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    Playing With Fire

    A Journey to Pele

    by Andy Paik and Zay

    It simply wasn't a matter of choice.

    It all started with the fortune told by one of the many well-seasoned fortune tellers at Musée Méchanique. Andy handed me the coin to put in; the fortune teller looked wise and spit out a little card reading, "You are going to face a great dilemma, out of which you will rise a powerful being." A week and a half later it all became clear. I (Zay) had just registered for an environmental education conference for that weekend; Andy was planning to head down to Tempe, AZ to join the protests at the third presidential debate. Then Mount St. Helens woke up.

    On Saturday, Oct. 2nd, I (Andy) turned on the TV, and saw Mt. St. Helens was shaking and smoking. I dropped into trance, and sent my mind to the volcano, which I knew well. Mt. St. Helen's is in the heart of the closest thing I have to a native eco-system. I felt the energy welling up in the earth. Rising, ready to burst out. I remembered the energy of the cone in Madison Square Garden. I remembered the energy of the god Hurricane in Cancun. This was it, it was the energy of the revolution. As the people rise up, so shall Mother Earth.

    I knew I had to go. Just a week or so before, I had been talking about the possibility of a volcano theme, for the Free Witchcamp in Cascadia, and here it was. Cascadia was speaking in the rumbles and mists. I had to go to the mountain and do ritual there. I was in Mexico at the time, so this was quite a calling. 2 days later, I was back in LA. I got on the phone, and started calling people. Druids in the northwest. People in the Pagan Cluster. Everyone was feeling the energy. Some were already working with it, and wanting to do more.

    Andy emailed me, "There is no way whatsoever I can resist the call of an active volcano in Cascadia..." and although I tried to be rational and put job networking opportunities first, there was no way I could resist a magical road trip to the Pacific Northwest with Andy as a guide. It simply wasn't a matter of choice.

    Two days later, we met at sundown and drove late into the night, awaking at dawn at the Lava Beds National Monument. There we went into the caves left after the lava flows of the past. As we explored, we heard the echoes of Gaia speaking in the formations on the walls. A small chamber at the far end of one of the lava caves called to us; on the map it was marked "lava spring". Surrounded by the volcanic womb of the Mother, we turned off our lights and in the darkness began to invoke Pele, the Hawai'ian goddess of volcanoes. The lava had long since cooled, but hundreds of thousands of years ago she arose here and claimed the land as hers. We started in the cool darkness and searched for her heat, her passion, her power, letting it flow up into us. We sat where Her fire had flowed freely and changed all it had touched. We honored her and asked that she join us on this sacred journey. We continued to pay homage to her as we traveled north, luxuriating in her heat in a natural hot spring not far off the road somewhere in the forests of Oregon, but it wasn't until the next day that we knew beyond doubt that she was with us, and she wasn't alone.

    We slept that night at Cathedral Grove, lying in our sleeping bags inside the ring of seven old growth Douglas Firs. This is the place we have used for the Wild Spirit Gathering, a Pagan Cluster / Earth First! campout weekend for the last 2 years. When we awoke in the morning to the croak of the ravens, we felt the energy of Cascadia all around us.

    The size and abundance of the ancient trees invoked a profound sense of worship in me, more than any man-made cathedral could ever do. Andy has a longer, more intimate relationship with this forest, and as he walked through it telling me stories of past rituals and experiences, the forest welcomed him back with an abundant gift of edible mushrooms. We filled our t-shirts with boletus, chanterelle, bear's head, oyster, and shrimp mushrooms. Gaia was giving us sacred food to prepare us.

    Not to be outdone, Pele had a gift for us as well. As we returned to the clearing where we left the truck, we met a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee, heading out to do salmon surveys. "Are you here for the hot springs?" he asked us. As it turns out, less than six miles down the road were the Austin hot springs, a series of about twelve rock pools in the Clackamas River. Andy's been going to that area for several years now, and hadn't ever heard of the hot springs there. It's as if there's a glamour about the place; if you don't know to look for it, you likely won't see it. To the hot springs we went and spent the afternoon bathing in Her sacred waters. As mists swirled around us, we talked, shared what we were feeling. We let Pele's warmth envelop us, seduce us, purify us. Again we heard the Raven croak and began to realize that it was not only Pele who was with us.

    It was like the spirit of the Pacific Northwest itself, embodied by the Raven, was wooing me, showing me all its best. It knew I was looking for a home, and I was beginning to believe I had found it. Or perhaps it was Rhiannon, whom I had pledged myself to at the Summer Solstice for a year and a day, deftly leading me in the direction of my future.

    Regardless of who or what it was, as we left we felt the need to make a formal offering to express the deep gratitude we felt. We made an offering of Waters of the World (post-RNC vintage) back to the Klackamas river. It was not the first time the Waters have been offered to that river. On the way back to the truck we picked up all litter we could carry, a small act in comparison to the gratitude we felt.

    North again, to Olympia. Met my druid friend there, and talked on the phone to some Washington Pagan Cluster members. Everyone wanted to do magic, but it was hard getting people together.

    We spent the next day trying to gather people, waiting for the rain to stop, exploring Olympia, and eating the several pounds of mushrooms we had picked. We gratefully accepted the meals Gaia had planned for us, spending the morning cleaning and cooking the shrimp and oyster mushrooms to put into scrambled eggs, and later making two chanterelle pizzas. Despite being Washington's capital, Olympia's not much larger than Ithaca. We went to the farmer's market and partook of the apple harvest and drooled over the inexpensive fresh fish. Afterwards we went in search of apple cider, not sold at the market, ending up driving out to a farm.

    It finally felt like fall to me - leaves changing, cool temperatures, apple harvests, and pumpkins. A double rainbow appeared, so close I could actually see the end of it. If I had any doubts about moving there should I get the job I applied for, they were dispelled by that rainbow. I had struck gold.

    We took Andy's Goddess-daughter to a local natural area called Mima Mounds. Science hasn't yet figured out what caused the 10' ñ 20' mounds that filled the prairie by the hundreds. Our theory is that they're fairy mounds. We let our Sticky Ones have free reign and played a simple form of hide-and-seek with Natalia (she's three) amongst the mounds, making coyote and bird sounds and spending a lot of time giggling. In the midst of our hilarity, two ravens flew over, sharing our mirth, and a coyote laughed in the distance.

    Finally, on Sunday, Oct. 10th, 8 days after I first heard the call, those of us who could went to the mountain. We had learned to hear Her speaking in the lava caves, purified ourselves in Her cleansing hot springs, taken Her food into our bodies, and we were ready.

    After Her initial rumblings and shakings, the mountain was quiet. Several days before, the volcano alert level had been reduced from 3 (eruption eminent) back to 2 (some activity). Scientists were starting to say the show was over and it might never blow.

    The day before the mountain had been enveloped in low-hanging clouds; we hoped for better weather. We were rewarded for our journey with a gorgeous view of the mountain, occasionally hidden by clouds but with the mountain and its steam plume from the small eruptions visible at key moments. She was beautiful. Her ridge was long, and covered in a blanket of snow. At the nearest point, a plume of steam rose up from the activity. From where we sat on a nearby hill just outside the exclusion zone, She looked like a natural train, unstoppable, powerfully rolling into the future.

    The energy was everywhere. Unstable, welling up, building. Sometimes the earth shook with small earthquakes. We made an altar in Her honor, covered in small treasures. We called the elements. We called to the volcano, by Her many names. Loowit, Mt St. Helens, Pele, and others. We called to that Spirit of Fire, that Spirit of Revolution. We invoked Nephthys, the Queen of Staves in Zay's tarot deck, symbolizing fire, eruption, and revolution. And we brought that fire of revolution into ourselves with a large shot of Tequila Revolucion that Andy brought back from Mexico with him. Oh, it burned!

    Then I told the story She had given me 7 years before, in southern Washington, at the first base camp I ever set up. I had been digging the pit toilet when I came to a black layer about 5 inches down. The same layer was found when I dug the fire pit. After much thought, I realized the layer was ash from when Mt. St. Helens had blown before.

    The story I got then was about how the eruption, terrible as it was, saved the forest from the clearcutting that Weyerhauser was doing on Mt St. Helens. By destroying that forest, a new one could grow back in its place. If you look at the mountain now, the areas that had trees at the time of the 1980 eruption have grown back much better than the areas that had been clearcut.

    Standing on the mountain now, I knew why She had given me the story back then. I told the story and new images flooded though us. A new fire, the fire of revolution, would rise up. Rise up from the people, rise up from the Earth. And while there will be some turmoil, it will allow a new world to grow in the place of the old. We called to that Fire, or it called to us. I'm not sure which. It was like making love to Pele, to the Earth. Coaxing forth the energies of revolution, of change. Images filled our head. Lava rising up. People rising up. Things are changing... The Earth will live and grow, like the forested areas after the first eruption and not be sterilized, like the clearcut areas.

    We thanked the mountain, we thanked the Earth. While we were calling the Fire, Raven flew overhead, and Coyote was heard howling in the distance, so we thanked them too. They had been good company on our travels. And then we made the long trip home. Back to the Bay Area, back to LA.

    But not home for long. The morning after I got back from Mt. St. Helens, I left for Phoenix for the protest for the 3rd presidential debate. I was driving in my truck, wondering what our magic had accomplished. Would Phoenix be one of the early rumblings of the eruption of the revolution? I turned on the radio, NPR news. "Yesterday, scientists at Mt. St. Helens began to see signs of a surge of lava rising to the surface of the volcano." About 24 hours after our ritual, lava had risen up where it wasn't before.

    And that lava and power and change is still rising and people are feeling it. At the Spiral Dance in San Francisco three weeks later, the first thing we saw as we passed between the veils was the glowing volcano in the south, the altar to Pele, to her ability to manifest powerful change. We again asked the volcano to manifest our wishes, as did the thousand other people there.

    Magic works. With our actions, and with our spells, change is happening and the Revolution is welling up, like the new lava dome in Mt. St. Helens. In some ways, the mountain could be interpreted as a revolution diagnostic tool. At the moment, it's erupting quietly. Not making the news anymore, but instigating change nonetheless. Building itself up. When it erupts, we'll know it's time to raise hell. Even the USGS seems to think so, if you read their volcano alerts:

    "We expect fluctuations in the level of unrest to continue during coming days. Escalation in the degree of unrest could occur suddenly or with very little warning."

    Andy and Zay are Pagan Cluster Witches who like nothing more than to travel to cool places and work the magic of change...

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