Kupala Night – Celebration On 15 June 2008

This was the most celebrated Slavic festival, which took place around summer solstice. Since Christianity, it has been held the night before St. John The Baptist Day, i.e. 24th of June. The name, most probably, comes from the conjunction of two words “ k’upału”[koo pa woo], which means the coming of the year’s hottest days and Slavic (Russian) word for bathing – kupat’. In Poland, it was also called “Sobótka“[so boot ka]. There is a consensus amongst Polish historians that Polish prince Mieszko I [ Myeshko the first] and the heads of the polish clans were baptized around the time of that special night.
This night Slavs celebrated love, life and fertility. Life, according to their beliefs, required joining together of two elements, masculine and feminine, which complement each other. That night fire is joined with water, a lad with a girl, sky with earth, the sun with the moon and space with time. Slavs believed this world is the result of two planes connected together, combined and joined forever. The vertical plane has been connecting skies with earth and, through earth’s water, with “nawa”[nava]-underworld, Sun-god with humankind and their ancestors. This was the day of thanksgiving for Perun (thunder and lightning) dancing with Łada [Wa da] (water, rain). In the horizontal plane of time flowing always forward like a river, Łada, feminine element epitomizing love and fertility, has been connecting in an eternal circle of life the past with the future, ancestors with living people and spirits. That day any fires burning in all Slavic territories were extinguished, and the flames ceased burning everywhere. Wood and plants were gathered for stakes placed at the tops of hills, road conjunctions, glades and other secluded places in preparation for the sacred bonfires. At dusk started the ceremony of igniting the fire to life again. The spindled wheel made of ash and covered with straw soaked in tar was placed on a birch rod and spun around faster and still faster until it burst into flames. Taken of the peg, it was rolled from stake to stake to set all of them ablaze. People were throwing sacral herbs and flowers into the fire. Dressed in white clothing lads and lasses wore garlands made of flowers and herbs on their heads. Virgins approached the bodies of water and launched their wreaths. Young men tried to fetch the wreaths of their lovers out of the water. If they were successful it meant that faith and lot joined them together as lovers to be happy together ever after. They were allowed to go to the forest in search for the flower of the fern that, according to the legend, blooms only that night and for a very short time. It was believed that thunder and lightning would help induce the blooming of the plant. The entire community was singing, dancing and clapping their hands as they circled around flaming stakes and were led from one bonfire to another in a “korowód”[ko ro vood].
Upon the arrival back from the forest, youngsters were jumping through the fire holding their hands together or lads were carrying their lovers in the arms over the dying flames. Before the dawn the entire community took the ritual bath. It was believed that bathing before dawn will regenerate the body, strengthen its vital powers and protect health. The effigy, called Kupała because it symbolized the coming hot days of summer, was set on fire and while still burning thrown into the water. Unburned debris was dispersed in adjacent fields, which supposed to give bountiful yields and bring rich crops at the time of harvest. That was the people’s call for not too much heat or too little moisture, for a perfect balance of both elements that are necessary for life.
At dawn, when the sun started showing itself at the horizon, the bonfires were put out. People gathered embers and took them home to set sacred fire in household stoves and other burning places. The festive night was over but this new fire will not be allowed to go out until the next “Sobótka“[so boot ka].

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