Here we are, smack dab in the middle of Fèvrier (from febris, L. fever). In French it is the month of the "fever of love," bizarrely placed in the sign of the Anarchic Computer Nerd of the zodiac, Aquarius, which might offer us a clue as to why for many the season is so fraught with, well just fraught. Before any of you naysayers start scoffing at the notion, let me say that your non-belief is irrelevant here. As if I really need to tell you, the subjects of our history here relied heavily on the stars, which is why that mythology is spread across our night skies. Furthermore, it is not necessary that you believe in certain things in order for them to be true. Whether or not such privilege belongs to the Zodiac, we might in this lifetime never know.
Alternately, the English spelling of the month is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as the "month of purification," from februa - expiatory offerings, possibly of Sabine origins" (If any of you so versed in classics can tell me in what month the Rape of the Sabine Women occurred - a tale oddly pantomimed in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, I kid you not - I am curious, but could not discover it). Perhaps this sense of purification explains the link to Aquarius, the Water-Bearer. The connection is not offered in the dictionary, but I'd also like to point out the purgative and cleansing function of fevers in the body. I've had a biologist tell me this is not "actually" the case, but mother wit, common sense, personal experience and Chinese medicine suggest a different story - once again, belief need not necessarily preclude truth. I've never failed to improve once my fever broke, have you? In any case, the practice of purification is anthropologically common as a preparation for rituals, as it was in Rome for this feast time. Houses were swept, and sprinkled with salt and spelt, to prepare for Gamelion (mid-January to mid-February) the "Month of Marriage." A sacred marriage (hieros gamos, known in India as Shiva-Shakti, at the core of Tantra) was celebrated at the end of the month to mark the marriage of Zeus and Hera, or in Rome, the Lupercalian festival of Jupiter and Juno, wherein Vestal virgins offered holy salt cakes.
The union of the hieros gamos is beautifully depicted in the alchemical text and illustrations of the Rosarium Philosophorum, 1550.
Known also as "the chymical marriage," it is "the union between two divinities, or between a human being and a god or goddess, or between two human beings (under certain special conditions); more particularly, it is used to refer to the ritualized, public sexual union between the king and a hierodule (‘sacred prostitute’) in ancient Mesopotamia. This union was accompanied by the belief that the human partners became divine by virtue of their participation in it."
Shakespeare refers to this season in Julius Caesar, and rather conservatively so. It is interesting that he invokes the alchemist's preoccupation with base metal, as it is the goal to transform the lesser matter into immutable gold, which symbollically represents the union of masculine and feminine, so often used in wedding bands.
Flavius: See whether their basest metal be not moved;
They vanish tongue-tied in their guiltiness.
Go you down that way towards the Capitol;
This way will I disrobe the images,
If you do find them deck'd with ceremonies.
Marullus: May we do so?
You know it is the feast of Lupercal.
Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 1.
Of course, Shakespeare's writing also reflects the more modern Christian consciousness, one that separates the divinity of spirit and God from the "baseness" of the human body. Though this seems not consistently his point of view, and one should point out his persistent use of paganism (and rightly so). Here, in Hamlet:
Ophelia: Good morrow! 'tis Saint Valentine's day
All in the morn betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine!
Good morning to you, valentine;
Curl your locks as I do mine ---
Two before and three behind.
Good morning to you, valentine.
Pagan traditions like St. Valentine's survive, partly because they bring back to the forefront essential human truths that cannot and should not be lost, namely, that the profane (the body) is sacred. As Karen-Claire Voss' research reveals, "Many alchemical texts like the Rosarium insist on the interrelatedness of body and spirit. It would appear therefore that in seeking the ‘conjunction of opposites’ the alchemists were attempting to overturn the conventional conceptual dichotomization between spirit and body, and to offer in its place models that reflected their intuitions of ontological wholeness."
Clearly, the sexual act is the ultimate linkage of body to spirit, beyond that one existing and contained in one human being, as it requires flesh and soul to move out and through, an energetic intercourse, "a running between." I've never seen it explicitly described as such, but the symbol of infinity, an eight laid on its side, seems as perfect an image to describe this union as any other, particularly as the procreative function is our material link to the Infinite and Divine Creative. This symbol is often seen floating above the Magician's head, as well as that of the Strength card, with the Empress figure taming the lion.
The abstracted shape of the heart ♥, so often used for this holiday in tokens of love, which rather imperfectly describes that vital organ, seems more accurately representative of the breasts or even the buttocks. The first seems intrinsically linked to the heart, the latter to the heart of the sexual matter. " A Sumerian cuneiform symbol for "woman" closely resembles the heart shape, and is believed to directly depict the pubic mound."
Is it possible there is a graphic link between the symbol of the heart and that of the infinite? This image is also seen in the symbol for Pisces, and the Cancer glyph representing the breasts and the mother. More history for this glyph can be found here. Interestingly, the symbol of two circles intersecting (oddly reminiscent of the MasterCard logo, priceless), meaning union, togetherness or marriage, is included. Its similarity to the reclining eight should be obvious.
Can Canova possibly have missed this connection when he carved his Eros and Psyche? Consciously or not, the embrace of these lovers clearly evokes the tenderest sense of unity and infinity. It is impossibly beautiful.
After all, Love is Forever.