Thousands of years ago, agrarian people living in the area now known as Ukraine depended on the sun for survival. It gave them light, warmed them and made their crops grow. Not surprisingly, they came to venerate the sun as one of their most-important gods and created rituals to honor this deity. Pagan spring rituals celebrated the return of the sun after a long, dark winter and the humble egg played a central role in this celebration.
Created using the batik wax-resistance technique, the Ukrainian Easter egg, or pysanka (from the word “pysaty” - to write), was believed to possess enormous power. For the ancients, holding a pysanka in one’s hand was a way of harnessing the power of the sun. The entire egg represented the rebirth of nature, while the yolk was a symbol of the all-powerful sun god. Pysanky (the plural of pysanka) were revered as talismans; they protected the family against evil, disease and fire. They could bring good luck, health, wealth, and a bountiful harvest. People believed that by making patterns on the egg shell, they could send tributes and entreaties to the pagan gods.
The Hutsuls – inhabitants of the Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine – believed that the fate of the world depended on the pysanka. Each year, an evil monster chained to a mountain cliff sent his henchmen to see how many pysanky were being created. If the number was high, the henchmen returned and tightened the monster’s chains. If the pysanka tradition was not maintained, the monster’s chains were loosened and he was free to roam the earth and cause destruction.
When Ukraine was Christianitized in the 10th century AD, many aspects of paganism were incorporated into the new religion. Consequently, the pysanka tradition transitioned from a spring ritual to a celebration of Easter.
Today, we no longer revere pysanky as mystical objects. However, the tradition of the Ukrainian Easter egg endures, for according to legend, as long as people write pysanky, the world will continue to exist.