Early February, specifically Febuary 2nd, is time of Lupercus, when the Streghe (Pagan Tradition that has its origins in Italy) celebrate the Young God, the Golden Wolf. The days are getting longer, the light renews our hope of the coming rebirth, but chill air still bites and the earth remains in deep slumber.
I would have thought that Lupercus would have been one of the more complex ideas to breakdown into something understandable for a 5 year old. After all, Lupercus is a ritual that is quite unlike most Pagan rituals that fall at this point in the wheel of the year. Lupercus is the young adolescent: untamable, "immortal", bulletproof. He is powerful, wild, a little out of control and totally natural all at the same time, just like any hormone ridden young man. The image of this Great Golden Wolf, who is beneficial to humans, is a bit of a dichotomy even for adults to wrap their minds around. The wolf is something wild that humans feared in days past. The Wolf is after all a predator.
But opportunities arise when you least expect them.
My 5 year old daughter is a bit of a Sarah Heartburn/Drama Queen. One day, in an attempt to get both of us ready quickly for some event, we were taking a shower together. As in most rushed events, things went wrong and the water got a bit too hot then, over correcting, too cold and she went right over the top. She was whining and crying and screaming and well, Howling! Without conscious thought, out of my mouth comes: "My goodness that's a lot of noise for a little girl. You sound like a howling wolf. Does it make you feel better to howl?" and then I howled like a wolf.
Remember we are in the shower and you all know how the shower amplifies and improves the sound. So I howled while she continued to whine and cry until she finally tried it and, the sound reverberated off walls, driving all sense of troubleand pain from us and we were howling and laughing. There was a sense of primal joy that bubbled up from the depths of our souls as we let loose AAAAAAAAOOOOOOOOO! The world was a much better place. Everything after that was lighter, looser, fun and we made it where we needed to be on time.
So here we take the shock of the hot then cold water, the rush of panic, of upset and anger and tension; relieved and released by Howling. Amazing and it works on adults too! In thinking about it later with my conscious mind, I saw the similarities to the Lupercus ritual.
Weeks later I am combing my daughter's hair after her bath. She has straight fine, easily tangled hair and even with "No More Tangles" to spray in it. As I comb Sarah Heartburn kicks in and: "OW! Mommie you're are pulling my hair!" and "That hurts!" I don't say anything. I too have fine straight hair and remember giving my Mom hell when she combed my hair. So I just stop, spray some more "No More Tangles" and then my daughter turns to me and says "Let's howl like wolves!"
So we do. No more whining and crying about her hair instead we are smiling and laughing and all the troubles of the world just evaporate into the sound of howling. The strangest thing was that I had had a horrid day at work. I was emotionally exhausted, and taking comfort in doing domestic, Mommie things. But after the howling session I was feeling light and free and happy. Rather than just taking comfort in the evening domestic ritual I was able to enjoy it, savor it, because the weight of the world was gone and I felt alive, refreshed, renewed.
And this is exactly what celebrating Lupercus can teaach us.
A few days ago and at bathtime again we had let the dog in because it was cold outside. After her bath and while she is brushing her teeth, my daughter says: "Let's howl like wolves." By now she and I *know* that this is fun, it's a release from how the world usually works, it's powerful stuff. But we've never howled *with the dog* in the bathroom before. Well we start howling and smiling and howling. The dog is looking at us like we are stupid humans then, because we don't stop, she decides to howl with us. She is part Basset Hound and so she gets that low, rolling howl going and then releases it into the higher howl and my daughter and I just about loose it! This is GREAT stuff. So here we are 3 "girls" in the bathroom howling to beat the band.
Our howling allowed us to experience Lupercus as the God of the wild, untamable, primitive and primal part of us that we hold deep inside, hidden under our veneer of civilization. This is something with which our ancestors, who lived much closer to the wild, had a deep connection. It is something that is critical for us, as modern humans to be able to reconnect with, to regain. Look around at the modern world, look at the violence, the intensity, the extreme sports, the yearning to take SUVs to the mountain top and see that we as a society keenly feel the lack and are searching for that ancient, critical, wild, primal connection. Look at the enduring appeal of the Tarzan story and the power of Tarzan's "howl". I've always wondered if Disney knew what they were tapping into when they released Tarzan on video, February 2, 2000.
There is really something to this howling, this connecting with the primal in ourselves. This is what Lupercus celebrates.
We've been held down by the darkness of winter, or the weight of the world and howling enlivens us and pushes the weight of the world farther away. And folks, the wolves got it right because howling works best when you have friends!!!!!! I highly recommend it.
First Published in Raven's Call February-April 2001.