Ivan Kupala Day
The 6th of June — Ivan Kupala Day is one of the great and enigmatic holidays signifying a celebration in honour of the “God of the Sun” (or “Dazhbog”). It is belived that during this time of summer solstice, the sun is strongest, before turning to the winter. They say that the Sun is a personification of light, celebrating its victory over dark forces, so as it rises it’s “playing”, “leaping” and feeling joyful. All Nature is also joyful because of this, becoming special and charmed. The name of the holiday is bound to the name of “Kupajla”, who is the “Divinity of Fertility”, of the harvest, welfare and medicinal healing herbs and plants. Traditional ceremonies are timed so as to celebrate in honour of youth, beauty, love and purification. On the 6th of July people set off for the gathering of medical herbs and plants. They gather healing herbs at dawn, far from the settlements and paths, all in a good mood and praying. Folklore has it that besides medical properties Kupal’s’ki plants have a considerable magical effect. The main Kupal’s’ki ceremonies were taking place at night 6-7 July. Kupala night is a special night.
Not only is it the most mysterious and enigmatic but also the most dissolute night of the year. The people believed that all Kupala’s articles like chaplets, sprigs of sapling, ash, dew and other items had had not only healing properties but also considerable guarding forces from impure spirits as well as witches, which were thought to be very active on Kupala’s night. All night long people keep Kupala bonfires burning, leaping over the flames, cleansing themselves of ill and bad luck. The remnants of the bonfire are distributed to the participants, and maybe taken home, to protect against evil forces. It was considered a good sign for their future if young people, while jumping over the fire, would keep their hands locked and their clothes unsigned. Mothers burn shirts of ill children in the Kupala fire as illnesses are believed to burn away with it.
The next ceremony consists of purifying by another element, water. Girls try to dive in the water in such a way, that a chaplet from their hair would float on the surface of the water. Sometimes girls were sending their own personal chaplet with candles alit floating to the other side of the river or lake as the young men would try to capture the chaplet of his favorite girl. If not able to reach it from shore, some would impatiently jump in the water and retrieve the girls’ chaplet. A kiss awaits the bearer of each chaplet.
Especially enigmatic were recitals relating to fern blossoms on Kupala night. In order to see it, you have to go at night to the fern bush to spread under it a linen or towel on which the Easter cake was sanctified. Next you must draw around yourself a circle with the knife sanctified in the Church, sprinkle the plant with sanctified water and read a prayer. Impure forces then try to drive away and scare the man; wind, noise, blowing small rocks and twigs. It will not, however, be able to overcome the outlined circle. This is why you need to “fear not”.
At midnight the fern begins to bloom and fall on the linen. This is when you need to quickly rap the linen and hide it with the fern blossoms in your bosom. Such bravery rewards the person who did this to inherit the power to see how trees walk from one place to another. To understand the language of birds, animals, plants and trees. He will be able to locate treasure hidden in the ground and retrieve it.
The highlight of the ritual is a decoration of the sacral sapling — “kupaily” (kupailytsi, gil’tsya, madder). Usually it is the branch of a willow, cherry or ash tree, decorated by field flowers, paper ribbons, and burning candles. Girls dance and sing about love and marriage around the “Kupaily”. It is then dipped in water and broken into pieces and given to the girls, “so they would attain riches”.
The Kupal’ska ritual is highly symbolic. Kupal’s’ki fires symbolize a cult of the Sun. Kupal’s’ka water is a symbol of healing power. A fern is a symbol of a happy future. Magic Ivanivs’ka dew provides beauty and love, and the Kupala tree denotes fertility and happiness.
The Kupala ritual, as with Ukrainians, was widespread not only among the Slavic people, but also included other segments of Europe and even India. In particular, Bulgarians believed that on Kupala the Sun is “dancing” and “twirling the sabers”. Polish girls baked ceremonial “sun” cakes while Englishmen sought out the fern, not for the sake of the blossom of a burning flower, but for its seeds which can make a man invisible.