Burnt Snow, my first novel, was released in 2010 by Pan MacMillan Australia. White Rain, the sequel, is due soon. As part of a trilogy about witches, earth magic, curses, love and revenge, this blog archives my research into the world of the witches - as well as my own magical saga as a new author.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lupercalia: Strangers in Bloody Goatskins

Today I’ve spent doing the Witch Trail around Covent Garden. In addition to Neal’s Yard for herbs, Mysteries for magic rocks and Treadwell’s for esoteric literary treasures, I’ve visited the unmatchable Bou Tea. This is where I refresh on pots of Assam and slices of ginger cake for warmth inside and out. The Boy Next Door prefers the Bran Cake, but it’s our differences as much as our similarities that make us interesting, I suppose.

I’ve just bought Herbcraft: A Guide to the Shamanistic and Ritual Use of Herbs from the pagan beauties at Treadwell’s, and I’ve been reading it while sipping my golden tea. Bou Tea is not only run by lovely girls who refill your cup for free, but it’s simple and quiet, with fantastic crockery and they play Sufjan Stevens over the stereo (the pretty tunes from Illinois have me lulled into a beautifully melancholy mood as I write this). In this atmosphere, it’s been easy to doze off into the waking dream of reading a new book.

[Here is a sample of Bou Tea's fantastic crockery. Note the prowling tiger, whose feline energy the superstitious may assign to the carnelian bracelet I’ve been wearing around my wrist since the beginning of the Chinese New Year of the Tiger. More on carnelian later].

But today is the day of the Wolf, not the Tiger. February 15, is the anniversary of the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. Devoted to Lupercus, a god of shepherds who is often interchangeable with Faunus (the Latin equivalent of the horn-headed Greek god Pan) it’s the “Festival of the Wolf” - a whoo-yeah-winter’s-ending-let’s-get-busy kind of celebration associated with fertility.

In days of yore, two male goats and a dog used to be sacrificed in a cave in the Palatine hills where Romulus and Remus (founders of Rome) were originally suckled by the she-wolf, Lupa. On Lupercalia, priests would wear goatskins for the sacrifice, there was a bit of blood-smearing and everyone would have a good laugh before the sacrificial feast, which involved burning salt-cakes made by those party perennials, Vestal virgins.

It was actually after the feast that Lupercalia got really interesting: The officiating priests cut the skins from the sacrificed goats to dress themselves like Lupercus. Then they ran around the walls of the city, whipping people with thongs also made from the skins.

Then, Wikipedia tells me (and we all know Wikipedia never lies):
Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.
Well, um, okay. I’m certainly up for a celebration of fertility - having had many friends who’ve put themselves through the ordeal of IVF I can certainly understand that getting whipped by the organs of sacrificed animals by strangers in bloody goatskin would come off favourably in comparison. This is my year of seasonal living, so if Lupercalia is on, Lupercalia I’m doing. Of course, I headed down to Sainsbury’s to find a strikingly negative quantity of goat, so I’ve been forced to improvise.

Dear Lupercus,
Happy Lupercalia! The Boy Next Door and I just wanted to check in to let you know we are honouring your coming-of-spring godliness with our own post-industrial take on the sacrificial feast. We couldn’t get goat, so we’ve baked a lamb roast. It’s full of rosemary and garlic and good cheer, and we’re serving it with red kidney beans, which we know are potent symbols of fertility and plenty in your culture. As the roast is just about to come out of the oven, we’ll raise a cup of red grape juice to you and wish you all the best.
Until next year!
Van Badham and the Boy Next Door.

No comments: