PISANKI -Decorative Easter Eggs 

Icons of the Universe

One of the prime icons and symbols of Spring, of birth and rebirth and fertility, is the egg, and Poles have made decorating and sanctifying them an art form. The perfect icon of the universe, decorated eggs were taken out into the fields as the grains were sown, along with a candle blessed at Gromniczna (Imbolc), in order to bring life back into the warming soil.

Eggs were also buried at the base of fruit trees to make them bear in abundance. Even the water in which boiled-style eggs were prepared is sacred; used to wash in, bless with, poured along the property lines to protect against lightening and thunder and the ravages of weather, and annointing bee hives to bring plenty of sweet tasting honey. A bowl of decorated eggs was kept in the homes at all times, to ensure good health and prosperity. Once decorated in ritual fashion, eggs were never thrown out if they were broken. Instead they are buried in the garden, bringing good fortune, or given to the Rusalje (water nymphs/spirits) in the nearest river or stream. A great symbol of fertility, eggs traditionally bedeck the breads baked for weddings.

The eggs are decorated in several different styles. Boiled eggs are decorated in single colors, usually red, and are called krashanka. These are meant to be eaten, or fed to the livestock, and are dyed appropriately with materials safe for consumption. Krapanka are also boiled eggs, and are decorated with multi-colored dots. Drapanka are single color boiled eggs into which a design is scratched with a pin or small knife tip. Lystowka are wrapped in leafs and subjected to a bath of onion skin water, giving a beautiful relief pattern. Depending on the type of leaves used, these eggs may also be eaten as they are boiled in the onion skins. (do NOT use any leaf you are not sure of if you plan to serve these eggs!). The most common and most tedious form of decoration, however, is called pisanki, a batik-method coloring using beeswax, commercial or natural material dyes, and RAW eggs (boiling the eggs first will not only alter the significance of the icon, but will allow water to seep through and ruin the dye, or will alter the design by adhering to cracks formed in the boiling process).

Traditionally, eggs were decorated by women and girls only; now I find that many more men are taking up this ritual as a meaningful expression of the season’s celebration. Ages old rituals passed from babci (grandmother) to her family are used for the preparation of the designs. I follow a ritual much as the one outlined below – some taught, some self-inspired.

The working is traditionally done after dark, in a quiet spot that allows concentration, meditation, and ritual conciousness. By custom, the artist should have made an effort during the day to remain calm and anger-free. The work space is set up much as an altar would be. A white tablecloth covers the work space; your candle is set in the middle of the table. Salt and bread are set behind the candle, a cup of water to the left, and flowers or incense to the right.

There are a series of traditional designs with names that date from pre-christianity. Examples are the set of four called „The Princess,The Queen, The Crone, and the Great Goddess”, 40 triangles, Call of Spring, the Universe, Gates, Birds, and Gypsy Roads. If you would like instructions for these specific designs, email the author, and I will get them to you. But you are free of course to follow inspiration and create your own personal magickal designs, and below are some of the symbolisms of design and color in pisanki:

Sun – almost all pisanki incorporate some type of sun design. These include circles, tripods,stars, roses and swastikas.

Circle – stands for completeness, continuity, and the cyclical nature of life.

Circle with a dot inside – stands for the moment when the spring sun’s light first hits the earth, renewing life.

Circle divided in half – polarity, as in male/female, black/white, good/evil, night/day, life/death

Circle inscribed with a solar cross – the four directions, the four ages, the elements

Circle in a circle – androgyneity

Circle surrounded and bounded by smaller circles – the poppy – consolation, oblivion, sleep, frailty

Swastika – happiness, blessings, good fortune, good will

Tripod – birth, life, death; man, woman, child; maiden, mother, crone

Rose – an eight pointed star much as is found in Pennsylvania Dutch hex symbols and in quilts – stands for purity, knowledge,beauty, perfection, elegance, the eye of the the Divine.

Dots – either stars or eggs

Triangle – air, fire, and water; sun, thunder, and bonfire; earth, air, heaven

Encircling line – eternity

Embattled lines – looks like the top of a castle tower, going up, left, down, left, up, left, etc. – stands for something contained, or protection against some outside force

Invected line – a row of half circles touching at the ends ^^^^^^^^ – stands for the meeting of opposites, such as land and water or earth and sky

Saw – indented lines, looks like a saw blade – stands for fire or water, cleansing

Meander – looks like a child’s rendition of waves – stands for harmony, infinity, waves, immortality. The most famous design incorporating this style is Gypsy Roads, a meander between alternate fields of red and black, and is a strong protection icon.

Sieve – any space decorated with criss cross lines, like a net – dividing good and evil

Basket – a triangle inscribed with a sieve – motherhood, the giver of life and gifts

Ladder – searching

Comb, rake – sunrays, putting things in order, harvest, husbandry, prosperity

Bends – elongated s shapes – defense, protection

Spirals – mystery of life and death, divinity, immortality

Solar Crosses – four directions, four ages, four elements

Trees – pine branches strength, boldness, growth, eternal life; broad leaf trees renewal, creation, unity; apple tree fertility, luck

Grapes and vines – fellowship, loyal love

Plums – lines with curved (semi-circle) branches in pairs – knowledge, health, wisdom

Three leaf clusters – „periwinkles” – eternal love, pure love

Oak leaf – persistence, strength

Lily of the Valley – purity, humility, young brides

Sunflower – circle inscribed with a sieve design and with a stem – the God, a life symbol

Cucumber – oval with a line of dots from end to end – the preservation of life

Grain kernels – fertility, abundance

Stag antlers – leadership, victory, nobility, joy, maleness

Horse – wealth, prosperity, speed, endurance

Ram horns – strength in the face of opposition, perseverance, dignity

Rooster – good fortune, exultation, vigilance, married life

Hen – fertility

Birds – the coming of Spring – sparrows symbolized the soul of man trying to be one with the Divine under any conditions, and community life – swallows protected households, larks protected fields, nightingales protected orchards, ducks and geese protected lakes and rivers, and storks protected villages

Butterflies – childhood, frivolity, soul’s ascent to immortality, freedom

Spider – artistry, patience, industry

Fish – abundance, sacrifice, regeneration

Hens’ Feet – motherly protection, guiding the young in search for knowledge

Goose Feet – the soul, warning, wakefulness (many Poles use geese as watch animals)

Bear paws – the guardian of the forest, bravery, wisdom, strength, endurance, reawakening, protection, the guardian of homeowners

Rabbits ears – humility, listening to lessons of nature

Wolves teeth – loyalty, wisdom, a firm grip on truth, teaching

Yellow – light, purity, wisdom, youth, happiness, harvest, hospitality, love, benevolence

Orange – endurance, strength, worthy ambition, fire, flame – it is the red of passion tempered by the yellow of wisdom)

Green – renewal, breaking of shackles, freedom from bondage, freshness, fertility, health, hopefulness

Red – action, magic, fire, charity, youth, spiritual awakening, joy of life, love – children are usually given solid red eggs at Wiosna

Black – absolute, constancy, eternity, the womb, death, fear, ignorance – black and white eggs are in honor of the souls of the departed

Brown – Mother Earth, bountiful gifts

Blue – used SPARINGLY, as is hard to make – skies, air, good health

White – purity, virginity, innocence, birth

Purple – fasting, faith, patience, trust