Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ukrainian Easter Eggs - Pysanky

Georgia's Ukrainian Easter Eggs

I had happened upon the webpage of Georgia Sawhook of Fairfield, Ohio a couple of weeks ago. She is of Ukrainian ancestry through her grandfather Michael Markiw, who came to the USA in 1907.

On her webpage, Georgia discusses some of her ancestry and family history, including an upbringing in the highly slavic area of western Pennsylvania.

However, the real claim to fame for this page is her discussion and demonstration of Pysanky. Pysanky derives from the Ukrainian word meaning "to write":
Many ancient Ukrainians believed the eggs possessed magical powers and that wealth could be obtained by decorating the eggs with certain symbols. When Christianity was introduced into the Ukraine, the symbols changed and others were added to reflect Christianity, the Resurrection and a promise of eternal life..

Making pysanky became a Lenten ritual in Ukraine. A family produced many eggs during this time to be shared with friends and family and the local priest. Some were planted or placed in the fields or feeding troughs to insure a wealth or abundance in their crops and livelihood. Some were placed by the family graves or placed in the coffins out of respect for their loved one. Others were kept in the home for protection. And then, some were presented to young men as signs of affection. (Have you given a pysanky to your boyfriend lately?).

It seems that the women of the house were to make all these eggs during Lent. They even had secret recipes for their own special dyes in the villages. These were always handed down from mother to daughter. An interesting piece of information I found was that before they would begin to create the pysanky, they would pray "God help me" and they also prayed that the person who received the eggs would be given joy, good fortune, happiness and protection from harm.

The process - although looking difficult - is very simple. It is a long process and takes a steady hand, time, and patience. Once completed, you have a real sense of accomplishment.
Mrs. Sawhook also sells some of her eggs, and works with hen's eggs, goose eggs, and even ostrich eggs. She works with raw eggs through the process, as she has been taught it is more traditional and symbolic of the Resurrection. However, since she started selling Pysanky on the internet, she takes the time to blow out the eggs afterwards.

From the Kozmic Dreams website, we have the following short history of Pysanky culture in Ukraine:
Pysanky and pysanka, the singular form, are derived from a Ukrainian word meaning "to write." Pysanky are whole, raw eggs which have been decorated with a wax-resist method whereby one draws (or "writes," as Ukrainians would say) those portions of the design one wishes to be white with melted wax on the plain, white egg. A small, hollow funnel attached to a stick is often used to heat the wax and write with. This tool is called a kistka. One then dips the egg in a light colored dye - yellow, for instance - and writes those designs that are intended to be yellow. Another, darker dye bath is followed by more writing, and so on till the entire design in its several colors is on the egg. One then heats the egg, often in the flame of a candle, and wipes the melted wax off it. This is the finished pysanka.

Archeologists have discovered ceramic pysanky in Ukraine dating back to 1300 B.C. They have linked pysanky designs to those of Egyptian ceramics created in 1500 B.C., and to symbolism of the Trypilljan culture in Ukraine of 3000 B.C. Six thousand years ago, the Trypilljan culture flourished in Ukraine. The society existed 3000 years before biblical Abraham and long before Greek mythology and the Bronze Age. Trypilljan people lived in the land of Ukraine at the same time as the Egyptian pyramids were built. The Trypilljans were a matriarchal society that worshipped "mother earth" and had little interest in power struggles concerning politics, taxes, money and ruling, as in patriarchal societies. Trypilljans lived peacefully with each other and with their neighbors. The tools people used most were hoes and sickles, not clubs and arrows. Their homes were decorated inside and out with beautiful drawings and paintings. Because they took time for artistic and aesthetic beauty, scientists feel they had enough food and time to spend on higher pursuits such as beauty and art. In both design and color, Trypilljan symbolism echoed the people's close attachment to the soil and other elements of nature. Ukrainian symbolic art is based, in large measure, on these early ideograms. The most notable example is the Ukrainian meander or unending line, which denotes the cyclical nature of life. Other examples include such motifs as the circle, cross, stars, dots, matriarchal symbols, wheat, fir tree, horse, stag, horns and bear's paws.

What is a symbol on "pysanka"? It is a word picture, an ideogram, a code, containing the secrets of a culture. More effectively than words it reveals feelings: love, happiness, hope, dread, despair, etc. To those who understand symbolic art, it means something, and to those who cannot decipher the code, it remains a mystery. The sense of mystery is inherent because each pysanka involves a trinity of symbolisms: the symbolism of the egg itself, the symbolism of design, and the symbolism of color.

Since the earliest of times people have sought meaning for life’s mysteries and in the process have found the need for worship. One of the earliest objects of worship for primitive man was the sun and in Ukraine, eggs were an integral part of the ceremonial rites of sun worship. The ancient Ukrainians determined that when an egg was broken the yolk represented the sun and the white the moon. Beeswax was considered as a magical ingredient of the writing process. This was entwined with the sun cult. The wax was made from honey; the honey was collected from flowers; flowers grew because of the sun. The egg became part of various ceremonies and took on a particular significance in the spring rituals. In winter Earth was dormant and appeared to have no life, just as the egg appeared to have no life. But as the seemingly dead egg hatched a living thing the earth too sprang to life in spring. Consequently, the egg became a symbol of life.

The tradition of decorating eggs, especially at Easter or in spring, was widespread through Europe. It was especially prevalent in Slavic areas. There were the Moravian eggs from Czachia and the Sorbian eggs from the Slavic tribes of eastern Germany. Nowhere, however, did the decoration of eggs become so vital a part of a society’s culture as it did in Ukraine. The people in Ukraine came to see the egg, now referred to as pysanky, as a talisman. Pysanky became part of daily life and were believed to possess power. Evil pirits were believed to be afraid of the rooster and chicken eggs. The Cossacks often took roosters with them on their travels to serve as time clocks and also to ward off evil. To the ancient people of all cultures life could not be lived without a talisman of some sort. Danger was everywhere. In the Ukraine, pysanky became needed, necessary, and cherished.


Resources:
Art Ukrainian
Learn Pysanky
All Things Ukrainian (Pysanky supplies)
Georgia's Pysanky Page
Kozmic Dreams

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