Guest Blog: Keeping Ancestral Traditions Alive by Anka Lavriv

I have always had a complicated relationship with my home country. Growing up in post Soviet Ukraine, during shifting of ideologies- transition from communism to capitalism, the country, economy and national identity was in crisis. I desperately wanted to love my country, but I couldn’t- when I was 19 and had an opportunity to come to the US for a summer exchange, I knew I won’t be coming back. Once in NY, i desperately wanted to fit in and lose my immigrant identity and my accent. But over time, I started to feel the need to examine this relationship and reasons for my resentment which caused me a lot of pain- I began researching traditional and pre-Christian Ukrainian culture, magic and customs and just kept falling deeper and deeper in love. As a person born during the last years of Soviet Union, I never fully understood that the reason I couldn’t connect with the culture of my home, was because I was fed an imposed and false ideology that had nothing to do with rich and beautiful animistic culture of my home. Diving deeper into learning Ukrainian traditions and magic brought so much healing into my life. I love seeing  so many Eastern European countries reclaim their identities after they were wiped out by Soviet regime.



When I look back on growing up in Ukraine, I often have a feeling similar to reading a magical realism novel- amongst grey, Soviet structures, ever present talks of economic collapse and ecological disaster,  there are vivid and colorful memories of orthodox Christmas divination traditions, painting eggs with colorful vegetable dyes for Easter, gathering healing plants with my grandmother on Ivana Kupala- pagan summer solstice holiday (and my birthday), and so many other pre-Christian traditions that made their way into our culture. My mom taking me to a Babka healer for egg rolling to cure “fright”- her whispering prayers all over me, then cracking an egg into a glass of water to reveal black spots inside of the yolk, a confirmation of the evil eye interference. I remember being a teenager and playing a traditional Ukrainian folk instrument, bandura at neighborhood celebrations and praying that none of my school friends would notice me amongst the traditionally dressed folk music group. I wanted to leave Ukraine so badly and go to the US, where (in my understanding) people didn’t dress up in silly costumes and sing old-timey songs. 



My dream did come true, and I ended up in the States. Living in New York alone as an undocumented 19 year old was not the “Sex and the City” lifestyle I imagined for myself. I often felt lost, out of place and crushed by a hardcore capitalist mentality that was unfamiliar to me. I started feeling empty and nostalgic for the casual magic that was just a part of every day life  back in Ukraine. So I started reconnecting with things that reminded me of home- crafting, listening to traditional music, incorporating Ukrainian mythology and folklore into my artwork. For the past couple years, I have been doing a deep dive into a symbolism and significance of the true heart of Ukrainian culture- traditional embroidery and incorporating it into my tattooing and artwork. 


There are so many ways we can keep our ancestral traditions alive through little everyday acts of magical connection- cooking, crafting, singing, divining...I want to share what I know about this beautiful, animistic culture that promotes living in harmony with nature, respecting the land and spirits that inhabit everything around us, importance of plant allies and the power of human intention and writing your own destiny through the craft of needlepoint. I believe all of us can find so much beauty and healing through connecting to aspects of our ancestry. I would like to encourage you to try it- even if you know very little about your roots. Try researching a ritual, a recipe of a traditional dish that you can enjoy and share with ancestral spirits or even learn a folk song. Write down how it made you feel. 


No matter what our roots are, I truly believe we can always find a way to connect with the ancestral traditions that live in and through us. 


Join me on June 5th for my workshop "Ukrainian Mythology & Magic: From Tradition to Modern Ways" with Seagrape Apothecary.

I am so excited to offer this class and introduce the participants to a pantheon of Ukrainian deities and spirits, review traditional celebrations and customs, and create an Oberig talisman together using pattern work, symbols, plant allies and spells. I want to dedicate this offering to my grandmother who is a natural healer, herbalist and a Wise Woman and I owe most of my knowledge and love for Magick to her.




Anka Lavriv is a Brooklyn based, Ukrainian illustrator and a tattoo artist. Her work is heavily influenced by esoteric themes, Slavic mythology and exploring the unconscious.

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