February
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FEBRUARY

What’s februum, you may ask? A means of ritual purification. Censorinus claims that 'anything that consecrates or purifies is a februum,' while februamenta signifies rites of purification. Items can become purified, or februa, 'in different ways in different rites.' The poet Ovid concurs on this origin, writing in his Fasti that 'the fathers of Rome called purification februa'; the word (and maybe the rite) was of Sabine origin, according to Varro’s On the Latin Language. Purification was a big deal, as Ovid mockingly quotes, 'Our ancestors believed every sin and cause of evil/Could be erased by rites of purification.' The sixth-century A.D. writer Johannes Lydius had a slightly different interpretation, stating, 'The name of the month of February came from the goddess called Februa; and the Romans understood Februa as an overseer and purifier of things.' Johannes stated that Februus meant 'the underground one' in Etruscan, and that deity was worshipped for fertility purposes. But this may have been an innovation specific to Johannes’s sources...
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What’s februum, you may ask? A means of ritual purification. Censorinus claims that 'anything that consecrates or purifies is a februum,' while februamenta signifies rites of purification. Items can become purified, or februa, 'in different ways in different rites.' The poet Ovid concurs on this origin, writing in his Fasti that 'the fathers of Rome called purification februa'; the word (and maybe the rite) was of Sabine origin, according to Varro’s On the Latin Language. Purification was a big deal, as Ovid mockingly quotes, 'Our ancestors believed every sin and cause of evil/Could be erased by rites of purification.' The sixth-century A.D. writer Johannes Lydius had a slightly different interpretation, stating, 'The name of the month of February came from the goddess called Februa; and the Romans understood Februa as an overseer and purifier of things.' Johannes stated that Februus meant 'the underground one' in Etruscan, and that deity was worshipped for fertility purposes. But this may have been an innovation specific to Johannes’s sources...
Historical names for February include the Old English terms Solmonath (mud month) and Kale-monath (named for cabbage) as well as Charlemagne's designation Hornung. In Finnish, the month is called helmikuu, meaning 'month of the pearl'; when snow melts on tree branches, it forms droplets, and as these freeze again, they are like pearls of ice. In Polish and Ukrainian, respectively, the month is called luty or лютий (lyutiy), meaning the month of ice or hard frost. In Macedonian the month is sechko (сечко), meaning month of cutting (wood). In Czech, it is called únor, meaning month of submerging (of river ice)...
The ancient Romans called the tools used for purification Februa and the purification rituals performed during the festival of Lupercalia (Also called dies Februatus, the day of purification or purging, February 15th.) were named for these tools, though februa of other sorts were used in other rites as well. The name for these tools was given also to the month in which it takes place, February (On the 15th). The Luperci priests would offer a goat in sacrifice and cut thongs from its flesh, these thongs were the februa. Then they circumambulated Palatine hill striking those that they met along the way with the thongs, which purified them. According to Plutarch1, women of childbearing age especially sought out this purification in hopes of increased fertility and easy childbirth...
Our Roman fathers gave the name of februa to instruments of purifications: even to this day there are many proofs that such was the meaning of the world. The pontiffs ask the King and the Flamen for woolen cloths, which in the tongue of the ancients had the name of februa. When houses are swept out, the toasted spelt and slat which the officer gets as means of cleansing are called by the same name. The same name is given to the bough, which, cut from a pure tree, wreathes with its leaves the holy brows of the priests. I myself have seen the Flamen’s wife (Flaminica) begging for februa; at her request for februa a twig of pine was given her. In short, anything used to cleanse our bodies went by that name in the time of our unshorn forefathers. The month is called after these things, because the Luperci purify the whole ground with strips of hide, which are their instruments of cleansing, or because the season is pure when once peace-offerings have been made at the graves and the days devoted to the dead are past. Our sires believed that every sin and every cause of ill could be wiped out by rites and purgation...
While January takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, February comes from the word februum (purification) and februa, the rites or instruments used for purification. These formed part of preparations for the coming of Spring in the northern hemisphere. The februa included spelt and salt for cleaning houses, leaves worn by priests, and strips of goat skin. These strips were put to good use in the festival of the Lupercalia, held each year on February 15. Young men, naked except for a goat-skin cape, dashed around Rome’s sacred boundary playfully whipping women with the strips. This ancient nudie run was designed to purify the city and promote fertility...
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