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Outfits >>> Replicas >>> Man's shirt
decorated with ritual "Kupala" embroidery

Age group of a wearer:
20-40 years old.
Social category of a wearer:
a married man.
Made by
Anna Nikolaeva (embroidery)
and Irina Zhoukova.

The cut of this outfit is a common Russian one. It is a chiton-like shirt with a left-side chest cut (so-called kosovorotka). The shirt carries red protective details appropriate for wearer's age. Those are: red contour trim at a hemline, neck, and sleeve cuts, plus red armpits ("lastovica"). Embroidered "shield" protecting a chest is of a rectangular shape. It is a quite rare style of "shields" in Russia. Rectangles were used in some villages of some regions only (Krasnoyarsk, Vyatka, Archangel, Voronezh). More typical "shield" have been made as a square. Or, tradition allowed not to place that part of a decoration at all.

The most interesting part of the shirt is the design of embroidery. It is taken from a needlepoint collection published by an ethnographer K.Dalmatov in 1896 in Moscow. Unfortunately, that album doesn't provide any information about samples - neither explanation of pictographs, nor even names of regions embroidered pieces were gotten from. However, we searched other sources, and found a description of that design.

In Slavic tradition, crosses (both X-like and + -like ones) symbolized Fire. X-cross was used for Heavenly Fire (Sun, thunderbolt). Russian peasants called an X-like cross as ognevets ("caused by fire and closely related to it"). That sign was both a very archaic and a persistent one. Remains of huge and, obviously, perennial X-like sacred fires have been excavated by researchers around all pre-Slavic territory of living. Those zolniki ("piles of ashes") belonged to different periods of time, from 1000's BC to 1700's AD. And, even in the 19th century Slavs of Karpaty mountains made their ritual fireplaces in a shape of ognevets: it was believed as protection from thunderstorm.

X-cross composed of two criscrossed tree branches was not natural for Slavic mythology. Pre-Slavs adopted it from an Indo-Iranian system of beliefs. Indo-Iranians inhabited Ukrainian steppes in the 4th - 6th centuries AD. Their contribution to Southern-Slavic languages, fairy-tales, and troponomy can be noticed even nowadays. For Iranians, the design mentioned above depicted mysterious Green Fire a symbol of life and vital energy. In Russian paganism, however, that idea didn't persist. Only traces of it were preserved in summer solstice ritual songs, and designs of ritual men's shirts.

+ - like cross depicted Earthly Fire in Slavic tradition. Scientists believe the reason for it was similarity of + and two crossed sticks used for making "living fire" - the one produced by friction.

Slavs considered Living Fire as an ambassador of Heavenly one sent to the human world. Being a sibling of Sun and Thunderstorm (in accordance to Russian pagan beliefs), It shared the Sun's ability to produce a plentiful harvest, abundance, and wealth. Speaking of Kupala (summer solstice) celebration, Kupala ritual fire must be started with Living Fire.

As a whole, the design we describe consists of floral X-crosses - Green Fire, +s - a ritual fire, and a zig-zag border - a common Indo-European sign for water. Life, Tree, Fire, Water - it is exactly a combination of energies and spirits worshipped at Kupala.


Sources (in Russian)
  1. Yu.V.Ivanov, Year Circle of Traditional Celebrations in Eastern Europe
  2. V.K.Sokolova, Spring and Summer Rituals of Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians
  3. A.N.Bokhanov, M.M.Gorinov, Russian History of Last Two Millennia
  4. B.A.Rybakov, Paganism of Ancient Slavs
  5. B.A.Rybakov, Skythia of Herodotus's Times
  6. A.I.Terenozkin, Pre-Skythian Period of Dnieper River Region
  7. Folk Russian Embroidery, photoalbum
  8. G.T.Kovpanenko, Skythians and Pre-Slavs of Vorskla Region
  9. A.A.Potebna, Symbol and Myth in Folk Tradition
  10. A.A.Potebna, Symbols of Slavic Folk Poetry
  11. L.M.Rusakova, Ritual Embroidery of Altay Region
  12. Ya.Gassovsky, Traces of Ash Town at Lysy Mountain (translated from Polish)
  13. M.Semkovich, Sobotka Mount and Its Tales (translated from Polish)
  14. A.N.Afanasiev, Slavic Poetry and Mythology