Herbal Motanka with Rushnyk

The first photo shows a herbal grass motanka created by Natalka Kuzmenko. It represents Marena from Kupalo. The two main characters of Kupalo are Kupalo, who personifies the sun, and Marena, who personifies water. Girls would gather on July 6th of the Gregorian calendar (June 23rd on the Julian calendar), which is the eve of St. John the Baptist Day, to create a female scarecrow or effigy called Marena. Marena was often made to human scale and dressed in women’s clothes. Boys might then come and steal Marena, surround her and sing comical songs to her. The herbal grass motanka in the photo is a miniature Marena adorned with a necklace and wreath. The richest Kupalo traditions were preserved in Polissia.

The woven rushnyk behind the travalna motanka is an entirely woven piece from Krolevets, eastern Polissia. It has a linen ground fabric and the geometric patterns (other than the red bands) are woven above said foundational fabric. Its main geometric pattern contains a type of tree of life that doubles as a bohynia berehynia. The berehynia was one of the most significant symbols in the pantheon of pagan gods for ancient pre-Christian Ukrainians. As the name berehynia suggests, she was called upon to protect people and their homes from all manner of evil. In the time of Kyivan Rus, the symbol of the berehynia praying with upraised arms transformed into the Mother of God Oranta Icon. Additionally, motanka themselves were considered protective amulets for thousands of years by Ukrainians’ ancestors.