Ivan Kupala - A Mid-Summer's Night Dream
* Cover Image Credit Source: Simon Kozhin
A Mid Summer's Night Dream, Ukrainian Style. In the rest of the world, mid summer is celebrated June 23 at the official change of seasons as followed by the lunar cycle, but because of the Orthodox Calender being observed in the Slavic World, the date is on July 6/7 th. It is the all-night festival that celebrates the pagan elements of nature of the opposites of fire and water. The pre-Christian God of Water was called Kupala, and on this day it was common to 'rinse' away your sins in the river. As Christianity became more popular in the region, the ceremony became to be associated with John the Baptist, in local iconography – John becomes Ivan; and so the day is branded Ivana Kupala (the day of water baptism)
It is a celebration marked by the traditional head wreath of woven lowers for the girls
My friend Olya
The first portion of the day – we ventured to the woods to the local river – it was a desolate area normally, but there were many other groups celebrating their own rendition of the holiday in small clusters. We arrived at the river, and were ready to let the celebrations begin.
* Me 'dressed' as Vodenoyi
As a foreigner, I was given a nod to the plays and games of olde – I was dubbed with the name of Vodenyoi – the Father of the Sea – their version of Neptune. We had gathered on the occasion to celebrate the birthday of my eldest daughter, played by a student of mine, Alice. This is Alice - you can see why a Neptune would be upset.
* My friend Alice
There were songs, games, and random pranks upon each other. As our fun and revere began to grow – we were invaded by a group of Devils that were offended that they were not invited to the party and had kidnapped Alice for ransom. I had to make a plea to the Devils to bring my Alice back. I did so with the following diddy, sung to the tune of Ozzy Osbourn's Iron Man. It wasn't recorded – but I bet none of the group will forget the American singing badly in parody. I know I never will.
* my Improv of Ozzy meets Slavic Culture
The melody - in case you need the back ground riffs as you imagine me singing singing the ballad below
After my Plea – the Devils, said that they would have a reconsider, but we had to pass their tests and games for them to bring back Alice. They had traditional games at the ready. The first was a rope jump, where all of my court of water nymphs had to stand in circle, and the lead devil would spin and rotate a rope at the victims, they had to jump when the rope came to them, and if they failed to jump and were hit by the rope, then they were 'OUT'. The circle was reduced in number and everybody took a step closer to the Devil. Next came the Limbo, conducted just as you would expect, you had to shimmy under the rope. But a new one to me, was that next the rope was RAISED and you had to jump over it. Our court won two of the three games and Alice was Returned to Me. We all celebrated in unison with the 'devils'.
The Lead Devil: My Friend Daniel
Many songs were sung, and dancing was begun; honestly – I don't remember the tunes, but it was a fun round of Ukrainian Traditional songs to usher the cresting summer heat. And a round of games were on deck. Limbo and reverse limbo - the rope Jump
IHP - Kupala Games
For the maids and maidens – the 'cleansing' process of the day is a dunk in the water; and so fire and water have met at the end of the day – ready for a new year together.
* IHP - Kupala Games
The flower wreath's are shed and send off down the river - where it is believed that a young lad that is to be the girl's partner will find it and return it to her, with a hopeful wedding proposal.
The next tradition was to build a fire – and so many of the boys were out to fetch wood; and it should be a big fire – so this was no short task, it was not until an hour later that a wood stoked to last the whole evening could be gather.
* IHP Kupala Fire
Once the fire was raging... oddly no fire extinguishers in sight, this would never come off in America, we were ready for the next ritual of the holiday.
* IHP Kupala Fire
The Casting of Worries. You were to write the troubles, names of enemies, or anxiety that you had about money, love, life on a piece of paper – and throw it into the fire. This was meant to burn in effigy your worries – and take them away from you. Pure pagan superstition – but it was fun none the less.
Next was Fire Jumping ! You had to run and clear the flames for your wishes to come true for following year. This being the manly man thing to do – many of the boys were to traditionally impress the girls with their running and jumping prowess. Leaping over the crackling flames is said to frighten away the devils that will keep you from your wishes – it is a 'cleansing' process for the men.
* Image Source: Иван Соколов. Ночь накануне Ивана Купала. 1856
As it is a fertility event – there is of course the usual Canoodling that happens throughout the night, crushes are confirmed, love is promised and many get their first kisses on this night. Pity I did not have such an event when I was a teen through those awkward years.
* Image Source Иван Голиков. «Гадание на венках». 1920-е гг.
The fires are kept roaring and tended all night, the traditions of sashlik BBQ are brought out and the eating, story telling, Tom-foolery and hanky-panky goes on until dawn. The fire must be kept going until dawn, it is bad luck if it is to die out before sunrise. Plus it fends off the mosquitoes – if you are wise, you are going to keep that sucker blazing; lest you be sucked dry by the local vampire bugs.
* Image Soource: Всеволод Иванов. Ночь на Ивана Купала. 2005
Though it is centuries old, and I seen no modern validity to it – the local girls were very serious and hopeful that indeed, this would be their year to be granted a love from their efforts. There are many more romantic ideals to love here than America. I was happy and glad to be a part of the event; I will never forget the night – I look forward to next year. Who knows – maybe there is a maiden somewhere in Ukraine that sailed her garland down the river this summer – and an old salt like me could be her granted wish.
* Image Source: Наталья Мотуз. Цвет папоротника
And now for your dose of Ozzy Osbourne