Oh, the dignified glory of the martyr! Swoon.
The story goes that Saint Valentine was sentenced to death for attempting to convert the Roman Emperor Claudius to Christianity. Apparently, Claudius actually kind of liked the guy up until that point. Regardless, Valentine was beaten to a pulp with clubs and rocks but would not die. Finally, the Roman executioners cut off his head to finish the job.
All of this was done on February 14 in the year 269 AD.
No details have been shared on whether the Romans were attempting to send Valentine to heaven or hell. By his own standards, they might have actually been doing him a favor? (I’m unclear on if Christians can seek their own demise in order to receive worthier judgment under the eyes of God. Doesn’t it devalue the idea of martyrdom if it’s actually just a shortcut to Valhalla?)
Anyway … how romantic, right!? Pass the Dove chocolate hearts, will you?
There is power in ritual. There is power in the mythology that underpins the rituals. In other words, the philosophic and historical context of today’s contemporary practices informs the meaning with which we imbue our present-day reality.
Obviously, Valentine’s Day has become something radically different than what it was some 1,800 years ago. However, there is some essential component that remains. It is said that Saint Valentine wrote his final words to a young girl whom he had miraculously cured of blindness and signed it, “From your Valentine.” Apparently, he also cut out parchment hearts and gave them to the other Christians he wed or saved from persecution.
As different as the ritual has become, most children and many adults still practice these things today with little-to-no awareness of where these actions derive. I pray the absurdity of this is not lost.
At Christmas, most Christians still put a Christmas tree in their living room … integrating and celebrating elements of the pagan rituals that their religion attempted to eradicate from the earth hundreds of years ago.
Clearly, the world is full of contradictions. And yet, many of us look around at the reality of this present moment and have the desire for certain qualities of it to be different than they are. Systemic evolution continues to be needed and necessary.
I’m not making an appeal for some kind of unattainable, moralistic, or ethical perfection. I’m just trying to point out that we (myself very much included) go along acting from a place of ignorance by upholding antiquated values via traditions that we clearly understand are no longer serving ourselves or society.
So, why not make a change? Or at the very least, make a conscious choice? Why not replace them with something that is indicative of our current understanding and beliefs? Left to their own devices, our capitalistic structures have proven they will give us meaning where we refuse to make it for ourselves. (Enter Hallmark and Hershey’s Kisses.)
I love the symbolism of beheading. In many Eastern traditions, this act indicates an ego death. Kali wears a garland of heads around her neck. Even the act of being beheaded by Kali, or one of the other deities, is enough to set free the “behead-ee” from the cycle of Samsara — even if they were a demon, or just an asshole.
Whether Saint Valentine was truly beheaded, or this is a mythology manufactured by Christianity, I will leave it up to the historians. However, if we’re talking about love here, we must certainly be talking about the relinquishment of our egos. Anyone who has ever been in a loving relationship of any kind can attest to the fact that it will expose and erode your ego through sheer force. The quicker you surrender, perhaps the less pain you’ll endure.
What better way to honor the ritualistic celebration of love than to cut the metaphorical head off society — our collective ego, if you will — and free us from the bullshit of generations past? Reality is malleable, folks. It is made up of the choices we make every day. If we don’t want something in our lives, let’s look at the beliefs that support it, and bring our actions into alignment with the world we want to create.
For fear of being smote (not smitten), I desire to end with a bit of temperance. I love love. I believe in the opportunity to celebrate romance and relationships in their variegated forms. Celebration and ritual are precious to our society and the humanity that comprises and conducts it. Perhaps storytelling is nearly as requisite to human life as breathing. My plea is not an intentionally blasphemous rejection of religion – though some may take it as such – but rather an invitation for a more conscious choice. What is our collective mythos? Rather, what are the morals of the stories that make up the larger cultural narratives we inhabit today? Are they in alignment with our authentic values? If so, carry on. And if not, why would we continue to play by the rules of a game we didn’t consent to play? If we change the rules, we change the goals and if we change the goals we change the incentives, all of which inform the actions.
Ritual (i.e. a holiday) is given potency through collective consecrated action which is why I think we should consider and contemplate our participation. If it’s supposed to be about love, then let us consciously choose what love actually means and put our precious energy into lavishly celebrating that.
Visual: Ravi Zupa