Valya Dudycz Lupescu

Writer, fueled by coffee

Pysanky

| 7 Comments

It’s been an up and down sort of weekend. Turns out Liam came down with a full blown ear infection and high fever, so he’s back on antibiotics (as much as I hate to give them to him). Hopefully we’ll see improvement tomorrow. It’s been rough at night, and he’s been sleeping poorly (so we’ve been sleeping poorly).

However, Maya, my sister, and I did manage to paint Ukrainian pysanky this weekend. It was Maya’s first time (and it had been a while for both my sister and I) and we had a lot of fun. I’ll try to post some pictures at some point. I had hoped that my mother, aunt, and grandmother would join us, but it didn’t work out this year. Maybe next year. I would like this to become an annual tradition.

I enjoyed teaching Maya the basics, and I look forward to teaching her more of the history and symbolism behind the colors and images. It’s such a rich, ancient tradition…one of my  favorites. I always feel such a connection to those who have crafted these delicate pieces of art.

I love the entire process from conception to fruition. Pysanky are all about intention. You need to really think about what you want your egg to mean. What story you want it to tell. The patterns are ancient symbols, even the colors have meaning. My ancestors would carefully choose these symbols and colors, because the images they chose would tell a story. The story of their past, present or future. Sometimes all three.

The origin of the word pysanka is pysaty, "to write," hearkening back to a time when writing was honored as magical. Eggs were believed to hold metaphysical powers, carrying with them the energy of creation. Each painted symbol was charged with energy. Each animal, flower and geometric shape had layers of sacred meaning. To make pysanky was to cast a spell…a sacred object that held the secret wishes of its maker.

Older people were given pysanky with rich designs and dark colors, because their lives deserved the ornate patterns. They had lived those patterns. Young people’s pysanky had a lot of white and sparse designs, because their lives were still new.

Designs are written on an egg with beeswax using a kistka, a heated stylus, and then dyed. Applying wax protects the covered areas of the eggshell during the series of dye baths. In the end you are faced with a dark egg covered in wax.

It’s hard to envision what lies underneath. At that point you carefully hold the egg up to a candle flame and gently wipe away the layers of wax, revealing the pysanka. You never really know what it’s going to look like until you burn away the wax. That’s when all the parts come together, and the story is revealed.

It’s magic.

Author: Valya

Valya Dudycz Lupescu is the author of THE SILENCE OF TREES and STICKS & BONES, as well as the founding editor of CONCLAVE: A Journal of Character. Born and raised in Chicago, Valya received her degree in English at DePaul University and her MFA in Writing as part of the inaugural class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since receiving her MFA, Valya has worked as a college professor, obituary writer, content manager, internal communications specialist, co-producer of an independent feature film, and Goth cocktail waitress.

7 Comments

  1. I’m sorry to hear about Liam again with ear pain. Poor little guy. And poor mama. But I did so enjoy this story. I guess I hadn’t realized the story telling part of the egg, but you close, when you talk about wiping away the wax to understand the full story is beautiful. Much like life. Wipe away the excess whatever to find the truth. Thanks for sharing this story, and the tradition behind it.

    Hoping you and Liam both find good nap-times today.

  2. Any chance a homeless Ukrainian girl could join you guys next year??? Pysanky have always intimidated me I would love to learn.

  3. Thankfully the fever broke last night, so we all had a much-needed night of sleep. He seems to be doing much better, so thank you.

    Casting spells, uttering prayers, focusing intention…all have elements of storytelling in them. I once taught a class called the healing art of storytelling, and the research in preparation for the class was fascinating. Oftentimes, shamans and wise women used stories and storytelling as a magical tool… in healing, in ritual, in meditation. It’s fascinating to the writer and amateur anthropologist in me.

    Nice to hear from you, Holly.
    Spring blessings and many hugs to you.

  4. I think maybe next year I’ll pick a day to invite the women in my circle and any others who’d be interested to make pysanky. I’m just not sure where I could fit everybody. I’d need to set out another table.
    🙂
    Better to do it on a different day than on the day I work on them with Maya, because so much of my time s spent helping her that I don’t get a whole lot done. So, selfishly, I wouldn’t mind a day just for my sisters, plus that way I’d be free to help and explain.

    I’ll keep you posted. Remind me next year.

  5. Ever since first hearing about the pysanky and krashanka and all the folklore associated to them, I’ve wanted to learn how to do them for real, with the wax stylus and all. Came from living with a Lithuanian, likely. 🙂 I love stories like this! I think next year, you could get a group of sisters together for an egg party… 😉

  6. I think maybe next year I’ll try to do just that.
    🙂

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