The Traditional Ukrainian Egg
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 parts.
- That of the egg itself, which is the supporting base for the symbols,
ornaments and their myths.
During the pre-Christian era, the egg symbolized the universe - the yolk represented the sun and the white of the egg represented the moon.
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 988.
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 Labbe and Mike Reshitnyk