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Dear Dr. P

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Dear Dr. P.   Valentine’s Day.  It’s so romantic.  It’s such a contrast to the sex-oriented relationships you see on the soaps today.  What do you think?

 

Valentine’s Day!  We have romance, sweethearts, the freshness of youth, budding spring loves and proclamations of enduring devotion and fidelity.  But is it all this innocent?

Let’s examine the season and its symbols: the cards, the hearts, Cupid, Cupid’s arrow, the color red, the chocolates, the boxes in which they arrive, and the flowers.

February 14th is a bit more than halfway between the winter solstice and the beginning of spring. Animals are just beginning the annual frenzy of mating and reproduction.  In humans the anonymity with costumes and masks of Mardi Gras and Carnival free people of their inhibitions. Valentine’s Day provides another of the February opportunities for sexual frolic.

The Romans held love and fertility celebrations in February called the Lupercalia, a time of love, eroticism and sexual license.  February was sacred to, and named for, Juno Februata, goddess of the “fever” (febris) of love.  During the Lupercalia young men chose their sexual partners by randomly drawing cards with lovers’ names on them.  The commercially produced Valentine cards we send today are a modern innovation that dates to the late Victorian period.

Today a very red heart dominates nearly every paper Valentine.  The heart is closely associated of course with Cupid.  But to understand this symbol, we’ll start with Cupid’s mother Venus.

Venus is the Roman name for the Greek goddess of beauty, Aphrodite.  As her myth has it, her single most beautiful characteristic was her shapely rounded butt.  This were so appreciated by the Greeks that they built a special temple to Aphrodite Kallipygos, which literally means “Goddess with Beautiful Buttocks.”  It was probably the only temple in the history of mankind dedicated to buttock worship.

Good authority says that the origin of our stylized heart symbol with its deep cleft is probably the inverted shape of female buttocks.  If you have difficulty visualizing this, draw a Valentine’s heart and turn it upside down.  Get the picture?

Cupid, the god of love, desire and lust was born of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty.  His relationship with his mother seems to anticipate Freud’s notion of the Oedipus complex.  Paintings from the Renaissance, whose artists were more familiar with Greek and Roman mythology than are we, show a rather incestuous relationship existing between Cupid and Venus.  In Bronzino’s (1545) famous painting, Cupid kisses his mother on the lips, fondles both of her breasts and one nipple, while she caresses his, um, arrow.

In Hinduism there is also a Cupid figure, Kama.  In fact, the famous sex manual of India, the Kama Sutra (experts only, please), was named after him.  In Hinduism, Shiva is a manifestation of the principal deity, Brahma.  Kama was induced to distract him with love and desire by lesser Hindu gods who were jealous of Shiva’s dominance, Kama was about to shoot his “flowery” arrow of lustful fire and passion energy, when Shiva saw him and destroyed him.  Kama was then reincarnated as a tree. Arrows are made from straight tree saplings.  The arrows aren’t “flowery” any more, but are rigid and deadly effective.  Since his misfortune, Kama (Cupid) prefers to do his mischief by candlelight, moonlight, or, for that matter, total darkness.

On Valentine’s Day we traditionally offer chocolates to our Valentine to the exclusion of other confections.  Why?  When you are in love and when you are in the presence of your beloved your brain produces a chemical called phenyethyamine (PEA).  PEA intoxicates you.  It feels great to be in this state.  Chocolate may contain enough PEA to enhance this effect, although this is a matter of scientific dispute.  In any event, the Aztecs used chocolate as an aphrodisiac.

And don’t forget the box in which the chocolates are packaged. In Freudian dream symbolism any type of container or vessel, such as a box, is symbolic of female genitalia–essentially the vulva and vagina. The heart shape, of course, intensifies the connection to the genitalia.

As for genitalia, there is no denying that flowers are the genitalia of plants.  Flowers are sexed, male and female.  Flowers emerge during the plant’s reproductive cycle and are the site of reproduction.  Male pollen joins with the female element of the flower and fertilization occurs.  The female flower then produces the new embryonic plant seeds for the next generation.  So, what are we saying when we present our beloved with a dozen beautiful, red, long-stemmed, genitalia?  (Oops, I meant roses. Maybe I just won’t say anything about the long stems.)

Traditionally white lace appears on both heart-shaped candy boxes and cards.  But ask any Victoria’s Secret catalog subscriber about the significance of lace.  It is the predominant feature of expensive lingerie.  Quite often lingerie is an intimate gift from one lover to another.  Whether given on Valentine’s Day or on any other, the meaning is clearly, “wear this for me and further inflame my, and ultimately our, passion.”

 

On a symbolic level, white, especially in association with the color red (the female principle) stands for the male’s essence, the Hindu Soma, or semen.  Traditional Hindu wedding colors are red for the woman, cream-white for the man, and gold for the fire of creation.

 

Our modern holiday celebrations are the product of our collective, multicultural history. Valentine’s Day, or something like it, has been around for a very long time.  It’s the middle of February.  It’s been a cold winter.  Can spring and its warm romantic love be far away?

 

Disheartedly yours,

Dr. P