A Brief history of Pysanky
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The Brief and Unofficial History of Pysanky

When did Pysanky have its beginnings?  No one really knows for sure.  It is estimated that the practice started well before Christianity came to the lands of Ukraine, then known as Kyivan-Rus' (not Russia.)  Some experts estimate the art form to be many thousands of years old.  There were many ancient cultures in what is now present day Ukraine. For example, the Scythian people (4th Century BC) are mentioned in the Bible (in the book of Colossians.)  Much older than the Scythians, was the Trypillian Culture (5400 - 2400 BC.)  The Trypillian and other cultures in this part of the world influenced the types of motifs, colors, and designs that the ancient people "wrote" on their pysanky.  Consider the fact that designs used in the present day are often very ancient designs.  They have been handed down throughout time, from mother to daughter, from grandparent to grandchild, etc.  Some regions in Ukraine are very strict on how the designs are made, and allow very little variation.  Even today, one can sometimes determine from where the artist came by the designs and colors on his or her pysanky.

During these pre-Christian pagan times, the egg alone was a powerful symbol in its own right, because it contained the essence of life.  To write symbols and designs on the egg, called the "pysanka," was to transform it into a talisman or good luck charm, as the people may have felt powerless against the forces of nature.  Harsh weather, fire, or poor hunting could result in starvation.  Why not have a little extra assurance?  Surely, burying an egg, which depicted on its shell a bountiful harvest in the wheat field could do no harm?  Or, perhaps depicting a rooster would bring to the newly-wedded bride many children?  Or, many horses may bring wealth and prosperity to someone in want?

When Christianity came to the peoples of Kyivan-Rus (by Prince Volodymyr, AD 988), the people of Kyivan-Rus' simply transformed what were once pagan symbols into Christian symbols.  Thus, dots once representing stars, now represented the tears of the Virgin Mary at the Cross.  Today, the highlight of the Christian Church calendar is (as it has been since the birth of Christianity) Pascha (or Passion of Christ.)  The western Churches call this "Easter."  During the Lenten period of fasting, repentance, and preparation for the coming Resurrection of Christ, "writing" pysanky has been a tradition for many families. 

This all leads to our next topic - Symbolism on the Pysanka  CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE

To learn more about the Christianization of Ukraine, Trypillian Culture, and other subjects,
CLICK HERE to visit the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine.


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