I am neither Persian nor Ukranian but I am curious, and I have found that curiosity is one of the best passports you can have for travelling into another culture or, indeed, another world. Years ago a friend gave me three pysanky, Ukranian Easter eggs. The practice is called pysanky or writing because the symbols are a language, one that pre-exists Christianity, and the practice of decorating them called writing. The instrument used is a stylus; the materials: fire, beeswax and vegetable dyes. Pysanky are only made for Easter and in pre-Christian times, for Spring.
Ukranians aren’t the only ones who write eggs at this time of year. People all over Eastern Europe have variations on this tradition. An Ismaili Muslim friend told me last week that her community too will be painting eggs this weekend in honour of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, marked at the Spring Equinox. Some say that the two traditions have a common origin in the Zoroastrian sun cult 2500 years ago. But like the pysanky itself, the layering is a multitude.
Both traditions rely on fertility; the egg, a near universal symbol of rebirth. Eggs are set out on home altars and given as gifts. The designs for both are abstract, geometric, many of them survivals from Paleolithic and Neolithic times. One of the most popular is the eight-pointed star for the everlasting sun, in the pysanky sometimes shown with fir branches radiating from the centre. Other motifs are waves for water, triangles etched like a sieve or net (a mark of prehistoric Goddess worship), rounding bands to represent eternity, meanders and spirals for protection against evil, plowed fields and soil marked out with diamonds, and seeds shown by dots.
Though they are a work of art, what I like most about these honourings of the egg, is what they can teach us about how to live. I treasure what one commentator had to say about the tradition of writing pysanky: one had to come to the task at peace, at the end of the day; the day holy... lived without argument, accusation or sin. Writing pysanky is really a form of moving meditation, the way that walking is to sitting meditation. My friend who wrote pysanky told me each egg would take hours. When one moves the hand in a creative way, one immerses oneself, sinking into a world beyond, an older world. For her it was a form of prayer. I think this is true of all creativity, whether it is cooking supper or writing a piece of music or passing through a major change in life. It forces us to leave ourselves and recreate ourselves at the same time.
Much peace to you this holy changing night.