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The Spirit that Followed Us

The Hawaiians have not been the only culture to sacrifice humans to ‘feed the spirits.’ A ceremonial burnt offering is recorded in the Pentateuch, the Old Testament, in the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. Abraham is supposed to take his son into the mountains and offer him as a burnt offering to God. At the last moment, God sends an angel to stop him from sacrificing his son, and instead, provides a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in the place of his son.[i] This Biblical tale implies the period of time when the Hebrew’s stopped human sacrifice and began animal sacrifice as a burnt offering to God.

These thoughts ran through my mind as we parked our car by the ocean cliffs and began walking up-hill towards the ruined temple. Even though it was not yet dusk, there was a dark and foreboding feeling as we walked towards the temple ruins. 

“I wanted to bring you here last year, Jim. Your wife saw a dead pueo, our native Hawaiian owl, lying on the side of the road in the Puna district of this island. You and Sherry had me turn my car around to get it.”

Pueo are special to me,” I replied.

“I know brah.[ii] The pueo is also special, ‘aumakua, to the kahuna that cares for this heiau. You may be connected to this temple. But we need to be careful.”

The temple had long been deserted, but that did not mean that it was uninhabited. Stones hold memories and destructive spirits may still linger in the inner recesses of such temple ruins. Caution, respect and common sense are important when approaching a heiau. And the proper prayers and offerings are not only necessary, but essential. Stones are never to be taken from a temple; not only out of respect, but also because they may carry memories or vibrations that could adversely affect a human.

Since it was late afternoon we needed to be extra-cautious as it is the time when the spirits begin to awaken. As we approached the heiau, I knew that my friend was doing prayers. No words were spoken as the three of us entered the ruins of the temple. Time suspended. I had an un-easy feeling about this sacred area that at one time had witnessed the sacrifice of humans to ‘feed’ the war god. It was the same feeling that I’ve had a few times before. Once during the summer of 1981, I had a similar feeling in Glastonbury, England. This occurred when Sherry and I had an encounter with a ‘spirit monk.’[iii]

After spending time in prayer we left the inner ruins of the heiau. As soon as we had left the ruins an uneasy feeling crept over me. I felt that we were being watched by unseen eyes and followed. On the way back to our vehicle, I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to see something or someone at any time. 

Once again back in the car Jamie said, “Dad…. that was intense.”

Brah! Did you see my ‘ōkala-chicken-skin[iv]….?”

“Mine too,” I said. But I had a feeling that this was not the end of it.

“Getting late,” my friend said, “we’ve got to get to the other side of the island.”

“Is there any place close by to get something to eat,” I said. “We haven’t had anything to eat since early morning and now its late afternoon.”

“There are very few places to eat at this end of the island. There is, however, a small town called Hawi not far from here. We can try there,” replied my friend.

Indeed, it was a very small village. After driving up and down the street twice we finally found one small place where a traveler might find some limited food and drink. And limited it was… we each settled on, really the only choice, a piece of meatloaf squeezed between two slabs of bread. The whole time that we were waiting for our sandwiches, I still had an unsettling feeling that we were not alone.

I was seated in the back seat of my friend’s car and Jamie was in the front seat. Jamie had the sandwiches in front with him. As my friend began pulling out of the parking space, Jamie started to pass my meatloaf sandwich back to me, but instead, it flew out of his hand and landed on the seat next to me.

Ho brah… you see that…,” shouted my friend as he slammed the vehicle to a sudden stop. “Something not right… that thing flew through the air….”

“Dad, it just jumped out of my hand… I’m sorry….”

“No need to be sorry; it wasn’t your fault.”

As I picked up the meatloaf and put it back between the slabs of bread I wondered about what had just happened. Was it an illusion that it had flown out of Jamie’s hand? Or were we not alone? Something didn’t feel right. We had just left one of the most notorious sacrificial heiaus that was home to a large slab of lava rock called “the holehole stone, where the baked bodies of sacrificed victims were laid and the flesh was stripped from their bones.”[v] The human sacrificial form of ceremonially feeding the spirits was a corruption of the original form of the ceremony that my wife and I were going to conduct in a few days at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau. I wonder….

And then I thought about the implications if it was a spirit. I knew the sacred words and hand movements of power. An esoteric priest had taught me these things, a secret mudra, a magical finger intertwining, and a mantra or spirit shout that would dispel unwanted spirits. This teaching happened after I had experienced a descending spirit exorcism on a sacred mountain in Japan in 1987.[vi] At this time I had experienced the energy of a very powerful Buddhist deity called a Myoo. And in this case, it was the warrior deity Fudo Myoo. But I also believe that there is great truth in the philosophy of discretion being the better part of valor.

We took off once again headed for my friend’s house outside of Hilo on the east side of the island. As time passed, no words were spoken. I had just finished eating half of my meatloaf bread, when my friend slowed down the vehicle, pulled off the road and said, “I want to stop and show you both a beautiful view… of the sea and of Waipi’o Valley—a very sacred valley to my people. This is a good lookout place.”

I could see that indeed this was an awesome place to stop and feel the spirit and love of ‘āina—nature. My friend and Jamie jumped out and were walking towards the edge of the cliff. I got out still clutching my meatloaf bread and was walking toward them when they both turned in my direction, as if to say something to me… when, all of a sudden, the meatloaf and the bread flew out of my hand and landed on the ground as if it had been snatched from my hand….

Ho brah…!”

“Dad, this is too weird….”

My friend looking a little pale said, “Man… leave it on the ground… I had a feeling that an ‘uhane[vii]  had followed us from the heiau… time to go....”

As I looked at the meatloaf lying on the ground I hoped leaving it would satisfy the spirit and I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Then as I got back into the car I realized that once a date is set for the burning, the spirits begin gathering. This is the reason why a burning can not be postponed. If the feeding is not done, the spirits will get very, shall we say, unruly. I guess this one was really hungry and knew I had the power to feed it….

[i] This story was used by the liar Paul to give importance and religious credibility to the crucifixion of Jesus: “Friends, God ultimately did not require from Abraham, nor does God require from us, what God had not done or would not do.  We see in this story of Isaac’s near sacrifice the prefiguring of the Passion of Christ, God’s only begotten Son. 

In God’s later covenant, what we call the New Testament, we as Christians believe that God made the ultimate sacrifice for humankind in the death and resurrection of God’s son Jesus Christ, an act God never actually required of anyone, be it Abraham, or the people of Israel, or us. The Lord God demands no human sacrifice, and yet there would be a human sacrifice—not bound and laid upon an altar, but ridiculed, tormented, whipped, and nailed to a cross.  In the Gospels Jesus is gradually revealed to be the sacrificial Lamb of God.  This time God sacrifices his own son.

Jesus had to go to the actual cross, to create survival value for eternity, and to embrace a death fit for a criminal, in obedience to his vocation, in the ultimate expression of love for a sinful world.  Jesus finishes in the faith that God began with God’s servant Abraham. And God’s life-giving love raises Jesus from the dead, so that all who believe in him, though they die, will also rise again to eternal life with God, in perfect love. As Paul tells us in Romans, ‘Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’” Sermon: June 29, 2008 by The Rev. Eileen Weglarz,

[ii] Hawaiian slang for brother but having a meaning of friend

[iii] I tell the story of my experience in Chapter 8

[iv] Goosebumps

[v] Ellie and William Crowe, Exploring Lost Hawai’i, p. 4

[vi] I tell the story of my experience in Chapter 16

[vii] Spirit, ghost


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