Nov 30, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

Rare Double Volcano Eruption in Hawaii - Is Goddess Pele Mad about Stolen Pebbles Again?

It is not a good sign when the world’s largest active volcano erupts for the first time in nearly 40 years. It is a worse sign when it erupts at the same time as a neighboring volcano a mere lava stone’s throw away is erupting at the very same time. These events are happening in Hawaii right now … which makes the situation even worse – it means Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, is mad because someone is stealing rocks again. How many rocks must tourists steal to cause simultaneous eruptions? Are these two blasts related? Could they trigger even more?

A past eruption of Mauna Loa

“The eruption of Mauna Loa has migrated from the summit to the Northeast Rift Zone where fissures are feeding several lava flows. HVO staff on an overflight at approximately 6:30 a.m. HST confirmed fissures at high elevations within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park are feeding lava flows upslope of the Mauna Loa Weather Observatory. Lava flows are not threatening any downslope communities and all indications are that the eruption will remain in the Northeast Rift Zone. Volcanic gas and possibly fine ash and Pele's Hair may be carried downwind.”

Pele’s hair! Now she’ll really be mad! Actually, that notice from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory of the U.S. Geological Survey office is referring to strands of lava glass which the locals call Pele’s hair. Mauna Loa erupted for the first time since 1984 on November 27th. While that event is monumental enough, the sky was already filled with smoke and soot from Kilauea, which has been erupting for more than a year just 21 miles away. A dual eruption is extremely rare, yet it was also active back in 1984 during  Mauna Loa’s last active period. Since the mid-19th century, Mauna Loa’s Northeast Rift Zone has erupted eight times: in 1843, 1852, 1855–1856, 1880–1881, 1899, 1935–1936, 1942, and 1984. Those events have current observers cautiously concerned.

“Based on past events, the early stages of a Mauna Loa eruption can be very dynamic and the location and advance of lava flows can change rapidly. If the eruption remains in Moku’āweoweo, lava flows will most likely be confined within the caldera walls. However, if the eruptive vents migrate outside its walls, lava flows may move rapidly downslope.”

While no evacuations have been ordered, the FAA is monitoring the air quality and VOG (volcanic smog) and stands ready to close nearby airports. Kilauea is a smaller volcano, and its eruption is currently confined to its crater. Both volcanoes are of the magmatic eruption type, which are said to be the ‘calmest’ of volcanoes – meaning their danger comes from lava flows rather than explosive eruptions. Because they are both magmatic, located just 21 miles from each other, and active at the same time, many are wondering if they are linked … a scary thought. The USGS has an answer.

“There is no definitive evidence that an eruption at one volcano can trigger an eruption at a volcano that’s hundreds of kilometers/miles away or on a different continent. There are a few historic examples of simultaneous eruptions from volcanoes (or volcanic vents) located within about 10 kilometers (6 miles) of each other, but it's difficult to determine whether one eruption caused the other.”

That doesn’t sound good, but the USGA then gets specific about Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

“However, not all nearby volcanoes show this behavior. Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano is located on the flank of Mauna Loa volcano, so the two are only 33 kilometers (20 miles) apart, yet those two volcanoes have distinctly different magma reservoirs. Despite their proximity, an eruption at one does not appear to trigger an eruption at the other.”

That is good news geologically … but what about mythologically? Could these simultaneous eruptions be the work of an angry goddess of fire and volcanoes?

I am the god of hell fire, and I bring you!

Fire, I'll take you to burn.

Fire, I'll take you to learn.

I'll see you burn!

(“Fire’ by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown)

Anyone and everyone who visits Hawaii is warned about the curses of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes and fire and mythical creator of the Hawaiian Islands. The most well-known punishments are inflicted upon those who take lava rocks from one of her volcanoes. The post offices on the islands are swamped with boxes of rocks sent back by apologetic and fearful former tourists who experienced bad luck events they attributed to the wrath of Pele. However, this is more of a personal curse from the goddess. Volcanic eruptions are attributed to her many failed relationships with lovers and strained relations with her family – for normal humans, this can cause feuds … for gods and goddesses, it can cause volcanoes.

Pele was said to have a temper, which may be due in part to having seven brothers and as many as 13 sisters – all of whom had the same name. One legend has her father Kane Milohai (the creator of the sky, earth and upper heavens) sending her away because of her temper and for seducing the husband of one of her sisters. The conniving, cheating, marriage-breaker ended up on the Hawaiian Islands where her tales of her lovers, infidelities and feuds continued in local folklore. Another legend has her arriving at Hawaii in a canoe, surviving an attack by her sister and escaping to Oahu where she dug fire pits that became volcanoes. However, the legend that may be most relevant to the current volcanoes has Pele being torn apart by her sister and becoming a god, moving to Mauna Kea and digging her final fire pit -- the Halemaumau Crater at the summit of Kilauea where many believe she still lives today. Pele’s believers say the frequent eruptions on Kilauea are Pele’s reminders that she is alive and still has a temper.

A past eruption of Kilauea

Haven’t we learned not to mess with the goddess of hellfire who wants to see her enemies burn and learn like in Arthur Brown’s song? Seismologists have – they warn that while Kilauea’s current eruption is small, its month-long lava releases in 2018 destroyed more than 700 homes and cause evacuations. At Mauna Loa, earthquake activity has increased from five to 10 earthquakes a day since June 2022 to some 10 to 20 earthquakes a day in July and August, then reaching more than 100 earthquakes a day between September 23 and September 29. As a result, parts of the Mauna Loa summit are closed to hikers. Hawaii’s National Guard is on standby and the state Emergency Management Agency has activated its emergency operations center. Finally, the park issued a statement on its website about Pele.

“While an eruption is an exciting experience, keep in mind you are observing a sacred event. Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcano are wahi kapu (sacred landscapes) surrounded with storied places.”

Welcome to the crazy world of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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