The Cup: Receive, Nurture, Seek

Who would we be without the cup?  It’s hard to imagine. The cup form is as old as humanity itself.  When we were living in caves…maybe even before we had fire, we had the Cup. Human life has been documented to have begun as many as 2.6 million years ago, during the Paleolithic Era (or Old Stone Age).  In those early times, animal horns and concave rocks served as cups, and later they were woven of leaves and twigs, and carved from wood and bone.

The potters wheel is believed to have been invented around 4500 BC.  The cup was one of the first forms to be turned on a potters wheel. A “rather advanced, decorated clay mug  found in Sardis Greece dates to 4000-5000 BCE.” (

Turning a cup on the wheel today is done in much the same way as when our ancient ancestors did.

After going through the steps we’ve detailed in previous blogs, i.e. weighing, wedging, centering, grounding and opening, we’re ready to create a cup. The cup is made by gently lifting a volcano shaped lump of clay up towards you, while gently pushing in and downward.  Even the very early cups, like the one found in Sardis, Greece, often had handles.  The handles are pulled out of a lump of clay, and allowed to dry to a medium state called ‘leather hard’. The handle is then attached to the cup by scoring both surfaces, and applying a clay ‘glue’…moist recycled clay called slip.


The very early cups, turned on those original potters wheels, the cups that were preserved over aeons and have been recovered, were likely used for ritual purposes by religious and secular leaders. They were likely considered too special for mundane use.

Perhaps the archetype, the ultimate symbol of the ritual cup is shaped in the manner of the one known to us as the Holy Grail.

Dan Brown, author of the DaVinci Code, is far from being the only writer to suggest that the Holy Grail is a metaphor for the Feminine.  Brown connected Jesus and The Holy Grail (the cup used at the Last Supper) with  Mary Magdalene (possibly His wife) and the girl child she may have been carrying in her womb when she may have fled to the South of France after His crucifixion.

The very shape of the grail cup is representative of womanhood.  As women, we are open to receive – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  We are the vessel that accepts, protects, nourishes and ultimately brings forth new life that we accept, nurture and protect.

For centuries the quintessential gift to welcome a new child was a cup.  Matrimonial rituals often have involved the double handled ‘loving cup’. A cup is also given to reward victory in athletic and academic contests. The cup is a vessel that contains the liquids that nourish and comfort, stimulate and relax and medicate us from our first sips of milk as toddlers through our last sips of water at the end of life.  It is what allows us to offer and receive refreshment, comfort, and healing.

The cup has not only long been a container of nourishment though, but also of the special elixirs that ease our  access to the world of Spirit. Shamans, Priestesses and Seers have long prepared brews that have been siped by those who wish to see more than is taken in by everyday vision; to access ‘the spirit worlds’.

“We are cups constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”  Ray Bradbury

“As early as 9,000 years ago, long before the invention of the wheel, inhabitants of the Neolithic village Jiahu in China were brewing a type of mead with an alcohol content of 10 percent, [archaeologist] McGovern discovered recently.  McGovern analyzed clay shards found during excavations in China’s Yellow River Valley at his Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.  The bearded archaeologist is recognized around the world as an expert when it comes to identifying traces of alcoholic drinks on prehistoric finds. He ran so-called liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry on the clay remnants from Asia and found traces of tartaric acid — one of the main acids present in wine — and beeswax in the shards’ pores. It appears that prehistoric humans in China combined fruit and honey into an intoxicating brew.” (Der Spiegel)

When we cup our hands and dip them in a mountain stream, when we turn the clay on a potters wheel and create a cup, when we sip our tea from a mug that emerged from a craftsman’s hands, when we sip the ritual wine, we connect with our ancient, essential selves. We invite you feel this connection when you join us for an evening at our Clay Cafes!

To fulfill ourselves as Human Beings, we need more than physical nourishment. We need the experience of creating useful and beautiful forms. We need to offer comfort to others and to receive validation in return.  We need to know our boundaries as well as how to transcend them!  Explore these possibilities at one of our upcoming Empowerment Workshops!

“Without culture and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.” Albert Camus
We are approaching the time of year that connects us with the experience of salvation and rebirth. Various religious traditions mark the season. As Mother Nature re-awakens (soon please!) we feel the call to renew our Spirits.  Explore the possibilities for comfort and renewal available to you at Clay Alchemy from the Voice of Clay!  Enjoy a cup with us!

shannon Burke