The Art of the Pysanka

by

Sofia Zielyk


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SYMBOLISM OF THE UKRAINIAN EASTER EGG
(an excerpt)

Ukrainian Easter eggs embody a myriad of symbolisms: the symbolism of the egg itself, the symbolism of design and the symbolism of color. Why is it that the egg became one of the most important elements in the system of pagan beliefs of our ancestors? It is not difficult to understand. After all the egg is a symbol of birth - it is the origin of life. It is the power of the egg to create a new life that made it so mysterious to pagan believers, who thus incorporated it into their various rituals. The egg yolk reminded them of the sun which was regarded as the most powerful natural element. According to one legend birds were the favorite creatures of the sun god because they alone could soar into the heavens. People, being mere mortals, could not fly, but they could collect eggs, which they associated with the all powerful sun god. In addition to this, the egg produced a rooster who - they believed - had the power to summon the sun every morning. With the advent of Christianity to Ukraine the egg became an important part of the Easter ritual associated with the new religion and many legends evolved around the Easter egg. One of the more elaborate legends handed down throughout thr ages relates the story of the origin of Easter eggs. When Christ was dying on the cross blood flowing from his many wounds fell on the ground. Wherever a drop fell a red Easter egg was created. Christ's mother, Mary was standing beneath his cross praying and crying. Those red Easter eggs on which her tear would land, in turn, became elaborately decorated Easter eggs. Mary gathered all the eggs into a kerchief and went to Pontius Pilate to ask for permission to bury her son. On her way there she gave an Easter egg to each child she met, along with the admonition to live in peace. Arriving at the palace of Pilate Mary fainted, and the Easter eggs from her kerchief rolled all over the world. From that day on people everywhere decorate eggs at Easter time and give them to each other as an expression of love and peace. Thus in Ukrainian folklore a pagan ritual was incorporated into Christianity. The symbols which decorated pagan eggs underwent a similar process of adaptation to the new religion. In pagan times these symbols imbued an egg with magical powers, powers to ward off evil ~spirits, guarantee a good harvest and bring a person good luck. While the pagan spring ritual celebrated a new beginning for the earth after a cold winter, the Christian holiday of Easter celebrates a new life for people's souls and their redemption through the process of Lenten fasting and Christ's resurrection. The symbols and ornaments on the eggs didn't change; what changed was simply their interpretation. Among the oldest and most important symbols on Easter eggs is the sun and the simplest rendering of the sun is a closed circle with or without rays. Easter eggs from all regions of Ukraine also depict an eight - sided star, which in the past was a ~symbol of the sun. The swastika or as it was called "a broken cross" or "ducks necks"' represented the sun in pagan times. Those eggs were said to have been especially powerful talisman because they could protect the owner from sickness, bad luck and the evil eye. Easter eggs, however, were imbued with the power not only to protect individuals from harm but also to protect and preserve the human race. One ancient legend says that in a faraway cave lives a monster, who is the embodiment of evil He is chained to a rock with twelve heavy chains. From his prison the monster sends his henchmen all over the earth and upon their return he asks them: Are people living in peace? Do children respect their parents? If people fight and don't respect their parents the monster rejoices - they are his people. "And do they still make Easter eggs?", he asks. If the answer is yes he rages, while his chains are tightened and his evil powers falter. It is said that while people live in peace, -respect their parents and make Easter eggs the evil monster will remain chained to the rock. When people stop making Easter eggs he will be set free and evil will rule the earth.

 

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