CNN Photos

Pagan rituals celebrate Russian summer

Some young Russians welcome the arrival of summer by heading to the countryside to perform rituals that date back to pagan times, like building a straw man and touching its penis to bring fertility and love.

While in Russia working on another project, photographer Claudine Doury had seen people in the cities of northern Russia celebrate summer by drinking through the night outdoors during the “Belye Nochi,” or “White Nights,” when the sun sets around 11:30 p.m. and rises at 4:30 a.m.

“I saw a lot of people in the street stopping and closing their eyes and taking in the energy of the sun,” Doury said.

She also wanted to see the celebrations in the fields outside the cities.

“It interested me because more and more young people in Russia go every year,” she said.

Ivan Kupala Day falls around the time of summer solstice, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. It’s celebrated with rituals centered on water, purification and fertilization.

The celebrants – about 2,000 of them, Doury estimates – drove from the cities to open fields outside St. Petersburg.  They dressed in 19th century garb and celebrated night and day for three days, sleeping in tents in the fields. Several couples got married.

Women spent the day building a straw effigy of a man, then lay down around it and touched its penis, which legend says will bring fertility. After the sun set, they set the effigy on fire and danced.

They played games and flirted, and frequently stripped and dipped in the river. “To swim was like a celebration of love,” Doury said.

She saw people kissing but didn’t see anyone having sex.

Doury said she found some of the rituals strange, but she was interested in how these city dwellers seemed to feel the need to get out into nature.

“More and more young seem to be coming to nature to see the coming of the sun,” she said.

- Lauren Russell, CNN