|Kupala Night - Simon Kozhin | CC 3.0|
The name Kupala is a cognate of the verb "to bathe" in the various Slavic languages. So as you might expect, Kupala is the goddess of water -- but She also has a fire aspect. Both elements can be used for cleansing and purification. And interestingly, some of the observances remind me very much of the Celts' Beltane practices.
For example, the Slavs would kindle a bonfire, and young couples would jump over it, hand in hand. If they made it to the other side of the fire still holding hands -- or if the fire shot out a spark as they jumped over it -- then they were destined to wed. If, however, their hands came apart, their relationship supposedly would, too.
But how to pick the fellow to jump the fire with? Kupala has that covered, too. Young women would weave flower wreaths for their hair, stick candles in them, and then lay them on a pool of water and light the candles. Supposedly each wreath would float to the young man who was to be that young lady's husband.
According to author Patricia Monaghan, flowers, herbs, ferns, and birch trees are sacred to Kupala. Supposedly the only time you could find a flowering fern was on Kupala Night, and young people would go searching in the woods to find one. Ferns don't flower, of course; they propagate by spores. So one can only imagine what those young people were really up to in the forest. (I told you it sounded like Beltane.)
As Christianity overspread the Slavic lands, Kupala became associated with St. John the Baptist, a.k.a. Ivan Kupalo, and the celebration was moved to St. John's Day on June 24th -- but as with so many holidays the Christian Church appropriated, its pagan roots remain.
These days, some Slavic Neopagans celebrate Kupala by going swimming. So today, I took a dip in our apartment complex's pool. At last -- a Kupala tradition I can get behind.
These moments of Midsummery blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.