The Vase: Feeding The Soul

“If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft, And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,

Sell one and from the dole, Buy Hyacinths to feed thy soul”– Muslihuddin Sadi, 13th C. Persian poet

“If thou of fortune be bereft, and in thy store there be but left two loaves, sell one, and with the dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.” – John Greenleaf Whittier, 19th C. New England poet

When we consider the forms into which we shape the clay pieces called pottery, we tend to think of practicality. Mugs, bowls, plates, pitchers, teapots, casserole dishes, no matter how beautifully they have been formed were made with the intention that they hold food or liquid to sustain our bodies. The vase is different.

When we reach the lifting stage, and we intend to form a vase, we are making a piece for the sole purpose of containing nature’s beauty – we are choosing to feed not the body, but the soul!


How often in our daily lives do we choose to feed our soul? What does this even look like? How do we do this and why would we? And, dare we even ask…what is a soul?

From the dictionary: Soul – 1) the rational, emotional and volitional faculties of man, conceived of as forming an entity as distinct from the body 2) the divine principle of life in man Also, as the source of fervor, morality, vitality, animation or inspiration; or, as a synonym for a living person.

From the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions: According to Hebrew Scriptures, God was said to breathe the soul into the body of Adam. The soul was understood as the guest of the body during the body’s earthly life (LevR 34-3) and Human Beings protect the purity of their souls by walking the way of Torah (B.Nid 31a). Philosophers such as Solomon who were influenced by the dualism of Plato taught the immortality of the soul imprisoned in a body – Kabbalists, that the soul was a divine entity that evolved downward to enter the body. Reform Judaism asserted that ‘the soul of man is immortal…’.

Different from Plato, Aristotle ‘saw only the endurance of a kind of supra-individual group soul’.Early Christians equated ‘soul’ with ‘psyche’ and believed that it must be committed to, andsurrendered completely to God. Thomas Aquinas saw the ’individual immortality of the soul’, and felt that ‘ensoulment was bestowed by God on the human embryo at the point in its development when a relationship with God became possible. Of course that opens a whole currently political can of worms!

Celtic Christianity, which long resisted much of the Roman Church, extends the concept of soul into contemporary lives by emphasizing the importance of ‘anamchara’, or the soul-friend, who provides us with a sort of spiritual buoyancy.

More modern spiritual philosophers often conflate the terms ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’, while still supporting the premise that it/they are both our unique and universal ‘God-ness’.

Society sometimes identifies its darkest criminals as ‘soul-less’ beings. Literature often describes people who have committed acts of evil as having ‘soul-less eyes’. Conversely, we say that the eyes are the windows of the soul. We speak of long soulful looks. While we don’t necessarily know what our soul is, we do recognize when it’s missing!

“Eyes as dark as her heart and as empty as her soul” – Shayna Rodriguez.

An eighth-grader, a Waldorf school student, after visiting a prestigious private high school that she had expressed interest in attending, decided that she could never go there, because it ‘had no soul’. Unlike the educational environment that she had known, this school lacked curves and arches in its architecture, colorful walls and soft surfaces, and art not only displayed, but interwoven into every aspect of the curriculum.

No matter how we might strive to define or understand it, our soul is ultimately that part of us that has its own life and needs above and beyond water and food, shelter and clothing, exercise and education. It is basic survival that fulfills the needs of the physical body, yet we have always longed for beauty. The earliest known cave dwellers decorated their rock walls and their bodies. They draped themselves in jewelry fashioned from nature’s beautiful objects, and they styled and adorned their clothing and their hunting and cooking implements as well.From the earliest times, through Native American, early Asian, African and European societies there was a blurring of lines between function and beauty. Our forebears had an intrinsic awareness of the need to feed both body and soul.

“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter – often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter – in the eye.” ― Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

At some point in cultural development there was a shift. The beginning of the division of society into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, was also the beginning of the ownership of beauty by the ‘haves’, and the descent by others into a stark existence. The Industrial Revolution deepened this.

Some, like our Afro-American sisters and brothers, have managed, even under the direst circumstances, to maintain the needs of the soul. In 1903 W.E.B. Du Bois wrote what has become a classic work, The Souls of Black Folk. In it he explores the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of people’s souls, as well as those ‘soul’ feelings that intimately bind people together. He weaves the sacred and the secular, thus providing its reader with a ‘soulful’expression of the ideals of the African American soul that has survived slavery and other ongoing forms of oppression. ‘Soul food’, named for the deep comfort it provides, Spirituals and other ‘soul music’, evoke and express feelings of both suffering and connection to one another and the ancestors – of experiences shared over generations of denial and struggle to have their very soul-ness recognized – of holding dignity and beauty.

“Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barruers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end just like them, with the same problems, the same questions” – Paul Coelho

Those of us who have lost a connection to our ethnic roots have much to learn from those who have maintained it. We must make a conscious and concerted effort to value and incorporate beauty into our daily lives, and thus to feed our souls. Some of these ways are easy and free to all.

“Whwe I admire the wonders of a sunrise or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator” – Maharma Gandhi

“Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul” – Democritus

“My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness” – Michelangelo

Other means require our consciousness and perseverance. We must keep our bodies and our minds strong and healthy to best contain the beauty of our soul. We must also be vigilant in not allowing ourselves to fall into discouragement and self-pity when life throws obstacles and challenges our way. When we seek out the community of others who are committed tocultivating Soul, we are simultaneously supporting and being supported…encouraging and being encouraged… lifting and being lifted…loving and being loved.

“Character connot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and sucsess achieived” – Helen Keller

“Don’t gain the world and lose your soul; wisdom is better than silver or gold” – Bob Marley

While we live in this material world, we must hold ourselves responsible for the possibility that we are actually spiritual entities practicing at being human! We at Clay Alchemy from the Voice of Clay are here to support and be inspired by you. Join us. Make a vase, take a class, comealong on a retreat. Celebrate yourself and the ways in which you contain and embody beauty!

“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul” – Luther Burbank

shannon Burke