Traditional Pysanky Symbols – Geometric Patterns

Pysanka Power Podcast

Pysanka Power Podcast by Joan Brander of
Saving the world one pysanka at a time . . . . ™

Listen to Pysanka Power Podcast on BabasBeeswax.comListen to Episode 4 released March 30, 2019 – Traditional Pysanky Symbols – Geometric Patterns

Pysanka Power Podcast by Joan Brander of BabasBeeswax.comTranscript of Episode 4

Hi, I'm Joan Brander and you're listening to my Pysanka Power Podcast. I love Ukrainian egg decorating! I've been doing it for several decades since I was a child. I've amassed so much knowledge and experience over those years, I thought that podcasting would be a great way to share my passion with you. I'll be telling you about their history, legends, and symbols. On the practical side, there's tools and techniques used in making them, hints, tips and do it yourself projects to talk about. Did you know that the fate of the world depends on pysanky? There's an ancient Ukrainian legend that says as long as pysanky are being made, evil will not prevail over good in the world". They're one of the greatest traditions of all time. So I hope that my Podcast will inspire you.

Have you ever looked at a pysanka and wondered what all the symbols and designs mean? Well, you've come to the right place to find out. This is Episode 4 and I'm going to discuss how symbols are used, the categories of pysanky symbols, some examples, and what they mean. I'll walk you through them.

So what exactly are symbols? Symbols are pictures used to represent a thing or an idea but not a particular word or phrase for it. They don't represent the object pictured, but rather some thing or idea that the object pictured is supposed to suggest. Can you wrap your head around that? Think of symbols in other cultures such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese characters, or even digital emojis.

Now, turning to pysanky symbols, they're used the same way. During Easter you likely won't see bunny rabbits on a pysanka! But here are some traditional symbols you will see. There's so many types, that they're generally put into various categories. These include geometric patterns, plant motifs, animal symbols, and religious designs. As mentioned in Episode 2, Ukrainian Easter eggs have been around for thousands of years and so has their symbolism. However, over the years, as beliefs have come and gone, symbols and their meanings have changed. What hasn't changed, though, is the way they're put on eggs. It's with beeswax and dyes. I covered the technique of writing pysanky in Episode 1 and the dyes we use in Episode 3.

My favourite symbol for pysanky is the geometric pattern. Let's delve into it. Geometric patterns deal with shape, size, relative position of figures and the properties of space. Sounds complicated, doesn't it? But, it's not. Think of it this way. The egg itself can be divided into squares, triangles, and other shapes. These shapes are then filled with other forms and designs, usually in a repetitive pattern. It's that simple.

What was your favourite subject in high school? Mine was geometry and I think that's the reason I like geometric symbols on pysanky the most. Back then who wudda thunk these many years later I'd be podcasting about geometry! Let's talk about some pysanky examples. I'm looking at a long list of traditional geometric patterns that could be written on pysanky. Easy for me to see-and I'll do my best to describe what I'm looking at. I'd also like to help you understand their significance.

The simplest of geometric patterns are lines. Imagine them as ribbons or belts going around the egg. All geometric patterns start with a line of some sort, even if it's not as straight as you'd like it to be! And, many of the lines have names. I'll give you 4 examples. A straight line that encircles the egg is called a meander. It has no beginning and no end. It's easy to see why this would symbolize infinity or the continuous thread of life. A zig zag pattern is a saw. Like the name implies, it looks like the teeth of a saw and represents water or waves. Another type of line is a quirky name called "gypsy roads". I've made this design and it's quite challenging. It's wider than a simple line. As the name implies think of it like a "road". It's usually just two colours, red and black to give a continuous path around the egg. Evil is represented by black and is never able to find its way off the road. The message of this pysanka is protection from evil and harm. And let's not forget the wavy lines, even, if I may say with subtle sarcasm, it's made unintentionally. These represent water.

So those are the lines. And here are some examples of triangles and tripods. Even the youngest child can recognize a triangle. Remember the "Shape-O-Ball" from Tupperware? It targets ages 6 months and up who try to fit the shape into the same-sized hole in a rolling ball. In pysanky, triangles signify a trinity. In pagan times, the trinity was air, fire and water or the heavens, earth and air. Did you notice these are three's? In Christian symbolism, it is most often the Holy Trinity.

One particular pattern of multiple triangles is simply called "the 48 triangles". This design is a favourite among egg decorators because there's so many variations of this basic design. The entire egg is covered in triangles that join up with each other. A prayer for protection was said for each triangle. I talked about these prayers in Episode 2. In this 48 Triangles design the prayer represented some important aspect of life. A couple examples of this are water, earth and air or the sun, moon and stars.

As I said, symbols on pysanky have changed over time. The 48 triangles design is a perfect example of this. A variation has been adapted to write only 40 triangles instead of 48. These 40 triangles represent the 40 days of lent, 40 martyrs, and 40 birds. All the triangles represent the Holy Trinity.

A tripod shape is similar to the triangle. It looks like the ancient swastika. It has arms crossed with each other at right angles. Don't confuse this with the stylized, twisted symbol of the German Nazi party. The swastika symbol is thousands of years old. Sometimes its shape has rounded corners. I still have a few more types of geometric symbols to go through. I love the star or rose symbol. It's usually written as an eight-pointed star. To me, it's the most versatile of the geometric patterns. It can be used and developed into so many variations. You could have dozens of eggs decorated with star rosettes. Yet all will be so different. That's the beauty of this symbol. Each one signifies good fortune. The sun symbol signifies happiness and prosperity. Pagan explanation makes the sun the centre of the universe and the provider of life. You can make this solar symbol as simple or as elaborate as you want. Then there's circles and dots. So easy to write. Individual dots represent stars or tears. Sometimes the circle contains a dot in the middle which I've heard represents the moment when the earth receives the light of the sun and comes to life. This must mean that spring can't be far off. Are you still with me? I've got a couple more geometric symbols to tell you about. Even in ancient times the cross was a symbol of life. There are many variations of the cross in pysanky design. They always symbolize the Christian faith. And lastly, churches also appear as symbols of Christianity. The basic outline depicts the beautiful wooden churches of the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine with their characteristic triangular roofs.

That pretty much wraps up geometric patterns for this Episode. But that's just the tip of the iceberg for symbolism. As the names of these various geometric patterns imply, they're pretty easy to identify. Perhaps now when you look at pysanky, you'll see symbols in a different way.

Let's turn now to Books 'n' Bits. All Episodes of this Podcast feature a personal commentary on resources to support the topics on pysanky covered-in this case traditional pysanky symbols. You can also see them on my website

There's no shortage of books that deal with this. Many of them show diagrams and pictures, including the ones I talked about in this Episode. There's two books that I'd especially like to point out here.The first book is Eggs Beautiful - How to Make Ukrainian Easter Eggs. It focuses on legends, customs and symbols. The authors also take you step-by-step through the process of making pysanky with color pages of beautiful eggs.

The second book is one that I wrote. It's called My First Pysanka - Symbols my Baba taught me and was published by Baba's Beeswax in 2018. I hope that it will engage everyone from toddlers to teachers in the wonder of pysanky. It offers the opportunity to learn about different types of symbols. It contains large-format drawings that can be coloured by children or mounted in classrooms as teaching aids.

You can order both books, along with supplies, kits, and other books from my store, Baba's Beeswax. Right beside the listing of the book on the Baba's Beeswax online store is an icon which links you directly to my YouTube Channel. There's several playlists there. But the one I want to guide you to is the Book Preview video clips. You can watch me flip through the pages of these books so you can see the format, the pages, colourful cover, and contents of featured pysanka designs.

After publishing My First Pysanka - Symbols my Baba taught me, the producer and hostess of Nash Holos Radio interviewed me about it. It aired on August 26, 2018. You can hear this interview on her Nash Holos website, on my YouTube Channel, or through the link on my website

Tune in to the next Episode of this Podcast when I'll depart from discussing symbolism. We'll talk about a technique that will surely help you create the squares, triangles, and other shapes I talked about here. To keep your patterns consistent and proportional, you'll learn all about using pencil guidelines.

Before I go, allow me to tell you about Baba's Beeswax and how you can get in touch with me. We're located in Richmond, British Columbia. Our studio comes alive with workshops and demonstrations. We write books, pamphlets, teaching aids, and videos. We have a library for all the publications we produce and collect. Not only that, we have a gallery of all the pysanky we've made and collected. For shopping on the internet you can visit our online store at We've had it since 1997. We're doing our best to keep up with technology, so we're connecting with you on YouTube, Facebook and other platforms. Now, we're podcasting and we're very excited to be doing that. You, too, can follow the buzz… by giving us your comments or a thumbs up.

We're here to help you choose kits and supplies like the beeswax, kistka and dyes you'll need. You can get everything you need all year round, not only at Easter. In case you missed anything, you can listen to my Podcast again. We've put the audio file on our website Or you might like reading along, so we've put the Transcript there too.

That's it for me, Joan Brander of Baba's Beeswax. Thanks for listening-and have a great day!

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