Since volcanoes take a huge part in New Zealand’s landscape, mood and heritage, I would like to write about their influence on people starting from the very early ages of human evolution. This is the first article in series of articles about Volcanoes in general and New Zealand’s volcanoes in particular.
Everybody is familiar with human’s passion for fire. Infants reach out their little hands to burning flame and get their first lesson in pain getting a burn. The most beloved place in the house of the whole family is usually by the fireplace. One can stare endlessly at the capricious dance of the flames. The force of fire bewitches the person, frightens off wild animals, warms and kills. This explains the demonic possession of humans by fire, especially well described in ancient Greek and Roman mythology.
The God of Fire and forge craft – Hephaestus, from the Greek mythology, was especially worshiped as God of underground fire in areas with active volcanoes (Sicily, Lemnos). Hephaestus, unlike other Olympian deities, didn’t spend his existence in feasts and idleness, but liked physical work. As god of forge craft Hephaestus was honored by handicraftsmen, and teenagers arranged a baton races in his honor while passing a burning torch instead of baton. Legends tell that Hephaestus’ smithy was located deep under the ground in bowels of mount Etna.
Hephaestus’ twin in Roman mythology was named Vulcan. Vulcan’s oldest shrine in Rome, called the “Volcanal”, was situated at the foot of the Capitoline in the Forum Romanum. In plain words, Volcanal was a high platform standing at the place of senate and other public assemblies. But not only pagans such as ancient Greeks and Romans worshiped the underground fire. Modern religions also revere it greatly.
The Christian’s concept of the worst part of the “after death” world is called “Gehenna” or simply Hell and situated, of course, not in heavens, but in bowels of the ground. Dante Alighieri gives us a very picturesque insight into the world hell. He shows how the sinned souls are burning in the eternal fire for their earthly passions that don’t comply with Christian morale.
It is clear that much of the myths and religious beliefs described above came to people under impressions of volcanoes – these unrestrained and ruthless fire-spitting mountains.
More interesting facts about Volcanoes in my next article Volcanoes in Art and Science