Monthly Columns

Summer Solstice & the Magical Fern Flower of Kupala Night

by Teachings of the Mythic Past

Kupala’s Night or Kupalnocka is a Slavic celebration of the Summer Solstice. This celebration is similar to other Summer Solstice celebrations like Midsommar in Scandinavian countries or Litha of the Celts, or one of my favorites, Sanziene (Fairy Festival) in Romania. There is no coincidence that these charming festivals all take place during the week of the Summer Solstice.
File:Na Kupalu by Andrey Shishkin.jpg
Many rituals are associated with this Solstice celebration and include natural elements such as fire and water. The significance of fire and water to the Slavic people corresponds directly to their connection with the Earth and also to Solar deities, water spirits, and many more mystical creatures that have become part of tradition and cultures. This time of the year is when Pagan Slavs commemorate the Sun gods and various solar deities like Dazhbog or the goddess Saule.

According to Slavic belief, fire represents masculine energy associated with the Sun, and water represents feminine energy associated with the Moon. Like the magical plants and flowers that cover the Earth, we too, cannot survive without the unification of the Sun and water.

 

Kupala’s night sometimes referred to as the Slavic Valentine’s Day, is brought to us by these two natural elements coming together to provide us with the invigorating life force of the universe.


On Kupala night, people gather around bonfires to dance, sing, and fantasize about love, marriage, and unity. Sure, fire is destructive, but it’s also a symbol of passionate love. After a night of bathing in the river or lake, the women of Kupala throw their intricately woven flower wreaths into the water, hoping that a suitor would catch them.

Carefully crafted wreaths like these symbolize the maker’s attributes like innocence, wisdom, love, and beauty. The young girls who make these wreaths often include herbs and flowers that they believe will help them in their magical endeavors, particularly when they are trying to attract a romantic partner. For example, choosing red flowers may indicate life energy or love.



Polish legend has it that the suitor who caught the wreath and the maiden who created it would eventually become a couple. An integral part of the Kupala celebration is jumping over bonfires hand in hand. The belief is that if the lovers don’t release their grip, their faith will be tested, symbolizing the eternal love they will share. 

 



File:The Beloved during Summer Solstice Celebration of Kupala Night.jpg
It is typical practice in Slavic countries to wish each other love and prosperity while frolicking in the morning midsummer dewey grass, just like the very similar tradition in Scandinavian countries during Midsommar. The dew that falls on the Summer Solstice is said to have anti-aging properties, according to folklore.

Dew on the midsummer morning grass is not the only magical element of this holiday. The Fern Flower is steeped in rich legend according to Slavic lore. Finding a glowing fern flower on Kupala’s night is said to bring the greatest good fortune, strength, and success according to Polish legend. Polish folklore is rich with stories involving fabled fern flowers.

The wild fern, a species that rarely blossoms, is said to produce a magical flower on two designated nights every year in Polish folklore. On the nights of the Summer and Winter solstices, when the Sun’s strength is at its most powerful, this legendary flower is said to bloom.

The Fern Flower itself can grant humans the ability to communicate with animals and give the lucky finder a lifetime of good luck.

To find the flower however is not an easy feat. Polish folklore and fairy tales warn of malevolent spirits lurking in the forest shadows ready to pounce on those who are searching for the Fern Flower.

 

Slavic legends of the Summer Solstice are never short of animistic themes, such as animals who speak, trees who dance in the wind, and faeries who snicker as they lounge in bell flowers and atop toadstools.

 

An elf and a fairy kissing - In Fairy Land (1870)
An elf and a fairy kissing – In Fairy Land (1870)


The mystical Fern Flower you may think, does not exist. Ferns are not exactly known to produce flowers. The tale is that the Fern Flower only blooms at midnight on the Summer Solstice. According to Babcia’s across the lands, this is a night where you can experience the natural world around you in a very unique way. 

“Looking for a fern flower” could also be perceived as a metaphor for young people to sneak away into the woods on the Summer Solstice. Rural communities celebrated a feast with old Slavic roots called Kupalnocka, Sobótki, or Wianki in Polish.

This time of year has been specifically designated with importance by poets and writers from Poland. They often cite the folklore surrounding the Fern Flower as an influence, especially when discussing the mystical summer solstice night. What other night of the year could be more magical?


References and Further Reading:

https://lamusdworski.wordpress.com/2016/06/26/midsummer/

Slavic Deities and Their Worship by Patricia Robin Woodruff

https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202306/1293106.shtml

Once Around the Sun by Ellen Evert Hopman


***

About the Author

Kimberly Anne author photo

Kimberly Anne is a USA freelance writer and Administrative Secretary of Art and Music at a college near her hometown. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she holds a bachelor’s degree with honors in Creative Writing and English Literature and is also a member of Sigma Tau Delta. She is currently working on her Masters in Library and Information Science degree. 

After devoting a decade to the personal study of global mythology and folklore, she began writing about them. She focuses primarily on Nordic, Germanic, and Slavic pre-Christian beliefs. Kimberly has worked with various clients on freelance work including Patricia Robin Woodruff, PhD. MDiv and the YouTube channel Mythology Unleashed. She is a polytheist with animist beliefs who loves to talk about it all! You can find her in the book stacks of the library, in a forest with Landvættir or at www.kimberlyanneinc.com