Madam Pele (Peh-Leh) is the great creatress of the Hawai’ian Islands associated with fire, lightning, wind, dance, and volcanoes. Pele dominated the volcano regions of Hawai’i as a central deity of a complex religious system. Priestess and Priest of Pele healed members of the community through the Goddesses possession, conducted rituals and regularly made offerings to appease her tempestuous moods. Shortly after the arrival of the first Europeans, the original Gods of Hawai’i were denounced as more Hawai’ians were converted to Christianity, Pele was among the Gods that refused to be forgotten.
Traditional accounts of Pele’s origins suggest that she hailed from outside of the Hawai’ian Islands. In some tales, this homeland is Kahiki (Tahiti), an invisible place from which the Gods and Ancestors were said to reside. In another retelling of the story, she is said to have been born in “the land of Hapakuela, a distant land at the edge of the sky, toward the southwest,” located “in the fabled lands of Hoani,” another ancient home of the Hawai’ian people. As the homeland of the Goddess varied so did her parental figures. In a few early reports, it is the Goddess Haumea (həuˈmɛjə) who gives birth to Pele, as a flame from her mouth, other times she is born to the Earth Goddess Papa and Sky God Wakea. Her sisters and brothers range anywhere from thirteen to sixty-one in total. Namakaokaha‘i, Hi‘iakaikapoliopele, and Kamohoali‘i are amongst the most notable siblings.
Pele’s journey to Hawai’i
In the infamous tale of Pele and Namakaokaha‘i, the Sea Goddess Namakaokaha‘i discovers Pele’s affair with her husband Aukelenuiaiku. In a jealous rage, Namakaokaha‘i chases Pele from their homeland throughout the Hawai’ian Island chain, until Pele reaches the high mountains of Mauna Loa where her sisters' waves cannot reach her and she can regain her strength. The two engage in a battle that continues to this day when hot lava pours into the sea.
Any person who wandered onto Pele’s sacred territory had to observe several taboos if they wanted to avoid the wrath of the Goddess. No ohelo berries could be eaten before first being offered to Pele, sandalwood could not be cut, nor fern roots dug, without the person offering a lock of their hair or something of even greater value to the Goddess. The most important taboo to avoid was removing anything from Pele’s land, this would bring the wrath of the Goddess down upon the individual in the form of bad luck.
Pele was an active Goddess who frequently appeared to Hawai’ian natives and visitors alike. Typically in the form of an older, grey-haired woman wearing a worn holoku with no physical feet, Pele wandered through the island making requests for water, coffee, poi, and tobacco. If her requests were not met those who denied her would suffer great misfortune, often resulting in their death. On some occasions, she took the form of a young, black-haired woman, a man, and a white or black dog other times she was accompanied by a man or a dog. By the time the first automobiles appeared on the island around 1925 she became a common hitchhiker.
Her most ardent worshippers resided within the volcano districts. Pele’s priest were known as Kdula Pele, young boys selected by the Goddess. As teenagers and men, they were excused from the ordinary tasks expected of other males their age and instead spent the majority of their time in prayer, study or meditation. Haka were individuals who acted as Pele's community healers. These individuals often claimed to be possessed by Pele or other volcano spirits and given healing abilities and insight into societal issues. Haka were to avoid behavior that would be offensive to an Akua (God) such as cursing, gossiping, and stealing. Women could become a Haka only after menopause.
No formal prayer rituals nor temples exist for Pele. The direct worship of Pele was not enforced. Large offerings to Pele consisted of hog, dog, fish, and fruit which would be left at Halema‘uma‘u crater by her priest. These offerings were cooked in steaming chasms or the adjoining ground. If preparations were made anywhere else, with any other fire, they were considered polluted and would certainly invoke the wrath of Pele.
Goddess associated with fire, lightning, wind, dance and volcanoes
Goddess Forms: An old woman, a young woman, a man, pure fire
Animal Forms: White or Black dog
Parents: Haumea, Hina, Papa, Wakea
Siblings: Kane Milohai, Kamohoali 'i, Namaka, Hi'iakaikapoliopele, Kane Hekili, Kapohoikahiola, Keuaakepo
Children: Laka, Menehune
Offerings: Hog, Dog, Fish, Fruits
Nimmo, H. Arlo. Pele; Volcano Goddess of Hawai'i, A History. Mcfarland & Comapny Inc., 2011.
Reichard, Joy F. Celebrate the Divine Feminine: Reclaim Your Power with Ancient Goddess Wisdom Pele.
Thrum, Thomas George. Hawaiian Folk Tales: A Collection of Native Legends . A. C. McClurg & C0, 1907.