Yesterday we met some friends for lunch (how liberating it felt to type that…) and one of them brought me a gift: a pysanka, from Smoky Lake, Alberta, where he and his late wife own a property. As we were talking and getting accustomed to sitting at a table, in a restaurant, with other people, I held the fragile object in my hand for a few moments. I could see the little holes at either end where the contents of the egg had been blown out before the process of decoration began.
Pysanky have a long and interesting history, with chapters in pagan and Christian times. Eggs represent rebirth, the advent of life after a period of darkness. In pagan times, imagine how important it would have been to watch an egg hatch. To borrow and adapt this potency for Christian purposes, in spring, as part of an Easter ritual makes sense. A pysanka in a house was a charm against evil, against fire. It encouraged fertility, good harvest. As I write, three containers of tomato seeds are sprouting on our hearth and three flats of peas– Sweet Magnolia, Purple Podded, and Avalanche Sugar Snap — are growing like weeds alongside them. I’ll start peppers at the weekend and eggplants soon after.
But it’s the charm against evil I’m most interested in right now. On my desk, I keep some ikons from Greece, a little glass heart given me by John, a tiny oyster shell with a ceramic tree frog (one of my familiars…), and a fragment of Lapis lacedaemonius, or Spartan basalt, brought to me from Thermopylae. (Remember Simonides’ epigraph? “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie.”) I’ve never felt the need for these these as deeply as I do now and to have a delicate pysanka to join them, at a time when I’ve taken to heart my Ukrainian background, feels kind of magical. The egg, as I touch it, is unbearably smooth.
for the time being you seem to save me
for something else, something bigger, more terrible,
something you can’t live with, or die without
–from “For the Time Being”, by Halyna Kruk, trans. Anatoly Kudryavitsky