pysanky (painted eggs)

The art of pysanka is one of the oldest traditions of decorating bird eggs with ancient folk designs using beeswax and natural dyes. This art has remained virtually unchanged throughout the centuries – only the form of the paintbrush has improved gradually. Legends and mythology of different world nations portray the egg as the origin of the world, the source of life and the fundamental principle of the Cosmos. For example, ancient Persians, Iranians and many other peoples of the East, as well as Indians, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines believed that the Universe emerged from an egg. However, the art of pysanka, or decorating eggs, was characteristic only of those ethnic groups that later came to be known as Ukrainians.

It is known that pagan Slavs made pysankas already during Antiquity (III-VIII century AD). Such pysankas were directly related to the cult of the sun. In general, pysankas and krashankas, or one-colour painted eggs, are an essential part of countless legends, beliefs, tales, customs, traditions, and rituals that crystallized during the pagan era and have undergone gradual transformation throughout the centuries, particularly since the adoption of Christianity.

The tradition of decorating eggs – creating pysankas – is rooted in the gray antiquity, when people considered themselves an integral part of nature and sought special guarding objects that provided the protection of cosmic powers in order to survive among the powerful elements. As well as help them to have a heart clear as a mountain stream, arms strong as branches of an oak tree, and understand the language of the Universe.

Pysanka is a symbol of spring renaissance and renewal, the personification of joy, forgiveness and Easter blessings. Already in the times of our ancestors, pysankas accompanied a person during his or her entire life as genuine protection talismans that possessed strong defensive and life-nourishing properties. For example, in traditional medicine pysankas were used to treat diseases and cast off the evil eye. Blessed or consecrated pysankas were buried in the ground for better harvest, placed into a coffin to calm the soul and serve as its guide in the afterlife, left in the stable to help the growth of livestock and increase the quantity of milk and other products derived from it. The peels from pysankas were scattered on top of the roof of a house “for good luck”.

The art of pysanka is the creation of a microcosm which reflects everything that exists within both planes – on Earth and in Heaven: stars and planets, water and the tree of life with deer and birds, planted fields as a symbol of abundance and fertility, and the church as a symbol of sanctity and faith in God. All this is connected in a specific order by the appropriate symbols and serves the purpose of creating balance in the soul of every person as well as providing order to our world, bringing harmony and prosperity into the home.
Krashankas – the pysankas of just one colour – are considered the most ancient of all by the time of their appearance. Subsequently multicoloured pysankas came to be, created with a variety of natural dyes. However, the colour in a pysanka is used not only for the aesthetic effect, but has its own unique symbolic meaning.
Yellow, golden, and orange affect a person similar to sunlight creating a joyful and light mood. These colours on a pysanka symbolize kindness, hope, celestial bodies (particularly the Moon and the stars), harvest and abundance.

The red colour on a pysanka has perhaps the most profound meaning. Not without a reason, red in the vernacular and in folk tales has been a synonym of “beautiful”; the word “red” in Ukrainian precisely means “pretty”. So red symbolizes good, the joy of life, and hope of a happy marriage. It is the red egg that is the main symbol of Resurrection, sacrifice and the heavenly fire. According to the Christian legend, it was the red krashanka that Maria Magdalena, the follower of Jesus Christ, gave the Roman emperor Tiberius greeting him on Easter and celebrating Christ’s resurrection (to be precise, she gave him a simple white egg and told him about Christ’s resurrection. The emperor of course did not believe her, and the egg immediately turned red as a consequence).

Green means the spring awakening of the nature, hope of a good harvest.

Blue symbolizes the sky, air, and health.

Brown personifies the earth and its hidden life-giving power.

Black is the colour of night, the afterlife, and of all unknown and mysterious. It often serves as the background on a pysanka highlighting the other colours, just like darkness in real life provides contrast to light, helping to comprehend its natural power. As Erich Maria Remarque noted, light does not shine when it’s light outside; it only shines in darkness. This colour also symbolizes the infinity of a person’s life and the continuation of being after death.

Multi-coloured pysanka is the symbol of family happiness, peace, and prosperity.

The world of pysanka is extremely diverse and colourful. Pysanka fills the hearts with love, souls with harmony, helps to achieve spiritual purity, serves as a protector from negative energy, and works as a potent charm for its owner. Pysanka personifies beauty and wealth, and therefore is a powerful protective object. From ancient times, pysanka was regarded and honoured at home as an icon. Pysanka was given by one person to another in order to strengthen family ties and as a symbol of human respect and kindness. Pysanka has served to codify and transmit sacred knowledge from generation to generation, ensuring the immortality and continuity of the family tradition.