As a child, I was fascinated by the foil wrapped, chocolate eggs hidden in the bush. The intense search was rewarded by a glimmer of light and color in the greenery that never failed to make my heart skip.
Still, in our Catholic household, we actively celebrated the Resurrection of Our Lord; and it was explained to us children that the Easter egg was a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection because the egg is symbolic of new life that emerges from a confined space, such as Christ’s tomb.
Later, for a few years, I attended a Ukrainian Catholic grade-school and there I was introduced to the fascinating art of Pysanky, or “writing on eggs”, and tried my wobbly hand at it.
As I handled the “kistka” an instrument that dispenses hot wax, as an ink pen dispenses ink, I loved every minute. The process, basically masks designs and progressively dips the egg into dies to reveal, at the end, and when the wax is melted off, a small marvel. No matter how amateur or how proficient one is at it, there’s a thrill.
Indeed, pysanky, from the word pysaty, “to write”, dates back to pre-Christian times, when eggs were celebrated for their life-giving/nutritious properties.
With the advent of Christianity, the custom was incorporated into the new faith and related to Our Lord’s Resurrection with Christian symbols replacing pagan ones.
I wasn’t to be a pysanky artist. I use a pen, rather than a “kistka”, but never forget that one time I did “write” on an egg, and felt the fascination of the ancient tradition.
It was thus, with another heart-skip that last October, while on vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I met a group of bubbly Pysanky artists who convene there every year.
Inspired by Pysanky master Lorrie Popow, a life-long writer of Pysanky, just named 2015 Arkansas Living Treasure, people come from all over the world to learn this ancient art form.
Culture is a powerful thing. It can be used for bad, as manifested all around us today, or it can be used for good as evinced by the strength of ancient customs. Steeped in a civilization inspired by Christ, these customs not only have enriched generations past, but continue to cross oceans, resurfacing in places such as the heart of Arkansas!
Indeed such traditions, when used and passed on with the right knowledge and linked to their deep religious meaning, can be an asset to faith, especially for children who are so visual and “hands on”.
I loved those eggs I found in the bush, and I loved those eggs I learned about in school. They never took away from faith, but rather lent a marvelous component of enjoyment and art to the sacred in my life.
By Andrea F. PhillipsPhotos: Pysanky Eggs displayed at the 2014 convention of Pysanky painters in Hot Springs Arkansas.