The Pysanka egg
Simply put, it is an Easter egg decorated using a wax resist (aka batik) method. Its name derives from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty,” meaning “to write.” (“Pysanka” is the singular form; “pysanky” is plural.)
But it is much more than that. Ukrainians have been decorating eggs, creating these miniature jewels, for countless generations. There is a ritualistic element involved, magical thinking, a calling out to the gods and goddesses for health, fertility, love, and wealth. There is a yearning for eternity, for the sun and stars, for whatever gods that may be.
The design motifs on pysanky date back to pre-Christian times–many date to early Slavic cultures, while some harken to the days of the Trypillians, my neolithic ancestors, others to paleolithic times. While the symbols have remained through the ages, their interpretation has changed, in an act of religious syncretism. A triangle that once spoke of the three elements, earth, fire and air, now celebrates the Christian Holy Trinity. The cross which depicted the rising sun is now the symbol of the risen Christ. Sun and star symbols once referred to Dazhboh, the sun god, and now refer to the one Christian God. And the fish, which spoke of a plentiful catch and a full stomach, now stands in for Christ, the fisher of men. Even so, under this Christian veneer, there still lurk the berehynia and the serpent, the sun and the moon, the old gods, the old ways, and the old beliefs.