Psyanky, the ancient form of art of making Easter eggs, dates back to early pagan religious ceremonies.
Michael Sokyrka, a member of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church, said this form of art dates back “probably five thousand years before the birth of Christ.”
St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church held a workshop this past weekend about the art of making the pysanky Ukrainian Easter eggs.
The egg symbolizes the rebirth of nature and can be traced back to early pagan ceremonies during the celebration of spring.
With Christianity, the egg’s symbolism was reinterpreted to mean man’s rebirth and was included in the celebration of the resurrection of Christ.
“The egg is a symbol of fertility, of new life,” said Sokyrka.
The methods used by the Ukrainians to decorate their eggs is known as “batik” which means technique in Ukrainian.
Many of the symbols used on the eggs are religious. The designs are classified into three categories: geometric, plant and animal.
The geometric motifs, according to a booklet about the art of pysanky, are the “oldest and most general form of ornamentation, and are usually placed in sections of the egg.”
The sections are made on the egg by drawing basic lines horizontally, perpendicularly or even diagonally on the egg.
Common motifs are dots which can be small or large on the pysanky, and are designed to suggest stars.
Triangles are used to symbolize trios, such as the Holy Trinity; earth, heaven and hell; and air, fire and water. A pysanka that is divided into 40 triangles is a reference to the 40 days of fasting of Jesus Christ.
The cross, of course, is the most widely used symbol. However, there are many variations of the cross.
Plant motifs don’t date back as far as the geometric motifs. The pine tree motif can symbolize eternal youth and health.
The animal motifs date back to the stone age, according to the booklet. These motifs are never used alone, but are incorporated with geometric forms.
“You’ll see crosses. Even the line that divides the egg is considered to be an endless line like eternity,” said Sokyrka. “You’ll also see other symbols on the egg that are about the creation of God’s creation; birds and animals. Beautiful things.”
A whole egg dipped in one colour of dye is called a krashanka, and it’s the most “primitive type of Easter egg,” according to the booklet.
“Easter morning you would wash your hands and face in a bowl with the krashanka, and it makes your skin beautiful. That’s always what my grandfather said,” said Debbie Provencher, a member of the church.
Before beginning to write on the egg, Provencher said you always say a prayer to bless the eggs and the activity.
“It’s a meditative activity,” said Provencher who is the vice-president of the church and the organizer for the annual pysanky workshop at the church.
Beeswax is used for writing on the eggs. The word pysanky is derived from the word pysaty which means “to write.”
The kystka—pieces of metal twisted into funnel shapes and set perpendicularly on skewers— are heated over the candles and filled with beeswax.
The lighting of the candle is the light of Jesus, Provencher said. “The eternal light.”
Then the writing begins. After that the egg is dipped in dye and whatever is underneath the wax will stay that colour.
After alternating between writing and dyeing, the beeswax is taken off. A thin coat of varnish can be applied to give the egg a shiny appearance.