My Wiccan training has taught me that if you take something from nature, you should be appreciative of it and possibly even leave a gift. For example, if you cut a wand from a tree, the Wiccan tradition is to ask the tree’s permission first and then leave it some small offering in return such as a feather or a stone. This only seems polite to me as I would not take something from anyone without first asking.
Many tourists tend to take a piece of nature home with them to remind them of their vacation. Unfortunately, this can have detrimental effect on heavily visited places like our National Parks. The tourists become like locusts and descend on these natural wonders and leave devastation in their paths. This is especially true of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which hosts as many as 1.3 million tourists a year. Even though it is against the law, many of these visitors end up taking some of volcanic sand or rock home with them.
Unfortunately for them, one Goddess has a reputation for being very vengeful on those that take without asking. Pele, the Goddess of fire and volcanoes on Hawaii, is known to be very protective of the volcanic rock and sand on the island which she views as her children. Each year, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and many of the local hotels receive hundreds of packages each year containing “kidnapped” sand and rocks with notes begging forgiveness and detailing stories of bad luck that have occurred since the taking. For example, the web site http://www.volcanogallery.com/lavarock.htm has hundreds of stories of people who have used the web site’s services to “properly” return the sand and rock to its proper place.
A 2001 San Francisco Chronicle article on Pele quoted a cultural interpreter at the park who stated that “We [Hawaiians] believe that every rock as ‘mana,’ or power. We believe that every rock has its function and a name and a place it should be.” Another park ranger stated that “As Hawaiians, we have been raised that when you are in nature, you ask permission to take something.”
Some claim that Pele is just an urban myth used by the Park Service to control the theft by tourists, but I believe that most Pagans would agree that it is always best to ask before you take.