Today is the longest day of the year, Summer Solstice, one of the most ancient holidays. Solstice celebrations have been tied to fertility, crops, and love, and these traditions are easily among the most fascinating and special in every culture.
Here is how Solstice was celebrated in ancient Russia (and is, in some forms, still celebrated now). On Solstice eve (Kupalo), a large bonfire is lit in the glade, at the edge of a lake or a river. The seniors of the gathering brew a special herb tea — the Drink of Love (Privorot). The brew includes a set of special herbs, gathered fresh on the Solstice eve. After it is ready, a beautiful dark-eyed girl must look into the brew. Then, it is served to all the participants of the gathering. By the lore, this drink is able to bind two people in love, at least for a short time.
Men and women weave wreaths of wild flowers and wear them while they drink the brew. Those who dare, jump over the bonfire. If they manage not to burn themselves, they would have good fortune in the coming year. They dance on the glade around the bonfire. Then, they put candles in their wreaths and send them floating in the water. The longer your wreath stays afloat, the better fortune you will have.
At the end of the celebration, the most beautiful maiden is chosen among the attendants, and she is “sacrificed” by being thrown into the water. In ancient times, the maiden had to drown, but nowadays she only ends up wet. In ancient times, the whole thing used to end with an orgy where everything was allowed. But this, of course, has not been openly practiced for a long time. One of the persisting traditions is going into the forest in search of a fern flower (a non-existent, beautiful and magical glowing red blossom).
Solstice celebration is one of the most authentic traditions that also inspired my upcoming fantasy novel, “Mistress of the Solstice” (to be published on November 30 by Dragonwell Publishing). So, I am posting the book’s cover, featuring a beautiful painting by Howard David Johnson, which fits so well with every aspect of the story.
Happy Summer Solstice, everyone!