Monday, January 21, 2013

Pele Goddess of Fire: Spirit and Harbinger

The legend of this Hawaiian Goddess is fascinating. But Pele also appears as a spirit in many forms, and she is considered a negative harbinger. 

Pele is connected to the Big Island of Hawaii, which was formed by volcanoes. A local legend passed down from one Hawaiian generation to the next is Pele is considered the Goddess of these Volcanoes. Surprisingly, this traditional legend has a curse connected to it that still impacts people today.

The legend of Pele known as the “Goddess of Fire” in Hawaii starts with her being banished from Tahiti—another island in the Pacific—by her father because he did not like her hot temper. 

It is stated she always fought with her sister, Na-mako-o-kaha’i, who was the Goddess of the Sea. Pele left Tahiti in a canoe and went to Hawaii, where she made many fiery volcanoes. However, every time she made a volcano, her sister, who followed her, flooded the fire and put it out.

The legend states that finally the two sisters had a very violent fight where Pele was torn apart by her sister. This set Pele’s spirit free, and she became a Goddess. 

Today it is said Pele’s spirit lives in the Kilauea Volcano, which is one of the most active volcanoes on earth. Local Native Hawaiians still believe she has a fiery temper, and they both fear and respect her. 

The local natives will not even take a photo of this volcano believing this would be dangerous for Pele is considered to be both cruel and destructive.

Most Native Hawaiians state they have had at least one encounter with Pele’s spirit. Many have seen her more than once in their lifetimes. 

One of these witnesses recounted seeing her twice and felt her presence on countless other occasions. He first saw her in 1957 while the volcano erupted and then again in 1974 when he picked her up, hitching in Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Pele is considered a shape changer or shapeshifter. Hawaiians state she takes on many forms. 

One frequent sighting of her involves her dancing and swirling in the fires and smoke of the active volcano. She is described as having long black hair that swirls around her as she dances. She is often also seen in the form of a white dog on moonless nights wandering alone. It is said when she takes this form, she becomes a harbinger. 

Hawaiians believe if they see this white dog it means a member of their “ohana” family will die.

Another form Pele takes is that of an old hag or witch. She is seen bent over with bits of lava rock and ash clinging to her long stringy gray hair. * 

In contrast, at times, she is seen as a young beautiful Hawaiian woman with long lustrous blue-black hair cascading down her back. She is often described as wearing a traditional muumuu or a holoku, which is a long flowing gown usually made of white fabric.

The curse connected to Pele involves visitors who take lava rock etc. from Hawaii home with them. This curse is based on a Hawaiian belief that if people do not respect Pele’s “aina” land, they will feel her wrath. 

It is believed if this is done the person who moves these bits of the earth: lava rock, sand or seashells will have bad luck until they return these items to their rightful place.** As it turns out, there is more to this legend than people first thought. Every year countless tourists return or send these items back to Hawaii.

The Hawaiian postal service receives “thousands of pounds” of such mail often addressed to “Queen Pele” from around the world. 

One young man’s story about this curse was highlighted in the Los Angeles Times in May of 2001. 

Timothy Murray stated he had always had exceptional luck up until the time he visited Hawaii in 1997. While visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, he scooped up some black lava sand off the beach and placed it in a small bottle. 

Once back in Florida, his home, he started to experience what he described as three years of bad luck that caused havoc in his life.

His beloved pet died, his girlfriend of five years who he planned to marry ended their relationship. He started to drink heavily, and he was arrested and jailed for computer copyright infringement. What is unusual about this is it is rare for people to be detained for this reason. 

When Murray mailed back the black sand to Hawaii, he wrote:

“Please take this sand and put it back somewhere on your island. I have had very bad luck since it came into my life and I am very sorry I took it. Please forgive me, and I pray that once I send it back where it comes from, my bad luck will go away.”

Native Hawaiians believe that they must live in harmony with all things natural. The many tourists that have sent back these bits of Hawaiian earth, who at first thought that Pele’s wrath was just based in superstition, often state that Pele should be respected.

* One witness who saw Pele was George Lycurgus owner--1904-1921-- of the Volcano House an inn at the edge of Kilauea. 

He states one night while attending a luau at the edge of this volcano, he and the rest of the partygoers spotted an old woman with long straggly hair leaning on a stick as she headed for the side of the volcano. 

The group called to her to join them, but she just continued on her way. Within moments they saw her disappear at the edge of the volcano--they rushed over thinking she must have fallen into the crater, but when they arrived, no one was there. 

Within moments the volcano began to erupt--the group quickly mounted their horses and left the area. Lycurgus often poured gin into Kilauea's crater. He felt these offerings saved his inn from Pele's path of destruction.

**  This curse is very similar to the one I wrote about in another post about Bodie, a ghost town in California, here.

Here is a video of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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