Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs, decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a waxresist
method known as the Batik Method. This method dates back to the pre-Christian era.
Ancient Ukrainians worshipped a sun god, Dazhboh. Eggs decorated with nature symbols became
an integral part of spring rituals, serving as benevolent talismans.
They decorated eggs, because they came from the birds. It was believed that the birds were the
Sun’s favourite creation, because they could get closest to it, and because humans couldn’t catch
them. They could, however catch the eggs. Therefore believing they are sacred and hold special powers.
With the advent of Christianity, the symbolism of the egg was changed to represent, not nature’s rebirth, but the rebirth of man. When the USSR took hold of Ukraine, pysanky was banished. It was only through Ukrainian
Immigrants to North and South American that this tradition continued. Not until 1991, when Ukraine
gained independence, did the tradition re-establish itself in it’s homeland.
The Hutsuls – Ukrainians from the Carpathian Mountains – believe that the fate of the world depends
upon pysanky. As long as pysanky is made, the world will exist. If abandoned, a horrible serpent, who
is chained to a cliff, will overrun the world. Each year the serpent sends out his minions to see how
many pysanky have been written. If the number is low the serpent’s chains are loosened, and he is
free to wander the earth causing havoc and destruction. If pysanky has increased, the chains are
tightened and humanity is safe another year.
Many superstitions were attached to pysanky. It is believed to protect households from evil spirits,
catastrophe, lightning and fires. Pysanky with spiral motifs were the most powerful, as the demons would be trapped within the spirals forever. A blessed pysanka could be used to find demons hidden in the dark corners of your house.
If a pysanka is broken it must be disposed of properly. The eggshell has to be ground up very finely
(and fed to chickens to make them good egg layers) or broken into pieces and tossed into a
running stream. They hold powerful magic, and if a witch finds one she can use the shell to gather
dew, and use the dew to dry up a cow’s milk. The witch can also use bits of the eggshell to poke people and sicken them.
There are superstitions regarding the colours and designs on the pysanky. One myth centered on the wisdom of giving older people gifts of pysanky with darker colors, for their life has already been filled. Similarly, it is appropriate to give young people pysanky with white as the predominant colour because their life is still a blank page.
Girls would often give pysanky to young men they fancied, and include heart motifs. However, a girl should never give her boyfriend a pysanky that has no design on the top and bottom of the egg, as this might signify that the boyfriend would soon lose his hair.
Red represents blood, love and joy, and the hope of marriage. It is also associated with the sun.
Black is a particularly sacred color, and is most commonly associated with the “other world,” but not in a negative way.
Yellow symbolizes the moon and stars and also, agriculturally, the harvest.
Blue representes blue skies, the air, and good health. White is for purity, birth, light, rejoicing, virginity.
Green is the color of new life in the spring. Green represents the resurrection of nature, and the riches of vegetation. Brown represents the earth.
Symbolism in Colour Combinations
Black and white – mourning, respect for the souls of the dead.
Black and red – this combination was perceived as “harsh and frightful,” and very disturbing. It is common in Podillya, where both serpent motifs and goddess motifs were written with this combination.
Four or more colours – the family’s happiness, prosperity, love, health and achievements.