In February I visited the Big Island of Hawaii and was awestruck by the volcanoes and lava fields. A few weeks ago I spent a few days reinventing the story of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcano, as an exercise to reinterpret my story and relationship with my mother-in-law. When I finished writing, I was told the Kilauea volcano, legendary home to Pele, had been erupting that whole week!
Once Upon an Anger
When Pele became her family, Namaka lost her home as she knew it. Pele, young goddess of fire who was unaware of her own power, flung a spark that landed on Namaka’s face. Namaka, goddess of water, was the older, most powerful, most respected and feared in the family. Insulted, she almost drowned Pele in her fury.
That was how Pele too lost her home, the one she dreamed of having.
The rest of the family coaxed Pele to calm down and learn from her mistake. Alone, wounded and hopeless, it seemed that if Pele was to live happily at all, there was only one way: Namaka’s way. Strong-willed and guilt-ridden Pele took a bucket of the ocean and poured it over her head. Whenever she felt feisty, she’d drench herself with another bucket.
But it didn’t work for long. Pele started to notice smoke escaping her nostrils. She felt lava behind her eyes. She feared what might happen if she opened her mouth.
One day finally Pele slipped. She gave her true opinion on something. If this was a happy and a healthy family, she should be allowed to express herself too. Namaka, though kind and generous in her ways, could not stand being challenged. When Pele’s little flame snaked its way towards her, she met it with a wave. Not a gentle wave of her hand, but an ocean’s wave. Pele shook in her anger and burst into flame. She pushed right up against Namaka’s water wall. Namaka sweated in Pele’s heat. Pele pulled away, frightened by her own uncontrollable temper.
Pele ran to a small cliff. She stood there, shaking. How odd for the world to seem so quiet while on the inside she burned like a planet on fire. The rocks began to melt under her feet. Lava trickled down the cliff like the blood from her forehead. She closed her eyes to go inside. She had tried so hard to kill her fire, and now she was more powerful than she knew. She didn’t know that every effort to put out her fire was energy that fed her fire. All the anger, hurt and self-denial was energy that fed her fire.
For the first time ever, Pele was glad that she still had the fire in her. She had never felt safer and freer to learn that nobody, least of all herself, had the power to extinguish her.
Instead of returning to her family, Pele walked. When she came upon a clearing, she melted the ground into a large crater and climbed in. Family can come as they wish. She can go to them as she wishes. But this will be her home within the home. Inside the Kilauea volcano, Pele can be as powerful as she wants.