Berehynia

 
 

The goddess motif is an ancient one, and most commonly found in pysanky from Polissia or Western Podillia. The berehynia was believed to be the source of life and death. On the one hand, she is a life giving mother, the creator of heaven and all living things, and the mistress of heavenly water (rain), upon which the world relies for fertility and fruitfulness. On the other hand, she was the merciless controller of destinies.

The goddess is sometimes depicted with arms upraised, and the arms vary in number but are always in pairs: 2, 4 or 6.


This is similar to the appearance of the Christian Oranta, like this one in S. Sophia’s cathedral in Kyiv:



Pysanky with this motif were called “bohyn’ky” (богиньки, little goddesses) or “zhuchky” (жучки, beetles), the latter because they are similar in appearance to the Cyrillic letter Ж (zh).  You can see examples of the oranta-style berehynia in these two examples from Binyashevsky (Podillya, Kyivshchyna), and the one at the top of this page (Volynian Polissia):

        


Traditional examples from my collection include these:


    
     


   
    


The sixth pysanka above only really reveals the berehynia when laid on its side:



Sometimes the berehynia has become abstracted, and is represented by a plant–vazon–the tree of life. Her arms become the branches and flowers, and she is firmly rooted in a flowerpot.




You can see more examples on the “Vazon” page, but here are a few examples:


    
    


The most common depiction of the great goddess is a composition containing “kucheri” (curls). The berehynia may be seen perched on a curl (left), or a curl may be given wings (right). Sometimes one curl is mirror-imaged, giving an “S” shape with wings.  Often there is a crown on the berehynia’s head. These compositions are given the folk names of “queen,” “princess,” “scythe,” “drake,” or simply “wings.”



These are two examples from Binyashevsky:

    


And here are a few traditional examples from my own collection; these are of the “curls with crowns” type:


    
    


And these are of the doubled curls (mirror-imaged) type. Note the “wings” between the top and bottom curls; this cross-piece differentiates between the zmiya symbol (a simple S) and the berehynia (a crossed S).


        


Lastly, this is an example of a berehynia perched upon the zmiya; you can see the traditional berehynia, with her six arms, and she is over a zmiya.  She is a goddess of the heavens, and the zmiya is the god of the earth.  Above them both is a sun:

    

As Marusyna Chaika notes, with the decline of the cult of the Berehynia, she declined into countless characters of inferior demonology with much weaker powers, such as sprites and mermaids.  However, her relatives remain on the steppes of Ukraine in the form of Scythian stone images.



 

Ancient Mother Goddess

     Zmiya



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