The shortest night of the year, June 21/22 – known as the Kupała Night [Noc Kupały] or Sobótka (depending on region) – was in the old Slavs tradition a great celebration, full of joy, splendor, sex pleasures and a variety of magic which aim was to ensure prosperity for the future. The celebration of this feast began after sunset from kindling the fires. All house hearths had been already extinguished to give place for the new fire, taken from the Kupała bonfires.
Henryk Siemiradzki: Kupała Night
Kupała Night was a celebration of several meanings:
– Celebration of water and fire, which were considered as purifying elements. Therefore young people used to jump over the fire (young couples with hand in hand) and people used to have a purifying bath in the water.
Kupała Night – Poznań 2010 / photo: Ratomir Wilkowski (Wikimedia Commons)
– Farewell to spring – the so-called “summer solstice”
– Celebration of fertility – it was the only time of the year when unmarried people were allowed to have sex (so unmarried women could enjoy it legally). For this reason Kupała Night usually had been turned into sexual orgies.
At Kupała Night maidens could foretell a marriage. The tool of the foretell was a wreath of flowers (often lit with candles), dropped by the girl on the water. If it sunk – it ment her death. When floated far away – the girl had to wait for the wedding a bit longer. The good fortune was to catch up the garland by a boy who was trying to find its owner. The tradition of releasing wreaths on the water survived up today.
A contemporary reference to the old Slavic tradition are open air concerts called “Wianki” (Wreaths) organized in Krakow (June 25the 2016) and Warsaw, but not necessarily on June 21 – in the closest weekend.
Another custom of Kupała Night was seeking in the forest a blooming fern flower – blooming only in this one particular night. Finding it brought happiness and wealth, but it could happen only to the good and righteous man. (The search for the fern flower could be a good pretext for couples wanting sex).
These are the most important rituals of this beautiful pagan festival. After the introduction of Christianity the Church tried to replace Kupała Night by Saint John Night (noc świętojańska), on the eve of the day of John the Baptist – 23/24 of June. But happily with not a full success.
Kupała Night – Poznań 2013 / photo: Bolando (Wikimedia Commons)