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Vedic origin of a Kupala ritual?

It is widely accepted that the Kupala celebrations trace their origins back into the pre-Christian Slavic societies. But what if some rituals were even older than the Slavic times? In any case, the meaning and significance of the ritual acts performed during these special days were blurred, distorted and obscured through the ages. Even though nowadays the practice of the rites and festivities of Kupala are mostly superficial, their meaning might not be entirely lost.

Artist: Vsevolod Ivanov Title: The night before the Kupala holiday

Artist: Vsevolod Ivanov
Title: The night before the Kupala holiday

I would like to share in this article a perspective on one of the many rituals occurring during the Kupala festivities. It addresses the tradition of (Slavic name?) the crafting of small rafts decorated with wreaths and lanterns or candles which are then set afloat on water. This understanding is provided from the 6th book of the Ringing Cedars Series, The Book of Kin.

The following excerpts are part of a section entitled “Rituals”, which is itself part of the chapter “History of mankind, as told by Anastasia”. Quoted with the kind permission of the publishers at www.ringingcedars.com, here are but a few of the consciousness-expanding insights these books provide.

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“In various countries today there is a celebration involving water, whereby wreaths or small rafts with beautiful lanterns or candles are set afloat on a water surface and pushed away from the shore in a plea to the water to grand good fortune. But let us see where this particular celebration originated and how rational and poetic a significance it had in its pristine form.”

“In Vedic times it sometimes happened that one or two girls (how many is of no importance) did not find someone they could love within their own community. And even at large festivals involving several communities they did not succeed in choosing their intended. This would not have been on account of a limited selection. Indeed, they were presented with a whole array of splendid young men with intelligent countenances – almost like gods, who shone in their celebratory performances. But while the heart and soul of the girl in question where filled with great expectations, they were not visited by love. The girl was dreaming of someone, but of whom? She herself did not know. Even today, no one can explain the mystery or freedom of choice inherent in the energy of Love.”

“This is why on a designated day the girls would go down to the river, and in one of the little bays set a small raft afloat. Its edges were decorated with a garland of flowers. In the middle stood a small jug of wine or fruit infusion. Pieces of fruit were placed around the jug. The drink was to be prepared by the girl herself, and the fruit to be plucked by her from the trees she had planted by her own hand in her family garden. She might also place on the raft a woven linen headband, or some other object, but it had to be something made with her own hands. Lastly she would place on the raft a little lampadka (a small vessel filled with tree oil and a wick which could be lit). Around a fire burning on the shore the girls danced their khorovod and sang about a beloved of whom they were not yet fully aware. Then, taking one of the branches burning on the fire, they lit the wick of the lampadka. They pushed their rafts out of the bay into the mainstream of the river, where the current would catch it and tenderly convey it down to the river’s farthest unknown reaches.”

“Upon seeing the little lights in the distance being carried along by the current, a young man would at once leap into the water and swim toward the little lights of love he had seen.”

“Placing the little raft carefully on the land, the young man snuffed out the lampadka, took an excited drink from the jug and quickly headed home to prepare for his journey. He took with him whatever he had found on the little craft. Along the way he took a taste of the fruit and was thrilled by its taste. By and by he arrived at the village from where the raft had been launched, and was able to accurately determine which garden ant tree whose fruit had sweetened his journey.”

For those who might still have trouble understanding how the young man who had been waiting on the riverbank could find with accuracy where the raft came from, some more explanations are given in this chapter. They have to do with the wick of the lampadka being an indicator of how long it had been alight, the well known speed of the river’s current as well as the unique characteristics of a fruit such as shape, colour, fragrance and taste.

“What would draw him to her? Was the meeting the result of mysticism or rationality? Or perhaps of the knowledge to which the Vedic people had access through their feelings? Decide for yourself which way”

Ivan Kupala. Fortunetelling on the wreaths. Wood with levkas, oil. 85 x 150 cm

Artist: Simon Kozhin
Title: Ivan Kupala. Fortunetelling on the wreaths. Wood with levkas, oil. 85 x 150 cm

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