by: Louise Labb? and Mike Reshitnyk
Amongst Ukrainians, the art of egg writing, the
Pysanka, is the result of a long popular tradition meticulously developed
throughout the centuries. This tradition has been passed down by countless
generations - a veritable form of folk art. Ukraine is a Slavic country,
situated on the Black Sea, which forms the southeast corner of Europe.
Ukraine has a population of 50 million inhabitants.
The Pysankas (the origin of the word comes from the
Ukrainian verb "pysaty", which means, to write), are "written" using the
technique of batik. Symbols and ornaments are written on a white egg with
melted bees wax, which flows from a special instrument called the "kistka".
The wax protects the parts of the egg which must remain white. After writing
the symbols, the egg is dipped into a dye, for example, yellow. Next, the
parts of the egg which must remain yellow are in their turn covered with
bees wax, then dipped again into the next dye. The steps are repeated for
each colour that is desired. Colours are always chosen from light to dark.
When all symbols are written in all the selected colours, the wax is then
melted by placing the egg against a candle flame. The wax is rapidly wiped
off to unveil all the layers of colour and the symbols - just like magic!
The Pysanka can then be emptied, after the application of a coat of varnish
to protect it.
The Pysanka is composed of three distinct but united
They regroup three mysteries:
- That of the egg itself, which is the supporting
base for the symbols, ornaments and their myths.
- That of the symbols and ornaments.
- That of the colours, which have their own symbolism.
During the pre-Christian era, the egg symbolized
the universe - the yolk represented the sun and the white of the egg represented
Ukrainian ancestors believed in the magical qualities
of the Pysanka. They believed that it provided happiness, health, prosperity
and protection. The Pysanka, long associated with superstitions and rites
of the glorification of the sun and the renewal of life on earth, took
on a Christian character with the Christianizing of Ukraine in the year
The Church, unable to suppress the rooted ancient
beliefs, was obliged to tolerate them and to give the Pysanka a Christian
sense or interpretation. For example, the sun god "Daj-Boh" was replaced
by Christ, the "light" of the world, and the Pysankas commemorated the
resurrection of Christ.
The new interpretations harmonized so well with the
ancient, that we can easily see the superimposition of Christian and pagan
symbols. This led to the Pysanka, in the Christian era, to take on the
function of "Easter egg".
Today, to offer a Pysanka as a gift is a veritable
gesture of friendship and love. A Ukrainian legend says, that as
long as there is someone who "writes" Pysankas, the world will continue
to exist . . .
Louise Labb? and Mike Reshitnyk