Ivan Kupala

Essay by kartoshkaCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 2004

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What could possibly come to your mind when hearing the name of Ivan Kupala? One will probably say that he is a Slavic writer, or a composer, or an artist. I think, that only a few people know that it is actually the name of the holiday.

Ivan Kupala is one of the most ancient Slavic feasts that goes back to pagan rites of the pre-Christian era: the celebration of fertility in honor of the goddess Kupala. The celebration takes place on the night of summer solstice, June 21. According to the ancient myth, Solntzevorot-day ("summer solstice") was the day when Perun (god of the sun as well as thunder and lightning) had been forced to descend from his regular path across the sky. He was found and then resurrected by the clear-eyed girl Zarya ("daybreak") who bathed him in the early-morning dew she gathered from the fields of fragrant grass.

Reinvigorated, Perun found the strength to reach the heavens again. Thus, in the early morning people bathe in the river or roll in the grass dew believing that water on this day has a special cleansing force. In ancient times Kupala was celebrated in the night from July 6 to July 7. During the day of July 6 young girls were going into the meadows to collect different plants and remedies. It was considered that the plants gathered at this time have particular strengths for curing people. Some plants were used for magical protection, and the wreaths of these plants were put on the walls of the houses to protect them against bad spirits.

There is a whole complex of traditional rituals and beliefs associated with Ivan Kupala celebration that include dancing in karagods (dancing in circles), singing folk songs, and competing in strength. But the central part in...