PELE The Goddess of the Volcano

There are more stories and legends about Pele the volcano goddess than all the other Hawaiian deities put together ... Perhaps it's because the volcano is still active and inspires people to keep the tales alive.

Many of the stories of Pele describe her appearing as a beautiful young woman with jet black hair, tall, athletic and arrogant. She also appears as an old woman with hunched shoulders, silvery hair, fiery eyes, decrepit and hag like. Pele is also known to take the form of a little white dog. As the stories go you should always be polite and friendly to everyone you meet, even a little white dog because if you are not- the wrath of Pele will strike you down.

Here is one such tale:

Two girls are returning from a long hike and stop to rest and eat. They are roasting breadfruit over a fire when an old haggard lady appears and asks if they could share the food. One girl tells the old lady that there isn't enough for three and turns her back on the old beggar lady. The other girl feels sorry for the woman and shares her portion of the roasted breadfruit with her. When the old lady takes her leave, she tells the girl who shared her food " thank you for your kindness, I was hungry and you fed me so now I will do something for you: when you get to your home this evening gather everyone you love into your home and the fires will pass you by." The other girl laughed at the old lady and said she was crazy. When the girls reached their home, the girl who shared her food did as she was told and gathered her family together. Later that evening the volcano erupted and the lava flows bypassed her home. The girl who was selfish was destroyed.

Not all of the stories of Pele end up in flames of punitive vengeance but it seems that good manners and kindness seem to be the theme to remember if you don't want to offend her. She appears in unlikely disguises to test the true nature of people.


This illustration of Pele is a triptic: the young woman, the crone, and the little white dog. In the bottom left corner of the illustration is a branch of the ohia lehua tree, which was said to be sacred to Pele and one must ask permission before picking a blossom.

At the bottom is the ocean swirling in a giant wave surging about the island chain. Pele was a traveler, she came from Kahike (Tahiti) in a canoe of the God Kane. She found her home in Kilauea after digging up a fire pit in each of the islands moving along the island chain from Ni‘ihau to Hawai‘i. Each time she dug her fire pit the ocean would swirl in and put out her fires. She tried every island until finally, on the big island of Hawaii she was able to raise a fire pit at an elevation that the ocean could not suppress.



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