If you’ve ever visited a traditional Ukrainian house or a park such as Pyrohovo or Mamaeva Sloboda you must have noticed the odd doll with a cross instead of a face. It is called a motanka and the fact that you saw it in a conspicuous place (in the opinion of the person who put it there at least) is one of many thousand-year-old traditions that this doll holds.
This toy is of great spiritual value and is much more than just an element of décor. It protects the house and the family from evil and helps fertility. Every motanka doll is like a snowflake – no two are the same (if they are handmade, of course). Howeve, there are a lot of uniform rules to ensure motanky remain true guardians of the house and don’t bring evil spirits.
First of all, a real motanka does not have a single seam, so no needles are used. This is actually where its name comes from, as in Ukrainian ‘motaty’ means to weave, and indeed these dolls are made by weaving only. Secondly, the fact that it’s faceless shows how cautious ancient Ukrainians were, as it was believed that if there was a face there was a spirit and those can be both good and bad. So, no face it was for the motanka. Instead there was a cross – an ancient symbol of the sun.
They can be found all over Kyiv: Andriivskiy Uzviz, craft shops and museums. But the best motanka is one you make yourself, so we recommend going to a workshop, as there are plenty for all age groups. Some Ukrainian language skills will come in handy because you may struggle to find a workshop in English.
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LiKhtaryk Art Studio
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