Weekly Deity: Pele

Pele is a Hawaiian goddess.  She is a popular goddess today and is important to the Hawaiians as she is the volcano goddess.  She also reigns over fire, lightning, and dance.


I could not find a description of Pele anywhere online.  However, I believe that Hawaiian deities aren’t always anthropomorphic the way the Greeks and Romans did, for example.  So it’s possible Pele has no attributes other than the volcano.  I, however, am no expert, so if someone finds evidence to the contrary, please let me know!


Pele is the daughter of Haumea, the goddess of fertility and childbirth, and Kanehoalani (god associated with the sea).  She has several siblings: Kane Milohai (minor god, possibly terrestrial), Namaka (sea goddess), Kamohoali’i (shark god), and thirteen sisters named Hi’iaka, the most famous of which is Hiʻiakaikapoliopele (goddess of clouds, hula dancers, and Hawaii).

Pele lives in the crater Halemaumau at the top of Kilauea Volcano.  Although she lives in one volcano, her domain stretches to all volcanoes of the Big Island.

There are various myths for Pele.  Her origin story varies, but versions agree that she and her family lived in a place far away from Hawaii.  She and her brothers crossed the sea in a canoe directed by their father until they reached a safe place, Hawaii, and remained.  One version says that Namaka chased away Pele because she feared Pele’s ambition would destroy the homeland, so Pele was chased away with her brothers and Hi’iaka.  Their father drove them south in a canoe until they arrived at the islets located above Hawaii.  Another version tells of a great flood that brought Pele to Hawaii.

Probably Pele’s most famous and most popular myth is her love story.  In this story, Pele leaves her body and volcano to appear at a festival on Kaua’i in spirit.  There she sees and falls in love with a young chief, Lohiau.  When she returned to her body, she decided she must be with him and would send a messenger to bring him to her.  Hi’iaka, Pele’s favorite younger sister, volunteered, but in return Pele had to guard Hi’iaka’s sacred grove of Lehua trees and her friend Hopoe.  Pele agrees and Hi’iaka goes off on the dangerous journey.  Before she left, Pele told her sister not to fall in love with Lohiau, or even embrace him, and Hi’iaka must return in forty days.

Hi’iaka went on the dangerous quest, facing many ordeals.  But when she arrived at Kaua’i, she found that Lohiau had died from longing for Pele.  Taking pity on the would-be lovers, Hi’iaka revived Lohiau with chanting and prayer.  But by doing so, she did not return in the promised forty days.  Pele feared that Hi’iaka had betrayed her and had taken Lohiau for herself.  She burned Hi’iaka’s forest and turned her friend Hopoe into stone.

Hi’iaka did return, with Lohiau in tow, but when she returned it was to the destruction of her forest and her friend.  Angry, she turned and embraced Lohiau, which enraged Pele further and lava rose to engulf the embracing couple at Pele’s command.  Lohiau died again, and again Hi’iaka revives him.

Then Pele regrets her actions and decides to give Lohiau a choice between her and Hi’iaka.  Here is where different versions have different endings.  Some say that Lohiau remained with both goddesses.  Others say that he left them both and returned to Kaua’i alone.  The most widely accepted version, however, says that Lohiau had fallen in love with Hi’iaka on their return journey and he opted to remain with her, and the both of them returned to Kaua’i to live.

Volcanic eruptions are said to be Pele pining for her lost love, Lohiau.

Light Side

On the Light side, it seems that Pele is capable of mercy and kindness.  However, she is a volatile goddess, much like her volcanoes for which she is known.  Her domains include fire, lightning, and dance–all things which are often considered passionate, hot, fiery, or otherwise energetic.  But this is not, I think, a fast fire or a fast energy, for a volcano must build and build until there is no other place for the lava to go but out.  It’s a slower energy, but no less powerful or frenetic.  Rather, I think her energy is the energy of forest fire, a volcano, a well-built storm, a dance that is well-practiced and so full of energy and passion that it must be expressed.  On her Light side, and I do believe she has one, she is that raw passion, raw energy, and she is capable of mercy and compassion when she chooses to show it.

Dark Side

I wouldn’t necessarily say that she has a Dark side, actually.  Yes, she can be impatient, impulsive, and quick to anger or enrage, but her actual destruction takes time to build and is only expressed when she thinks she has cause.  Otherwise, that potential for destruction is contained, much like how a volcano is contained until it finally has the opportunity to erupt.  Basically, Pele is a volcano, and while volcanoes can be the causes of destruction and strife, they are also figures of beauty and can lie quiet and peaceful for many years.  I would say Pele’s negative attributes are not her potential for destruction, but actually are her impatience, her impulsiveness, and her capacity for rage.  But once that rage is spent, she reverts back to her Light side and remains that way for a while.

Basically, I’m saying that if you work with Pele, be prepared for a lot of energy, a lot of power, and a very touchy but potentially compassionate goddess.


One response to “Weekly Deity: Pele

  1. Pingback: female divine « Remain Anonymous;

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