for valentine’s day

as today is yesterday was valentine’s day, and also, coincidentally for some, the traditional day of rest and reaffirming their faith in their chosen higher deity, i thought it would be appropriate to take a minute to ponder the origin of the holiday.  partially, this was influenced by @KarinaAllrich‘s tweet earlier today that “Valentine’s Day on a Sunday just feels wrong.”  i thought, well, it shouldn’t, really…after all, saint valentine’s day is originally a roman catholic feast day, right?

well, let’s just see about that.

of saint valentine, the actual person, very little is known.  in fact, it’s not even entirely clear if valentine was one guy, or several guys from the same general period all named valentine.  valentine could have been 1) a priest in ancient Rome, 2) a bishop in Interamna (Valentine of Terni), or 3) a martyr in the roman province of africa (of whom all that’s known is that: he was a martyr in africa).  to make things even more confusing, though valentine of rome and valentine of terni were two different people, both are buried on the via flaminia.  the official feast day of saint valentine on february 14 was established by pope gelasius i, who included valentine among those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God” — which is to say that even he didn’t know anything about valentine the man/martyr.

the popular vote seems to go to valentine of rome, of whom either more is known, or more has been fabricated — take your pick.  the story goes that valentine was persecuted as an early christian and personally interrogated by emperor claudius ii.  claudius was impressed by valentine, and tried to get him to convert to roman polytheism.  when valentine didn’t and, instead, tried to get claudius to convert to christianity, he was sentenced to death.  while imprisoned, he cured the blindness of his jailer’s daughter.  an embellishment to the story by American Greetings has valentine sending the very first valentine to either his lost, secret love, or the jailer’s daughter, or both (i.e. the jailer’s daughter is his lost, secret love), signed “from your Valentine.”

but besides the contemporary fabrication, there is no relationship between valentine and romance until geoffrey chaucer in 1382 in a poem he wrote honoring the first anniversary of the engagement of king richard ii to anne of bohemia.  the verse in question goes:

For this was Saint Valentine’s Day,
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

the poem is set in a fictional context of a long history of valentine’s day commemorating romantic love, but, in reality, no such context exists.  in addition, while it is largely assumed that chaucer was referring to the valentine’s day on february 14, mid-february is not the most apt time to find mating birds, and it has been pointed out that chaucer might actually have been referring to the saint valentine’s feast day that occurred according to a different liturgical calendar, such as May 2nd, the feast day for Valentine of Genoa.

nevertheless, during the middle ages and the renaissance, this idea of valentine’s day being about love and romance proliferated  like bunnies, and the earliest-surviving valentine is from the fifteenth century from charles, duke of orleans, to his wife.  in the late 1700s, the practice of sending a valentine to your loved one became mainstream, with the conversion from traditionally hand-made valentines to mass-produced, commercially purchased valentines becoming the norm around the 19th century.

the point of this history lesson is this: anyone who thinks that valentine’s day is just a Hallmark holiday is wrong.  it’s not just a Hallmark holiday.  it is THE Hallmark holiday, the great-granddaddy of Hallmark holidays.  it was a Hallmark holiday before there were Hallmark holidays, before there even was a Hallmark to mark holidays with the popular purchase of mass-produced greeting cards.  so, thus, let us not disdain and reduce valentine’s day to a meaningless tradition; instead, let us embrace the tradition of valentine’s day, which is based — almost entirely — on misrepresentation, miscommunication, and fabrication, and has evolved into something that represents absolutely nothing even remotely close to what it was originally intended to commemorate fifteen hundred years ago.

Why People Suck: A theological examination

I tend not to get into religion or personal issues here.  The theory is sort of that that’s one of those subjects that’s bound to rile people up and not polite to discuss.  Then again, this site gets very little traffic, so riling people up can only help…

I consider myself to be pretty theologically open minded.  As long as you don’t force your views on me, I’m game to listen, consider, and adapt.  As such, I don’t hold to any single philosophy – like a lot of my peers, I feel my way around for what feels true.  I used to tell people I was born Jewish (my biomom is a Jew, which, because the heritage passes matrilineally,  makes me Jewish by default), baptized Roman Catholic, and have since tried on just about everything from Crowleyan occultism, to Wicca, Church of the SubGenius and Discordianism, and Hinduism, even being part of the creation of not one (The Gospel According to Cheese) but two (The Peter Ryan Cult) quasi-fake religions, but the most truth I ever found (at least that was in an established format, and not a do-it-yourself theology) was in a pack of Tarot cards.  The Osho Zen Tarot, to be specific.

Now, I learned later that Osho got some heat from critics for establishing what was widely seen as a cultish commune for expatriate white folks of fairly well off backgrounds to give away all their possessions (to Osho, of course), and live in blissful harmony while having promiscuous sex with each other.  I have no idea if the accusations of it being a sex commune (or any of the criticisms) are even remotely true – my source is the novelized travel journal The Techno-Pagan Octopus Messiah – but the rumors had to have already been there for him to have heard them and included them in his book.  And I defer to people who appear to have a clue when I lack one.

Rumors aside, my personal experience with Osho Zen (via the deck of Tarot cards) was that it was a powerful, life changing philosophy that could essentially be summed up as “this, too, shall pass.”  As a Tarot deck, I did readings for people that were sometimes frighteningly accurate – in one case I was able to discover, through a fairly standard reading of the cards, that the person I was reading for had recently been sexually assaulted. (Something that, yes, it’s possible she was communicating through body language and other signs that people tend to believe lead an experienced “psychic” are reading in addition to, or possibly instead of, the cards – but that’s just it, I had virtually no experience at the time, and much of the explanations and feedback I was giving came verbatim from the Osho Zen Tarot book.  Granted, however, that I knew the assault had happened, I just didn’t know who the survivor of the assault was.  Until then.)  Even that, however, was more of a “this is a traumatic time of grief and strife, but you must let it pass and not hold onto any of these powerful emotions you are feeling right now.”  Later I learned that this is a fairly standard Zen Buddhist approach – if you imagine life as a stream of water (yes, yes, I know, bear with me), the stream bends and winds and eventually becomes part of something bigger – a lake, a river, an ocean.  When there are obstacles in the path, the stream goes around, nothing stops the flow.  The ideal is to be like water, to not let anything obstruct your path, and the most dangerous obstructions are yourself, particularly your psychoses like fear, doubt, denial, self-hatred, vanity, etc.

While I don’t personally live all the time by the “go with the flow” philosophy, a lot of concepts from the Osho Zen Tarot resonated with me, have held with me and become part of my personal philosophy.  So that’s why it strikes me as so odd when I am presented with a situation with someone who, by her own account is Buddhist, doing the exact opposite of water: making herself into an obstruction.  Holding fast.  Being stubborn, uncooperative, and closed.  If there are any sins in Buddhism, would I be wrong to say that these are it; that the biggest sin for a Buddhist is to become like a rock or a dam in the flow, forcing others to go around you?  WTF?

The gist is that I had an arrangement with a client in which he would send us blog posts and newsletter updates and we would edit them for any grammatical or continuity errors, clean them up, and post them to the site or send out a blast.  In addition, I did some minor tweaks here and there to the site every once in a while, occasionally volunteered services when I thought they would be beneficial to the site (it is for a non-profit).  If the site needed updates, one or the other of us would suggest it, and I would come up with a quote (scaled down to fit their limited budget) for the work.  It was work for a friend, and he let me pretty much determine my own level of involvement not only in terms of the website, but also the NPO as a whole.  He even encouraged me to make up a title for myself and put myself on the Our People page.  When he went on a retreat, he put someone else, who we had previously had no dealings with (neither did he, until before meeting her abroad) in charge of the updates and newsletter stuff, and had agreed to go on the retreat at all after she had committed to raise a specific (fairly sizable) amount of cash, per month, while he was gone.  How could he refuse, right?  Everything would be left in good hands.

What came of this was that categorically, when we said something, anything, she would not listen or selectively listen, resulting in the final round of head butting that caused me to have one of the worst days I’ve had since going fulltime at this design thing.  Here are the facts:

  • My client/friend came out of his retreat.
  • There was one fundraising event scheduled for later this month.
  • The funds for the NPO have dwindled, causing him to cancel our ongoing payments.
  • Another fundraiser and organizer in the NPO sent out a few blasts via Facebook, raising enough money to pay the bills for the next month.

By all accounts, it would appear that this person, who had committed to my friend to raise a specific amount of money, failed to do so.  Instead, she sent us webpage updates, text and images, and commissioned us, on the side, to update the nav bar on the site.  It wasn’t until after I mentioned that it had been our understanding that her primary level of involvement would be keeping up the blog while our friend was gone and fundraising, that the event this month was announced.  We went out of town last month.  There were a few things that I had yet to do for the site, that I had promised to do when we got back.  In the interim, the payments were stopped due to lack of funding.  Because we have our plate full of paying projects, I sent an announcement to all involved (my client, and the new intermediary), that I would complete the final changes after I had a chance to meet with him and figure some new arrangement out.  We could not take on any unpaid work right now. There were still a few minor things I was planning on doing on the site (and subsequently completed), and then I was going to take a step back until he came back and we could talk.  She then proceeded to press the issue about the updates, and what came next was a massive butting of heads culminating in my being accused of a lack of integrity.  WTF?  I twittered my frustration: Being forced into doing volunteer work is sort of the antithesis of the word “volunteer”.  We stood our ground, and eventually she backed off.

The entire time, every email from her was (on the surface) very polite, but also very demanding.  “I’m sure you are very busy but…if you could do…it would be ever so appreciated.  Thank you very much for all your hard work.” Etc.  It wasn’t until she made remarks about my character that the language was at all colored.  And yet, it was obvious she was trying to push me into doing something I said I would not do – she was, in a Buddhist sense, being an obstruction.

This leaves me wondering how people get this way?  How can you justify calling yourself a Buddhist and behave like this?  Similarly, how can you call yourself Christian – when Christ said things like “love your enemies” and when someone attacks you to “turn the other” cheek – and endorse violence and hatred?  If homosexuals are your enemies, by Christ’s example, shouldn’t you embrace your fears and try to overcome them?  Shouldn’t you perpetuate peace rather than go to war?  Where did these theologies all go so wrong?  They all say the same thing: play nice, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, don’t kill anyone, and in the end, you might be rewarded with something (rewards vary depending on your belief system).  I mean, at least The Fellowship of the Sun in True Blood has a fairly reasonable explanation behind their single-minded hatred of vampires – in their eyes, vampires are an abomination and not creatures of God.  It may be extreme (in the context of the show, in which vampires are a marginalized but accepted part of society), but at least it makes sense.

I really don’t get people who do things that are completely at odds with the things they claim to hold as truth.  Invariably, it’s not the bad Christians or bad Jews who behave like this, but the ones who claim to be the most devout to their faith.  My only response is that people all suck, and human nature is awful, and we should all live hermetically in caves (be they virtual or otherwise).  Thank god I’m not running things.