun with this each year.  Sometimes Pepys and his wife would arrange a morning visit to another couple—not as “swingers,” of course, it was just for fun with friends.  On another Valentines morning, Mrs. Pepys jokingly held her hands over her eyes so she wouldn’t gaze on the crew of workers painting their dining room, and on another, a sweet little boy was sent up to her room to deliver a paper valentine: he had written her name in gold on bright blue paper.  (From 1667, this may be the first recorded example of a paper valentine.)

Reading about all of this, it occurred to me that you could have a little fun with your tarot deck when you get up on Valentine’s morning.  The following exercise is somewhat more in the tradition of drawing the names of saints or the just-in-fun practices of people like Pepys and his wife, which is to say, it is for purposes of inspiration and learning more about the cards; (it is not for lonely persons to choose some ghostly lover in preferment to flesh-and-blood ones).  While shuffling, pose a question like, “Which of you will be my Valentine?”  or “Who will be my spiritual Valentine?”   Then, go through your deck until you come to the first card that portrays a distinct personality of the opposite sex.  This card character then becomes a spiritual sweetheart, so that you can spend the year getting to know this card personality by reflecting on his or her qualities.  Notice also whether this personality is reflected in people you meet of the opposite sex, (though this does not obligate you to date them). Think about how this particular tarot personality would act in and contribute to relationships.  The making of relationship is one of the principle functions of the great goddess, so here we do get back to the works of Juno Februata and other seasonal goddesses.

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