The Pagan Roots of Easter

By Marysia Miernowska
A Variety of Pysanky Easter Eggs

Spring is here! Birds are laying eggs and joyfully singing in the morning. Wildflowers are popping up and fruit trees are blossoming as bees and butterflies swirl in the breeze. People are falling in love, planting seeds in their gardens, cleaning their homes and decorating them with flowers. Fertility, new beginnings, hope, and beauty are being called in.

Spring is a time of earth renewal and whether we are conscious of it or not, we may notice that in our ancient bones we too are feeling called to awaken and renew ourselves.

Perhaps you have felt called to do a large spring cleaning of your home. Maybe you are finding yourself reaching for more greens, juices and living foods to bring vitality and energy into your awakening body. Out with the old, in with the new – the mantra of spring is echoing in many aspects of our lives.

Many of us are also preparing for the spring holidays of Easter and Passover. Organizing egg hunts in gardens, dying eggs, decorating our homes with fresh flowers, preparing to celebrate these holidays with our families and friends.

If we pause to reflect upon the symbolism of the foods, rituals and festivities of the spring, we can gain a valuable perspective into the energy, mystery and magic available to us at these times. With this awareness, we can drop into our own hearts and find the medicine we each need, creating new and personal rituals with ancient tools and deep meaning.

While I am not a practicing Christian, Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays, and I am flooded with joyful memories of Polish and American Easter customs of my childhood. As with most of today’s popular holidays, each of these have clear roots in paganism and time-honored earth worshipping practices. What I have shared below is based on my personal experience working with plant shamanism, earth based spirituality and my upbringing in Poland and the US as a Roman Catholic.

The Pagan Roots of Easter

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, but before Christianity the Spring Equinox represented the return of the sun God from the underworld – the rebirth of light, life and creation. The two vernal equinoxes (the only two times a year when there is a perfect balance between light and dark, day and night) were auspicious and potent occasions, celebrated by people whose lives depended on the fertility of the earth. Civilizations worldwide created rituals and celebrations to tip the balance into a fertile spring, a time of renewal, regeneration and resurrection.

Today, we celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox — the date of this celebration alone is deeply rooted in the earth-based traditions that follow the cycles of nature.

Sacred symbolism

The symbols associated with Easter – the egg and the bunny or hare, are also ancient pre-Christian symbols of fertility, birth, creation and the Goddess.

The rabbit is connected to fertility – and spring is a time of creation, sex and birth. Our ancestors lived so close to the earth that their lives depended on animals procreating, bees fertilizing their fruit trees, essentially relying on all of nature to have sex!

The egg is a powerful and ancient symbol as well, and thus when used in rituals such as egg painting, it becomes a tool for magic and transformation. Symbolizing the universe, we can imagine the shell as the crust of the earth, the magma as the egg white, and the yolk the core. The egg represents life, and has a long history of ritualistic and shamanic use around the world. Adding the symbols of color to the eggs specifies the power given to them – the Druids were said to dye eggs red, like menstrual blood, and bury them in the newly plowed fields in late winter to draw life force energy into the land and encourage fertility and abundance. Following the traditional origins of painting eggs, we discover a sacred and magical ritual of transformation and manifestation.

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Pysanky – Painted Egg Talismans

While today many people dye eggs in rainbow colors, the tradition of egg painting was once more elaborate and the process was in fact a prayer and magical rite involving “writing” sacred symbols and prayers onto the egg.

Still practiced in my home country of Poland and in Eastern Europe, the ancient art of “Pysanky” (meaning “to write” in Ukrainian) dates back to 1300 BC. The symbols that are traditionally inscribed are rooted in the Trypillian culture, a matriarchal society that worshiped mother earth and flourished six thousand years ago in Eastern Europe.

The budding tree, the bird, the sun, the stars — these are the types of symbols we find on the pysanky. One of the most notable ancient symbols found on all traditional designs is the unending line, which denotes the cyclical nature of life. Other examples include the circle, cross, dots, matriarchal symbols, wheat, fir tree, horse, stag, horns and bear’s paws.

The process of “writing” on the eggs involves pouring heated beeswax through a pencil like copper cylinder. Where the wax covers the egg, the color is preserved. The egg is dipped numerous times into various colors, and new designs are added each time a color is applied. The result is an egg covered in black beeswax. At the end, you bring the egg close to the flame of the candle, gently wiping the melting wax away, and revealing a beautiful, intricate multi colored pattern.

By evening candlelight, people would inscribe their wishes, dreams and hopes as symbols onto the egg. It was often a solitary ritual that lasted many hours. As someone who makes pysanky myself, I can attest to the meditative trance one falls into while staring at the flame, the melting wax, and drawing designs on a delicate egg held cupped in my warm hand.

The tools used are no strangers to cunning folk. The egg, representing creation and the universe; the flame of the fire representing transformation and alchemy, the beeswax, a product of the sacred bee, made of the pollen of flowers which have been grown by the sun. When we paint the eggs, our prayers take form in a sacred ritual. It is truly an alchemical process. The symbolism is layered – each pysanka has a trinity of symbols: the symbol of the egg and tools, the symbols of the colors chosen, and the symbols of the designs.

The result is a sacred egg, said to have curative and talismanic powers. Once incorporated into the Christian tradition, the pysanky were said to symbolize the rebirth of man. My intuition says that they always have held this power and more. Drawing upon the sacred elements and powers of nature, we as humans have the power to create ourselves, our universe and call in the energies most appropriate for our current rebirth.

Egg Painting Ritual

Choose an evening when you are alone with your prayers and intentions for the spring. Feel the new you that you are calling into being, and choose symbols that represent the energies that will assist your transformation.

Use a white wax crayon, a pencil or purchase the tools for pysanky online. Draw the symbols most sacred to you.

Choose a color that strengthens your intention. Traditionally, these are the symbols of the colors used:

Green – new life, new growth, hope

Red – passion, energy, transformation

White – purity, innocence, birth

Yellow – happiness, community, youth

Orange – strength, endurance, sexuality

Black – darkness, the void.

Blue – the heavens, air, peace and vision

When your egg is complete, hold it in your hands close to your mouth and whisper your prayers into it.

Rub your body with it, envisioning it pulling old energy out of your body like a magnet.

Go into nature and bury it in the ground, asking the Earth to receive this egg, your prayers, and to nourish your dreams into fruition.

Know that it is done.

And so it is. Blessed be!

Marysia Miernowska

A multilingual and multicultural devotee of Pachamama, Marysia has traveled extensively studying earth wisdom and ancient healing practices from different cultures around the world. She is the director of the California branch of The Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education and teaches workshops on herbal medicine, plant shamanism and earth magic.  You can follow Marysia on instagram @thegaiaschoolofhealingca and on facebook by liking The Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education California Branch. For more information on the Fall 2015 apprenticeships please visit www.thegreenwoman.com

 

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204 Responses

  1. I Want to thank you for thos wonderful time you have taken to explain this procedure &the info you have shared so very intersting to me for i have been on a journey to find my roots i have found the pagan roots to apply to my liking again thank you so much for there is much to learn blessed be connie

  2. A very interesting article thank you Marysia. I am a practising Pagan living in tLindon, England. My Partner is Polish and a practising Roman Catholic, something that creates some minor conflict for him and I occasionally – but mostly for him and his acceptance of himself.

    I have enjoyed exploring his Polish traditions and today for the third yeart together we took a basket of food to be blessed at the church. This evening we attended the blessing of fire and water and although I didn’t understand everything I appreciated the similarities to my pagan beliefs in the ritual.

    I am sure he will also enjoy reading this piece. Blessed be.

    Antek

  3. Beeswax is basically bee’s saliva, it’s not flower pollen. Flower pollen collected by bees is called “perga”.

  4. Appreciate your post.

    The best Easter celebration we ever had was one where my whole family, our children, my siblings, nieces and nephews aunt cousins and their kids, all piled into our house — and painted Pyansky eggs. Set up in the kitchen on Thursday, over the next two days, everyone came into the kitchen and worked on an egg. Quite a few of us did several. Our Easter dinner table had such a lovely centerpiece.

    One clarification : There are two equinoxes. Only one us vernal. The other is autumnal.

  5. You forgot to mention the old Persian tradition of celebration the beginning of spring by preparing a table with several symbols of the rebirth of the universe , among them painted eggs. It is very old Zoroastrian tradition and dates back to 3000 years ago.

  6. It is very interesting spiritual and magical. I enjoyed it very much thank youfor sharing.

  7. Lovely and interesting essay! Only one problem. There are not “two vernal equinoxes”. There is a vernal equinox (beginning of Spring) and an autumnal equinox (beginning of Fall)

  8. Love this article. Its so amazing how Goddess connects everything. After re-reading this article I noticed that you work with Sage via The Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education. Please give her my love. I was blessed to meet and circle with Sage when she was living in Austin TX. She made a huge impression on me and was there for me when I was dealing with breast cancer. Goddess always puts those people who’s paths should cross just at the correct time. She did this for me with Sage and I remain eternally grateful. Bright Blessings to you during this season of rebirth and growth.

  9. Very interesting and insightful.. love learning about Pagan beliefs and how it is all about the circle of life and the earth… Thankyou for sharing this with us… living in Australia we are going into winter but still planting and getting ready for what lays ahead .. Blessed be Sarah

  10. As a Pagan, and follower of all Earth Based Spirituality, I find this intriguing!. Blessings and Light!!

  11. I
    I’m not Ukranian but over 40 years ago an artist taught me the art of Ukranian Eggs. I have not done it for years. I’ve been dealing with many health problems. I lost my home and most of my money to an abusive husband. I had to move to a different city and I’m living in a lg Senior complex. I moved here to be near my kids. But their lives are too full for me join in very often. I never thought cell phones and computers would take the place of spending to,e togeather. Last week I challenged myself to break out of my depression and decorate UK eggs. One gift I have is to teach people like who aren’t artists! I teach the process but make it comfortable to be ok with Turing wax blobs into flowers. When I brought out my 40 year old eggs, it brought a thrill to me! The egg my son decorated when he was 7 yr old brought back memories of sharing family time with my son and daughter! Cell phones will never top that.

  12. Very informative, thank you.
    I have tried to share it on facebook and I got this “Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.”… Imagine, Sad.

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