FOR LUPERCALIA, A NON-FERTILITY FESTIVAL FOR SATANIC UN-PARENTS
Lupercalia was a fertility rite where Roman priests sacrificed animals and flogged women with bloody hides. Because in those days you really did have to make your own fun.
“A blow from the thong was supposed to render a woman fertile,” Britannica editors explain, by way of really just leaving us with even more questions.
Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia in the fifth century, which is such a Pope Gelasius I move. Today, some Satanists have revived the name and date of the festival, but since relatively few (although admittedly, still some) of us are interested in being beaten with bloody strips of goatskin, the actual practice demands some tinkering.
I would suggest a potentially radical inversion of the concept: a NON-fertility festival.
On the Satanic Temple’s holiday calendar–adopted in early 2020, which, oof–Lupercalia celebrates “autonomy, sexual liberation, and reproduction,” potential themes including “mock sacrifices, orgies, BDSM, asexual awareness, bodily autonomy, and wolves.”
(Wolves are another Roman trapping, unrelated to the orgies. Although what consenting wolves get up to amongst themselves is really none of my business.)
In January, BaphoNet anticipated Lupercalia with a panel about asexuality. Because to abstain from sex (or more accurately in this case, to lack sexual desire) is itself an expression of personal empowerment.
If you were adorably naive, you might guess that asexuals enjoy some popular support. After all, mainstream religion is CONSTANTLY forbidding us almost all sexual expression, so you’d think an entire demographic of people who never fuck would be if nothing else a real timesaver for everyone else.
But of course, sexual stigma is not really about sex, it’s about power over people’s bodies, so losers are just as eager to fold aces as anyone else. The LGBTQ charity Galop writes that bigots may allege asexuals are “less human,” “the result of mental illness or sexual abuse,” “confused or going through a phase,” that they “cannot experience love,” or are “just prudes.”
Point being, Lupercalia can be about sex and also not-sex at the same time, if we frame both as simply expressions of personal power. Or if we don’t bother to frame it at all and just say, “I don’t care if my party themes make sense to you, I’m the fucking devil and I didn’t invite you anyway.”
In a similar fashion, although Lupercalia past and arguably present may celebrate reproduction, I’d suggest it can also serve as an occasion to commemorate childlessness. (Child sacrifice notwithstanding, of course–we’ve got quotas to meet.)
Historically, Satan has served as a patron of non-reproduction, often with the help of a more explicitly feminine counterpart like our old friend Lilith.
The Jewish Virtual Library writes that Lilith’s name likely derive from the names of Babylonian demons who “prey on males, while others imperil women in childbirth and their children” with tales of “winged female demons who strangle children” and a superstition that “a man sleeping in a house alone may be seized by Lilith.”
Notice that Lilith and her forbears invert the traditional conservative feminine roles of mother and wife by becoming a child-killer and sexual predator. Nineteenth century writers took this one step further by rendering Lilith a symbol of infertility as an expression of freedom from the bondage of rote marital roles.
“Am I not the infertile one?” she asks Satan in Remy de Gourmont’s play Lilith, rejoicing that their sexual union will not produce children and thus they have “perverted love” and “turned it on its head.” (De Gourmont was a Decadent writer, so words like “perverted” may well be employed approvingly here.)
“I bless my crime and my infertility,” Lilith proclaims in Jean Lorrain’s poem Lilithe, while in the queer Satanic classic Mephistophela a coven of witches hail a Lilith-like feminine devil as, “Enemy of weddings, curser of the fertile bed, who finds pleasure in flat bellies.”
These depictions diverge from the historical interpretation of Lilith as the “Mother of Demons” (and Satan sometimes as the father), but feminist poet Renee Vivien adapted Lilith’s demonic offspring into more abstract terms in her Lilith: Hebrew Legend, in which Lilith mates with Satan and declares:
“I shall not conceive and I shall not give birth from the heat of your embrace, but our dreams shall inhabit the earth, and our fantasies incarnate the future.”
Vivien, intensely hostile to the institutions of marriage, motherhood, and heterosexuality, imagines Lilith as mother only to demonic ideas and influences, and thus free from the heteronormative assumptions of Adam and god.
In his book Satanic Feminism, Per Faxneld writes, “It is notable that a refusal of motherhood or an inability to have children is repeatedly held up as the ultimate sign of Lilith’s evil.” Society has long bedeviled cis women particularly for not wanting to–or even worse, not being able to–bear children, often framing it as literally monstrous.
Hence the trope of the Satanic witch as a child-killer, child-devouring cannibal, wicked midwife, or for that matter abortionist. “Think of our popular image of the witch as an old crone unable to bear children, or as an overly sexual, strangely childless, threat to men,” Jesse Kindig writes in the Boston Review. “The haggard witch and the sexy witch are the same threat: women not reproducing.”
To be clear: I like kids as much as anyone, and I’m very happy for and proud of the many Satanist parents I know. But I also know that many of us (again, especially cis women) still face disapproval over our desire not to desire children, now or perhaps ever in our lives.
And I believe we should feel free to acknowledge the Satanic power of choosing this for ourselves. Just as people have the right to abort if necessary, we also have the right to intentionally, permanently, decisively not conceive, now or ever.
With that in mind, I will celebrate my child-free lifestyle with the traditional Lupercalia feast of the un-parent:
Great article, and very funny thank you. This is so fascinating.
This is excellent!
Love the article. Thanks very much. Can you tell me who the painting of Lilith offering the apple to Eve? I am intrigued as there appear to be 5 hands in this painting and only 2 people.
Sure, here you go:
Thanks very much.