The Use of Religious Symbols (Saki, The Easter Egg)

The symbols of our religious festivals aren’t as innocent as we’d like them to be. Recently the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg exhibited the works by Yuri Khrzhanovsky, a Russian artist. One of the paintings was “The Ode to Joy”, which depicts two extraterrestrial characters, one of whom is playing a guitar. If you look closer at the image, you’ll see that the guitar is made of a Cross and a Wreath. The Cross is also repeated in the painting itself, and the picture has been criticised by one of the museum’s researchers as “the ode to blasphemy”. I suppose here in the West the story of “blasphemous” Christian images that had some grains of truth in them is age-old, and one only has to remember the immortal saying by John Lennon, that Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Bearing in mind the present crisis in religious mores, he couldn’t be more right, even if it came at a cost at the time.

Speaking of Easter Eggs, they were an inspiration to some, like Peter Carl Fabergé. There is a Wikipedia article about the awesome Easter Eggs he produced for the Russian Imperial Family, with information about almost all of them. Many of the eggs are now on display at the Kremlin Armoury, and if you’re planning a visit to Russia, absolutely include a trip there (consider the Kremlin as the Russian analogue to the Tower, especially because there is also a Diamond Fund, which only rivals the British Royal Jewellery Collection at the White Tower).

But Saki painted a rather gruesome story in The Easter Egg, which you can read in full if you follow the link. In the story the egg was used to carry out a terrorist attack, and it certainly reads as a rather humorous story, thanks to Saki’s style.

“It was distinctly hard lines for Lady Barbara, who came of good fighting stock, and was one of the bravest women of her generation, that her son should be so undisguisedly a coward. Whatever good qualities Lester Slaggby may have possessed, and he was in some respects charming, courage could certainly never he imputed to him. As a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully thought-out basis. He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical proportion of lifebelts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the neck. Lady Barbara no longer pretended not to see her son’s prevailing weakness, with her usual courage she faced the knowledge of it squarely, and, mother-like, loved him none the less.”

It all changed on the day when the Easter Egg was to be presented:

“The next moment Lester was running, running faster than any of those present had ever seen a man run, and–he was not running away. For that stray fraction of his life some unwonted impulse beset him, some hint of the stock he came from, and he ran unflinchingly towards danger. He stooped and clutched at the Easter egg as one tries to scoop up the ball in Rugby football.”

So, a Cross for a guitar, and an Easter Egg for a terrorist attack. Not that we thought that religion was all about peace, did we?

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