April 23, 2013

Kiln Gods

My ceramics teacher told us about kiln gods.  They are little figures made from clay that people place atop the kiln, to watch over firings and bless them with their luck.  They often are shaped like idols to pagan gods, but they do not need to be.  Usually, they are little animals or people.  No one, nowadays, actually believes that they protect the kiln.  They're seen merely as a way to bring life to a space, a nice touch.  But our kiln had none.  So, my teacher asked us each to make one.

But, I did not want to craft an idol.  I knew that that is not really what they are; no one, here at least, believes they hold the spirits of gods.  But they are the echoes of idols made for that purpose.  Whether we will it or not, every action is a connection to something, and what we are connecting to matters.  And I knew I did not want to connect to the worship of idols, since I am Jewish, and my religion's founding purpose was to disconnect from idols and connect instead to our One God.  So, what would I do?  I could simply not make one; move on to a different project.  But we are taught: Al tifrosh min hatzibur.  Do not separate yourself from the community.  I did not want to separate, but I did not want to partake.  So I thought.  What could I make?  I remembered, then, that my teacher had said that a kiln god did not need to be a creature; she had seen one once that was a tablet, with writing. Could I not then, create something like this?  With a prayer to the real, One, true God on it?  So, that is what I did.  I rolled out the clay, inscribed it, and bent it so it flowed.

This is the prayer that I wrote:

'ברוך אתה ה
אלקנו מלך העולם
הוא יצרנו ככילים מן
החומר, נא לשמור לנו על
,משעושים פה מן החומר
ונא לברך את היצירותנו
,פה ובכל חיינו, וגם אותנו
.היצירותנו שלך. אמן

Blessed are You, God
 our God who is the ruler of the Universe
The one who created us, like vessels, from
clay, please guard for us
what we are making here from the clay,
and please bless our creations
here and in all our lives, and us as well,
who are Your creations.  Amen.

 It sits among the kiln gods, but it is not of them.


  1. Beautiful tablet and beautiful words! also, a really powerful image of navigating the tension between following the principles of Judaism and being part of the larger tzibur. That is a thoughtful and creative solution.

    1. Thanks! I admit that my interpretation of "al tifrosh min ha tzibur" isn't the traditional one (I'm pretty sure it's usually interpreted just to refer to the Jewish community), but I thought it spoke to this situation, too, since my ceramics class is a community and I felt pulled to participate.