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updated APR 14 2017

Pysanka Legends & Traditions

   When I was a small child, I was told this story about Ukrainian Easter eggs. Legend has it that there is a huge evil creature chained to a hillside. Every year when Easter Eggs are made, the number of eggs is counted. If only a few eggs are made, the creature's bonds are loosened, and evil flows through the earth. However, if many eggs are decorated, the creature's bonds are tightened, and its evil is kept in check.

   One of the predominant occupations of Ukrainians was that of farmer. They had many customs involving decorated eggs. There was a custom of rolling an egg in green oats, and burying it in the field to ensure a good crop. If a farmer kept bees, he would often put an egg beneath the hive. It was generally believed that these eggs kept the crops and the land from harm. (Luciow, Johanna, et al, pp.20-21) Farmers would hang blown pysanky on a string above the barn door, in the belief that the barn would then be safe from fire and lightning. Before strangers were allowed in the barn, they were asked to look at the hanging pysanka, which would protect the animals inside the barn from the "evil eye". (Kmit, Anne, et al, p. 19)

Pysanka    Eggs dyed in one color were thought to have magical powers as well. If a person had a serious illness, an egg (which was blessed on Easter eve) was hung around that person's neck by a string, and the disease was thought to pass into the egg. (Luciow, Johanna, et al, p. 20)

   In Pagan times, "a bowl of decorated eggs was often kept in the home in the belief that they would keep the family healthy." (Luciow, Johanna, et al, p. 16)

   In the past, there was a long and involved ritual regarding the decorating of pysanky. Its really very interesting!
     "Before a Ukrainian woman could make pysanky, she was supposed to be in a perfect spiritual state of mind. The previous day was spent peacefully: She would avoid gossip, deal with her family patiently and cook a good dinner.
     Pysanky were made at night after the children were asleep. Only women in the family could work together and no one else was allowed to peek, since the purpose of creating pysanky was to transfer goodness from the household to the designs and push away evil. This was a mystical expression and not a social event. The fresh eggs were gathered from hens where a rooster was in residence, for, according to belief, if pysanky were made on non-fertile eggs, there would be no fertility in the home.
     The women in the family asked different blessings for each egg, for they felt their good wishes traveled with the pysanka. Special songs were sung quietly, so the souls (dukhe) which were said to inhabit the night, would not be disturbed.
     Small clay pots were used to hold the dyes which had been made using secret family formulas. The wax lines were drawn on the eggs, and slowly, the simple shells became filled with ancient symbolism, color and harmony...The most important quality of the pysanka, however, is the power and love which the egg conveys...The process took several evenings to finish. In a large family, 60 eggs would be completed by Holy Thursday."
               (Kmit, Anne, et al, pp. 22-23)
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