Last week we talked about the creepy and disturbing Kappa, and this week I thought I’d share another one of Hawaii’s mystical myths.
One of the interesting spirits is Pele. This is what Activity Authority says about Pele: While Pele assumes myriad forms, she is perhaps best known – and most feared – for taking on the shape of a woman with long white hair, both elderly and young, and both disheveled and polished. Roaming from island to island, rumor has it she has a proclivity for hitchhiking and cigarettes, the latter of which she can light with a mere snap of her fingers. Sometimes spotted with a small white dog, she’s been known to hop into the bed of a pickup or the back of a car only to disappear at a stop or after a bend in the road. Others have reported seeing her dancing in red at the foot of volcanoes. Believed to ask for favors to test the kindness of strangers, failing to pick up the White Lady – or neglecting to treat with her aloha – results in catastrophe and heartache.
The website Hawaii.com gives us a more thorough story about Pele.
“Otherwise known as Pelehonuamea, “She who shapes the sacred land,” this goddess of fire and volcanoes continues to devour the Big Island with molten lava, also creating new land in the process.
Small towns and entire forests have been wiped out by Pele’s passionate, unpredictable and volatile temper, and while her presence is felt on all of the Hawaiian islands, legend maintains that she resides in one of the most active volcanoes in the world — at the summit of Kīlauea, within Halema‘uma‘u crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
In folklore, Pele travels throughout the islands, appearing to mankind as a beautiful young woman, or as an old woman, sometimes accompanied by a white dog. Refuse her requests and suffer her wrath, legends say. Tales of encounters with Pele include drivers who picked up an old woman dressed all in white on roads in Kilauea National Park, only to look in the mirror to find the backseat empty. Others say Pele’s face has mysteriously appeared in their photos of the lava lake within the crater or molten lava flows. Among the people of the islands, Pele is revered and respected.
An important note to travelers looking for authentic souvenirs of their Hawaiian vacation: never remove and take home a lava rock from the islands. Lava is a sacred piece of the fire goddess, and bad luck will befall anyone who dares to remove it from Pele’s home.
It’s also considered offensive to eat any of the ‘ohelo berries that grow along the edges of Halema‘uma‘u caldera without first offering them to the goddess or requesting permission.”
Hawaii Magazine has a webpage devoted to the sightings of Pele captured on camera.
But the stories about Pele are what I found most amazing:
“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 edge 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 begun 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.”
“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 jailed 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 believed that Pele’s wrath was just based in superstition, often state that Pele should be respected.”
(Okay – it sounds like Tim might have caused some of his own bad luck, but I guess you never know.)
Here’s another one from “Your Ghost Stories”:
“Hi, my name is Marissa and this happened on the big island of Hawai’i. My parents and I were looking for our hotel late at night and were getting frustrated. Then, we saw this old lady sticking her thumb out on the side of the road. She looked innocent with her long, gray hair and wrinkled face so we picked her up. We asked her where she was going, and she said “Kona,” which is a city on the island. Now you have to imagine this: We were in Hilo which is about 100 miles from the Kona coast. I secretly knew that my parents were hesitating about taking her to her destination because it was so far, and it was about 9:00 at night. Kona can be pretty dangerous at night. So, I looked at her and she was just gazing out the window, although the way to Kona was pitch black because the city doesn’t have much streetlights. She asked my parents for a cigarette and they didn’t smoke so they offered to drive her to get some. She said “mahalo” and patiently waited. About five minutes later when I checked on the old woman, SHE WAS GONE! She couldn’t have got out of the car so fast! We had a van with locked doors and she simply disappeared! I asked my mom and dad if they had let her get out and they said they didn’t. What do you think? I think it was Pele in her old woman form.”
This final story carries a lesson.
“On the Big Island, an old shabby-looking lady was walking through a village. As she walked through, everyone just stared and talked behind her back. Only one family went up to the old lady, opened their home to her, and offered her food and water. The old lady then went on her way. Not too long after this time (a day, a week) a volcano erupted. The lava flow travelled straight for this village. The lava leveled the entire village except for one house. The house that took in the old lady was spared as the lava flow split and flowed around the house on either side. The old lady was Pele. It is said that Pele often walks around in disguise to test people.”
So, don’t eat the berries, don’t pick up lava or sand and bring it home with you, and be nice – especially to old ladies with long, grey hair who have white dogs.
Like what you read? Find more stories by Terri Reid here.