The Presence of Pelehonuamea: an Invitation to Consciousness

By Zach Street, with an introduction by conference convener, Stephanie Mines.

CCC19 participant Zach Street, whose photos grace our website pages, is witnessing the ongoing eruptions from the fissures of Kīlauea on the Island of Hawaii. The volcanic haze, filled with ash and respiratory toxins, has spread across the Pacific and is descending on the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. The airborne debris is especially toxic to babies and young children whose lungs cannot filter the particles. Homes have been lost in the nearby area and sulphuric acid rains down posing a threat to everyone but especially those with respiratory vulnerability. The mixture of beauty and destruction inspires awe when you are safe enough to bear witness. Through this, we have the opportunity to learn how to protect vulnerable populations from dramatic natural events that bring significant health challenges. This will be a topic for future blogs posts.

***

As I write, the district of Puna on Hawai‘i Island is being transformed by the fiery stone rivers of Pelehonuamea, the Goddess of Fire, the inner Earth, and Transformation.

Often referred to as Tūtū Pele by the people of this land, she is more than a Goddess, she is ‘ohana.  She is family.  Tūtū is a respectful way to address an ancestor or grandparent; the title conveys both intimacy and reverence, and stems from the indigenous wisdom that the Earth and her creatures, and even her elemental forces, are indeed family.  For Hawaiians, especially those born and raised on the island she calls home, Tūtū Pele is a matriarch to honor in daily life, as well as in our creative expressions of story, song, and dance.

From my home in Hilo, I am watching the Goddess embody her own spectacular dance on the slopes of Kīlauea; though twenty miles distant, the vapors and unmistakable igneous orange glow summarize the story unfolding below.  Occasionally, the nebulous horizon of hot clouds is pierced by bright fountains of lava that, from here, appear as incandescent embers of an ancient fire.

The Puna lava flow illuminating the skies over Kapoho and Hilo, Hawai‘i.
Images by
Hollyn Johnson.

I am mesmerized by her relentless and indivisible fusion of creation and destruction, that when viewed together, can only be called Transformation. The opposing forces of her magic entwine together like DNA, the twisting helices our existence sprung from and is strung between.  We pace the tensile bridge between joy and grief, as forests burn and new land is made, as we watch the love-built homes and lush farms of friends succumb to a red river with black shores, as we witness the sacred and spectacular birth of this island that we love in all its forms.

There is so much to mourn, so much to celebrate, and when those exist in the same moment, we can only be grateful, patient, and reverent. As Hawaiian researcher Ku‘ulei Kanahele explains, when Tūtū Pele enters an area, she is residing on her land, land that is now kapu, or sacred.  The land is hers, not ours, and we must simply get out of the way.

This is an essential lesson Tūtū Pele relentlessly teaches us: this is not our Earth, and we are not in control.

Tūtū Pele transforming the East Rift Zone of Kīlauea.
Images by
Andrew Richard Hara.

Our human temptation is to resist that truth, to assert the power and preeminence of humanity in our intelligence, purpose, and worth among all beings of Earth: we are the top of the pyramid. And we have lived that way recklessly for centuries now, desecrating, toxifying, and redesigning life on earth from the summit of our self-constructed pyramid.  This triangular façade feeds the ego in such satisfying ways: Look at our power. Look at our prowess.  Look, we are not even animals anymore.

This is the way of unconsciousness; living unware of the integrated nature of all beings, believing in separateness for the purpose of justifying our specialness. Humans are indeed amazing creatures; just look at our creativity and our capacity for love. But that specialness does not come from separation. It arises from the infinite field of energy and consciousness from which our bones and souls are made.  We are possible because of all that has joined together before.  Life is a journey of becoming together, and the awareness of this unity is consciousness.

As long as we continue as a species to live unconsciously, to view the Earth and her creatures as something to own, manipulate, and overpower, then we will continue to manifest the decay of Life on Earth until the planet decides our time here is done. Climate change, extinction, and the other signals of distress blazing across our seas and sky are an invitation to shift towards consciousness. 

Tūtū Pele and her overwhelming fires assist us in accepting this invitation.  She burns down the hierarchical façades that we construct and climb and she sets us back on the stones of Earth, reminding us that we are also born from her womb. We are creatures of an interconnected sphere of transformation.

Tonight, the presence of Pelehonuamea on the eastern horizon is especially strong. The fountains of lava are easily visible to the naked eye and the red glow is reaching high into the clouds, almost touching the white radiance of the rising moon.  As my awareness embraces these elemental forces illuminating the night sky, a powerful peacefulness descends.

Places I have known and loved, places my friends called home, are now home only to Pelehonuamea, until she allows the currents of water and time to return and create a new home for residents of Earth not yet born. As I walk the bridge between joy and grief I remember that this is transformation.  This is how new life is made.

Mahalo, Tūtū Pele, for reminding us of how we are made.  Thank you, for inviting us to consciousness. Thank you, for teaching us how to be made new.

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