Midsummer, Kupala Night, and the Summer Solstice
June 17, 2020 — The European summer solstice is soon upon us, and in particular, the “Swedish Midsommar” — which neither Amajarl nor Seidrsunna can stop talking about right now — is a festivity that has been celebrated in northwestern Europe since time immemorial.
But how was the summer solstice celebrated in the East? In the ancient lands that were once ruled by the mighty Scythians — also known as the far reaches of Ásaland — the Slavic sun-deity Kupala (or Solntse, which means sun) was worshiped. Kupala is not very well-known in the western world, but the modern Kupala Night celebrations that take place every year are just as popular as Swedish Midsommar festivities. In fact, it is likely the Kupala rites are even crazier!
On the eve of Kupala Night, the Slavic deity of the sun is celebrated in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Pagan rituals of purification through water and fire are carried out, suggesting modern Kupala festivities relates to ancient rites connected with the ever-returning summer solstice — that time of year when nights are the shortest.
It’s believed the fern, which is a magic flower in Slavic mythology, blooms only for a short moment on the eve of Kupala, and that finding it blossoming will bring power, luck, and prosperity. Unmarried women often led wild fern-hunts as they were followed by potential suitors to roam the woods and track down the magical flower. Searching the woods for the elusive fern, it was hoped that relationships would form.
As made evident by the chase for the magic flower, an emphasis on love is buried within the mythology of Kupala Night. Girls often let their handcrafted wreaths free on the water as they wait for their suitor. Couples take a different approach and engage in magic rituals to strengthen their bond.
In recent years, Kupala Night has become the most popular feast of summer and sun in the East, with plenty of bonfires to light up the darkness of the night — that inevitably creeps in as the sun dies only to be reborn the next morning. And as the stars line up — who knows what is waiting on the other side of the equinox?