The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Calendar of Revelry and Sacred Days
Russian Midsummer’s Eve, Ivan Kupalo, is the day to regenerate human sexuality and fertility. Ivan Kupalo is a magical time for witches, sorcerers, shape-shifters, and household (and other) spirits. It’s a time for gathering magical and medicinal herbs. For maximum power, the morning dew should still cling to the botanicals. On the night of Ivan Kupalo, it’s believed that witches traverse the land, lighting the darkness with their magical fires. They make trees talk and put silver into water.
Who is Ivan Kupalo? Good question. “Ivan” is the Slavic version of “John” and refers to John the Baptist; tacit acknowledgement that, officially at least, this is St John’s Eve. The word “kupalo” is described as deriving from kupat “to bathe.” However, Kupala is also the ancient Slavic spirit of water, magic, and fertility. Midsummer’s Eve, the summer solstice, is her sacred day. The festival of St John the Baptist was superimposed over her day, which features ritual bathing as well as magical bonfires. (His associations with baptism, the holy, magical, and cleansing powers of water, lend themselves to a Pagan water festival.) The festival, even one that remained as stubbornly pagan as Ivan Kupalo, was more acceptable if it bore a man’s name.
Ivan Kupalo, like other Midsummer’s Eve festivities, celebrates the marriage of fire with water, male with female, and the subsequent bounties of Earth. Ivan Kupalo marks the consummation of Earth’s marriage with the Sun. They are never closer than today. To preserve and partake of this energy, people celebrate sexual union, too.
The oldest written report of the festival of Ivan Kupalo comes from twelfth-century Russian Church chronicles, which describe girls dressed as brides who are taken to the river to dance and jump, worship Kupala, tell fortunes and bring sacred river water back to villages to sprinkle over houses and possessions. Bonfires were lit at night and villagers jumped over them.
A Midsummer’s doll is made and decorated with branches and flowers. A girl is designated to represent Kupala. Holding the doll, she leads others, both male and female, to jump over the bonfires. With variations, this tradition is common to all areas with strong Slavic influence.
Fear of witchcraft is demonstrated too—the fear that some have secret knowledge that enables them to make private use of magical energy for personal (and perhaps selfish) benefit. In Belorussia, Baba Yaga is accused of leading witches, her devotees, in rituals that siphon solar energy into private magical fires during Ivan Kupalo.