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swapping kiln god stories about the porcelain god

updated thu 28 apr 05


Martie (AKA the Kiln Priestess) on tue 26 apr 05


I too wish that I had taken pictures of some of the interesting kiln gods
that I have seen adorning kilns. I think that kiln gods do look more outstanding
on big rugged looking gas or wood kilns, but a little kiln niche near an
electric kiln can be fun too.

My kiln guardians are pretty fancy sculptures that are meant to be gallery
pieces, although I have made some smaller pieces that I have not shown on my web
site. Many years ago I got caught up with the notion that if I could somehow
transform myself into a living kiln god that perhaps I would have a better
chance at controlling the inferno inside a raging kiln. That's how I got the idea
to create my alter ego the "Kiln Priestess." I was taking a photography class
at this time, and so I began creating photographs of the Kiln Priestess.
After that I wrote a creation myth about kiln gods (a fun very short tale about
how kiln gods came to be). It took me many years of making different types of
sculptural forms before I felt ready to make a serious kiln god sculpture. Also,
the content about my work had to develop to the point where I could create a
body of work with multiple levels of meaning.

I have been actively researching kiln god stories for about the last 7 years.
I have a pretty good collection of myths from China, including one story
about Feng Huo Hsien, or the Genius of the Fire Blast, that comes from Jingdezhen,
China. Interestingly enough, I had heard this story sometime in my past and
it is the story that motivated me to become fascinated by kiln lore in the
first place. I cannot remember who told the story to me, or where I heard it.
Maybe I heard it in bits and pieces from several people. I really don't recall.
Anyway, the story is a tale about a benevolent potter who honorably sacrificed
himself in the flames of a ceramic kiln in order to save the emperor's huge
ceramic vessels from firing imperfections and in turn his fellow craftsmen from
an unjust punishment, which they would have surely suffered, because the
emperor's command for the production of the massive porcelain water jars was a task
that was technically impossible to carry out.

This is also the same story that can be found in Ronald Larsen's book A
Potter's Companion, 1993. However, that story by Lafcadio Hearn entitled "The
Porcelain God," was not known by Hearn to be more than just a Chinese myth that he
had read about and elaborated on when he first published his story in 1911.
From my research I know where Hearn read the story and I know that he had no
idea that this myth is about a man named T'ung Bun who is reported to have been a
real person, and the same figure that is believed to have been deified as
Feng Huo Hsien. The thing is, the myth that I had once originally heard in a kiln
yard a long time ago, turned out to be more than a legend--this story is the
basis behind religious worship practices in Jingdezhen, China.

I think that Hearn's brilliant telling of the story of the porcelain kiln god
has greatly contributed to kiln god mythology in the United States. There
are, of course, many other contributing factors. I don't mean to give anyone the
impression that my simplified discussion of the story of the porcelain god, or
Feng Huo Hsien, is complete here.

Karen, as you can tell, I really enjoy kiln god stories. Thank you for
sharing your experiences. I will keep adding more information to the Clayart
discussion when I have the time.

Martie (AKA the Kiln Priestess)