Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives

Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives by John CalderazzoBy John Calderazzo.
Published by The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2004.
The painting on the jacket cover, by Joseph Wright of Derby, c.1774-76, is titled An Eruption of Vesuvius, seen from Portici. Click to Buy this Book!


A teacher of creative writing at Colorado State University, John Calderazzo completed an extracurricular project of writing a children’s book about volcanoes that raised questions for him “that deserved a deeper, more complicated consideration appropriate for adults.” He also received a CSU teaching award as the school year was winding down and, an experienced traveler, he decided to visit Sicily’s Mount Etna, that was still erupting (he does not give the year, but this must have been 1993). Rising Fire is primarily an account of his travels to some of the world’s most notorious volcano sites: Mount Etna, Vesuvius, Stromboli, Kilauea, Parícutin, Soufriere Hills (Montserrat), Mount Pelée (Martinique), and Mount Rainier. Mixed in with the largely vernacular travel accounts (“By Monday, I’d had it with conspiracy theories and was badly in the mood for some Scientific Smarts …”) is an abundance of both entertaining and very serious subjects, including local history, quotations from literature, stories and folklore, reminiscences, a treatise on the outer layers and the interior of the earth, ritual sacrifice, and descriptions of volcanic disasters and deaths, e.g., the 1991 deaths of Maurice and Katia Krafft and photographers and reporters in a pyroclastic eruption on Japan’s Unzen. There are also descriptions of such physical sensations as lava moving underground beneath one’s feet at Kilauea, or, three thousand feet up, the sound of the dragon exhaling on Stromboli Island.

The biographical chronology of the author’s experiences is difficult to extract because of his writing style and the profusion of subjects, but it is in the biography and in the many reminiscences that the secondary theme of “Our Inner Lives” emerges. Calderazzo grew up in Brooklyn, New York.  He was “23 or 24” years old (he does not say which) in the summer of 1971, when he “first laid eyes on Shasta” in California. He was then a would-be writer, had recently completed college in Tampa, Florida, and had decided to live on “sunshine and metaphors” for a time in the great American West. In 1983 his father died, and this memory becomes a part of Calderazzo’s profound musings on mortality and death. He perceives in the final breaths of his father “the sound of the earth rising within him, reaching up for him, because he refused to move down on his own.” In 1984 he and his wife, SueEllen Campbell, taught college English in Xian, northern China; in 1985 he was successfully treated for a life-threatening skin lesion; and in 1986 he began teaching at CSU. From the Prologue: “Volcanoes were helping me find solace in the liquid nature of rock, in the impermanent nature of everything, including me.” Calderazzo describes himself as a “dreamer,” but he is clearly searching, like a disciplined scientist, for facts and substantial answers about life and death from geology and volcanology. In the rising fires of volcanoes he becomes increasingly aware of death processes out of which will emerge new life.

In 1998, “… half a year after [he’d] explored the islands of Montserrat and Martinique,” he is drawn back to California’s Mount Shasta. In the seventh and final chapter of the book, titled “Volcanoes of the Mind,” instead of the deepening awareness of the future soul and spiritual life that is to emerge from the dissolution of matter, from the body’s mortality and the earth’s ultimate destruction (in geological time), he finds, in Mount Shasta City “… Mountains of the human imagination gone wild” amidst the Luciferic New Age hawkers, entrepreneurs, self-proclaimed healers and prophets, mediums, and even “50,000-year-old masters, many of whom, according to the small print, happened to live inside Mount Shasta itself.” As though something of real value might yet be gleaned amidst all the disappointments, or perhaps purely on account of being drawn back by increasing puzzlement, he later re-visits the city and learns through research about one of its 1930s New Age pioneers, Guy Ballard (an author who claimed to have been William Shakespeare and George Washington in his previous lives). Ballard and cohorts had originally been miners and gold prospectors. “Ballard… and a host of other Shasta storytellers spent a huge amount of their energies scratching at mountains to uncover vast hidden riches.” On a brief third visit, this time on a gloomy, rainy day, Calderazzo again muses about what he has been searching for in Mount Shasta City. As he is leaving the city he observes that “…the sky was hanging lower than ever, and I still couldn’t see Mount Shasta. But I could feel the volcano close at hand, tremendous in its invisibility, erupting not with ash or magma but meaning for so many different kinds of people.”

A comment by James D. Houston on the back jacket cover does not seem accurate: “[Calderazzo’s] obsessive journeying from crater to crater is also a search for the mysterious touchpoint where geology meets human desire.” But Calderazzo is a level-headed teacher who enjoys traveling during breaks in the school year, and he was also preparing for his book about volcanoes. He does not delve deeply into matters of human desires in Rising Fire, the gold digging New Agers notwithstanding. It might be nearer the mark to surmise that he is searching for Vulcan, god of fire, from whose name comes Vulcano: Volcano (page 13). A common experience on the quest for deeper answers and truths is to first encounter false paths, sometimes as powerful obstacles. Calderazzo becomes aware of this, yet manages to retain sympathy for the Shastafarians.

In Anthroposophy, Vulcan is a real Spiritual Being: “There was moreover a further class of human beings who had absorbed most of all the Luciferian influence. They could only reach up to a Spirit Being [Vulcan] who with his associates had been thrust forth again soonest of all from the evolution of the Sun. This Being has no special planet in the cosmic spaces but lives to this day in the surrounding sphere of the Earth itself, with which he re-united after his return thither from the Sun. The human beings to whom he revealed himself as their higher Ego may be called adherents of the Vulcan Oracle. Their vision was more directed than that of all the other Initiates to the phenomena of Earth. They laid the first foundation for what afterwards arose among men as arts and sciences.” — Rudolf Steiner, An Outline of Occult Science, Chapter IV.

Vulcan assists the soul and spirit across the threshold of death — as well as the deeds of the will that originated in the fiery limbs — and in the giving over of the physical body to the Earth. In 1983, when Calderazzo’s father died, the Earth rose up to take his mineral body, while his soul and spirit were released. Approximately 21 years later, after many meetings with Vulcan, Calderazzo completed his book, Rising Fire, for adults. — Review by Martha Keltz

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Suggested reading:  Occult Science – An Outline, Chapter IV, Part Six, “Man and the Evolution of the World;” An Esoteric Cosmology, Chapter XVI, “Earthquakes, Volcanoes and the Human Will;” and the lecture What Has Geology to Say About the Origin of the World?

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