Traditions:

Oleksa Voropay / Олекса Воропай

 
 


From Oleksa Voropay, "Folk Customs of Our People"  (1958, pp. 265-266)


There are many folk beliefs concerning the preparation of Easter pysanky and krashanky. These are examples of some of them.

In Podillya they believe that the best time to begin making pysanky is the second day after the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross (which is celebrated on the third Sunday of Lent1), and that on the Day of the 40 Saints one should write pysanky with "40 triangles" (sorokoklyn pysanky). On Palm Sunday and on the Feast of the Annunciation (April 7), one should have nothing to do with making pysanky--they will spoil. If you want your pysanky to last a long time, you should cook them on "Clean Thursday" (or Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday)2.

The eggshells of pysanky must be broken up into the tiniest pieces, so a witch won't be able to use them to collect dew. If she does, a witch can use that dew to spoil a cow3.

If a witch sticks/pokes someone with the shell of a pysanka, that person will sicken and "dry up4."

The cloth with which the pysanky are wiped/dried is hidden––in order to smoke out (fumigate) erysipelas5.

Eggshells from pysanky or krashanky that have been ground finely to a powder are added to chicken feed "so that they become good egg layers."

In some places, the shells of pysanky or krashanky are thrown on the roof verge5, in others, they are carried out into a stream of running water.

It is considered a great sin to trample upon the remains or a dyed egg or pysanka. It is believed that God will punish those who trample on blessed eggs with diseases.

In almost every corner of Ukraine the belief exists that, using the eggshell of a blessed krashanka, it is possible to "smoke out" fevers7 from people or farm animals.

A krashanka or, even more so, pysanka that is obtained on Easter after the first "Khrystosuvannya8," is kept and preserved "because it turns away the evils and calamities of a wicked person."  Besides, this type of pysanka will put out fires (conflagrations). Girls will wash themselves with the first such krashanka "to become more beautiful9."

On the first day of Easter, all the evil spirits10 are tied up and hide quietly in secluded corners.  If, coming home from church11 with the aforementioned krashanka, you were to go around into the various quiet corners of the house and outbuildings, and roll the blessed egg in the dark crevices, you might come upon the devil, who will be siting in his invisible hat.  "If you can get that hat away from him, good luck will be yours, and all your wishes will come true.  But be careful because, if the devil manages to snatch your krashanka away from you, you are done for, the evil one will suffocate you."

"If, on Easter, you you stay in church all night with a krashanka in your pocket, and manage to listen, without drowsing off, to matins (morning prayers) and mass, then that egg, even if you keep it for ten years, will never spoil. If you do this each year for twenty years, you will be able to see all sorts of demons.  Even more, witches will cling to you, to trick you into giving up that egg. On the other hand, if you go to Easter service, but don't listen to the readings and don't stay until they get to the reading about the Crucifixion, you will find that, when you get home and place your krashanka on the table, after mass it will have changed color12.  Know this: a witch has changed your krashanka.”

On the night before Easter, krashanky are placed in a bowl of water with a copper "shah" (half kopeck piece).  Whoever awakens the earliest he next morning gets the shah13 and the krashanky.  If there is a grown girl in the house, everyone endeavors to allow her to win, "so that she will be the most beautiful in the house14."

After returning home from Easter service, one egg is set aside.  After the rozhovinnya15 the man of the house takes that egg and carries it with him as he goes into the stables to the animals.  He passes the krashanka along the back of each of his farm animals in the motion of a cross, and says:  Khrystos Voskres (Christ is Risen)! Afterwards, the egg is taken back into the house, where the shell is carefully removed and it is crumbled into small pieces.  These pieces are mixed in with bran and given to the animals to eat.  In other cases a thread is tied around the egg, and it is hung, whole, under the cattle shed.  One and the other are done "so the cattle will be healthy16."

Blessed krashanky are saved from one year to the next and, should a conflagration occur, will be thrown across the fire, as it is believed that they will put it out.  Blessed eggs are used for treating many different illnesses.  A piece of the shell of a blessed egg is placed on the fire, and the resulting smoke is used to fumigate someone ill with fever (ague).  People are treated in the same manner for night-blindness. People also believe that a blessed egg can calm toothache.  People sick with ague will often sew a blessed egg into a kerchief and will carry it with them until the illness passes17.

«Дороге яйце як крашене, а біле в піст бачили, та ще в Петрівку побачимо18.»  "A dyed egg is valuable, but a white egg is seen during Lent, and will be seen in Petrivka."

All of these beliefs bear witness to the great importance our ancestors placed on pysanky and krashanky. To them these were objects that had magical powers.  This isn't that strange, as a belief in the egg has a very old and exciting history in European and non-European nations.




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  1. 1.TN:  Read here about the third Sunday in Lent

  2. 2.TN: Pysanky are not normally cooked.  This may refer to the custom in some areas (as noted by Vira Manko) of baking the eggs prior to making pysanky.  Boiling the eggs destroys the cuticle of the egg, and prevents dyes from adhering properly to the shell of the egg.  Baking does not harm the shell, and eggs which have been lightly baked will take dye.  It is said that these “Baked” pysanky, called “pecharky” (печарки) last longer than those made from raw eggs., as they are less likely to rot.
    Some pysanka makers place their completed pysanky in a warm oven (80 to 100 degrees centigrade) to remove the wax (by melting it off). In some cases, if the egg is heated too long (more than 10-15 minutes), this can bake the egg, and the pysankarka will be unable to remove the contents afterwards by blowing them out. (This is also true of “baked” pysanky.)  Since pysanky were traditionally left full, this was not an issue in the past, when pysanky were created for talismanic purposes, but would be a problem for those writing modern “art” pysanky.
    Care must be taken when baking any eggs not to heat them too long or at too high a temperature, as this may cause the egg white to seep through pores of the eggshell.  This leakage will cause the dye to fade in certain spots, and the finished pysanka will look blemished.

  3. 3.TN:  This probably means to sour the milk or to stop a cow giving milk (dry her up).

  4. 4.TN:  Waste away (e.g. tuberculosis, consumption, cachexia)

  5. 5.TN:  erysipelas is a streptococcal skin infection which, before the discovery of penicillin, was difficult to treat and could lead to endocarditis (heart valve infection), sepsis, necrotizing fasciitis ("flesh eating bug") and death.

  6. 6.TN: the projecting end of a thatched roof, the eaves

  7. 7.TN: "propasnytsya" refers to a recurrent fever or ague, which can be due to many causes, including malaria.

  8. 8.TN: after it is declared, in church, during mass, that Christ is Risen, people will greet each other with "Khrystos Voskres! (Christ is Risen)" In response, the receiver of the greeting will answer "Voyistyno Voskres! (Indeed He is Risen!)"  This exchange is referred to as "Khrystosuvannya."

  9. 9.from the village of Kamyanka in Kharkiv province.

  10. 10.TN: devils and demons

  11. 11.TN: In orthodox Easter tradition in Ukraine, the Easter service began just before midnight and would continue through to morning, when the baskets would be blessed.  People would return home when the sun was just starting to rise and the cocks were crowing.

  12. 12.Kyivshchyna, from S.H.

  13. 13.TN:  This may not seem like much--after all, a kopek is the equivalent of a penny, as there are a hundred of them in a ruble.  But, in the eighteenth century, a kopek or a penny were worth quite a bit more.  A Russian soldier would get paid 50 kopeks every two months.

  14. 14.from Maria Prokopchuk, Kharkivshchyna

  15. 15.«розговіння» is the meal eaten after returning from Easter service.  Non-Lenten foods are enjoyed for the first time since the beginning of the Great Lent, including food that has been blessed that night in t he Easter basket.

  16. 16.Kyivshchyna and Podillya

  17. 17.Left bank Ukraine and Slobozhanshchyna. (Див. Ив. page 267)

  18. 18.Saying from Kylyn p-k in Pereyaslavshchyna.


(NB: all footnotes from original text except where noted “TN” – translator’s note)






Text © 2008 by Luba Petrusha.  Be advised that the translation on this page and the English text is my work.  It has been put here to share; if you wish to print it out for personal use, or for teaching purposes, please feel free to do so.  If you wish to reproduce it on your website, or in another publication, please ask first. You can contact me via the e-mail link below.



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Folk Beliefs About Pysanky