Warning: Spoilers for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are ahead.
Here's something that irks me about the Church of Night in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: It is constantly turning sexy, empowering rituals into repressive rapey (or cannibalistic) ones. Though Lupercalia doesn't involve any witches feasting on each other, it's got its own problematic conclusion — one that might actually have its origins in the real history of Lupercalia.
Here's how Zelda explains the ritual to Sabrina: "It's a lusty pastoral festival started by the Roman witches under the reign of Caligula, named after the Lupercal, the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. It was instituted as a means to purify the city and institute health and fertility."
What Does Lupercalia Mean On Sabrina?
On CAOS, that means the students of the Academy of Unseen Arts get paired up randomly with a partner of the opposite sex (so regressive!) by rather poetic means: a blind-folded Ambrose plays the violin as the girls weave ribbons around the boys, stopping when the music does. The next night, they go out into the woods with their partners, have a feast, smear blood on each other's heads, wash it off with milk while laughing, and then strip down and sleep beside them in "unholy abstinence." (It’s the middle of February and yet these guys are completely comfortable sleeping in the woods naked.) The last night, the Hunt, involves the witches in Little Red Riding Hood gear running after their warlocks, who are wearing hideous real wolf heads. Once caught, they have lots of sex.
(Side note: Why is every single one of these crazy rituals completely new to Sabrina? It's like her aunts and cousin never even talked to her before she turned 16.)
What Was The Real Lupercalia Like?
You might be surprised to learn that this is not how things went down in ancient Rome — but it's not exactly stranger than the real thing. Lupercalia actually began long before Caligula's reign (that was A.D. 37-41), and possibly even before the founding of Rome itself, as a pastoral festival. It did evolve into a reference to Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, and took place in their legendary cave at the base of the Palatine Hill, as Zelda said.
During Lupercalia, on February 15, a special order of priests called the Luperci would sacrifice one or two male goats and a dog. Two of the priests were smeared with the blood of these animals, and then they were supposed to laugh as they were washed with milk-soaked wool. I am very disappointed in all history sites for not at all explaining this laughter detail.
Next the priests cut the goat hide into strips and ran naked around the Palatine Hill whipping any woman in their path — which was many, because getting hit was supposed to make you fertile.
So Did Anything From Sabrina Line Up With History?
A few sources out there also mention a matchmaking lottery, in which men picked women's names out of a vessel and had sex with them during the festival. Which is great and all, as long as all parties are willing.
That said, the real history seems a bit different from the teen drama version. And you know what? That's probably for the best.