Pysanky Panky: The Magic Egg|
Here we stand at the Spring Equinox, once again straddling the line between the darkness
and the light, between fear and faith. For many spiritual practices, this is the season
of hope, the pastel package delivered on winter's promise that someday it will again be
warm, green, and light. With the new shoots pushing their way through the wet dirt, the
beckoning call of amorous birds at dawn, and the lengthening day, many of us who have
spent the winter rain-drenched and grouchy will again consider the abundant
possibilities of spring.
Christians have Easter, that wonderful celebration of resurrection that's marked by
bunnies, eggs, and flowers. Named after a Pagan equinox festival honoring bunnies,
eggs, and renewal, this year Easter occurs in April, a long time from the equinox, but
often the Paschal season falls near its progenitor, Eostara. The Jews have Passover -
more eggs (plus charoset and tzimmes) - to celebrate the Israelites' hope for freedom
from the restrictions of second-class citizenship in Egypt.
Hope, especially when it ferments into the more durable state we call optimism, is a
delicious and necessary condition for the survival of the species. I believe this
because I'm a born-again optimist. After years of viewing the world through a grim,
suicidal lens, I made a truly conscious - and magical - effort to shift my perspective.
It was either that, or slash my wrists again (a painful, messy hobby that I needed to
give up). I worked hard, in counseling and in magical circles, to turn away from
scarcity and toward abundance; to (as author and creativity trainer Roger Von Oech suggests)
expect the unexpected, and actually welcome it; to
stop calculating endless "worse case scenarios" and instead wait with enthusiasm for the
valuable nugget of wisdom at the end of every experience. (Mind you, I still run one or
two WCSs, just to keep my hand in...)
I've been so successful at this transformation that my beau recently accused me of being
a Pollyanna, shocking news for someone who spent two decades in a wardrobe consisting of
various shades of black. (Like Masha in the Seagull, I was in a state of constant
"mourning for my life ...")
The trick with optimism is that it's built on a trust in the benevolence of the
universe, which on a bad day can seem pretty far-fetched. I don't know about you, but
as a born-again optimist, trust is one of those things I'm still working on, with fairly
unimpressive results. At the slightest provocation, I fall so dramatically into doubt,
suspicion, and abject despair you'd think I was working it up as an act for the Cirque
de Soleil. I need things to work out now, immediately, and just the way I want them
to, or my sunny side is definitely not up. (Okay, so I've got some work to do on
patience as well.)
That's why I really like the pysanky ritual my delightful altar-sister Natalie taught me
many years ago. I need a little reminder every now and again about how the greatest
transformations are often preceded by long, messy stretches, and the most durable seeds
of change sprout in the dark. And all that other stuff that people say to make you feel
better, while you stifle an impulse to punch them.
Pysanky is a very hands-on experience. You start with an egg (oh, look, it must be
spring, there's eggs involved!). The traditional
is an intricate, gorgeous thing, very detailed and - to
many of us - intimidating. If you're art-phobic, just visiting a
should have you palpitating with anxiety at the mere
idea of tackling one of these mini-masterpieces.
Use the fear. Accept that you're not trying to create something that will be
mistaken for a Faberge. Instead, envision a design that's meaningful to you: a spiral
for the course you're on now in your career, or a heart for the lover you want to bring
into your life. Include geometric shapes, wide or narrow bands, squiggles and blobs,
definitely blobs. Incorporate blobs into your pattern, because hey: they're going to
show up there anyway. In any case, create a design that speaks to what you want to
"hatch" in the months to come. Ask for divine inspiration. Then, pencil the design
onto the egg or, if you're feeling a little daring, just go for it freehand.
Pysanky uses a wax-resist process familiar to most of us from grade school crayon
projects. The first step is to draw selected portions of the design on the egg with
beeswax using a simple tool called a
kistka. These portions will be white on the
finished egg. Once you've waxed in a few design elements, dip the egg in yellow pysanky
dye, a bold color wash that will leave you vowing never again to use that pale stuff you
can buy every Easter at Longs. Then repeat, waxing another portion of the design with
the kistka. These new contributions will be yellow on the finished egg. Now, dip the
egg in orange or perhaps red Pysanky dye (different designs use different colors, moving
from light to dark, often ending with black). Repeat this waxing and dyeing through
each color you intend to use.
And here's where the trust comes in: as you add the wax - and it blobs, or spreads into
places you didn't intend it to go - the egg will become covered with the thick,
blackened goop. Each time you dye, the egg will change color, and the lovely yellow or
red or blue previously displayed will disappear, trapped beneath a layer of grime. Your
original pencil marks will be quickly obscured, and any sense you have of your design
completely lost. You'll have to kistka on trust now, scraping away, hoping for the
best, believing that when you're done, it will all come together in a satisfying visual
mélange instead of proving once and for all that your kindergarten teacher was right,
you do have spatial-visual problems, and your manual coordination is nothing to write
home about either.
And then, suddenly, you're finished. It's the last dye lot. The egg, full of
potential, sits in front of you. Now comes what one pysanky site calls "the fun" part:
take this lumpy, blackened oval, and hold it near the side of the flame (not over the
flame). When the wax looks a bit softened and wet, take a tissue or paper towel and
wipe it off. Repeat this process, flame and cloth, carefully wiping around the egg,
slowly, gently revealing the surprising beauty hidden beneath the wax.
If you're a newcomer like me, your design will be remarkably like what you intended, but
with some surprises as well. Despite your feeling that "the whole thing will look
terrible, just terrible, you haven't an artistic bone in your body, and you screwed it
up the moment you squiggled when you should have squaggled" (and all the rest of that
encouraging self talk so many of us are given to), despite this, the final egg - a
testament to your creativity, hard work and patience - will be simply gorgeous,
mistakes and all.
Just like life.
[Note from SnakeMoon: This is a very cursory explanation of the pysanky process - before
you try dying your own, visit a few of the websites noted in this article, or take a
class. Once you've seen it done, it will be easy to embark on your own pysanky
A practicing Pagan for 16 years, SnakeMoon is the editor of the Full Circle Newsletter (www.fullcircleevents.org),
and the newest member of a coven now celebrating its 13th magical year. She has
participated in other circles, including EarthRite, a Marin county community that
performs public celebrations of the Wheel of the Year.
SnakeMoon is the Communications Director for a forward-thinking industrial design firm,
and previously worked as a communications consultant for a variety of clients across the
Unites States. She lives in Marin County with her 16-year-old son, two cats, and a
corn snake named Magic.