According to an ancient pagan folk tale, the world’s evil exists in the form of a monster bound by a chain. But old Ukrainian tradition teaches that ornate decorated eggs, called pysanky, have the power to hold back the beast.
The more pysanky people create, the more strongly the chain holds the monster, Lori Spearman told a group gathered Saturday at the Casper Recreation Center. If no one made them, she said, the monster would run free through the world. People still create pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter Eggs, today.
“Each pysanka is a link in the chain to hold the evil back,” Lori Spearman said to a group. “So you’re creating positive vibes when you make the pysanky.”
The recreation coordinator told the story to a class gathered Saturday to learn how to create pysanky. Then she lit candles and showed them how to heat the end of the metal writing tool called a kistka in the flame to pick out bits of beeswax and apply it to their eggs.
Spearman taught them to start with dying their eggs in lighter colors and moving to darker shades. First, they applied the wax to areas they wanted to stay white. Then they dipped a color, drew more designs and repeated the process for yellow and increasingly darker colors.
She led them through a geometric pattern for their first egg, then turned them loose to create their own designs inspired by examples of traditional patterns or just their own imaginations. As the class finished their eggs, she painted on a coat of varnish and set them in a drying rack.
The class is offered about once a year at the recreation center, where Spearman has taught the class for more than 20 years.
She’s been hooked on the art since taking a Casper College class to learn more about pysanky for a senior citizen craft class she’d taught. Now she teaches it at the center and decorates the eggs at home.
On Saturday, Spearman told the group that the pysanky has long represented springtime and rebirth. Symbolism imbued the colors and patterns, and the decorated eggs were gifts for occasions like weddings. People buried them in fields for good crop harvests. When Christianity came into play, the images on the eggs took on significance for the religion, Spearman said.
She warned the class not to get too attached to their eggs, a few of them inevitably break. Saturday’s class was no different, with one splattering by Alicia Pearce’s chair.
Unlike Easter eggs familiar to Saturday’s participants, pysanky are painted raw. The inside can be removed later, but they’re often left as is. The yolks eventually will dry, she told them. If the eggs break before then, they’ll leave a small, pungent mess — but the smell is confined to a small area and not that bad, she added.
Pearce and her 8-year-old twins Ashley and Katlyn set to work tracing wax over the pencil marks of a basic geometric pattern on their eggs. Then they rested their eggs in jars of vivid dye, and repeated the process to layer colors.
For Pearce, the session was a chance to spend time with her two sisters and their children.
“We don’t get to get together and do things all the time, so that’s nice,” Pearce said. “We never make enough time to do fun things.”
The twins’ cousin, Mackenzie Moore, 13, and her mother, Elizabeth Moore, both painted designs with crosses.
Serri Smith and Renee Jordan-Smith also enjoyed spending the time together, they said. Jordan-Smith considered sending a pysanka to her older daughter in college in Virginia. Serri wasn’t sure what she’d do with her eggs; it depended on how they turned out, she said.
“I can see how good it could be once you get some practice,” Jordan-Smith said.
After the waxing and dying, participants held their eggs over the candle flames and wiped off the melted wax. That’s when they could really see their designs for the first time.
“It’s like opening a present when you’re all done,” Spearman said.