Teachings on Anger from Pele


The active Kilauea volcano at Hōnaunau National park on Puna of the Big Island of Hawaii has created over 20 new fissures this month for lava to flow up and out of. Which brings forth a starring role for Pele, the spirit of the Kilauea volcano. She is known as the Goddess of fire, lightning and wind. Pele is considered “akua” which is a sacred and elemental earth spirit.

Kilauea sits on top of a hot spot that keeps the lava consistently flowing. In other volcanic activity, lava flows at the point of a shifted plate boundary. Tectonic plates pull apart as they slowly move and this internal shift changes the density of the earth’s mantle allowing space for molten rock to rise and then melt. What we see on the surface of the earth, this outpouring of molten lava, is first initiated deeper in the earth’s core. The internal heat and pressure rise up & finds its way out, laying new ground & turning the course of anything in its way.

It seems that when we look to science we seem to understand that heat and pressure will eventually built up and forcefully combust, though we are still finding place for that conversation to be had when it comes to the importance of communicative expression of feelings and emotions.

When we feel, we emote and release the energy of the feeling. Joy turns to laugher, Sadness resolves with tears and  Anger, to an increase in energy, loudening of the voice and quickening of body movements. Anger is the emotional equivalent to the volcano. I think we may be able to understand anger better through three teachings of Pele, who is revered for her passionate temperament and transformative powers.

The first teaching from Pele: Everybody feels anger. The Hawaiian islands have been slowly moving North of the hot spot, and Big island is the island that currently sits over the hot spot right now. In  just a few hundred thousand years from now, a new island will be situated over the hot spot and the Big island will be calm, non- active and not angry anymore.

This metaphor is a reminder that anger comes at specific times when boundaries are crossed (literally and figuratively), it expresses itself and then it passes. Anger is part of the navigation system for growth and change and a healthy part of defining boundaries for self-identity.

The second teaching from Pele: If you’re on a hot spot & feeling heated, keep your expression flowing and as clear as possible. In another volcanic example, Mt. Vesuvius erupted in Italy in 79 AD and buried the cities of Pompeii & Herculaneum, killing over 1,000 people. The difference with this type of volcanic expression is that Vesuvius had a lot of water in it, and the steam mixed with the lava created an explosion. Pele however, doesn’t have a lot of water, she’s pure, consistent, flowing lava.

In this metaphor, the water represents a sea of emotions that have been floating around, unexpressed, perhaps even unconscious. The more we ignore and then layer our feelings, the more likely it is that we will blow up under pressure. Conversely, the purer our emotions, the more likely that we can express them in a clear and safe manner.

The third teaching from Pele:  Accept & revere the power of your anger. The natives & locals on Hawaii are devotional to Pele. They understand her as an omniscient force and recognize that her fire has been an integral part of developing the Islands they live on & love. Her presence is a constant and isn’t being taken as a surprise or disaster. Rather than fear Pele’s strong presence this month, the Island people have been bringing gifts, singing songs, chanting and expressing respect for her sacred transformative properties. They also believe that Pele shows up in many forms, sometimes even human and they take her increased activity as a reminder to be kind to others, as anyone may be a human manifestation of Pele.

In this metaphor, we can see that accepting & appreciating the transformative properties of anger is a choice. We see that sometimes people make choices from a place of deeper connection or understanding of the world and that these choices can vastly improve our outlook on life. We also see the importance of being kind to others, especially when they are expressing anger, rather than shaming or fearing their process as we often do.

I’m not an expert on volcanoes and I haven’t been to Kilauea since 2004, though personally and professionally I hear about the effects of unexpressed and  unconscious anger on a daily basis.

Shadow elements of anger come through in racism, bullying, abuse, rage, violence where people kill  loved ones, classmates and innocent bystanders. Sometimes the shadow of anger turns inwards leading to substance use, depression & suicidal behaviors. We  know it’s become problematic.  Our anger tells us so. We know it’s time for change.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle once said, “anybody can become angry – that is easy. However, to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that requires wisdom.”

And that’s why we need to talk about anger. To understand her better. To embrace and respect her. To listen & learn how to resolve with her. Just like Pele’s fire, expressed & regulated anger can be an important contribution towards the positive evolution of personal and social change.