Archive for июля 11, 2013

Adventures of a Summer Solstice

(Freedom of Worship in Ukraine?)

The purpose of this article is not to bemoan once again the fact that the Ukrainian pagan community does not have its own private space for celebrating sacred sabbats and conducting rituals. Nor do I need to remind readers about such ‘Kapisches,’ places of power, ideal pagan temples, but to question whether we can be assured that our rites won’t be interrupted, that someone suddenly won’t begin misinterpreting these rites and profaning our sacred ceremonies.

In that regard, I’d like to relate our experiences during this year’s celebration of Kupala (the Summer Solstice). Summer is a wonderful time of year, when part of my circle and I have a chance to get far away from a major city (like Kiev). So we decided to celebrate this ancient holiday in the wonderful town of Lvov. Our company included folks from our Kiev circle, someone from among our pagan friends of Western Ukrainian region, and also a close comrade/pagan from America. (I don’t think he expected that the Ukrainian glorification of the forces of the Summer solstice would be as interesting as they turned out).

On the Summer morning of June 22nd, Lvov met us with warm weather. First, we went to the planned ritual space in a park called ‘Znesenye,’ once the site of an actual Slavic pagan temple. We looked it over, admired the small lake, and observed the people in the park (who, it seemed, had also conducted similar rituals recently, and were quietly spending the morning hours by their campfires). We also took stock of how many garbage bags and pairs of gloves we needed to buy, so that later that evening, we could get rid of all the garbage that had unfortunately been left around the area, so we could turn it into a place to which we wouldn’t be ashamed to call the Highest Powers. Folks with any level of consciousness know well that there can only be spiritual purity when there is purity in world of form as well.

After reviewing the site, we went to treat ourselves to a Lvov breakfast. We chose a place called Kryivka, which we knew would be open that early in the morning. Each time we heard the challenge, Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine), we answered, with all due respect and gravity, with the password, Heroyam Slava (Glory to the Heroes), and even our American companion pronounced these words of respect for the Ukrainian people more or less adequately. Later, the small contingent of our group that planned to stay in Lvov for a little while after the Kupala holiday rented an apartment where we could a rest up a bit, take a shower, etc. After that, we took a walking tour of Lvov’s picturesque streets, searching out souvenirs of the city, until late afternoon, when we gathered again at the ritual site. HERE’S WHERE IT ALL BEGAN.

I had gone with a small group to pick up some last-minute supplies, and we had just gotten back to the site when the folks who were already waiting there called me on my cell phone, with distinct agitation noticeable in their voices. They were talking about the militia (Ukrainian police), and what was going on with them. I hadn’t even had a chance to listen to them and figure out what was going on when, at the entrance to the park, before the lake, we were accosted by several representatives of Ukraine’s finest, along with a few other folks in civilian clothes. They immediately started interrogating us, as to who we were, what group we were with, and what we were doing there. As is unfortunately far too common in our country, they asked their questions rudely, and with notable tones of menace in their voices. I think everyone here, no matter how innocent, starts to feel uneasy when dealing with law-enforcement officials. Per standard operating procedure, they asked us for our passports, and the leader copied all the information into a little notebook. In turn, and at our request, they quickly showed us two copies of forms that identified them as members of the militia, which was fortunate, in that we could at least find out their badge numbers, just in case ‘something happened.’ From our conversation, we understood that they had been ‘informed’ there would be satanic rituals conducted on this site, and by curious happenstance, they knew the exact number of people who would be participating, and the time we were slated to begin. And it’s interesting to note that we had coordinated our celebration, kupala song and dance plans almost to the minute, through IM’s and social media. In fact, we were more than a little late getting started, but it seems they were already waiting for us, based on our own timetable.

We had worked up a backup plan, a second site on the outskirts of Lvov where we planned to celebrate if, for some reason, things didn’t work out for us at this site. And standing next to one of the militiamen, who was writing notes to himself next to our passport and personal information, I heard his conversation with another officer about how someone had already been combing through that second site and hadn’t found anyone there.

We kept our cool, knowing that we hadn’t planned anything illegal and certainly weren’t doing anything illegal either. And it was clear that the militiamen weren’t comfortable, even as they spoke to us rudely, sometimes even raising their voices, about asking us so many questions as to things that clearly didn’t concern them, what we did for work, where we had all met, why we’d come to Lvov, where we planned to spend the night, and so forth. One of them took me aside and almost started shouting at me, what kind of Ukrainians we were that when they said Slava Iisusu Khristy (Glory to Jesus Christ), we didn’t answer with the same words. I hinted that if they said Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine), I would answer Heroyam Slava (Glory to the Heroes). Consider that I’m from Kiev, where the majority of our young people don’t necessarily believe in the same forms of organized religion as these militia folk, but rather adhere to more atheistic views, and furthermore, in this country, we have freedom of worship, and I’m from a place where nobody feels any obligation to answer Salav Iisusu Khristu in any way they don’t care to. At this moment, I could see blood in the militiaman’s eye (and I’m thinking that standing before me isn’t an individual capable of adequately and objectively analyzing a situation, but an uncontrollable fanatic). I tell him this simply isn’t our custom, but in a fairly neutral voice, to try and calm him down, and in general, I tend to be fairly soft-spoken. After some more conversations, we got our passports back, but they reminded us several times that that they’d be back every hour, checking up on what we’re doing, and that they’d stay in the area the whole time. We were forbidden to light a fire and to go near the water as well.

And it does make you wonder when you see the militia react this way to a pagan group, when you can see young Emo-Goths by the lake, sitting around campfires, throwing garbage all over the park, and none of the militiamen had a word to say to them. Strange, this subjective attitude towards citizens of a supposedly free country.

When the militia let us go and we reconnected with the folks who’d gotten to the site first, (who, by the way, hadn’t wasted any time, cleaning up the remainder of the garbage left by former vacationers), we saw some militia folk sitting by the lake, watching us closely. I started making phone calls, trying to talk to someone who could give me some decent advice in the face of this absurd repression. One of the young women in our group even put in a call to the local militia headquarters to try to find out who’d made the initial complaint. As a prior note, I’d like to relate that, subsequent to the aforementioned call, someone called back, and told us in a menacing tone that, ‘We know that you wanted to conduct a ritual there,’ but fortunately, at that moment, we were at the other site.

Returning to the moment, it was obvious to anyone with reasonable presence of mind that even if we’d started doing something as innocuous as weaving a wreath and casting it on the water, like our ancestors in ancient times, these strange keepers of the peace would’ve immediately considered this an act connected with Satanism. We understood that we needed to go to another place for our ritual. We walked to a bus stop, only to find the same people in civilian clothes who’d been with the militia when they stopped us at the park entrance. They informed us that there wouldn’t be any more busses that night, but if we asked them nicely, they’d drive us back to the center of the city. Not being complete idiots, we decided to walk to the next bus stop, where we found other folks waiting for the last bus. While those of us who were upset about our encounter with the militia calmed down, the rest of us got to work thinking While those of us who’d gotten who were a little excited with unpleasant incident calmed down, the rest of us started trying to come up with a backup plan of how to observe this sacred night, and of another location where we could gather by the water and dedicate ourselves to the Divine. Our friend from the American pagan community got into contact with his high priestess in America, who began praying to Lady Liberty as an image of the Goddess for our religious freedom, our ability to worship the ancient gods, despite the connivances of those of our own people with no comprehension of our longstanding religious traditions.

While we were thinking of alternatives, the bus came, (probably the last of the day). We’d just hauled all of our boxes, bags and backpacks into the bus when a sedan passed by, headed toward the lakeside ritual site, with the inscription, ‘Special Militia Division,’ making it obvious that the militiamen who’d stopped us at the lake weren’t there simply checking on what the young folk were doing there. But we were already on the bus, moving in the opposite direction, and we were pretty happy about that. By this time, things were getting pretty late, close to midnight, and we knew modes of transportation would be few and far between. We were sitting in the back of the bus when we noticed that that same Special Militia Division car was following us. At first it was following quite openly, but then it dimmed its headlights when we got closer to the city and, like something out of the movies, started matching us turn for turn in and around the streets of Lvov.

Then, one of life’s little miracles. Another car swung by, causing our pursuer to veer off the road and pull to a stop. At that same time, our bus driver (who probably wanted to get home as quickly as possible that late on a Saturday night), asked if anyone wanted to get off anywhere before the last stop in the center of Lvov. Hearing no takers, he turned off the main highway, and we disappeared down a back road to the city center before the Special Militia car could get back on our tail.

Downtown, everything was quiet. We sat around, thinking of where to go, and remembering stories of the dark times, when people like us had to hide their knowledge and their abilities, and thinking of how much we had to learn from them. There were several lawyers among our circle, who said that the militia had no legal right to conduct itself in this manner, that if this had been a legal militia check, they would have sent two or at most three officers, not the entire police station with a Special Militia Division vehicle bringing up the rear, and most importantly, that we had the legal right to freely observe ritual holidays.
There in the center we ordered a taxi-bus, a small panel-truck, and asked the driver to take us somewhere outside Lvov, somewhere camping was permitted, somewhere secluded, with a lake, where we could light a campfire without being seen.

The driver complied, but just as we were leaving Lvov, we were stopped again, this time by the highway patrol. The asked for our documents, and gave us a good once-over before they finally released us a few minutes later [I DON’T REMEMBER THIS!!!]. It might have been paranoid to think that anyone would try to grab us as we were leaving the city, but on the highway to the outskirts of town, we saw we were being followed by a panel truck just like ours. At first we didn’t pay much attention to it, since there were a number of cars along the same roadway, but when we’d finally left the lights of Lvov behind us, and we could see only a few small towns and even fewer people, and hardly any other cars at all, we saw the same truck through the rear windshield, and we started getting suspicious. At this point, I resorted to a particularly banal device which, strangely, I’d learned from watching movies and talking to friends in law-enforcement. I told the driver to pull off so we could, shall we say, bless some of the bushes along the side of the road. Not that I felt any great personal need, but we were in such an isolated area, there would have been no way to run and no place to hide, and I thought it would be well worth learning our pursuer’s intentions. The driver didn’t want to stop, but I told him I had to go more and more urgently, and he finally pulled over into a grove of trees. The car behind us almost drove off the road, clearly not anticipating that we’d stop, and after a few serpentine turns back and forth on the road, it passed us and kept going, if at a slightly slower pace.
I think they’d planned to pass us and wait for us a little further down the road, since it was a straight highway, we had nowhere else to go (or so they thought), and sooner or later we’d start moving again. Fortunately, our driver knew a shortcut, a dirt road across a few farms and fields, and even so, we had to get out and walk about a mile to get to the site. If anyone had wanted to arrest us there, it would have been extremely difficult. But we finally got to a beautiful site where we were able to conduct our ritual celebration which, though shorter and simpler than planned, and unfortunately with no spiral dance (since we wound up on a very narrow, very steep bank of a lake), was as beautiful and magical as any I’d ever known.

Certainly, there are a lot of additional details I might have omitted, but I’ve laid out the history as briefly and clearly as possible, to give a real flavor and understanding of the steps that led up to our celebration, on a hill, by a lake, of Kupala, the Summer Solstice.

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