The goddess Pele
was supposed to grow up to become a water goddess, but when she
discovered matches her fascination with fire took her in another
The headstrong young goddess ignored her
mother’s instructions and managed to set her home (the island of
Tahiti) aflame while playing with fires from the Underworld.
older sister Namaka, a sea goddess, threatened
to flood the entire island to punish Pele for being so destructive
(but then, perhaps, it was for having an affair with her husband).
Fearful for the safety of her children, Pele’s parents loaded them into
a canoe and instructed Pele to rush them to safety on another
the youngest child, had yet to be born. She was hatched from an egg
that Pele held in her armpit while she paddled furiously with Namaka
in hot pursuit. It was a long, stressful journey.
Eventually the siblings
found a place they could stop, a tiny atoll that was home to only a
handful of human tribes. Their arrival created quite a stir since Pele and her sister Hi'iaka were lively young women
who enjoyed having a good time, taking frequent breaks
from their work to sing, chant and dance. For inventing the sacred dance, Hi'iaka (also called Laka)
was recognized as the goddess of the hula and
patronesses of dancers.
goddesses lived in the mountains on the island. They were none too pleased with
the arrival of these beautiful young upstarts.
Pele set about trying
to make a new home for her family, but it was proving difficult
because the jealous snow goddesses kept sending blizzards their way.
Hopping from one tiny island to another to escape the hard freezes,
Pele kept moving southward only to
encounter tidal waves sent by her vengeful sister, Namaka.
claim to Mauna Loa on the southernmost island. Mauna Loa is the
tallest mountain on earth (as measured from the ocean floor), and
even the powerful Namaka couldn’t fling her ocean waves that high!
At last Pele was able to keep her fires lit, but this only increased Namaka’s rage.
Soon the two sisters were waging a ferocious battle.
rose up out of the trembling earth, spewing rivers of lava fiery
lava into the ocean, driving the sea away from the coast. As the
lava cooled it added to the land mass, and the small atoll was
transformed into the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii.
victorious, Pele did not emerge unscathed. With the death of her
physical body she became a spirit, a shape-shifter who can assume
whatever appearance she wishes.
Often she appears as a shapely
young woman, sometimes as a small white dog, and other times as an
old woman asking a stranger for a cigarette.
Pele then took
up residence inside her volcanoes, her exuberant spirit was not
to be contained. Legends about Pele and her many lovers and rivals
Poliahu, one of
the snow goddesses, became her archrival when the two competed for the
attention of a young chieftain. As he paddled his canoe, Pele surfed
the waves beside his boat to catch his attention. But, after his
brief fling with Pele, he had an affair with the snow goddess
He was so taken
with the snow goddess that he moved in with her. Pele was not
She managed to win him back from her rival, but the angry
snow goddess was not to be outdone. She blasted the couple with
fierce ice storms and the lovers soon had to separate.
A struggle of
immense proportions ensued. Pele erupted from the volcano, forcing
Poliahu to flee with fiery lava licking at her heels.
goddess quickly recovered her wits, however, and returned with a
snow storm so massive and intense that it quenched forever the
spectacular fire on her northern island.
Though the two
still quarrel neither will ever win for they are destined to forever
hold each other in a delicate balance. It is their perpetual clashes
that have created the luxuriant and fertile hillsides that grace the
Hawaiian landscape. Once she has scorched all that lies on her path, Pele swiftly seeds it with the beautiful flowers that quickly rise
from the bed that she created with her fiery anger.
is legendary. Attracted to a handsome mortal named Ohi`a, she flew
into a rage when he resisted her seduction while proclaiming his
devotion to the lovely mortal Lehua. Furious, Pele killed the
Before long, Pele regretted the
impetuous act, and made amends by joining the lovers together for
all eternity, turning Ohi`a into a shrub and filling the branches
with soft delicate flowers made from the body of Lehua.
lehua tree, sacred to the goddess Pele, is always the first to sprout and grow
in the hard earth of a lava bed.
Of all her
siblings, Pele loved Hi`iaka most. But even she, the one Pele had so
carefully nurtured, was not to escape the fury of Pele’s wrath.
a young woman, Hi`iaka and her best friend, the poet Hopoe, spent
much time together, singing and dancing, and tending to the groves
of the Ohi`a lehua trees. Pele thought she could trust this gentle
sister and sent her to retrieve a handsome chieftain she had
recently seduced. His name was Lohi`au.
Pele warned her sister that the chieftain
was a magnificent male and that she would not tolerate any
flirtation between them. Hi`iaka agreed to go, asking only that
Pele promise to take care of her beloved gardens while she was away.
was asking a lot!
Hi`iaka’s journey proved perilous and lengthy, for she met many
demons and monsters along the way. Arriving too late, she found
Lohi`au dying. His heart had broken from worry that Pele had
forgotten to come for him.
Using every bit of magic she possessed, Hi`iaka restored the young chief to life. Though they were
powerfully attracted to each other, Hi`iaka kept her promise and
returned with Pele’s lover, their relationship still chaste.
Hi`iaka had been
gone so long that Pele began to entertain fantasies of her sister
lying in Lohi`au’s arms. Furious that Hi`iaka would betray her, Pele
burned Hi`iaka’s beloved grove to the ground, accidentally killing
her friend Hopoe.
Hi`iaka returned and discvoered what Pele had done, she
retaliated by making love to Lohi`au, right there in
Pele’s view, on the lip of the volcano’s crater.
Enraged, Pele erupted and the unfortunate young man was
burned to death. Hi`iaka, realizing how much she loved
him, descended into the Underworld and freed his soul.
of their brothers reached out and caught Lohi`au's spirit as it
drifted by his canoe, and the lovers were soon reunited.
They returned to one of the other islands
where they lived together in contentment.
Though she was
quick to anger, Pele seldom held grudges. She realized
she had been wrong to distrust her sister. And she regretted that
she had caused Lohi`au’s death not once, but twice.
Pele was quite
sorry for her actions. Besides, another lover had already caught her
eye so she was quite content to leave the young lovers in peace
while she went about her own affairs.
Like a volcano’s
lava that creates new land, the goddess Pele reminds us that, even
fiery eruptions and emotional upheavals are followed by new life and
As an archetype Pele is a passionate and creative force that
transforms and rebuilds the landscapes of our lives.