Craig’s description of his experience watching a Japanese steel-maker at work reminded me of a potter firing clay pots, a true artist who goes without sleep for three days while the steel is being fired in the forge, in a crucible that must be fed with sand from a small trowel like a living being. The crucible itself would crack and begin to fall apart under the strain of the heat and the master would carefully go about binding it with twine to hold it together, or let it crack in places where his deep experience told him it didn’t matter to the process. The molten mass of steel, after the period of gestation is called a “bloom” and is released from its crucible womb by tearing the container apart to reveal the glowing spongy mass of new steel.
Then the master would quench the bloom and break it to pieces, and when it had cooled, he would sort out the bits and nodules into classifications — steel of highest quality for swords, steel of mediocre quality for other iron tools, and the bits that would be thrown back into the furnace again and re-melted.
There is an image of the judgment of God there for me. Not a white-bearded judge sitting on a kingly throne, supreme absolute monarch of the universe, but instead an old craftsman with the wisdom of long experience, examining each soul to see if it had the right properties to be forged into a work of art, something more ordinary, or if it was of such low grade as to need to go back to the crucible and be melted down again.
The specific imagery of the Final Judgment that he uses here will likely resonate more with my Christian readers, but the correspondence of craft-work and soul-work is one that speaks to me at the deepest levels – and blacksmithing, I think, holds the greatest correspondences of all the crafts. From formless mass of raw material to finished work of art that can endure, with care, forever – surely this is the journey of the soul. And as the shaping of iron or steel would be impossible without the help and presence of the Gods – Gaea who provides the ore from her own substance, Prometheus who gave us the fire, and Hephaistos who teaches us the smallest measure of His own skill – so too is the forging of our souls in relationship with the Shining Ones. May it be ever so.