I often refer to this season as the ‘dregs of winter’, when snow still covers the earth and spring seems like a dream. Since 2014 I have been crafting Pysanka eggs around March when the hens increased laying reminds me that spring is inevitable.
I came to this practice without any link to Ukrainian heritage, only a deep desire to learn more about such a sacred craft. Now, almost a decade later, it has become much more than a way to celebrate the lengthening days. As I apply hot wax to shell, I pray for peace not just for Ukraine, but the world.
This time around I’m not sure if it feels more like synchronicity, tragedy, or irony that this practice and the unprovoked attack on Ukraine coincide. It feels frivolous and callow to be decorating eggs in this ancient way while so many suffer.
I almost didn’t bring out my supplies this year out of grief. My heart bleeds for people I will never meet, but as I cleaned my tools I could feel a connection with hope and love. Daring to dream of summer days during cold dark nights; and peace during war. Traditional Pysanka eggs were not hollowed out, but left whole and intact, to be placed on the land as offerings and protective agents for the crop, livestock, bees and people. Though it is a craft of the ancient times, due to the nature of the object there are no examples left of truly old Pysanka.
It is my understanding that the art of pysanka predates christianity, and was a practice of protection and blessings for the coming seasons. It was, and is performed by the women of the family, passing the nights making beautiful talismans on fertile eggs with hopes of the future. I try to be in that space as I continue down this ancient path. Hand dipped candles light my way and heat the kistka, melting the wax as I slowly cover and then dye each egg in turn. The colors of the dye have meaning, as do the colors of the candles I use.
The more I thought about this, the more it seemed to crystalize why I was doing it at all, and in this time of unrest. It never felt like appropriation before, but the making and sharing of my efforts this year feels different. Sticky with preformative activism. What right to I have to practice someone else’s magic, while bomb drop on their homes? I try to be mindful as I approach the task with a foreigner’s respect for traditions not my own.
At first, thought I might skip the task this year out of reverence and solidarity for the Ukrainian people. The empty feeling of dread leaves my heart as I work. I selected my candle color with care, starting with white for purification and moving to pink for love, then blue for truth, yellow for clarity, red for courage, and so on. The vibrant colors of the hens’ naturally colored eggs overlaid with vivid pigments and motifs of galaxies, constellations and flowers. Some eggs making it through the process, and many more succumbing to my clumsiness or the affections of the child and critters.
It is impossible to be unaware of the fragility of the world as I draw, dip and often break my little creations. Pysanka is a continuous lesson in patience and impermanence. I can work on an egg for literal days, only to have one slip destroy all. I have tried all manner of ways to resurrect broken eggs, but there truly is nothing for it except to let go. That is how I feel about the world right now, there are so many delicate beauties being ripped to rubble. I also can’t pretend that this is something new, as if last month there were no children being separated from their families by violence in other parts of the world, while no one noticed. Russia’s actions are the epitome of colonial nihilism and a terrifying reminder that money and greed make monsters of us all.
This is not a task for undelicate times, I wonder if there are women on the other side of the world melting wax by candle flame and drawing dreams of the future. I hope there are, but I doubt there is much time for it this year in the wake of invasion and war crimes. I have time though, to pray for those in trouble. To hope that their suffering to end. To make talismans of protection for those who can’t. It is as good a task as any to busy my worried mind. My soul aches while my hands work, holding fragile things with care and making space for senseless acts of beauty in the face of irrational acts of violence.
Be well, thank you for reading.