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
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