This is the time of year when we all think about love. It is not that we don’t think about love at other times during the year, but in the month of February love takes center stage. Americans alone are expected to spend $20 billion with an additional $680 million on pets. The reminder of love is everywhere. Cards, red hearts, candy and more remind us that on Valentine’s Day you had better be ready to give some token of love. But what exactly is this love thing all about; a ritual, sacrifice or a tribute to martyrdom?
Legend tells us that this festivity we call Valentine’s Day is a hybrid combining the elements of ritual, sacrifice and martyrdom into a mixture we call love.
If we try to define love we only come up with adjectives such as fondness, warmth, caring, intimacy, attachment and endearment. But all of these adjectives leave us with the same struggle when it comes to defining feelings. We can never accurately describe a feeling. Feelings are felt and not described.
But that has never stopped humans from trying to define and express love. There are many ancient Love Goddesses and many rituals that have been performed in the name of love and marriage. Valentines presents us with two such legends; one of ritual and sacrifice and one of martyrdom.
In February the ritual of Lupercalia was a festival carried out by Roman Priests to celebrate the sacred cave where the founders of Rome were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or Lupa. A goat was sacrificed for fertility and a dog for purity. They would then strip the goats hide, dip it is sacrificial blood and take to the streets slapping women and the crop fields as a way of insuring fertility. The women welcomed the slap of the hide because it was believed it would make then fertile. Later in the day the young women would place their name in an urn so the city’s bachelors could choose a name and become paired with the chosen women for a year. Often time these pairing ended in marriage. Sounds like a reality show to me!?
At the birth of Christianity Lupercalia was outlawed and replaced with St Valentine’s Day. During the middle ages it was believed that birds began to mate on February 14th which further added to the idea of St Valentine’s Day being a day of romance. But where did St Valentine’s Day come from?
The Catholic Church recognizes three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyrs. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest serving Roman during the third century. Emperor Claudius decided that single men made better soldiers’ than those with wives and family and so he outlawed the marriage of young men. Valentine believing this to be unjust continued to marry young lovers in secret. When Claudius discovered this he put Valentine in jail and ordered that he be put to death.
While in jail Valentine was visited by the jailor’s daughter. Supposedly they comforted each other and fell in love. Before his death he wrote her a letter signing it “from Your Valentine.” This most likely was the first valentine card.
A ritual, a sacrifice and a martyr tell us the story of Valentine day. But is this really what love is all about?
Certainly love has its roots in ritual. The defining emergence of a civilized society is thought to be as the result of the ritualistic creation of events, holidays and festivals. Love finds its way into many celebratory events.
The dance of love has many sacrificial steps. We sacrifice our time and energy for those we love. By giving more we hope the fertility and purity of true love will fill our lives. Who would doubt the sacrifice of a parent for a child or a lover for the beloved? Many a kingdom has been relinquished in the name of love.
But what about martyrdom? Is that a part of love? A martyr is someone who is willing to die for their beliefs. They are willing to sacrifice their life for the love and devotion of a cause, a person, a religion or a moral and ethical position. Many have given their lives in the name of love.
We may no longer kill goats and slap women with sacrificial blood, but we do perform rituals, sacrifices and even martyr ourselves for love. Without rituals, sacrifice and martyrdom civilization as we know it would never have evolved. That is because it is the nature of life to perform according to prescribed order and in this order something of devotion must always be sacrificed.
In karma yoga and all of yoga for that matter sacrifice means to performs actions so that each moment of our life we are giving up(sacrificing) the small egotistical self for a higher fulfillment. A sacrifice is not necessarily a loss. It is actually a gain. It is an attempt to overcome selfishness and increase the dimension of the soul by removing selfish actions in favor of gaining a greater good. And isn’t that the true nature of love?
Love is not about the rituals. But through rituals we have an opportunity to express love. It is not about the sacrifice, but the wiliness to give for the greater good. It’s not about dying. It’s about a deep devotion that surrenders to nothing. We call this unconditional love.
However, we could say then that love is a ritual of sacrifices that leads to martyrdom. It starts out gushing with romance, leads to ritual and sacrifice then somehow ends up with unrelenting devotion and commitment.
In all relationships, but most assuredly in loving relationships you will need to perform daily ritualistic forms of love through your commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the relationship.
On Valentine’s Day join the ritual of love. Spread love wherever you go and then in the days that follow be willing to sacrifice with devotion toward the thing we all want the most and that is to love and be loved. And just like with karma yoga you will discover that to sacrifice the lower ego for the higher self is not a loss at all; it is the definition of true love.
Happy Valentine’s Day
Originally published at medium.com