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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Tree Of Life, The Sun, The Goddess

The best folk art brings the lore of our Neolithic ancestors to life, uncovering hints of ancient knowledge that is often hidden before our very eyes. A new exhibition in Manhattan’s East Village, a beautiful and intellectually engaging show, is the kind of undertaking that could change the way you look at folk art forever.

"The Tree of Life, the Sun, the Goddess: Symbolic Motifs in Ukrainian Folk Art," now at the new Ukrainian Museum, taught me how to "read" a bride’s costume. It allowed me to see symbols that evolved from at least as far back as the Linear and Trypillian cultures from 6000-3000 BCE.

The bride’s wraparound skirt seemed at first to be covered in flowers, but they are really sun symbols. Her shirt’s white-on-white embroidery is covered in tree-of-life motifs and climbing vines, a variant of the same symbol. Her sash has a tree of life that sprouts, transforming itself into a goddess motif, while a smaller horizontal band of quadripartite sun symbols marches across another part of the sash. While these symbols relate to fertility and protection, the coral beads were added to ward off evil.

All these pagan symbols reside in textiles and ornaments dating from the late 19th to early 20th century from a country that was converted to Christianity in 988 CE. Full Story

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