In Hawaii, there is a popular belief that people who take a lava rock home from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island will be cursed by the Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele. According to Hawaiian mythology, Pele lives in the volcano on the Big Island and is an extremely vengeful being. There are also lava rocks mailed to the park office all the time by tourists who claim to have had bad luck after taking lava rocks home. So what’s the deal with this curse? Is it fact or fiction?
First of all, if you want a souvenir from Hawaii, please don’t take a lava rock from the national park. Removing lava rock from a national park is illegal. As for the Hawaiian Lava Rock Curse, don’t worry, it’s 100% NOT TRUE.
It was made-up by a park ranger.
Removing property from a national park is prohibited because the park and everything in it is meant to be preserved. If every visitor took something from the park, then in 10 years, there would be nothing left to see. Even though it’s illegal to remove property from national parks, people still do it because they want a cool souvenir. Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, for example, loses an estimated 12 tons of petrified wood each year (source). That’s a lot of wood. Theft is a big problem for park rangers. The parks are so big, yet the park rangers are so few… so what’s a park ranger to do? Make up a curse, of course!
The lava rock curse was originally thought up by a park ranger to deter theft of park property. It’s a brilliant idea that helps park rangers do their job, even when they’re not there, since many people prefer not to anger supernatural forces. A curse is such a brilliant way that several other parks have made their own curses, like the Petrified Forest in Arizona and Ayers Rock in Australia.
If this curse were true, everyone who stepped in the park would be cursed.
Everyday as we are walking, we are picking up extremely small traces of dirt, concrete, and dust from abrasion caused by our shoes rubbing into the ground. If we were were to walk into the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park, we would inevitably pick up small traces of lava rock in our shoes or socks. So, unless Pele has a size requirement for cursed rocks, everyone who has ever stepped into the park would be cursed by now… but they aren’t.
What about all the lava rocks returned to the park?
There are indeed a lot of lava rocks that were taken from the park and then mailed back with claims of sudden bad luck – I am not doubting this. What I am doubting is the claim of “bad luck.”
Unemployment… financial problems… marital problems… these are all issues I’ve heard on news reports that cover the phenomenon or have been mentioned by some of the comments on this article. However… aren’t these normal problems in life? Either this “Lava Rock Curse” is the most plain curse ever or…
The curse is in our heads.
Bad things will happen to people all the time and we will accept it as part of life. When bad things happen and we’re holding a “cursed” lava rock though, we suddenly forget that bad things happen on a normal basis and we blame a rock and supernatural forces. Everyone that is aware of the lava rock curse is also victim of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is “a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses” (wiki). In other words, “we see what we want to see.” An example of confirmation bias would be the movie “The Number 23,” starring Jim Carrey (got average reviews, but I thought it was really interesting). In that movie, the character believes that the number “23” is special and suddenly starts seeing the number 23 everywhere. 23 does appear everywhere… but so are many other numbers – no single number is special. 23 only becomes special if someone starts looking for it exclusively, in which case, they’ll find multiple instances of it. The picture below is a screencap from the movie showing that if you look for it, you’ll eventually find it.
The same with the cursed lava rock: if we think that a rock is cursed, we’ll look for anything bad that happens to us and blame them all on the rock, even though bad things would happen regardless. So is the lava rock curse real? No. But our minds sure like to convince us that it is.
Just because I do not believe in this myth does not mean you should go out a find a lava rock to take home. Again, our national park is meant to be preserved – take a picture instead. Besides, you should find your souvenirs in stores, and not off-the-ground, for free, you cheapskate :). So what do you think? Makes sense to you? Still disagree? I’d be interested to hear what you think. Write your thoughts in the comments below. Or if you’d like to read more about Hawaiian trivia, take a look at this book.