To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Year 3: Part 1: Post 4: Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is tomorrow.

I did not care about this holiday one way or another last year, or the year before. This year is different, in part because I'm involved in preparations (and because there is someone I want to give a flower to).

We don't celebrate Valentine's Day the way we celebrate the sabbats--it isn't a major holiday on campus, it's easy to ignore, if you want to. But we do have a tradition of giving out flowers. You can sign up to give a flower a couple of days ahead. It costs a couple of dollars per flower, and you give the money to Kit and she writes down your name, the recipient's name, and the color of flower you want to give. The flowers are all roses, but very tiny ones, and they all show up, as if by magic, in a little vase outside your door on Valentine's Day.

The reason it seems done as if by magic is that nobody seems to know who is responsible. Of course Kit can't do all of it, but she never says who helps her. She has a great deal of fun being mysterious about it with those who ask,variously explaining that "I have my ways" or "It's not what you know it's who you know," (as if she has it done by spites of some kind). Sometimes she credits house-elves (a Harry Potter reference) and at least once she told somebody it's done by "magic puppies."

Actually, this year I did it, along with the other members of the groundskeeping crew. Remember that last year I was on the janitorial crew until March, so this is my first Valentine's Day as a groundskeeper. It's no project of Charlie's, but he lends us out to other masters on occasion--usually Sarah or Karen--so we can get more hours. Kit swore us to secrecy on the subject.

You know, I never thought to wonder how it is we get fresh roses in February? I guess I'm not completely used to the world of the school after all. In the outside world, of course, you can get anything at any time of year, though it might cost more and be of lower quality if it had to be shipped by airplane from South America or something. Here, we get things fresh when the land gives them to us and not otherwise. Fresh flowers in February is as bizarre as Christmas in July.

And yet Kit seems to like them. There are the jonquils and paper-whites she forced for Brigid this year, and there are the tiny roses for Valentine's Day. It turns out, the fact that they are tiny is one of the clues as to how she does it.

She grows miniature roses in pots. Basically, she tricks the plants into believing that winter is much shorter than it really is by bringing them inside and putting them under grow-lights. There isn't a lot of electricity on campus, but in the off-season, with some of our buildings shut down and a lot of people not even here, we use less than we generate and some of the extra goes in to growing flowers.

Caring for the flowers was one of the things I didn't do because I was at home in January, but today a group of us cut and trimmed the little flowers, three or four from each plant, put them in water, and labeled them with to/from cards. We did about two hundred flowers, in all different colors--you're only allowed to give one flower to each person, but you're allowed to give them to as many people as you want. Tomorrow morning, before dawn, we'll distribute them.

So, we were sitting around in the greenhouse with Kit, cutting flowers, when Diane asked Kit whether Valentine's Day is a pagan or a Christian holiday. Kit is Diane's Spirit Master, but she isn't studying Wicca or Hellenic Neopaganism, the two religions that Kit weaves together. She's studying "totemic animism," which is, more or less, Kit's version of what Charlie does. He is Diane's craft master and primary master, so why she doesn't just study spirit with him, too, I do not know. I haven't asked. It's possible she didn't realize Charlie was available, or maybe she just wasn't able to convince him to take her on as a student as I was. Anyway, so there are things she doesn't know about Kit's religious practice and she likes to ask questions. Like, is Valentine's Day a pagan or a Christian holiday.

"I'm celebrating it, aren't I?" said Kit, and we all laughed. Kit's eclectic, but the only thing she definitely isn't is Christian.

"Isn't Valentine's Day descended from the Lupercalia, though?" asked Lou, whose own religion is Zen Buddhism. Karen is his master in both spirit and art and she is teaching him Zen flower arrangement. He handled the roses with care and respect, and put his plant down in order to speak. He would not divide his attention.

"Yes," Kit told him. "We get our word February from the Lupercalia, too--from the februa, the whips."

"Huh?" said Dillon.

"The Lupercalia was one of the Roman festivals of purification leading up to their New Years, in the spring. Goats and dogs were sacrificed and men wearing dog-leather ran around whipping everyone they met with goatskin whips, in order to drive out negativity. There was also a match-making lottery, a bit like what we do for Beltane."

"That does not sound romantic," said Dillon, sourly.

"I heard they specifically whipped women, in order to make them fertile or something," said Raven G. "Which is seriously twisted. But the Romans were really, really patriarchal, right?" By 'patriarchal' she meant misogynistic. A lot of people around here use the word that way.

"Well, they were," said Kit, "though not as badly as the Greeks. But these things are usually more complicated than they look."

"What's complicated about don't hit women with whips?" asked Raven. I'd been wondering something similar.

"Well, unless you like that sort of thing," began Kit, with a suggestive smile that vanished when she saw Raven's reaction. "I didn't mean it that way," she amended. "I didn't mean true violence against women is legitimately kinky. But women would line up to be whipped on the Lupercalia. They sought it out, it was connected to fertility. I expect they wanted to purify themselves to prepare for childbearing. The thing is, you can't just say something like the Lupercalia was wrong without asking what the women themselves wanted. To deny women agency is itself patriarchist, far more than what you do or do not do with a goatskin whip."

"I'm still stuck on the goats," said Dillon. "And the dogs. With all due respect, Kit, why do you admire these cultures? They sacrificed dogs?"

"It's true, they did. And I wouldn't. Blood sacrifice isn't my thing, and I don't know any Neopagans that do it, except for some of the heathen traditions. But, if you think about it, our culture sacrifices far more dogs than the classical Greeks and Romans did."


"Yeah, sure. We sacrifice dogs to greed, waste, medicine, science...a huge number of beagles are bred for biomedical labs, for example. And how many puppy-mill dogs die in shelters because nobody wants them? Be careful who your gods are, Dillon, you might be worshiping more devoutly than you know, and not all gods are good."

Dillon blushed and looked away. I don't think Kit had meant to accuse him, specifically, but I'm sure he felt singled out.

"Haven't we gotten rather off the subject of love?" Donna asked, perhaps feeling a bit uncomfortable.

"No, I don't think so," replied Kit.

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