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Ivan Kupala Day or The Night of Pagan Magic

Ivan Kupala Day, along with Maslenitsa, is another popular pagan holiday of the Slavs. Like Maslenitsa, Ivan Kupala Day is a very interesting and colorful feast that ends the summer solar cycle of the calendar of pre-Christian holidays.

Ivan Kupala is the national holiday of pagan origin. It is celebrated by Eastern and Western Slavs in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, and Finland. Initially, before the spread of Christianity, the holiday was associated with the summer solstice that is June 20-22.  With Christianity adoption, the ritual of the festival was timed to the birthday of John the Baptist that is June 24 by the Old Style. With adoption of the New Style, the date of birth of John the Baptist has moved to July 7. In this regard, this day has lost all connection with the summer solstice.

Sticking to the Old Style, the Orthodox Church has established its own holiday dedicated to John the Baptist (by the way, Ivan Kupala is a folk version of his name) that, nonetheless, is full of pagan rituals associated with water and fire. Firstly, water was endowed with the special power, in particular, the ability to heal all diseases in Ivan Kupala Day. It was believed that all the evils come out of the water this night. Thus, anyone can safely swim in any open water basin till Ilyin Day that is August 2. Herbs gathered on this day also have a special power. So, it is better to gather them during this holiday.

Secondly, fire or rather campfires are the required attributes of pagan holiday Ivan Kupala. People dance around them and jump through the flames. It is a kind of cleansing ritual intended to drive off evil spirits.

Magical union of water and fire was personified by the cow-wheat flower. It is considered a symbol of the mysterious holiday Ivan Kupala. Slavic girls wove wreaths from the cow-wheat flowers and lowered them with lighted candle into the water. The girl, whose wreath floats longer than others, will be the happiest. The girl, whose candle burns longer than others, will live the longest life.

Another plant, which is associated with Ivan Kupala holiday, is a fern. There was a belief that if you find the fern flower, which blooms for a couple of moments on this night only, then all the knowledge about treasures, no matter how deep they are hidden, will be opened for luck ones.

It was believed that Ivan Kupala night is the shortest. Thus, you can’t sleep this night because the evil spirits come to life (werewolves and mermaids). Witches are especially dangerous this night. According to the popular belief, stinging nettles can help protect against them.

So, if you‘ll have a chance to be in Ukraine, then don’t miss this colorful and mysterious Slavic holiday, which, practically, all pagans’ rituals were preserved on!

Ivan Kupala Day in Ukraine

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