Lessons from a Ghoul
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
It was my first Raku experience. Raku is a really dynamic and ancient pottery technique originating from Japan that involves handling red hot pottery, intentionally letting them catch fire, then smothering the fire so the oxygen-starved fire draws oxygen and minerals from the clay - creating unpredictable, yet beautiful swirls of colours.
It's a raw process, that felt powerful. I wanted a sculpture that was just as raw and powerful to mark this new opportunity.
An intense and angry form began to emerge from my clay. I felt the turmoil building in my stomach. I needed to move closer to the emotion, so blasted angry music (some were past suggestions from folks I have worked with). This Ghoul quickly emerged, bringing with him all sorts of thoughts about anger, and snarls. Some people are really uncomfortable with anger - maybe their own anger scares them that they are like the people that hurt them. Some people are only comfortable with their anger - maybe they are continually compelled to "fight" for their safety, perhaps even snarling at others as a warning. It took me a full 2-weeks to finally calm down my own turmoil Ghoul evoked to that point, and I grew to care deeply for him - knowing that he was in pain and needed empathy and connection.
After a couple of weeks of worrying about Ghoul getting through the drying (possibility of cracking) and bisque-firing process (possibility of explosion), it was time for Ghoul to face the final process of Raku firing. I found myself pacing, knowing that Ghoul was facing intense fires that will transform him. This was his trauma - he was trapped, going through hell, maybe he thought he was going to die. Was he scared? Did he know I was here, pacing, sending him my caring energy, waiting for him to emerge? I kind of wished I was alone to focus on all that I was feeling (there were 10 of us doing this Raku workshop). I had to trust the process that he was going to survive.
I pulled him out of the kiln myself (pretty intense!). I got him safely to the post-firing reduction container (a roasting pan, filled with dry pine needles and ferns). There he lit a beautiful fire, that was quickly smothered, drawing all his internal resources to the forefront - his beautiful inner strength and resiliency.
Once the fires finished their work, and he had time to cool off, I gently washed the soot from his face, and took a good look at the new and improved Ghoul. The traumas he endured were terrifying, but he is a new version that he never would have been without them.
Even on a chemical level: he was originally rock - a long time ago. Water turned that rock to clay. In that clay state, he emerged with this new form. Now he is back to a new state of rock. Stronger, and so very beautiful.
I find it interesting that he isn't so scary looking now. Maybe because he faced the traumas? Maybe he has softened some of this anger? Maybe he's more at peace with his anger? I'm not sure, but I do know that he is less snarly.
Thank you for teaching me so much, Ghoul. I truly love you.