The Natural Origins of Valentine's Day
Imbolc – what a wonderful time of year! Spring is upon us again, the days are getting longer, love is in the air and it is mating season for many species. Keep your eye out for tadpoles wriggling in the streams, look for fairy cushions hanging in the willow trees and there is a good chance the lambs tails are already hanging in abundance on the hazel trees. How wonderful to see signs of life in the natural world beginning to show after the dark Winter.
Natural Origins as a Fertility Festival
With Valentine's Day approaching, we look into the natural origins of the ancient festival of love. Long before the era of St. Valentine, it was February 15th that was celebrated by many cultures as a fertility festival.
In Rome, the festival was called 'Lupercalia' and was dedicated to the ancient horned Greek God Pan. Pan was the God of the woods, wilderness, wild places, animals, fertility, nature and music. Tradition had it that on the day of Lupercalia, the young singletons of the town would put their names into a pot. When the name was called out by a member of the opposite sex their fate was sealed and they were to become sweethearts for that year. This and similar traditions were practiced all over the globe. In Ireland, we celebrated our own horned God 'Cernunnos' who was also the deity of the forests, wilderness, animals and fertility.
Modern Valentine's Day
Born in 178AD, Bishop Valentine of Rome was a good a pious man, and was even believed to have restored a young girl's sight. At this time, the Emperor of Rome had outlawed marriage in order to keep his soldiers and armies free from worry and family responsibilities. However St. Valentine secretly married young Christian couples who were in love. For this he was imprisoned and later executed on February 14th 269AD. Many years after his death, he was martyred on that day and his saints' day soon took over the old pagan festival. Fortunately for us, some of the traditions have lingered on such as giving your heart to someone for Valentine's Day.
I will always see Valentine's in a new light now, not just for celebration of sweet love but also for love of natural places, the woodlands and the wild animals. Keeping with that thought, this poem "Lord of the Wild Wood" by an unknown author sprung to mind.
"A silence lies in the Wild Wood, the light of the stars grows dim.
The wind has died in the branches, but a shadow moves. It is Him!
He is the stag in the moonlight, the stallion alone on the hill.
The bull that paws at the tussocks and the salmon that leaps in the rill.
Each is a part of the Hunter, The Godhead that lives in the Dark,
Lord of the Wild and the Hidden, at midnight, the small breathing spark.
His is the glory of sunrise, the greenness that rises in spring.
His is the force of the tempest, the strength in the wild eagle's wing.
His is the voice of the pan-pipes, the power that governs the land.
But She is his wife and his Mother and he dwells in the palm of her hand."
Make Your Own Natural Heart
At Down to Earth Forest School we use our natural environment to be creative as nature provides us with the most beautiful material to work with. For this project, we have used some fresh green hazel sticks and berries to make very simple, natural hearts.
Simply tie the thin end of two hazel sticks. Then gently bend them around to fashion a heart shape. Tie them all to the junction in the middle. Use berries, flowers or ivy to decorate as above.
Down to Earth Classes
Little twigs Parent and Toddler Group for parents and children age 1 to 5 recommences on Wednesday the 1st March at 10.30- 12 in Esker wood in Brigit's Garden. 6 week terms for €60 (siblings prices available).
Forest After School Group for children aged 5-12 recommences on Wednesday 1st March at 3.45- 5.45 in Esker wood in Brigit's Garden. A 6 week terms costs €90 (siblings prices available).
Down to Earth also host forest themed birthday parties, events and functions.
Carol Barrett and Kerry Walker,
Down to Earth Forest School Leaders