Trypillian Civilization 5400 - 2750 BC


Kolos Corp.

Ukrainain Cosmos mirrored in the Trypillian ornament

Oleg Umansky


rushnykAn embroidered shirt, a plakhta (a woman's overskirt), a pas (woven waistband), a rushnyk (towel), a lizhnyk (bedspread), a kylym (carpet), riadnyna (cotton fabric), a dorizhka (strip of carpet) and a polovyk (door-mat) are the spiritual defenders of Ukrainians-Russes. The archaic-type folk ornaments, found on different articles, include some pagan symbols. Let us try to make a retrospective analysis of the spiritual content and meaning of these articles. To penetrate this mystery means to understand the ancient hope of people for the prosperous and harmonic life under the aegis of the cosmos.

What made these people adorn their household articles with symbolic ornaments? Probably, the most important human needs - to find food and to protect one's property - made them do it. Therefore, all the symbols may be classified into two types: those aiding to find food and to grow crops, and those protecting the man and the results of his labor. However, sometimes the same daily use items carried both the symbols of fertility and those of protection, intertwined in an integral picture of the cosmos.

These daily worries of people became reflected in myths. Now, we shall briefly outline the content of the ancient Indo-European cosmos. In the center there was a trinity of deities. We may see them clearly in the famous Zbruch Idol. The god of the heavens - the inseminator and protector - occupies the upper part of the figure. This is the Slavic Perun, equal to the Greek Zeus and Roman Jupiter. The Slavic goddess of fertility Mokosh (Demeter, Juno) is carved in the middle of the Idol. In the lower part we may see the Slavic god of the underworld Volos (the Greek Hades, the Roman Pluto), the brother of Perun. Volos guards the property, accumulated by forebears, - grandchildren, cattle, land, houses and treasury.

There is an old set phrase understood as a poetic concept of fertility of our soil: the mother syra (soggy) soil. Ancient Indians had the same phrase as follows: the mother suria soil (suria means the Sun). The phrase should be understood as the fertility of land that depends upon the sky. The Indo- European word suria had assimilated into our language to be pronounced as syra, that is, soggy. As it happens, the seed grow only in the soggy soil.

A snake twines itself round the trinity of deities in the Zbruch Idol. The snake personifies the river of life. It protects the integrity of cosmos from the outside chaos. It ensures the forever circulation of human souls - overland, underground, to heavens and again overland. That is the way generations come and go, incessantly.

The figure of the protector snake is also present in the ancient Greek cosmos, although, not so well-pronounced. The snake came into the world-view of ancient Ukrainians under the influence of the Indian, Egyptian, Finnish and Hungarian mythologies. Therefore, we should not attempt to draw the complete picture of the Slavic mythological cosmos using the same criteria. In particular, in the ancient Greek architecture the snake turned into ornamentation running along cornices, the symbol of eternal movement.


The nature gave gatherers and hunters their food, which was almost ready to be consumed. While everybody was looking for food, mothers stayed home to guard the family fire. The sculptures of naked stout women - goddesses of fertility - belong to those times.

After the great production revolution hunters switched to farming and cattle breeding. The first developed farming civilization formed in the fourth-third millennium B.C. It was discovered in 1896 by the Kyiv archaeologist V.V.Khvoika. It was called the Trypillian Culture by the location where the first monuments were found, that near Trypillia of the Obukhivskyi District, Kyiv Region.

Articles belonging to this Culture are distinguished in the scientific world, though similar farming oases with somewhat similar articles had been scattered all around Europe in those ancient times.

Ethnic groups periodically migrated across the Trypillian Culture territory. However, archaeologists maintain that the land here has been tilled continuously. It suggests, that the local population sustained the achievements of the material and spiritual culture of Trypillians. The latter was based on the Indo-European mythology. That is why some of its ancient symbols survived till present.

It their big settlements, Trypillians left many household and ritual items made of baked or hardened clay. Among the latter there were figurines of women. Farmers, same as hunters, depicted their goddesses of fertility naked. The goddesses of plowmen had special symbols carved on their bodies. These symbols represent their global mythological world-view and their notion of relationship between heavens and earth. This relationship is the reason of universal fertility.

A double helix was carved over the goddess's breasts. A diamond-shaped sign, crossed twice to make four sections, was drawn on her belly or loins. A wheat grain was pressed into each section of the sign before baking.

The breast helix symbolizes the heaven: it is a lightning, after which the rain-semen falls on the ground. The diamond- shaped sign with grains represents a plowed and seeded field. This is another fertile place on the goddess's body.

The two symbols together mean marriage between the heaven and the earth. The haven is the father, the earth is the mother.

Besides these two symbols, the Trypillian figurines have slanting and spiral marks on their hips, sides and buttocks. They are symbols to protect fertility, but we shall talk about them later. We could guess, that such hieroglyphics did not belong exclusively with the goddesses, but were also tattooed on the skin of Trypillian women. The central European climate did not allow these people to restrict themselves to simply painting the signs, as inhabitants of some tropical countries do until present.

When our forebears attained some higher level of development, they began to embroider the magic symbols on their clothing. The ancient symbol of fertility - the magic crossed rhombus, symbolizing a fertile field - has existed for millennia. In the ancient Greece the Hellivsynski (Hellenic) festivities were held. In the Spring it was done in honor of Demeter, the goddess of the spring crop, and in the Autumn the performances were held in honor of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and the goddess of winter crop. During both performances the priest poured some water on the ground, imitating the heaven's impregnating it by the rain.

In 1970, some museum exhibits from the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, were brought to Moscow and St.Petersburg for display. Among those there was a jug with a handle and a spout - a prototype of the modern kettle. The spout was shaped as a woman holding a small bottomless jug in her right hand, so that the water from the big jug spouted out of the small one. I believe it to be a ritual item of the Hellivsynski festivities. The spout also looks a little like the muzzle of a bull. This is the symbol of the god of the heavens Zeus, who impregnates the Mother-Earth by pouring down the rain.

The Demeter's clothing feature one notable article: over her skirt she wears a checkered apron, crossed like the rhombus of Trypillia.

The plakhta (a decorative overskirt) has been worn in Ukraine since time out of mind. People's trust in the magic qualities of this checkered garment, promoting fertility in the broad sense, became known to us through the lyrics of old ritual songs.

The Greeks guarded the secret of their national fertility zealously. The Hellivsynski festivities were closed to men, hetaerae and aliens. Only the honorable women were admitted, and even those - on somebody's recommendation. Hellenes were afraid lest some outsiders penetrate the mystery of a dead grain being transformed into a live sprout, lest they understand the local mystery of impregnation and harm this national pearl. According to the myth, the Demeter's daughter Persephone was kidnapped by the king of the underworld Hades, her uncle. He married Persephone, and she penetrated the mystery of the underworld life.

Our time preserves the echo of this old custom. When a guest from the faraway, but friendly, country arrives, the housewife, clad in ritual clothing, offers him a loaf of bread and some salt on a rushnyk (towel), decorated with ancient symbols. A woman gives a portion of the harvest and that of the entrails of the earth, the symbols of prosperity, into the stranger's hands.

The earth, impregnated by the heavenly moisture, is being warmed by the Sun. The Sun is being driven by his two satellites. The ancient Gemini semi-deities, the Dioscuri, are driving the god of the sun Helios in a chariot across the sky. The left one is the first-magnitude morning star [Pollux], the right one is the second magnitude evening star [Castor].

The concept of the fertility goddess with her two satellites had prevailed all over Europe. In Ukraine-Rus this goddess had been replaced by the tree of life represented as a luxuriant flower (often planted in a flowerpot) together with a pair of horses, goats or roosters. The left one, that of the morning, was green or blue. The right one, that of the evening, was yellow or red.

The flower goddess sanctifies the most important thing in the house - the fire or the Russian stove. The housewife takes constant care of it. It is her pride. From time to time she whitewashes the symbol of the family hearth. On the most conspicuous place the housewife paints a flower.

The bed is another important piece in the house. It is covered with a lizhnyk (bedspread) embroidered with the same diamond-shaped patterns promoting fertility. This is a most natural symbol for a matrimonial bed. However, fertility should be protected, that is why arms - a bow, a sword, a dagger, a saber or a rifle - were hung over it since time out of mind...

Until present, the pagan rhombus is being subconsciously included in national ornaments of all regions of Ukraine- Rus. It is also being depicted on cassocks of Christian priests.

Two signs are being embroidered on the back of a cassock: on its upper part - level with the heart - they embroider a cross or a crucifix, and farther down - at the knee level - they embroider a 45-degrees turned square. The latter is being called kustodia (custody), which means the guard and reminds one of the Jesus' execution.

Here is what the legend tells us about it. When Jesus died on the cross, his body was taken off the cross and deposited in a cave, whose entrance was blocked with a huge stone. Jesus died on Friday. On Saturday all the sentries were to go to the Easter festivities. They warned the procurator of Judea Pontius Pilate against leaving the body unguarded, because Jesus' disciples could steal it and announce that Jesus raised from the dead and went to heaven.

Pilate ordered to seal the stone. Four wax seals were placed on the centers of the four sides of the entrance, forming a pagan rhombus. So, the cassock symbolizes the victory of a spirit over a body. When a priest puts it on, he links the chaotic world of his flock to the heavenly order.


Having missed his prey, the hunter may compensate for what he has missed any next time. An owner of a plot of land, a plowman, must constantly apply both physical and moral effort. He has to think about his harvest day and night, to plead with heaven for the timely rain. He seeks some spiritual symbols, hoping for their help. He finds metaphors among the conceivable concepts - parts of his own body (head, chest, abdomen, loins and phallus) and human physical and moral relationships. The plowman seeks the symbols to protect himself and the results of his work in the outside world. To protect his village or field he digs a ditch around those. This will ward off evil and protect his crops. The seminarist and philosopher Khoma Brut, a character from the Hohol's story Vii ("Eyelid"), did essentially the same thing: he drew a magic circle around himself to protect himself against the witch.

Distinguishing between his own and somebody else's, the man has found a spiritual boundary, represented as the river of life, to segregate his internal cosmos from the outside chaos. Almost all peoples of the world associate it with a snake, coming up to the surface after rain; or with a rainbow, whose colored scales glisten in the sun after a rainstorm; or with the Milky Way on the distant starry sky.

Souls of dead grandfathers flow in that river towards the goddess of fertility, who sends them to the wombs of mothers to be reborn in the bodies of their grandchildren. No wonder, that there is a custom to call grandchildren after their grandfathers.

The river of life protects each man individually and the location, where a family, a community or a nation lives. A person is protected by his clothes, tied up with a waistband. According to ethnographers, Karelian magicians wore waistbands made of snake-skin.

Open parts of the body are protected by talismans, oberigs - rings, necklaces and earrings. All personal adornments, including embroidery on one's clothes, are unique for each particular nation.

In a room such things as dorizhkas (strips of carpet), polovyks (door-mats) and carpets are called to protect against evil. Many objects unite the characteristics of protection and fertility into one single cosmos. The crockery ornaments always along with the sign of fertility (a flower or a fruit) include encircling protective stripes or spirals.

The roof, which imitates the sky, is the outer protection of the house. Ornaments on windows and doors wards off evil, that may try penetrating the house from the yard. Picture frames also symbolize the river of life, where soul flowers flow, or scales of a snake.

The whole estate is protected by a fence. A village is guarded by the ditch, and a city - by a rampart or walls.

Let us take a closer look at the embroidery on shirtfronts. It expresses both fertility (the checkered field) and protection, represented by two stripes that guard the open collar and the heart.

Such embroidery had appeared very long ago. A figurine of a man from the Martynivskyi treasure (the VIIth century) is being kept in the Museum of Historical Valuables of Ukraine. He planted his feet wide apart and placed his hands on his hips. This very pattern is embroidered on his shirtfront. The figurine resembles a Baltic god Perkunas (kept in the Vilnius Museum of Local Lore and History) sitting on his stone heavenly throne and casting a lightning.

Comparing the position of feet of both sculptures, we could maintain, that the Martynivskyi "dancer" is not really dancing, as V.Vasylenko assumed (in 1977), but sitting on a heavenly throne. I think that this is Perun, the Slavic god of the heavens and husband of the fertility goddess Makosha.

In Frakia, Northern Caucasus and Kyiv Region the medallions, dated between the IVth and VIIth centuries, have been found from time to time. On those medallions similar men with feet planted apart and raised arms, placed within the circle of the Universe, were engraved. Their shirts had similar embroidery. It may be the same Perun. This is how old the Ukrainian vyshyvanka (embroidery) is!

The pasok (waistband) ties the clothes and protects against cold and evil forces of chaos. It keeps one warm and guards his internal cosmos. Not only the snake-symbol of protection is being embroidered on woven wool waistbands, but also the motif of fertility - horizontal rhombuses standing for plowed fields and heavenly horses. Only the fragments of horses, trunkless, are included in the patterns. We may see their legs as chevron weave: two front legs (paws open) and two rear legs (paws closed). Legs represent the eternal movement of the sun, stars time and life.

A strip of carpet on the floor imitates a striped snake - the protector. A helical door-mat also symbolizes a snake guarding the threshold.

The complete picture of cosmos is being depicted on carpets. On those we have goddesses of fertility and protector-snakes and flowers symbolizing the souls of ancestors. All these elements are being fitted in geometric patterns shaped as triangles and rhombuses.

Pagans expected gifts from the marriage between the gods of the heavens and goddesses of the earth. The European Christianity suggested to Russes that they win their bread through their daily labor and not wait for the help by pagan gods. Love and respect for Lord and the people, who are close to oneself, ensure order and agreement in the community, promote the development of a free man.

People's memory preserves pagan symbols, but in the course of millennia their secret meaning has been lost. Only their outer shape has survived.

Now we seem to be deprived of any spiritual reference points. That is why people are turning to folk customs. The Christian Church respects the remains of the ancient naive faith. It understands that these seeming prejudices hide touching feelings for nature, native land, old customs and national culture beneath their surface.

Both home and church icons are being decorated with embroidered rushnyks (towels). This is the symbol to protect the utmost spirituality. The relation between orthodoxy and paganism is quite noticeable here: Christianity had once defeated the faith of early plowmen. The Church consecrates the ancient original Ukrainian art that depicts the nation's own face and civilization - distinctive from those of other Indo-European nations.

The illustrations by the author.

Published with the kind permission of the IndoEuropa magazine