Madame Pele: the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes

Goddess Pele

Goddess Pele

In Hawaiian religion, the goddess Pele played a very important role in the everyday lives of the people. An extremely powerful, unpredictable and unforgiving goddess, Pele was primarily associated with fire, thunder, lighting, and volcanoes. Her most significant accomplishment came when she created the Hawaiian Islands. However, she was also known for her extreme volatility and fury, gulping up or destroying lands, forests and entire villages on the islands.

Here is a quick look at the birth story, symbols and facts about Pele – the Hawaiian Goddess of fire and volcanoes.

Pele goddess’s Birth in Hawaiian Mythology

Goddess Pele’s parents were the Sky god Kane Milohai and the Earth goddess Haumea. Shortly after birth she quickly took on the role as a force of nature. It was believed that she was the manifestation of “akua” – the powerful force in nature.

It was believed that she had twelve siblings – five sisters and seven brothers. Notable examples of her siblings are Namakaokahai (water goddess), Kamohoali’i (king of sharks), Kapo (goddess of fertility), Hiʻiaka (the spirit of dance), Nāmaka (a water spirit), Kāne Milohai (associated with sea creatures), and Kane-‘apua (a demigod).

Another origin story of Pele states that she was born to a powerful king called Tahiti. After what was most likely an affair (or altercation) with her sister’s (Namakaokahai) husband, her father drove her away from the kingdom. After searching for a home for a long while, the Halemaumau Crater is where the goddess Pele made her home.

Depictions and symbols of Goddess Pele

In Hawaiian religion, the goddess Pele symbolizes man’s quest to remain determined in the face adversity. The story of the goddess also teaches believers to be malleable and adaptive to their environment. Her story also espouses the ideas of destruction and rebirth. Hawaiians believed that she was a necessary part of nature. Often times, in the aftermath of her destruction came a completely new and better era.

Owing to her fiery nature, she has often been associated with Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Kilauea erupts with so much ferocity that it forces the inhabitants in the area to take shelter in nearby towns.

The goddess Pele is often depicted as a tall, gorgeous woman. In some cases, she appears as an old and frail woman in order to test humanity’s kindness to senior citizens. In that form, she will go around and observe bless anyone who came to her aid. However, she ruthlessly punished anyone that was disrespectful or condescending to her. It is for this reason she is one of the most feared and revered deities in the ancient Hawaiian pantheon.

Pele goddess and the Ohia Tree

According to one Hawaiian legend, Pele goddess tried to woe a young handsome man called Ohia. She failed miserably because Ohia was in love with another woman called Lehua. The goddess Pele didn’t take the rejection lightly. She instantly burst into a jealous bout of rage and transformed Ohia into a revolting tree. Lehua begged Pele to return Ohia back to his human form. However, the goddess blatantly refused to do so. Fearing that Lehua could commit suicide, the other Hawaiian gods turned Lehua into a beautiful flower so that she could spend eternity beside Ohia.

Pele once tried to seduce her sister’s husband. When word got out of her betrayal, her family sent her packing. Her sister was Namakaokahai, the goddess of the ocean.

Other Interesting Facts about the Hawaiian goddess Pele

  • Hawaiians sometimes called her Madame Pele or Tutu Pele or “Ka wahine ‘ai honua”. The last name translates into “the woman who eats the earth”.
  • Another popular epithet of Pele is “She who shapes the sacred land”.
  • When angered, Pele’s river of hot molten lava often left in its wake a sea of destruction and misery. Her anger and volatile temper truly knew no boundaries.
  • In some cases, the Goddess Pele gave birth to entirely new land, making a creative force of nature as well.
  • According to some myths in Hawaii, Madame Pele visits untold miseries and bad luck to anyone who takes any piece of rock or lava off the island.
  • Hawaiians often tried to appease the goddess by bring an offering (hookupu) to the Helamaumau Crater. The offerings were not confined to just food offerings. Offerings could be a prayer or a chant or a dance.
  • According to the myths, she often bursts into an unquenchable rage whenever she feels threatened, bitter, jealous or disrespected.
  • Not seeking the goddess Pele’s permission before eating the ‘ohelo berries (found at the edges of Helema’uma) is considered sacrilegious.  It was believed that she often exacted a steep punishment on such offenders.

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