Valentine’s Day conjures up images in our minds of Eros, love and sensuality. It is a day where lovers give each other cards, flowers and gifts expressing their love for each other. It is remarkable that an entire day of the year is set aside to celebrate erotic love, the strong compelling force between two people that combines love and sexual desire.
Erotic love is a vastly different from the love of a parent for a child or the love between siblings or friends. Face it: erotic love “sizzles” and speaks to mankind’s universal desire for physical and spiritual union. It evokes—and unleashes—potent and passionate emotions from deep within the human psyche.
Erotic love is so powerful and all-encompassing, as reflected by many ancient myths from around the world, that it can even change the course of history. (Just think of Helen of Troy and Paris or Samson and Delilah or Salome and John the Baptist, and you will see what I mean.) From the ancient Greeks to the Hindus to the Sufi’s, etc., the stories of Gods and Goddesses dramatize and mirror the quest for true love that informs our human experience, as well as the effect of erotic love as we strive to find that perfect love.
Valentine’s Day epitomizes this universal theme and interestingly, after Christmas, is the most popularly celebrated holiday in the United States and many other parts of the world. Approximately one billion cards are exchanged each year on Valentine’s Day.
The Origins of Valentine’s Day
How Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated is unknown. There are many stories about its origins that date back to ancient Rome. However, it’s most probable origin can be traced to the early Catholic Church, which identifies a priest named Valentine who lived in the third century in Rome and was martyred and sainted for his zealous defense of romantic love. At that time, marriage had been outlawed by Emperor Claudius so that men who were otherwise of a marriageable age would be unattached and could be conscripted to serve in his army. Valentine felt the decree to be unfair, so he defied it by continuing to marry young lovers in secret.
When Claudius discovered Valentine’s seditious behavior, he had the priest jailed and eventually put to death. It is believed that while imprisoned, Valentine fell madly in love with his jailer’s daughter. She too fell in love with the condemned priest and visited him often in prison. Apparently, Valentine sent the girl love letters of affection which he signed, “From your Valentine.” Following his execution, Valentine was viewed as a heroic and romantic martyr who sacrificed his life in the service of romantic and erotic love.
By the seventeenth century, Valentine’s Day was celebrated in Great Britain yearly, and spread to colonial America. By the middle of the eighteenth century the British developed the custom of sending tokens of affection and handwritten notes to their lovers and also sending gestures of affection to members of their family and friends. In honor of the martyred priest, the notes were signed “From your Valentine.” With the advent of affordable printing technology, beginning in the nineteenth century printed Valentine’s Day cards replaced the hand-written notes.
The Power of Eros in our lives.
Although Valentine became emblematic of erotic love in the eighteenth century, mankind’s obsession with erotic love can be traced as far back as the ancient myths dealing with this most passionate emotional expression of love. Eros, in Greek, means desire. Eros was the son of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love in the classical Greek version of the love myth. The Greeks depicted Eros as a slender youthful God-ling with wings who, contrary to the instruction of his mother to sprinkle the incredibly beautiful Psyche with a potion, which would render the mortal girl less attractive than the jealous Goddess of Love, falls madly in love with Psyche. Their ensuing story is a tale of the mystery of love and it’s various intrigues, which exemplifies our own human experience of falling in love.
Eros is also known as Cupid in Roman mythology. In the Roman version, Cupid (also known in Latin as Amor or “Love”) is depicted as a chubby youth carrying a bow and arrows. Unlike Eros, who was passionately involved in an erotic love relationship, the Romans’ Cupid is the harbinger or deliverer of erotic love. The Roman myth warns that whosoever is shot by Cupid’s arrow becomes filled with uncontrollable desire and thus symbolically depicts that first moment of awareness when we realize we have been struck by love. Today, Cupid, is popularly portrayed on Valentine’s Day cards drawing his bow, ready to release his magical arrow at us and thereby inspire romantic love.
When Eros, the force of love and sexual attraction, takes hold a person will lose control of their rational thinking mind. They become consumed by thoughts all day and night of the object of their desire. It’s compelling energy obeys no rules and is more powerful than society’s morals at any given moment. At best, Eros makes a person struggle between giving into, or trying to temper, their passionate urges. Eros is the cause of countless affairs and ruined marriages. It is the stuff of romances and of the love stories that live on in our minds and hearts as, they capture the essence of our own primordial feelings.
For example, we might ponder the powerful emotions of Romeo and Juliet who both died for the sake of a love that could not be fulfilled because of the social mores of their day. In “real life” we might think of Edward VIII, heir apparent to King of England who, prior to his impending reign, caused a national crisis by declaring that he was forfeiting his right to the throne because he was going to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee (who was seeking a divorce from her second husband). Edward abdicated the throne rather than end his love relationship. We can ponder at the power of his love and desire for Wallis as Edward broke with the conventions of his day and turned down a position of enormous prestige and power.
Metaphorically, when Cupid shoots his arrow we are struck with the sudden awareness that we have fallen in love. Often this occurs when we least expect it. It is that “Aha” moment when we realize we are enamored with another and we suddenly see them in a different light. In our ordinary daily lives, we are typically absorbed within our thoughts which are primarily fretful concerns, hopes, and worries. We often feel separate from others and our daily lives feel flat and mundane. Then, out of the blue, we are struck by Eros and become consumed within a personal drama, obsessed with thoughts and fantasies of the one we adore.
This all consuming passion does not take into account what is right—or wrong. When it strikes, it is often more potent than one’s personal mores or beliefs about appropriate behavior and it can even threaten positions of power. Many politicians and other prominent leaders have risked their hard won careers by succumbing to their erotic desires. For them it is often an even stronger force than their political power. We can see it with President Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky in which he suffered public humiliation and the humiliation of possible impeachment.
It is not only political leaders who have risked it all. Our history as well as, current news, is replete with stories of people in all walks of life who, having worked hard for success, suddenly surrendered it all when the force or Eros strikes. We have all witnessed or heard stories about it in spiritual groups, businesses, schools and every aspect of human life: the force of Eros is so potent that it can easily overtake anyone.
The Gift of Eros
Notwithstanding these travails, Eros, one of the strongest forces in the human psyche, is a gift from Nature, which bonds us to another and makes us surrender to the ecstasy of love so that in the mutual merging both can play in paradise. It is Nature’s way of making sure we procreate and is also a psychical body/mind experience that takes us out of our predictable and familiar mode of being to an extraordinary high. We leave our ordinary minds and enter a more exalted state of mind where we long for sweet surrender with another. Our hearts open, we are sexually excited and a dream-like quality softens and envelops us. We are kinder to others and feel more in tune with life. We are enveloped in a delicious, heavenly energy that carries us through our days. Our minds replay images over and over of the one we adore. We long to unify with them in order to experience a high state of love.
Love is truly an aphrodisiac and when we are in love our brains release addictive biochemical substances. It is Nature’s way to bring partners together in order to bond. Researchers found that the same areas of the brain activated by various “feel-good” drugs are also activated when one is in love. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is released in both which, affects the pleasure and motivation centers of the brain. It induces a sensation akin to a controlled-substance-induced high. That is why Eros is so addictive and hard to tame. When these “love” chemicals flood us we experience a taste of the divine.
Image: The Cosmic Dance of the Feminine and Masculine
In nature there is an ongoing eternal play between the masculine and the feminine elements. We can see it in the mating dances of all the creatures on the earth and metaphorically in the elements of the earth such as in the feminine waters that flow and the masculine rocks that are firm. In humans, this dance is often experienced by both men and women as an oceanic experience in the play of sea-water against rocks.
This following image instruction, which, you can see and enjoy in your mind’s eye, will provide insight into what happens when the feminine and masculine come together. It is personifies the endless dance between them both and will bring you to a deeper understanding of your own Eros nature.
When following the instructions below you can keep your eyes open or closed. Read each instruction and allow an image to be formed in your mind’s eye. As you see the image, notice your body sensations and any feelings associated with it. Allow whatever meanings to surface.
Cosmic Dance of the Feminine and Masculine:
- See the ocean. There are waves washing up on the rocks.
- See an elongated rock jutting out of the water.
- See that the water is warm and feminine and is swirling around the rock, crashing, lapping against the rock in an endless play.
- See the water playing against the rock. The rock is strong. See that water against the rock; the rock loves the sensual waters. The water loves to endlessly swirl and play around the rock.
- Keep the protruding rock and the warm lapping water in mind as you think of the person you love or of an imaginary lover in your mind.