Welcome to Season 5 Episode 4 we are going to discuss the formation of hydrocarbons. Because of their impact on our climate the conversations around hydrocarbons are (rightly) focused on their extraction and impacts from use. However, an important part of the equation is their formation and understanding what they are and where they come from.
An important part of connecting with the world around us comes from understanding where our everyday items come from. General knowledge typically includes wood, metals, and ceramics, but materials like plastics and the fuel that runs our lives are not as well known.
Because the processes that form hydrocarbons are linked to sedimentary processes (the first rock type we are covering) I thought it was important to talk about them on their own.
So do our cars run on dinosaurs?
What are hydrocarbons? Simply put hydrocarbons are molecules made of carbon and hydrogen atoms. There are a variety of different hydrocarbons that are classified by the number of carbon atoms per molecule. Some of these might even be familiar names 1 methane 2 ethane 3 propane 4 butane 5 pentane 6 hexane 7 heptane 8 octane 9 nonane 10 decane 11 undercane 12 dodcane
When hydrocarbon compounds are burned the carbon is released in the form of carbon dioxide when the released carbon bonds with oxygen.
Formation : The vast majority of hydrocarbons are either in the form of crude oil, petroleum, coal, or natural gas. To explore the differences in depositional environments we are going to talk about coal and petroleum.
Coal Coal starts its life in a swamp.
The plant life as it dies builds up within the swamp under the water in an environment low on oxygen. As long as the accumulation of plant material is greater than the decomposition rate, peat can form. Peat is the first step in the formation of coal.
Peat has historically also been an important material in the use of making heat and for cooking. Peat is often cut and dried before use as it can still contain some water content
As the material is subjected to increased pressure and temperature the peat losses its water and begins the transformation to coal. Coal is graded by the amount of metamorphism it has undergone.
The lowest quality is called lignite. Of the types of coal it has the least concentration of carbon at 60-70% and the highest moisture content. It is also called “brown coal” and currently is generally burned for electricity.
Subbituminous coal is coal that has undergone more metamorphism and the pressure and heat has driven off more of the oxygen and hydrogen in the coal giving it a higher carbon content of 71-77 %. It is black but not shiny and is also generally used in electricity generation.
Bituminous coal is the most abundant and is about 50% of the coal production in the US it has a carbon content between 77-87% and is a black and shiny coal but if you look closely you can still see some layering in the rock.
The highest quality coal is anthracite coal. It is hard, brittle, black and shiney. It is considered to be a metamorphic rock and has a carbon content over 87%.
Petroleum For the coal we were in a swamp. For petroleum the water gets deeper and we are now in a shallow sea.
In these seas lived a variety of organisms. As they die they sink down in the water leaving a layer on the ocean bottom. So just like in the case of coal these layers build up over time except in this situation it is these tiny organisms living in the water column building up over time. Much like with coal there is a lack of oxygen in this environment. Once the layer is covered with sediment and begins to compress it transforms into a substance called kerogen.
Kerogen is the precursor to oil and gas. With increased pressure and temperature the kerogen can undergo a process called catagenesis which is just the way of saying like the metamorphism of coal the kerogen undergoes changes to become a hydrocarbon. This process usually occurs at up to 1 km depth.
As the material undergoes further changes continue and take a significant amount of time. There are reactions that occur and change the kerogen into one of two classes, one with a low hydrogen to carbon ratio, and one to a high hydrogen to carbon ratio.
The formation of oil from kerogen occurs within a specific temperature window. Too cool and it stays as kerogen and too hot and it converts to natural gas.
Where are the major deposits Because of the specific conditions needed for the formation they do not occur everywhere. In terms of oil there are large deposits that are currently being extracted in the middle east, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, the United States and Canada, Russia, the North Sea, China, Australia, and some areas of Africa.
With smaller fields in places like SE Asia and New Zealand. Like we covered there are very specific conditions needed to form these deposits and specific conditions for them to accumulate in an economically and minable deposit.
Coal exists on every continent but the largest coal reserves are in the US, Russia, China, Australia and India.
“Crystals” Historically hydrocarbons have not only been used for burning and energy. There are two varieties that you might recognize from the crystal world. These are Shugnite and Jet.
Shungite gets its name from the village of Shuga in Krelia, Russia. The carbon content can have a wide range from 5-80% and is generally divided into low, medium, and high carbon shugnite.
The name was first used in 1879. It is a type of pyrobitumen and is formed through the polymerization of petroleum over geologic time analogous to the way tree resin turned to amber.
Although originally found and described in Russia there are also deposits described in Austria, India, DRC, and Kazakhstan.
Jet is a type of lignite coal. Remember that this is the lowest grade of coal. The name of get is thought to come from an ancient town of Gagae in modern day Turkey. Several ancient authors mention the stone of gagates that was able to drive away serpents and several other uses. Jet can be soft or hard and that is the main two forms of jet.
Jet has a long history of being used by humans including by the Romans for jewelry. In the medieval period in the west Jet was dominantly used for religious items like crosses and rosary beads. It became very fashionable to have jet jewelry again in the Victorian era.
Call for questions for Extraction Now that you know how hydrocarbons form we need to talk about their extraction. With a degree in geology I do know a number of people working in the extraction industry.
One of my soap boxes is NIMBYism. Not In My Back Yard. It is important to now how things CAN be extracted because the most responsible way is usually more expensive and when we push extraction out of our backyards it moves to someone else’s where there may be little to no safety or environmental protection.
Now we are seeing an uptick in “crystals” being sold in a variety of places outside of metaphysical and rock shops. So I developed a rating system for the information provided to see if you can be an informed consumer with the information provided. It is a 0-10 scale with the potential for more than 10 points for exceptionally well described specimens. I have also made an instagram dedicated to examples and education.
There are three main categories: Name, source/Location information, Treatment. There is an additional price and care information category plus various positive and negative points.
Name 0-3 points
0 obscure or new crystal name
1 common crystal name
2 common or generic mineral name (ex: feldspar)
3 correct mineral name (ex: oligoclase)
-1 wrong name (mineral/crystal name mismatch)
-1 wrong name for sample
-1 says crystal, is a rock ex: granite crystal
-1 – -5 stupid crystal name
-3 not a mineral, rock, or crystal but labeled as such
Source 0-3 points
0 no source information
2 region and country
3 mine, (region, country)
+1 if how they acquired it (ex: from rock show, wholesale etc)
-1 obvious lies
-5 “ethical” with no source information
Treatment 0-3 points
0 no information obviously has some treatment (carved)
1 obviously treated and has some information but maybe misleading
2 some treatment information (ex: carved, tumbled)
3 mentions treatment or not and is correct to sample, or has detailed treatment ex: electroplated with gold
-1 obviously carved and not mentioned
-2 obviously carved and sold as natural crystal
Misc. 1 point
+1 any care information (ex: keep out of direct sunlight)
+1 reasonable price
-1 – -5 for over priced
-1 – -5 for needs some sort of warning and no information
Other various points:
-5 health claims like cures cancer
+1 for mineralogic information like crystal system
+1 for chemical composition
+1 for total mineral description including hardness etc.
+1 for name of mine, and type of mining (ex: secondary, primary)
Send your examples in! The plan is to celebrate and shout out the excellent labeling, but not to name and shame ones that need work. There isn’t a movement for this type of information YET in the crystal industry. We are finally moving towards talking about ethics so lets start getting some improvement and transparency on the labels!
Welcome to Season 5 Episode 3 where we talk about some of the ways the ocean can make rocks and minerals.
You can listen to the show here:
I have been looking at different ways to get transcripts but I haven’t found a good solution for me yet. So in lieu of a full transcript here are some notes and the images promised.
The Ocean The ocean covers 70% of the surface area of the earth and is 96.5% water, 2.5% salts, and the rest is dissolved inorganic and organic materials and particulates. Sea level at any location is a dance between the volume of water in the ocean and tectonic uplift and down-dropping of the coast.
Evaporation This is one of the major ways that the ocean makes rocks. Compounds like salts concentrate in areas where a body of ocean water gets cut off. This can be through sea level change, tectonic changes, or man made intervention. As the water evaporates the concentration of salts and compounds increases until they start to crystalize out and form large deposits. The two maid evaporate minerals are Halite (Salt) and Gypsum. Table salt is mined from these deposits and sea salt is salt that was formed by modern evaporation methods.
Spontaneous Precipitation This is my favorite way the ocean makes rocks. Like the compounds that generate the minerals halite and gypsum, the compounds that form the calcium carbonate that make up Limestone come from dissolved compounds. In this case something will trigger a spontaneous crystallization of calcite or aragonite which will rain down to the sea floor. Over time this calcareous mud becomes limestone.
Biogenic Much like limestone, Chert is formed by things slowly dropping out of the water column. In this case chert is a siliceous material meaning it is made with silica. Chert is made from the hard parts of diatoms, silicoflagellates, and radiolarians which are algae and protozoa. As they die their skeletons build up in the deep ocean over time and form chert in large areas or small patches within other deposits. Another rock that forms this way is Chalk but this forms from plankton with calcite shells and skeletons.
Anthropogenic In collaboration with the ocean, humans also make stones. The most obvious of this is Sea Glass which is the end product of human trash (glass from various sources) being introduced to the sea and worked in the shallow environment. Another anthropogenic material is the newly discovered Plastic rocks which are starting to form in beach environments. This is likely due to the increasing concentration of plastics and microplastics in the oceans.
If you have any questions or comments you can leave a comment here, on the social media posts or through email.
First off. Glass IS NOT A CRYSTAL by definition. Ok? Got that? Good. Now for the long read.
Sometimes friends send me things and it sends me down a rabbit hole. In this case a friend in Hawaii sent a reel on Instagram of glass that was being marketed as “Monoatomic Andara Crystals“. Don, host of Head on Fire podcast, a friend and author of Dabblers Guide to Witchcraft also fell into the rabbit hole and called the seller. $700 for a hunk of glass? Are you KIDDING ME!?
So let’s talk about this. I am not going to link to the original post because I am not a fan of attacking people, just educating. But we are going to go through some of what they said about these. When asked, they said that these were “Monoatomic Andara Crystals” and were made from “monoatomic metallic elements” and then listed some of the ways natural glass is formed through “volcanic activity, meteor strike or any high heat producing natural phenomena”, and that the main difference from normal glasses is the presence of “monatomic elements” within the glass. They also kindly listed those elements. I will talk about that list in the section on monatomic elements.
Next they cited a website for their information, so I WILL tear that one apart. Hello Life Treasures Kauai what fresh bullshit science words in a blender do you have for me?
“Monatomic Andara crystals are like an obsidian glass material made up of monatomic metallic elements that were heated to high temperatures either by volcanism, meteor strike or other heat producing phenomena. Monatomic metallic elements are powder-like in form and transmute to glass under high heat, similar to obsidian. It is their foundation of monatomic metallic elements that differentiate them from all other types of crystals, volcanic/natural glass, as well as man-made glass.”
*Takes a deep breath*
What is glass?
Well maybe we should start with what exactly is glass anyways? “(…) glass, an inorganic solid material that is usually transparent or translucent as well as hard, brittle, and impervious to the natural elements. Glass has been made into practical and decorative objects since ancient times, and it is still very important in applications as disparate as building construction, housewares, and telecommunications. It is made by cooling molten ingredients such as silica sand with sufficient rapidity to prevent the formation of visible crystals.” Britannica
Ok that is the standard definition of glass. What about natural glasses?
A natural glass is an inorganic solid material lacking in crystals (noncrystalline) formed usually through volcanic activity (obsidian) or through melting of host rock during an impact (tektites). In both of these glass types the material is totally melted and cooled so fast nothing has time to form a crystal or regular lattice with the elements bonding with a set structure. There are some other less common types of natural glass called fulgurite, also called “fossilized lightning”, which is formed when lightning hits the ground and the heat melts the material around it. Remember that movie Sweet Home Alabama? There is also edeowie glass from the Australian state of South Australia with several different proposed ways it formed: Pleistocene grassland fires, lightning strikes, impacts by one or several asteroids or comets.
Natural vs man-made
So we know how natural glasses are formed. Volcanos: magma that cools so fast crystals of minerals don’t have time to form (obsidian), impacts: when an asteroid or comet hits the planet and the impact melts the host rock, and sometimes sends it up into the atmosphere (tektites), and sometimes lightning melting the ground where it strikes or very intense grassland fires.
So how do we as humans make glass?
Humans have a rich history in making and using glass. We as humans have been making and using glass for well over 3,000 years. Pliny the Elder suggested that the first glass was made in Syria around 5,000 BCE, however, according to the archaeological record, our first recorded man made glass was from Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3,500 BCE.
Early glass was a difficult product to make and the original glass furnaces were small. However by the 1st century BC in Syria we have evidence for a glass blowing pipe, which you might be familiar with in modern glass making. Early man-made glasses were formed into beads and, as the technology progressed, manufactured into containers and windows. Glass was popular in the Roman empire and throughout Europe and has remained popular to this day.
Glass has been and continues to be made with silica rich sand mixed with soda ash and lime. It is heated to extreme temperatures until all the materials melt together, and then allowed to cool. When it is hot and liquid it can be molded and shaped and additives can be introduced which will change the color of the final product.
Slag glass is the excess and waste glass from glass production sold by the TON (907 kg or 2,000 lbs) for $100-$300, usually for decorative purposes. So even a 1 lbs piece of slag glass is worth at most .20 USD. It is also commonly dumped. Sometimes it has bubbles in it, and the color depends on the production. Waste glass used for hand blown glass can sometimes also be called cullet glass. Slag is also a term used for waste from metallurgy processes.
Just like we have a long history of making glass, we also have a long history of making slag glass. In fact, I came across a listing for Roman slag glass, which it turns out is quite a collectors item. However, this is going to be sold with its provenance, and not as a “healing crystal”
Slag itself, while being a waste product, can be beautiful and purchased labeled correctly. For example
Monoatomic what now?
Ok. Let’s dig into the misused science gobbledygook. Monoatomic means “one atom” and is used to refer to elements that can be stable as a single atom. In order to be stable they need a full stable valence shell of electrons. If that doesn’t make sense to you, I’m really sorry, you need a whole lot of chemistry to understand that definition. But let’s make it simple
Monoatomic elements are elements that are happy to exist as just one atom and don’t need to be bonded to anything else to be stable.
Ok so what are the monoatomic elements? Mostly noble gasses: helium (He) neon (Ne) argon (Ar) krypton (Kr) xenon (Xe) radon (Rn) oganesson (Og)
The vast majority of elements do not exhibit monatomic behavior. This includes the elements listed by the original post: gold, silver, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, copper, iridium, palladium, osmium, cobalt and nickel. Note that the list I provided above are the ONLY monatomic elements. There is no such thing as a “monatomic metallic element”. These metals are cool but not monatomic, at best they can exist as elemental solids, which means a material made of one element. Materials that are made of only one element are also called homonuclear, homo meaning same, and nuclear for the nucleus. However, you can’t really have a mononuclear glass in the traditional sense of glass, you would just have silicon, a shiny, brittle, metallic solid/ metalloid, and not a glass at all.
All of this to say you can’t have a monoatomic glass; those words don’t make sense together. You can have a glass that you melt and incorporate an element like gold or silver but in the end you just have a glass colored with gold or silver. The elements cited can occur in elemental form (homonuclear) but are NOT monoatomic.
Modern Glass scams / Glass in the “crystal” industry
So what is this scam? Andara Crystals are not a thing. If you have been sold one and are trying to resell, it’s basically a worthless piece of colored glass. This scam started with someone taking slag, or waste glass, from a dump in California and rebranding it. It has been a noted scam since at least 2013. [edit found another post from 2010]
This scam is rearing its ugly head again as “healing crystals” are becoming big business. They are sold with jumbled meaningless scientific words and pseudoscientific bullshit language. Why are people falling for this? Why does anyone buy “healing crystals” they have never heard of before? They want the new thing. They want to get in on a trend so they can say they were there first. FOMO. And overall they want a shortcut to solve any problems in their life.
Rocks are great. I love rocks. Glass is cool. I like glass. Knowingly taking a waste product like slag, rebranding, and selling it for hundreds of dollars a pound when it is almost worthless is unacceptable. Falling for a scam is not. If you have fallen for this scam, I am sorry, you have some (hopefully) pretty glass. Make friends with your pretty glass but don’t deny it for what it is. Hey, some slag IS valuable… if it is historic.
Andara crystals are also far from the only glass based scam in the “Crystal” industry. You are going to hate me, but Goldstone is glass. It is super pretty, but it is man made glass. It’s not a modern invention, the manufacturing process was invented in seventeenth-century Venice. Which means it has some history. But again not a crystal, just glass.
Smelt quartz is another one that is formed in a similar way. Glass is generally made from a source that has small quartz grains (silica rich sand), and smelt quartz is formed by melting quartz and adding something for coloring. These are generally sold in a shape reminiscent of quartz (a pointed tower), but remember, real quartz crystals NEVER come to a perfect point.
Reconstituted quartz is again quartz that is melted and formed into a shape. Usually this is used for “crystal balls”. These are formed through melting and shaping rather than carving from a larger piece.
Before we move on from this I just wanted to quote something from the Kauai Treasures website
“The only restriction Andara crystals have is the limits to your imagination on it’s uses”
This may be the only statement I actually agree with. You are only limited by yourself. So go get any old glass or rock or pebble and save your money.
Quartz vs glass?
I just wanted to add a quick note here on how to test if something is glass vs quartz. Rock Crystal is a form of clear quartz that can appear like glass. If you are even confused as to what you have, there is a simple test: use the hardness.
Glass typically has a hardness of 5, where quartz has a hardness of 7. Take your mystery material and an old glass bottle or piece of glass you don’t mind scratching and try to scratch it. If it scratches the glass, its harder than 5 (might be quartz). You can also take your mystery object and try to scratch it, but you don’t always want to destroy it or scratch it.
If quartz is ground up and melted and reshaped and cooled it will have lost its natural crystalline lattice and lose its hardness. Natural quartz or lab grown quartz with the crystal lattice will be hardness 7, melted and cooled will be 5.
Just remember Glass: ~5 Quartz: ~7
Maybe this is recycling?
Yes, glass slag is visually interesting and pleasing. I have some glass slag I found myself. However, while this is repurposing “waste,” where it becomes a scam is the price point. Remember this is a waste product, it is not worth hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Even if it was “Charged” by the person selling it, you need to ask yourself how much would an empty glass bottle “charged” by the same person be worth to you, as the item itself has very little to no value.
Suggestions and alternatives
I’m not a fan of reading something with no suggestions. So here are some suggestions
Like glass? Buy your own! Want something natural? Have you tried sea glass? This is also waste glass, but this has been tumbled and smoothed by water, usually salt water. It can come in all sorts of colors depending on the source of glass (some are from waste dumps from glass factories). I am a huge fan of sea glass and I have jars and jars of it. Sometimes I dump out the jars and refill them. It can come in all sorts of colors and shapes. If you find something too rough just throw it back in the natural tumbler. The ocean has always had a special and calming presence in my life and having a piece of sea glass in my hand always brings me peace.
Make your own! I did an interview on Witches and Wine and we talked about tektites and I suggested making your own. I am serious. You can melt your own glass and (while being safe) add things to it. There are lots of glass art how-tos, guides, and starting kits around. (this is the first one that popped up for me) Making your own you can “charge” it yourself for exactly what you need. Then you have something special that you made yourself for yourself.
If you like the look and feel of the slag, why not get in contact with some local glass artists in your area? They probably have some slag you can just have. Or you can work with them to make you something special or purchase some of their art. It doesn’t have to be “healing glass,” it can be glass that was lovingly formed into something pleasing to look at.
Take a workshop and work with glass. I did a quick search and found some local glass art workshops in my area. You can make something with some supervision and also be in contact with a source for slag if you like the look of it. This will also get you in contact with local artists in your area. You may discover a love for blowing glass and working with it, or making stained glass art. Either way it will likely be cheaper than a big hunk of “Monoatomic Andara Crystal” and you might even make some new friends.
What can we learn?
There is often a very negative connotation given to “man made” or “lab grown” in the crystal industry. I think something like slag glass being passed off as amazing crystals and people swearing by them can teach us something important. Often it is not the actual material that is the most important. Man made can be just as good as natural, and you don’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money. Unless you do, and that is part of what makes you feel like it works. Brains are funny things and we have things like confirmation bias, sunk cost, and placebo. If you want to read more about these sorts of things I highly recommend my friend’s book: Dablers Guide to Witchcraft.
At the end of the day, you don’t need to spend a fortune, and crystals aren’t a shortcut anyways; they are just tools. Tools are all around you, and a lot of the time it’s more meaningful to collect your own sea glass, pebbles, rocks, or make your own. Lots of people in the crystal industry are trying to separate you from your money with cheap goods that are dressed up and marked up. Be careful out there.
THANK YOU! Special thanks to Don Martin, and Nicholas Pearson for discussion and pushing me towards writing this. Special shoutout to Nicholas Pearson for his deep knowledge of the types of scams within the crystal industry. Thank you Lyndzie for sending the original post to me. And twitter users @Dr_mz13 and @SaltClear for helping check the chemistry terms.
Welcome back to Borealis Meditation and welcome to season 5! You can listen to the episode here:
Transcript Available here: (work in progress check back soon)
In this episode we talk about the eruption in Tonga on Jan. 15th of Hunga volcano. This eruption was spectacular and in this episode I go over the eruption but also some context in terms of how we monitor volcanoes and tsunami early warning systems.
I have some extra reading for this episode I will put at the end of this post. Also I am working on having transcripts for all my episodes this season. They may take a little time to come out and will definitely be a learning curve but I am working on making my content more accessible.
Please remember to like and share episodes so others can find them. If you want to support my work I have a Patreon and Ko-fi (current goal is for a fancy paid service to help with the transcripts because you all covered my hosting costs already!)
Further reading: NASA post on the eruption: HERE Global Volcanism Program page for the volcano: HERE (You can read weekly updates on each volcano that has activity) NOAA Post on this eruption and the future of tsunami research: HERE An update on the undersea cable situation: HERE
We are back! Sporadic but back! Listen to the season introduction here:
Some of the business in the episode: – Discord: you just need to email, DM, Tweet… ask. – Patreon: if you want to support the podcast
Other information that wasn’t in the intro. I am working on making my podcast more accessible and available in different platforms. I am working on adding transcripts. These will take a bit of time depending on the length of the episode but will be available starting this season and working backwards. The Patreon has a goal to support paying for a service to help with this aspect of the behind the scenes work on the podcast. I am a one woman show and all of this takes time.
My epic new music is composed by Mystery Arc and is based on my old intro music.
Looking forward to this season and can’t wait for everyone to read and/or read it!
Vulcano is Awake. Does that name sound vaguely familiar? Vulcano, an island and volcano in Italy is where we get the name “volcano”. It is also the traditional home of the God Hephaestus in the Greek pantheon and Vulcan in the Roman pantheon.
In volcanology we often name phenomena and processes after a “type volcano”. Hawaii has given its name to a whole style of eruption along with the name of several flow types and other phenomena. Vulcanian eruptions are named for the style of eruption common at Vulcano, just as Stromboli is the type location for Strombolian eruptions. Plinian eruptions are named for Pliny the Elder a famous intelectual from Rome whose death in the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius outside of Pompeii was importazlied by his nephew Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Elder is in fact a common source for information on the use and thinking of crystals in the Roman world.
But back to Vulcano. (Volcano specific information provided by the GVP see Resources at the end of the post 1.)
Vulcano is an island and volcano and one of Italy’s Aeolian islands north of the east coast of Sicily. It is in between Mt Etna on Sicily and Stromboli, another island just to its north.
The island itself is made up of several overlapping volcanic features including the two main eruption centers Caldera del Piano (to the SE) and the current center of activity Caldera della Fossa (NW). The island is 136,000 years old and the volcanism has migrated north over time. Vulcanello is a low lava platform that wasn’t connected to the main island until around 1550 CE and was therefore a separate island in the Classical Era.
The last known eruption of Vulcano was in the late 1890s and took place at the La Fossa cone. There are numerous historical eruptions known from the historical record as well as from the rock record previous to that eruption. Since then the only activity recorded in the GVP was in the 1980s and 90s and consists of small earthquake swarms on the island and changes in the intensity, temperature, and composition of the gasses escaping via the fumaroles on the island.
Current activity and unrest on the island began in July 2021.
Let’s take a moment to define that term “unrest”. It basically means a deviation from background levels of activity. Some volcanoes always have some earthquakes and degassing, and others don’t. What is considered unrest at a volcano is specific to that volcano. It basically just means the volcano is doing something different than its normal. So any change in any number of monitored types of activity is considered unrest. Unrest CAN lead to an eruption but it doesn’t always. The activity in the 80s and 90s was unrest but then nothing happened. So we will have to wait and see what this episode of unrest brings.
Since July 2021 the monitoring agency has noted an increase in the temperature of the gasses escaping the volcano at the crater as well as a change in the composition of the gasses. This particular change in gas composition is one that is often linked to the presence of magma in the system. The temperature has increased to 340°C (644°F) and the area where gasses are escaping has increased. In September there was an increase in very small earthquakes (ones that can’t be felt) at the summit as well. Due to all of this the authorities responsible for the volcano closed the summit area on 14 October and there have been some evacuations and reports of animals dying from gases that had made their way into one of the villages on the island.
In an article posted on November 20, 2021 the level of toxic gasses was at an unprecedented level and the civil defense raised the alert level from yellow to orange. There was also talk about evacuating a further 250 inhabitants. The situation has started to rapidly evolve. (4) In a quote from the regional president Musumeci in the article on VolcanoDiscovery (5) he said that “the continued increase in toxic gas emissions recorded by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in recent days requires the adoption of urgent precautions in order to protect public and private safety, close monitoring of the volcanic phenomena, access restrictions to endangered areas, and the possible evacuation of the population from their homes.” He added that “the government is close to the community and committed to working with the mayor and all other national structures in dealing with the emergency”.
This island is more than the home to the volcano that gave volcanoes their name. It is also traditionally the home of a God. Italian volcanos I find fascinating because they are seen as the “home of” someone rather than an entity on their own (common in more animistic mythos). Italy has a “big four” of volcanoes: Stromboli, Etna, Vesuvius, and Vulcan. Of these, Vulcan is the only one with no eruption in the 20th century onward. Stromboli and Etna are constantly vying for attention and Vesuvius last erupted during WWII. However, it is still Vulcano that is the home to Hephaestus/Vulcan. I thought it would therefore be interesting to take a look at some of the mythology surrounding this island.
Hephaestus is the Olympian god of fire, smiths, craftsmen, metalworking, stonemasonry and sculpture with Vulcan often cited as his Roman counterpart. To me it makes sense that a God of smithing would be associated with volcanoes but I also wanted to talk to some actual blacksmiths about this as well. (6)
According to the theoi.com (6) article on Hephaestus his association with volcanoes comes later in history as the Greeks tended to associate volcanic activity with the Gigante-sons of Gaia instead. It was through his association with the Roman volcano-god Adranus-Volcanus that we get the association with the island of Vulcano. In fact he was originally associated with the Greek island of Lemnos. Later he was associated with the neighboring volcano of Etna on the island of Sicily where his workshop was believed to be located. Etna is also thought to be the prison of Typhoeus (and the activity is thought to be related to the great monster moving and trying to escape). The Vulcano association seems to have happened in the late Roman era when the Romans were culturally integrating the Greek mythic history with attributes of local Gods like Vulcan being associated with Hephastus whose stories would have been told by the Greek settlers on Sicily. So if we were to separate out the two Vulcan has his forge at Vulcano, and Hephaestus seems to have moved around and could be at either volcano (Etna or Vulcao).
However, that is the common association today and is in fact pretty widely known among volcanologists as well. The current myth-understanding is that Vulcano is the forge for Hephaestus/Vulcan.
I spoke with Traci (MythicalMagpie) who is a practitioner who works with Hephaestus in her practice. She was drawn to working with him as a creator, not especially as a smith (although she is interested in trying it). “There was something about […] that he was imperfect. And in his imperfection, he had the strength where he could entrap even the mighty Gods themselves. “ We also spoke about the current activity at the volcano and she said that it got her thinking about what that could have meant to our predecessors. Then we got distracted by this idea of “what is he making”? We looked at the temperature of the gasses coming off the volcano and started looking up melting temperatures of metals.
I also reached out to several smiths. I personally didn’t know any and was interested to hear what they thought.
In chatting with Chris H. of the youtube channel Blood Sweat and Steel we discovered an interesting similarity between volcanoes and forges. I often use the phrase “volcanoes have a personality” to describe how we generally know how volcanoes work but each one really is its own individual. He said forges are similar in that each one has its own personality you have to learn when you start working with it. We ended up speaking about a thead similar to what Traci said drew her to work with Hapheastus. When we were talking about raw materials he said “You’d be amazed at how boring [looking] very valuable things come from.” He also pointed out that while we may have this image in our head of what a forge looks like, those tend to be the older forges and modern forges look “Very disappointing” if that is what you are assuming. I guess that can go hand in hand with volcanoes too. You may picture a nice conical mountain but very rarely are they that perfect, and some are so low angle they just look like lumps or a hill.
I also spoke with Kedrik, who specifically is a goldsmith (winterwolfritualis). He had a traditional master apprentice path into smithing and was also a member of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). He described being in the forge as “Hot, dirty, and gritty. The smithy is a place where earth and fire meet. We organize it and structure it so we can navigate but it is truly a place where a person can plant their feet in the earth and their hands in the flames of creation. There’s a real sense of power but also purpose. And in front of that forge you feel the flame that fuels the relationship.” Which to me sounds a lot like working on volcanoes. When I am working near the summit of a volcano usually there is little to no vegetation and in the tropics that means it is hot and sweaty work. Usually there is still ash on the ground that can easily get kicked up, also making it gritty work. He also sees the symmetry between volcanoes and forge as a place of creation stating “ […] I can see that as the volcano is the vent of the heat that allows life and creation on this planet, and after reading some of Bruce Damer’s work suggesting life came from volcanic vents and hot springs, I can appreciate the parallel of each as a cradle of creation.”
So as this volcano is waking up it may continue towards an eruption or it may just be some heat moving through the system. Hephaestus/Vulcan might just be firing up his forge and getting ready to make something in the crucible of heat that is his forge in a volcano.
I wanted to end with a thought about the importance of place. I asked Traci if it mattered that while the idea that Hepheastus makes his forge at Vulcano is a more modern idea. She said it didn’t bother her that much which volcano it was. “I think there is a part of me that thinks that, […] his home Forge is sacred. This is where a guy goes to find safety, to find purpose, to do the thing that they were created to do. And, and to me, that’s sacred. […] For you know, ancient Greeks it just must have been so incredibly humbling [to see an eruption]. And so the fact that it may or may not have been him himself versus his home, it would still be just as inspiring and humbling to be present.”
I will be keeping an eye on this volcano and updating as more information is available. If you want to keep an eye on the volcano there are two webcams
Thank you to everyone I spoke to for this little project. I wish I could put everything we talked about in here but this is just a blog post. Thank you also to Cory of New World Witchery for peer reviewing the mythology for me and translation help from an amazing Italian volcanologist and friend.
Global Volcanism Program, 2021. Report on Vulcano (Italy). In: Sennert, S K (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 13 October-19 October 2021. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey. https://volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=211050
Bonadonna C, Frischknecht C, Menoni S, Romerio F, Gregg C E, Rosi M, Biass S, Asgary A, Pistolesi M, Guobadia D, Gattuso A, Ricciardi A and Cristiani C 2021 Integrating hazard, exposure, vulnerability and resilience for risk and emergency management in a volcanic context: the ADVISE model Journal of Applied Volcanology 10 7 https://link.springer.com/epdf/10.1186/s13617-021-00108-5
Vulcano, ora è stato di emergenza per gas tossici. “La situazione è inedita”, cresce l’allerta sull’isola, newsicillia.it https://newsicilia.it/messina/cronaca/vulcano-ora-e-stato-di-emergenza-per-gas-tossici-la-situazione-e-inedita-cresce-lallerta-sullisola/729395
I shared this on a Discord server I am on and wanted to share with you. Pebbles like the ones on the left have a distinctive white line running through them. These veins are formed when cracks on the host rock are filled with fluids that deposit minerals into these cracks. This deposition over time builds up into the veins we see now.
See these cracks once they become veins have been strengthened. Sometimes they are more resistant to weather than the rest of the rock entirely and when you run your fingers over them you can feel that they are raised. The host rock breaks on different weaknesses and is rolled and tumbled by water into what we see.
What was once a weakness, a crack, has become a strength. It is the deposition of the quartz that turns that crack into a strong vein.
I have been feeling riddled with cracks lately. Honestly, I am trying my best to just get to the end of 2021. I know to survive long term I need to find a way to turn some of these cracks into veins and not breaking points. So I am trying to find that thing that will help me out of this hole I am in. I am trying to find the quartz I can fill the cracks with.
We can find profound messages from even the most humble pebble we find on the beach, or even in the gravel used in landscaping. We just have to think about its past. You don’t need fancy crystals to solve your problems. In fact they won’t. You solve your problems and you can use the most basic simple tools around you, or the most elaborate and expensive. It is up to you. I for one will simply keep a pebble with a quartz vein in my pocket as daily inspiration.