Pysanky is an ancient and beautiful form of folk art from the Ukraine.
The art of the decorated egg, or the pysanka (from the Ukrainian verb pysaty, to write; plural: pysanky), dates back to around 4,000 B.C. Folk tales reveal the people who lived in the region now known as Ukraine worshipped the sun. Eggs decorated with nature symbols became an integral part of spring rituals.
The sun god was the most important of all the deities and birds were the sun god's chosen creations because only they could get near him. Humans could not catch the birds, but they did manage to obtain the eggs the birds laid. Thus, the eggs were magical objects, a source of life.
With the acceptance of Christianity in 988 A.D., the decorated pysanka continued to play an important role in Ukrainian rituals of the new religion. Many symbols of the old sun worship survived and were adapted to represent Easter.
Ukrainians who live in the Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine, the Hutsuls, believe that the fate of the world depends upon the pysanka. As long as the egg decorating custom continues, the world will exist. If, the custom is abandoned, evil—in the shape of a horrible serpent who is forever chained to a cliff—will overrun the world. Each year the serpent sends out his minions to see how many pysanky have been created. If the number is low, the serpent's chains are loosened and he is free to wander the earth causing havoc and destruction. If the number of pysanky has increased, the chains are tightened and good triumphs over evil for another year.
Traditionally, older people were given pysanky with darker colors and rich designs, because their life has already been filled. Younger people received pysanky with white as the predominant color because their life is still a blank page. Another Ukrainian superstition insists that girls should never give their boyfriends pysanky that have no design on the top and bottom of the egg, as baldness at either end signifies that the boyfriend will soon lose his hair.
Symbols on a pysanka include wheat, signifying health and a bountiful harvest; flowers and birds stand for happiness and spring; the triangle, in pagan times meant air, fire and water now means the Christian trinity. Hens and chickens symbolize fertility, roosters are indentified with masculinity and strength, as are oak leaves. Deer are symbols of strength and prosperity; designs circling the egg with no beginning and ending signify eternity. Any form of the cross signifies the Resurrection of Christ, death and suffering. Dots depict stars and Mary's tears; the fish and netting is Christ. The eight-pointed star originally represented the sun god and now Christ.
Pysanka are traditionally made during the last week of Lent, Holy Week in the Catholic and Orthodox calendars. They are then taken to the church on Easter Sunday to be blessed and then typically given to family members and respected outsiders. The pysanka is a symbolic gift of life and the egg must remain whole. The designs are traditionally chosen to match the character of the receiver.
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