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The true, twisted history behind Lupercalia from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

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Fact is even bloodier than fiction

Netflix

Part two of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina brings fans back to Greendale and The Academy of Unseen Arts. Picking up where the holiday special left off, the teenage witch now pursues her education at The Academy exclusively, absorbing herself in the studies and culture of her magical, wicked side.

The latest installment of the series not only provides a reading on the hierarchy of the Witching world, but also expands on history and lore, specifically diving into the holidays, traditions, and celebrations at the heart of witchcraft. Early on in part 2, the witches and warlocks of The Academy celebrate Lupercalia, using the ancient holiday and its rituals as a means for Sabrina and her new love interest, Nicholas Scratch, to get closer to one another. But the history of this celebration is far more carnal and bloody than what the Netflix series would have you believe.

Lupercalia began as a Pagan festival held around the same time as our contemporary Valentine’s Day. But unlike the holiday that celebrates love with chocolates, flowers, and gestures of romance, Lupercalia expressed itself through animal sacrifice, random coupling, and practices to ward off evil spirits and infertility. According to information cited by National Public Radio and St. Valentine’s Day, the holiday originated in Rome as far back as the sixth century B.C.E, and sprung out of the story of Romulus and Remus. The pair were twin brothers whose uncle ordered their murder as a means of retribution for their mother’s broken vow of celibacy.

But a servant of the twins’ uncle took matters into their own hands. Disobeying orders, the servant put Romulus and Remus in a basket that floated the boys down river to safety. Once the basket was caught, a she-wolf took the twin boys in as her own, nurturing them until a farmer and his wife found the boys and raised them to adulthood. The twins eventually learned the truth and murdered their uncle as retribution. Returning from the slaughter, they stumbled upon the cave where they were raised and dubbed it Lupercal. Romulus and Remus would go on to found Rome.

The Lupercalia holiday was a time to celebrate the she-wolf who took care of Romulus and Remus as infants and appease the fertility god of Rome, Lupercus. When Lupercalia first began, each man of Rome participating would select a woman’s name from a jar and the two would be coupled for the duration of the festival.

Diyah Pera/Netflix

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes a more whimsical, if magically dark take on the coupling ritual. Instead of the men choosing a woman at random from a jar, the series shows the young woman dancing in a circle holding a ribbon attached to a pole in the center of the grand room – a makeshift, macabre Maypole of sorts. The young men sit in chairs along the outskirts of the Maypole until their partner, quite literally, lands in their lap. It may not be as efficient as a simple name on a slip of paper from a jar, but it does make for a lurid sequence to set the tone on the show’s take of the holiday.

The traditions and history of the holiday, however, begin with the ritual sacrifice of a goat, representing sexuality, and a dog, a regular representation in sacrifices of purification. While Chilling Adventures of Sabrina glosses over this part of the ritual, one aspect the series showcases to its mortal audience is the smearing of blood to the forehead and the removal of the aforementioned fluid with the use of milk-soaked wool. Even the smallest detail of laughing whilst the blood is being removed is accurate to the celebration.

Historically, instead of two sexual partners, a group of Roman priests, known as Luperci, embarked on this tradition. Two members of the party would be selected, naked, to carry out the tradition of smearing blood and then removing it on one another’s foreheads. It’s not exactly romantic, but the way Chilling Adventures of Sabrina handles the tradition is close to doctrine.

The final ritual of Lupercalia is the most notorious. The Feast of Lupercalia was as much about feasting as it was about flesh. Following the ritual sacrifice of the goat and eating its meat, men would cut strips of the goat’s hide and were set loose upon the city. Nearly-naked, the men would use the strips of hide to whip any woman within their reach. It’s not entirely known what the strips represented, but women would often welcome the lashes from these strands of hide by baring their skin, believing to receive the fertility consecration. The ravenous holiday eventually lost the tradition of nudity in favor of a more chaste celebration. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina finds young women dressed in cloaks of red, chasing after their wolf-costume-clad male partners through the woods.

While the Netflix series takes a romantic, if carnal, spin on the ritualistic holiday, the traditions bear a similarity to the festival’s origins that are unmistakable. But instead of following each practice down to the literal bone, the series follows specific details with differentiations and interpretations that only go to serve the narrative of Greendale’s favorite, wicked teenage witch.


Julia is an entertainment writer with featured work at The Playlist, Film School Rejects, HelloGiggles, PopSugar, The Young Folks, and Screen Rant.