Pele

Hawaiian volcano goddess. You’re welcome.

According to goddessinspired.wordpress.com, Pele is “…beautiful, awe-inspiring, strong, powerful, creative, active, enthusiastic, spontaneous, alive, passionate, hot and eruptive.”

Pele is the fire and volcano goddess of Hawaii and one of the most revered gods in Hawaiian mythology. She was born to Haumea, an ancient earth goddess, and Moemoe a god related to the sky or purposeful dreaming. She is described as a traveler who raised her little sister Hi’iaka (who was hatched from an egg and later became the goddess of the hula) all the while trying to avoid her sister, the sea goddess, Namaka. Although she has conflict with her sister, Pele seems to have a healthy family, being one of six daughters and sibling to seven brothers. Namaka is the only one she consistently doesn’t get along with. That does not mean all is well in Pele’s world, however. Since she is the goddess of fire, creation, and destruction, Pele often has a temper and is quickly led to jealousy which ends in burnt vegetation and sometimes death. Each time Pele explodes she immediately regrets her anger which is where her act of sewing seeds after her fires comes from.

In Hawaii it is said that whenever an eruption occurs, it is seen as a gift from Pele since Mount Kilauea contributes about forty acres a year. As a way to thank her, fruit, tobacco, fish, brandy, or flowers are offered to her. No known ritual sacrifices have been made. In one of Pele’s myths, she is eventually killed although her soul lives on and can change shape from a tall, beautiful young woman, to an old crone with a white dog. In this way, Hawaiian gods and goddesses are not immortal, however, their souls are and they can take human shape. When Pele is seen, she often tests mortals, asks for food or drink or sometimes a cigarette. If the traveler shares with her, she rewards them, if not, the traveler is punished. Some legends say that if a person were to take sand or rocks from Hawaii Pele will curse them with bad luck, others believe this is something park rangers created in an effort to discourage such behavior. Either way, there are reports of people sending back rocks or sand taken from the island (sometimes with notes asking for forgiveness from Pele) in an effort to stop their sudden bad luck.

There isn’t an agreement as to where Pele came from. Some versions say Kahiki (which translates to any place out of sight) and others say no one knows, only that she suffered from lifelong wanderlust and had asked/ was pursued/ sent away/ from wherever it was she was leaving. Her brother, Ka-moho-alii, the god of sharks, provided a canoe and boatmen for her journey. Once she left her homeland, Pele and her little sister Hi’iaka landed in Kauai, then Oahu, Molokai, Maui, and then finally Hawaii. Geographically, research shows those islands were formed in that order.

When Pele finally found a safe haven from her water goddess sister, her tribulations did not end there. Attracting the rage of four snow goddesses, Pele and Hi’iaka sought refuge on Mauna Loa —the highest mountain on earth as its roots are in the ocean floor— where Namaka’s waves couldn’t reach them and the snow goddesses left them alone.

That is until Pele and Poliahu, one of the snow goddesses, saw a young chieftain paddling his canoe. Pele caught his attention by surfing the waves next to him, but after their fling he went to the snow goddess. The young man fell in love with Poliahu and moved in with her. Pele saw this as a challenge and won the chieftain back. This caused Poliahu to blast the couple with ice storms until they eventually had to separate. Naturally, Pele counter-attacked. The two continued their battle, Pele erupting from her volcano and Poliahu casting her snow storms. While the two duked it out, they came to create the luscious Hawaiian hillsides, Pele having sewn seeds after her fire-y bursts and Poliahu unintentionally watering them.

Some time later, Pele found a new lover by the name of Lohi’au. Pele saw him and immediately fell in love, but she couldn’t leave her volcano. Pele sent Hi’iaka to fetch him for her. Hi’iaka conceded with one small request, that her sister water her garden. Hi’iaka went on quite the adventure to get this man, taking an incredible amount of time. When she met Lohi’au, the two were obviously attracted to each other yet because of her sister Hi’iaka did not pursue him and instead brought him to her sister. While Pele was waiting, however; she grew jealous, imagining all of the different scenarios that could be taking Hi’iaka and Lohi’au so long to get to her. In her jealous rage, Pele burned Hi’iaka’s garden and her friend, Hopoe along with it. When Hi’iaka and Lohi’au arrived, Pele immediately regretted what she did, but that wasn’t enough for Hi’iaka. To get back at her sister, she and Lohi’au made love on the mouth of Pele’s volcano. Enraged, Pele burned Lohi’au to death. Eventually Hi’iaka traveled into the underworld, realizing how much she loved him, freed him, and they lived happily ever after on their own island. Yay.

One of my favorite things about Pele is how flawed she is. And we know she’s flawed, she knows she’s flawed. She regrets her actions and leaves her little sister and the man they both love, alone. Pele gets jealous, she acts out, but she grows. Literally, she grows plants, and she doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Sure, she falls in love a lot and that can be the source of her troubles, but she’s human. She’s passionate, she’s creative. She is multi-dimensional and we need more representations of women like that. We need more examples of women who get mad, and make mistakes; women who speak out and aren’t demure. No matter her past decisions, Pele doesn’t cower or shy away, she’s still willful. And I think that’s awesome. Obviously, the burning people alive thing isn’t the greatest but she’s a goddess, that happens. I mean, can we look at the other pantheons’ gods?
I’m looking at you, Zeus.

 

Thank you for reading!

-M

 

I post new content every other Thursday! You can follow the blog by clicking the Follow button on the right-hand side of the page.

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