Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pele is Alive and Well

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Every day an hour before sunset, hundreds of people congregate at the lookout behind the Jaggar Museum to watch the gray smoke from the Halema'uma'u crater turn a fiery red.  When the sky darkens, the reflection of the lava lake lights up the sky.
I'm going to borrow the words to describe this event from the brilliant Mark Twain, who visited the Kilauea caldera in the 1860's and wrote about it in Roughing It:

A colossal column of cloud towered to a great height in the air immediately above the crater, and the outer swell of every one of its vast folds was dyed with a rich crimson luster, which was subdued to a pale rose tint in the depressions between.  It glowed like a muffled torch and stretched upward to a dizzy height toward the zenith.  I thought it just possible that its like had not been seen since the children of Israel wandered on their long march through the desert so many centuries ago over a path illuminated by the mysterious "pillar of fire".  And I was sure that I now had a vivid conception of what the majestic "pillar of fire" was like, which almost amounted to a revelation.
Stay in Hawaii long enough and the goddess Pelehonuamea will make even the most cynical of atheists start to believe again. She did me!  I need no one to twist my arm.  This lady hop scotched over the Sandwich islands, leaving her footprints behind, before she settled deep inside Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii.  Natives paid homage to Pele for centuries and today, she is still proving to us that she is alive and well.  She rules.  And there's nothing we mortals can do about it.

Here we still are in 2014, paying homage to her--oohing and aahing at her power and beauty. Yeah, yeah, science can explain the volcanic action.  Inside the museum there are maps and charts of eruptions, lava flows and chemical content of the gases.  I ignored them all.  My eyes were drawn to the fiery explosion outside.  I felt saddened our pagan gods have disappeared because their mysteries have all been solved.  Maybe that's why we now cling to a vague monotheistic god that lives somewhere beyond the universe.  He (or she) is beyond the reach of science,

I, for one, am bringing Pele back to life.  After all, she is the goddess of fire and volcanoes, and volcanoes are at the very root of Earth's origin.  She seemed pleased by my decision.  Her glow followed me all the way home.

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