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Happy Solstice, everyone!
In every epoch of history cultures all over the world have paid particular heed to the Solstices. The movements of celestial bodies and the turning of the seasons are some of the most obvious indicators of a working universe, bigger than we are, affecting our day to day lives. It’s not a large jump, then, to suggest that an invisible force is controlling these movements. And then our tendency as a species to personify the things we don’t understand kicks in, and before you know it you’ve got a harvest deity deciding how much corn you’re going to grow this year based on how shitty your attitude is!
Most harvest deities seem pretty cool and collected, to be fair; Demeter, Freya, and Eostre don’t seem to have the wrathful tempestuousness of Zeus or Thor, for example. The gods (and usually goddesses) of the summer solstice and harvest time are mankind’s buddies, doing their best to feed us and keep us thinking happy thoughts. That’s Kupala’s game, for sure.
I’d actually never heard about Kupala before today; the Slavic deities are more difficult to track down in English resources, it would seem. Kupala, according to good ol’ Jacob Grimm, were the name of the celebratory fires lit at the summer solstice, named for the harvest goddess herself. Kupala is also the subject of debate regarding her sex. In some stories, Kupala is a mortal man and his sister is Kostrama. After a tragic childhood separation, the two are tricked into marrying one another, and take their own lives.
After the Christianization of the Slavic regions by the Orthodox church, the powers of fertility and bounty were transferred to John the Baptist in an effort to minimize and assimilate Non-Christian religious practices. To me, this seems like a difficult swap to pull off: Originally a physical manifestation of beauty that bestows food and fertility on hardworking peasants, now you’re a dirty guy in the wilderness who gives people baths—same thing, right?