19. Pele (Hawaiian Mythology)

In today's episode, we discuss Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. We talk about veneration of nature, the distinction between folklore and mythology, and how a goddess can have a place in history.


Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai'i by H. Arlo Nimmo
Pele: Goddess of Hawaii’s Volcanoes by Herbert Kawainui Kane
Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Warren Beckwith
“TuTu Pele: The Living Goddess of Hawai'i's Volcanoes” by P.‘lolana, Ph
Myth - Approaches to the study of myth and mythology (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Transcript below:

Musical intro

Zoe:Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts--

Lizzie: I'm Lizzie.

Zoe: And I'm Zoe. And today, Lizzie, you did the research, so who are we taking about?

Lizzie: Today we're talking about Pele from Hawaiian mythology.

Zoe: Awesome! Okay!

Lizzie: Yeah! So! Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire, and the creator of the Hawaiian islands.

Zoe: Awesome.

Lizzie: She--yeah, I'm excited to talk about her. I think she's really interesting.

Zoe: Yeah! I've heard about her before, and I'm really excited to learn more.

Lizzie: And what do you know about her, just that she's the volcano goddess?

Zoe: Yeah, pretty much, that's what I knew about her was that she was associated with volcanoes and fire, and there might be a road associated with her? I don't know. I don't know if you're talking about that.

Lizzie: Nope!

Zoe: If not, don't worry about it. Okay!

Lizzie: (laughs)Okay. So, she can also be called Tūtū Pele, which can be translated to “Madame Pele.”

Zoe: Ooh.

Lizzie: “Pele” also means volcano in Hawaiian.

Zoe: Cool.

Lizzie: So, very easy etymology.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So, Hawaiian mythological pantheon is polytheistic. The major gods represented the universal forces of nature, and the lesser gods were usually associated with particular activities or places. So, Pele can appear as a tall, beautiful young woman or as an old woman; in some versions, when she is angry, she can appear as a woman on fire, or just as a great flame.

Zoe: Awesome (Lizzie laughs).

Lizzie: So, stories about Pele were told orally, so there are a lot of inconsistencies and differences, and no one tale of Pele is considered to be authoritative or the original.

Zoe: Okay!

Lizzie: All versions tend to agree on the fact that Pele came to Hawai'i from elsewhere. A lot of researchers say that there is evidence that her origins are from the South Pacific, possibly from Tahiti, where there was also a goddess of fire called Pere. Like, with an 'r'.

Zoe: Okay!

Lizzie: There was also a Tongan goddess named Puakamopele, in which the suffix “pele” appears.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: And this goddess was also associated with fire.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: The most agreed-upon origin for Pele is that she comes from Kahiki, which is a Hawaiian name for Tahiti, as the Hawaiian language has no letter t. It's worth noting that to ancient Hawaiians, the reference to Kahiki may not refer to the actual Tahiti, but sort of referred to a “far away land” to which Hawaiians traced their origins.

Zoe: Okay, awesome!

Lizzie: Yeah! So the ancient Hawaiians came to the island from Tahiti by canoe in the 5th century, and by then, Pele had already settled in Hawai'i.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: The reason for her leaving Tahiti and coming to Hawai'i varies. Some say it’s because of a fight with her sister Na-maka-o-kaha’i--

Zoe: Hm!

Lizzie: --who was the goddess of the sea, while others say it’s because she longed to travel. She first came to the northernmost islands, Ni’ihau and Kaua'i, and, according to Hawaiian historian Herb Kane, “she had been followed from Tahiti by her angry sister...and whenever Pele excavated a crater with her digging stick her sister deluged it with water.”

Zoe: Okay, interesting!

Lizzie: So, Pele moved from island to island to find a place to put her fire, eventually landing on Kīlauea and digging her home deep in the Halema’uma’u crater. Something interesting is that this myth is corroborated by scientific evidence, corresponding to the modern geological theory of shifting tectonic plates.

Zoe: Yeah, I was thinking it sounded very geological, and, um--

Lizzie: Yeah!

Zoe: So that's super interesting. Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So Na-maka-o-kaha’i was considered to be more powerful than Pele, since water was believed to be more powerful than fire. The rivalry between these two sisters represents the eternal opposition between fire and water.

Zoe: That's really cool! And it makes a lot of sense.

Lizzie: (overlapping)Isn't it?

Zoe: And I really like contrast between fire and water as a sister relationship. I think that's really awesome.

Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it's very interesting. So, in terms of Pele’s lineage, there are several possible parents for Pele claimed in various sources. So first of all, there is Haumea, who is one of the original gods, and like Pele, she could assume the form of an old or a young woman.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Or else there was Hina, who was the goddess of the moon. In some myths she provided the sea that transported Pele to Hawai'i. Also the wife of Ku, who was an ancient god of war and prosperity who is often credited as Pele’s father. Or else Kane can appear as Pele’s father, who was the god of living creatures and the highest of the four major gods.

Zoe: Cool!

Lizzie: And the surname of the researcher I'm getting a lot of this from.

Zoe: Oh, awesome!

Lizzie: And it means "man" in Hawaiian.

Zoe: Also cool!

Lizzie: So--yeah. So, although sources disagree on her parentage, they all agree that she descends from the highest gods.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: She herself is not one of the major Hawaiian gods, but is one of their children.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: So, Pele also had siblings. As many as 61 sisters and 61 brothers have been associated with her, many of whom are also associated with aspects of nature.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Uh, however, something to note is that kinship terms in the Hawaiian language use the same word for “cousin” as “sibling”, and sometimes the term can be used for close friends as well, so all of these 61 sisters and 61 brothers may not be biological siblings.

Zoe: Okay! Yeah.

Lizzie: So, yeah.

Zoe: That's really interesting, though. That's a really interesting way of thinking about relationships.

Lizzie: Yeah. It's pretty common among languages, actually.

Zoe: Really?

Lizzie: To have "cousin" be the same as "sibling", or to have, like, "aunt" be the same as "mother", stuff like that.

Zoe: That's super cool. That's pretty interesting.

Lizzie: Isn't it? Yeah. So, one myth says that Pele and her siblings were born from different parts of Haumea’s body.

Zoe: Hmm.

Lizzie: This version has 11 children, so I won’t go into detail about all of them, but it says that Pele was born from her thighs, and her sister Hi’iaka was born in the hollow of her hand. And Hi'iaka will be important very soon.

Zoe: That's really interesting. The Norse creation myth has a similar story.

Lizzie: Oh, does it?

Zoe: Sort of? So the creation--like, the first being was the giant Ymir, and humankind grew from, like, his armpit, and then...

Lizzie: Huh.

Zoe: After that, when he was killed by, like, the gods, they formed the rest of the earth out of his body parts.

Lizzie: Oh, yeah. Okay.

Zoe: But I mainly think of the armpit bit. Which is something I've always thought was interesting.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. Well, so, as we've established, Pele had many siblings, but in all versions her favorite was her sister Hi'iaka, spirit of the dance.

Zoe: Cool.

Lizzie: So Pele may have had several sisters all called Hi’iaka, but the Hi’iaka we’re talking about is Hi’iaka-i-ka-poli-o-pele, which means either “Hi’iaka in the bosom of Pele” or “Hi-iaka in the armpit of Pele."

Zoe: Really?!

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: Very interesting.

Lizzie: Which refers to the fact that in some myths, Hi’iaka is born as an egg that Pele carries in her bosom or armpit until it hatches.

Zoe: Wow. That's very sweet.

Lizzie: It is! They love each other. Well, so--

Zoe: Uh-oh.

Lizzie: Hi'iaka features in one of the most famous myths associated with Pele, which is a story of love and betrayal.

Zoe: Oh no...

Lizzie: So, in a dream, Pele’s spirit traveled away from her body and to the island of Kaua’i, where a hula performance was being held on the northern shore. There, her spirit fell in love with the handsome young chief, Lohi’au, and her spirit took the form of a mortal woman and became his lover.

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: After several days with him, her spirit returned to her body, which had been unconscious and watched over by her sister Hi’iaka. But when Pele woke up, she was longing for Lohi’au, and wanted to send a messenger to bring him to her.

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: Of all her family and friends, only Hi’iaka volunteered to complete the journey. Pele feared that Lohi’au might be attracted to her sister, so she had Hi’iaka promise not to give Lohi’au any encouragement.

Zoe: Hmm.

Lizzie: And Hi’iaka made Pele promise not to hurt her flowering groves or her beloved friend Hopoe while she was away.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: Side note! Hopoe and Hi'iaka were aikane, which is a term for an intense same-sex friendship with sexual connotations.

Zoe: Wow! Well, that's really exciting!

Lizzie: Yeah! It's not important to the story, but I think it's fun (laughs).

Zoe: Well yeah, absolutely! I think it is important, personally (both laugh).

Lizzie: Yeah. So it was a treacherous journey, but Pele gave Hi'iaka powers of sorcery to defeat monsters and spirits that she might come across, and eventually Hi’iaka reached Kaua'i. But when she got to Kaua'i, she found that Lohi’au had died from intense grief over Pele’s disappearance.

Zoe: Oh no!

Lizzie: However, she was able to find his spirit and restore it to his body. And together, they began the journey back to Pele.

Zoe: Oh, good! Except...(Lizzie laughs)keep going (Zoe laughs).

Lizzie: Okay. So, since the 40 days that had been allotted for the journey had passed, Pele began to grow anxious, and she feared that Hi’iaka had betrayed her. So she harmed Hi’iaka’s groves and her friend Hopoe in a torrent of lava.

Zoe: Oh no! (laughs)

Lizzie:I know. It makes me so sad (laughs).

Zoe: Oh no...

Lizzie: Hopoe...she didn't do anything.

Zoe: She didn't do anything!

Lizzie: So sad. But Hi’iaka had not been unfaithful! Though the two had an attachment to each other, Hi’iaka always refused Lohi’au’s advances.

Zoe: Oh.

Lizzie: But upon returning and seeing her groves and her friend’s body destroyed by lava, Hi’iaka understood what had happened and that Pele had betrayed her. So, she embraced Lohi’au in full view of Pele.

Zoe: Oh.

Lizzie: Pele attacked them with fire and lava. Hi’iaka couldn't be hurt since she was a goddess, but Lohi’au died.

Zoe: Oh no...That's so sad.

Lizzie: Yes. So he died for the second time.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: But the story does not end there.

Zoe: Whoa!

Lizzie: Pele's brother, Kane-milo-ha’i, had been passing in a canoe when he saw Lohi’au’s spirit floating by on its return to his ancestral homeland, a journey which all the dead must make.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So he reached out and caught his spirit and restored it to Lohi’au’s body. Then, Hi’iaka was reunited with Lohi’au, and together they returned to Kaua’i. So that's the end of the story.

Zoe: Okay. Well that's...really interesting. Very sad. I think it's interesting about the idea of mortals who get caught up in the advances and romances of gods, who just suffer because of it, and it's, like--

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: You know, they just didn't really do anything (laughs). They just kinda got stuck with it.

Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. Mm hmm.

Zoe: And it never--it hardly ever really turns out well for them, and I just think that's very sad.

Lizzie: It is, definitely.

Zoe: Like, you know--

Lizzie: And Lohi'au, he died twice, like--

Zoe: Yeah, like, you know, he met this beautiful woman, he just fell deeply in love with her, and when she left him he couldn't handle it, and then he was, like, being taken back to her, and then suddenly he was attacked with lava, and, like--

Lizzie: Exactly.

Zoe: Ah, poor dude! (laughs)

Lizzie: I know. And poor Hopoe--

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: I feel so bad for her, like she-she was probably just chilling in Hi'iaka's groves, and then all of a sudden--

Zoe: Yeah. You know, waiting for her girlfriend to come back, yeah.

Lizzie: (overlapping)It's so sad. Exactly.

Zoe: Yeah. And then it does remind me of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, in the theme of, you know--

Lizzie: The journey?

Zoe: Yeah, well, the journey to bring someone back from the dead, bringing your loved one back, and then not being able to wait, or not trusting.

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: And doing something rash because you're not trusting. And then ultimately being condemned, or losing what you could have gained because you didn't trust.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. Yeah, totally. So the next myth. In addition to Pele’s rivalry with her sister Na-maka-o-kaha’i, which represents the opposition between fire and water, Pele also had an intense rivalry with Poliahu, the goddess of the snow-capped mountain, which represents the opposition between fire and ice.

Zoe: Makes a lot of sense!

Lizzie: Sure does. So according to legend, Poliahu lives on Mauna Kea, which is a volcano, it's extinct, it's the largest volcano in Hawai'i.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Where her white mantle of snow is frequently spread over its crest, and she often invades Pele’s territory by covering the top of the mountain with snow.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: So Mauna Kea is an extinct volcano, and, according to tradition, this was the result of a furious battle between Pele and Poliahu caused by Pele being jealous of Poliahu’s incomparable beauty and her success in seducing handsome young chiefs.

Zoe: Hmm!

Lizzie: Pele had caused Mauna Kea to erupt, which melted the snow on top of the mountain and caused Poliahu to be driven away from her home. But Poliahu retaliated by covering the mountain with deep snow, which quenched the fire of Mauna Kea for all time.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: Yup.

Zoe: That's very powerful for a-an ice goddess in a place that's quite warm.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. For sure.

Zoe: So that's really interesting.

Lizzie: Yes. So in addition to these myths, there are also a number of folk tales associated with Pele.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So, native to Hawai'i, there is a tree called ‘ohi’a-lehua. The tree itself is called ‘ohi’a, and the blossom is called lehua. The legend says that there was a young man called ‘Ohi’a, and he had a beautiful companion named Lehua--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --and they were inseparable lovers.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Pele became attracted to ‘Ohi’a and appeared to him as a beautiful young woman, but he rejected her because he was so devoted to Lehua.

Zoe: Interesting!

Lizzie: Pele grew jealous and killed them both.

Zoe: Oh no!! (laughs)

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: Natural response.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: I think, to being rejected (laughs).

Zoe: I mean, yeah! Well, if you're - if you're a god, why not?

Lizzie: If you're a volcano goddess...

Zoe:Yeah, why not?

Lizzie: She has a very fiery personality.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: So, after her sisters reproached her, she grew less angry and began to grieve what she had done. So, to make up for it, she turned ‘Ohi’a’s body into a tree, and Lehua’s body into the flower of that tree.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: So this is why the rough-barked ‘ohi’a tree has a masculine appearance, whereas the lehua blossom is soft and feminine.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: It's a very beautiful tree, by the way. The flower is quite nice.

Zoe: That sounds really pretty.

Lizzie: (overlapping)You should Google Image search it.

Zoe: I will. Also, I love the idea of two lovers being turned into a tree together. I think that's very sweet.

Lizzie: And being together forever.

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: I think that's great.

Zoe: And--

Lizzie: It's very nice, it's very romantic.

Zoe: And so one part of me was like, um, you know, she sort of reminds me of, you know, the temperament that we associate with gods like the Greek gods, where they sort of just do whatever they want and mess around--

Lizzie: (overlapping)Yeah.

Zoe: --and humanity's kind of like, theirs to manipulate and, you know, dive in to and influence however they please before they, um, back out and go back to their lofty temple in the sky.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: But then the fact that, you know, she feels grief over what she's done, you know, is interesting, because I don't think we see that as much in Greek myths.

Lizzie: True.

Zoe: Except for, like, stories between, like, other gods and spirits. I mean, like, there's the story of, like, Hyacinthus, I guess, but, like...yeah. I mean, there's probably specific examples but--I don't know, like--I think the fact that she feels grief is significant.

Lizzie: For sure.

Zoe: That is my bottom line.

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: And I think that's very cool.

Lizzie: She can be rash, but she can also be kind.

Zoe: Mm hmm. And so--and then, again, I think turning them into a tree is very beautiful.

Lizzie: I think so too. I think it's a really nice solution.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: So, there are also legends of Pele that are infused into Hawaiian history. So in 1790, after seven years of warfare, there were two remaining contenders for the rule of Hawai'i — two cousins, Keoua and Kamehameha.

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: While Kamehameha was campaigning on Maui and Moloka’i, Keoua attacked the coast of Hawai'i, destroying districts that were loyal to Kamehameha. As Keoua was heading back with his army, there was an earthquake by the Kīlauea volcano, which you'll remember is Pele's home.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: And Keoua prayed to Pele, and the first division passed through safely. But then there was a violent eruption, and the second division of Keoua’s army was completely destroyed.

Zoe: Oh!

Lizzie: So this was taken as a sign that Pele had turned against him, and Keoua lost the will to continue the war.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: And Kamehameha became the ruler of Hawai'i.

Zoe: Okay!

Lizzie: And that was--that's, like, a real historical event.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: Like, you can--yeah.

Zoe: That's really interesting, yeah.

Lizzie: Definitely. So eleven years later, in 1801, there was an eruption at Mt. Hualalai that destroyed many villages, and the eruption continued despite offerings and prayers to Pele.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Kamehameha was advised by a priest of the Pele cult to make a sacrifice to Pele, but, since Pele could not receive human sacrifice, the highest gift that Kamehameha could offer Pele was a part of his own body.

Zoe: Ooh.

Lizzie: So he cut off a lock of his hair, wrapped in a ti leaf.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: Which, uh, tiis a plant native to Hawaii that’s traditionally used to ward off evil--

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: --and with a prayer, tossed it into the volcano.

Zoe: Okay.

Lizzie: Shortly after, the eruption stopped, and Mt. Hualalai hasn’t erupted since.

Zoe: Wow! That was a very powerful lock of hair! Sacrifice.

Lizzie: Very! So the source that I got this from was written in 1987, so I looked it up, and it still hasn’t erupted since, even though, like, geologists say it’s long overdue for an eruption.

Zoe: Wow. That's super cool!

Lizzie: Isn't that so interesting?

Zoe: Yeah, and I think it's really interesting because, like you said, she's not really one of the four major gods of the Hawaiian pantheon--

Lizzie: Exactly.

Zoe: --but it's still clear that she has a lot of power and influence.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Um, particularly, um, in the affairs of humans. And, like, I don't know if you know, like--do--if you know, like--do, like, the four major gods, like, interfere less with humanity, or do they interfere at the same amount, or, like...

Lizzie: So I didn't look up too much about them--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --but I believe that their influence isn't as great as Pele--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --but I don't know that for an actual fact.

Zoe: Yeah, if that is the case, it would be interesting if, like, the smaller gods were the ones who intervened more directly with humanity, and so more--

Lizzie: Since their activities were more, like, focused.

Zoe: Uh huh. Yeah.

Lizzie: (at the same time) Yeah.

Zoe: And more directly interact with humanity since they're not, like, you know, the four, um, high gods. Like, for example, Vodou and other West African, uh, religions. They have, like, one great creator god, but he doesn't really interact with, um--

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: --humanity in any sense. And, like, the orishas are the ones that really interact with humans on a day-to-day basis.

Lizzie: Yeah! I wonder if that is comparable.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: I don't know for a fact, but I know that Pele is definitely one of the absolute most influential gods.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah.

Lizzie: Just from what I have garnered from various sources.

Zoe: Definitely, yeah.

Lizzie: I mean, for one thing, that I--there was multiple books written just on Pele.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Like, that I came across, which helped me a lot doing this research. Um, I don't know if that's the same for other Hawaiian gods, but I would guess not.

Zoe: Yeah, and I've definitely heard of her a lot more than other--other gods from Hawai'i.

Lizzie: Yeah. But anyway, the next story.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: I don't know exactly when--I believe it was sometime in the mid- or late 1800s that this happened, but there were stories of an American sea captain who retired from the sea and started a ranch by Mauna Loa. He was a Christian man, and this was during a time when Hawaiians were converting to Christianity--

Zoe: Mm hmm

Lizzie: --but belief in Pele persisted. So, he found a stone in a cave and took it home, setting it up in his garden. When Hawaiians told him that stone was a sacred object to the worship of Pele and begged him to take the stone back, he refused because he didn’t want to admit to the belief of Pele’s existence.

Zoe: Hmm.

Lizzie: If he took the stone back, it would mean he recognized the power of Pele over his own god.

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: So--and then he accused them of being part-time Christians who only went to church to enjoy the singing and socializing.

Zoe: Well.

Lizzie: (laughs) So, shortly after, Mauna Loa erupted and covered a corner of his ranch with lava, and the Hawaiians once again begged him to give them the stone, and again he refused. He said that his safety was in the hands of Jesus--

Zoe: Mmm.

Lizzie: --and he prayed to God to be saved from the eruption.

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: So the next day, the flow stopped. The American man said to the Hawaiians, “Now you have seen the power of God. I am saved. What do you think of your Pele now?” And the Hawaiians admitted that they had taken the stone out of the man’s garden and returned it to Pele.

Zoe: Oh, good. That was what I was hoping they would do (both laugh).

Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. And, um, it was said that the man was never the same after that. He sold his ranch and moved to Honolulu.

Zoe: Good. Or, well...

Lizzie: I don't know exactly what that entails...

Zoe: Good for him for not being the same.

Lizzie:Yeah (laughs). So, it's also believed that if you take away pieces of Pele, like, for example the rock in the cave--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --bad luck will befall you.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Visitors to Hawaii that took away rocks from Pele have statements on display at the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center. One such statement reads, “On a trip to Hawaii [sic], I deliberately took the enclosed rock of lava from the volcano, knowing the legend of the god Pele. [...] Not being a person who believed in good or bad luck, I thought I might defy the superstition and bring it with me as a good luck piece. Five years, ten car accidents, two unsuccessful business ventures, and [a] twice-broken heart later, I admit that the place for the enclosed rock of lava is there where it belongs.”

Zoe: Wow.

Lizzie: So, yeah.

Zoe: (at the same time)Yeah. That's--that's something I've definitely heard of before, is that it's bad luck to take things that belong to Pele out of Hawai'i.

Lizzie: Yeah, and generally, like, taking away sacred objects is a bad idea.

Zoe: Yeah, I would say so! (laughs)

Lizzie: And this is--is proof.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: And there's many-many statements like that.

Zoe: (overlapping)Yeah, I've definitely heard of - of a lot of instances about that, mm hmm.

Lizzie: So that's Pele.

Zoe: That's really awesome.

Lizzie: What are your overall thoughts?

Zoe: Well I think she's really cool. Um, I think I shared a lot of them as we were going, but again, I think it's really interesting that she's so closely connected with humanity.

Lizzie: Yes! Exactly!

Zoe: And...I think that's really awesome. I think it's really cool that, uh, she has a rivalry with multiple other goddesses, and that it represents, you know, like, the actual--you know, the dualism between fire and water and fire and ice as, like, natural objects and also as, like, people, which is very cool.

Lizzie: Yeah. It's super cool.

Zoe: And I think it's, like, really--like I said, it's really interesting that a goddess of ice has so much influence in a place that has such a warm climate where there's, like, not--I mean maybe I don't know enough about the climate of Hawai'i to know for sure, but it just--it's just not a place where I--

Lizzie: I mean, I feel like it's very warm there.

Zoe: Yeah, where there's a lot of snow.

Lizzie:But Mauna Loa is very high.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: So...

Zoe: And so the fact that there's a goddess, and that she defeats Pele is really cool. And very interesting.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. Yes. I also think it's interesting that she's said to be less powerful than the sea goddess--

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: --or the snow-capped mountain goddess, and yet she has so much more influence in the lives of Hawaiians.

Zoe: Yeah. For sure. And did you find, like, any particular stories about her and her sister, Na-maka-o-kaha'i?

Lizzie: I mean, the main story was just that they, like, would chase each other around the islands.

Zoe: Okay!

Lizzie: Putting out fires and stuff.

Zoe: Okay, yeah!

Lizzie: And so--

Zoe: So it seems like her rivalry might have been, like, more intense with, like, Poliahu.

Lizzie: I think her rivalry with Na-maka-o-kaha'i might even be more powerful, cause it's how the Hawaiian Islands were created.

Zoe: That's true.

Lizzie: So, yeah.

Zoe: Mm hmm. And I wonder if that reflects sort of, like, an unstable nature, and you know, like, knowing that the existence of the Hawaiian Islands is, like, relatively fleeting. I mean obviously not, like, on a human scale, but on, like, a geological scale, like, it's relatively fleeting.

Lizzie: Oh yeah, that's super clear. According to Herb Kane--I mentioned him before, and he will come up again, because he was super, super important in my research.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: According to Herb Kane, “to know Pele is to know the awe that the first Hawaiians must have felt when they came upon this huge island crowned with fiery volcanoes and trembling earthquakes.”

Zoe: Mm hmm, yeah.

Lizzie: So the sort of, like, awe and veneration of nature, very important.

Zoe: Definitely.

Lizzie: He also said, “So long as the earth is alive with quakes and eruptions, Pele will live in Hawaiian hearts and minds as the personification of natural phenomena of volcanic activity. She is perceived not through scientific experience but through the emotional experience created by the majesty and power of Hawaii’s volcanoes, and it is this experience that science alone cannot describe.”

Zoe: Definitely.

Lizzie: So yeah. Like I said, I think this veneration and respect for Pele is really clear, having listened to all these stories. And you can imagine the respect and awe that Hawaiians have in regards to nature and their homeland.

Zoe: (overlapping) Mm hmm. Absolutely, yeah.

Lizzie: So as I mentioned before that Pele is often called Tūtū Pele, meaning Madame Pele, but Tūtū is also an affectionate term for grandparent--

Zoe: Ooh!

Lizzie: --which shows that Hawaiians regard Pele not with fear but with filial respect, even if a volcano should destroy their home.

Zoe: That's really cool.

Lizzie: So a Hawaiian resident, interviewed after lava destroyed his village in December of 1986, said: “I love my home; live here all my life, and my family for generations. But if Tūtū like take it, it’s her land.”

Zoe: That's fair, I really like that.

Lizzie: Yeah! I think it's really beautiful, actually. Like, nature and natural forces are so, like, respected.

Zoe: Yeah. And I think that, like, there's just, you know, sense of understanding about, you know of what happens, happens, and again, like, you know, the understanding of the fleetingness of the--and sort of precariousness of the islands as they exist, and so, like, understanding that.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: And, like, being at peace with that is really--is really cool.

Lizzie: Exactly. I agree. So, several phenomena related to volcanism have been named after her.

Zoe: Mmm!

Lizzie: Pele’s hair is volcanic glass fibers that form from lava fountains.

Zoe: Awesome. That sounds really cool.

Lizzie: Pele's tears are small pieces of solidified lava drops.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: And Pele’s seaweed, or limu o Pele, is thin sheets of volcanic glass lava splatter that resemble seaweed.

Zoe: Wow! Lava's doing all sorts of things. That's really cool.

Lizzie: Exactly! I also didn't know that about lava, so.

Zoe: Yeah! (laughs) Me neither.

Lizzie: There's also a volcano on Io, a moon of Jupiter, called Pele, which is 300 km tall.

Zoe: That's amazing! She's on another planet! Or not another planet, another planet's moon. That's so cool.

Lizzie: (overlapping)Exactly! Only it's basically (both laugh).She's in outer space, so I think that's cool. Like Chang'e--

Zoe: (overlapping)Yeah! Like Chang'e!

Lizzie: --having a crater on the moon. It's so nice. I love how they name things after gods and goddesses in space. I think that's really nice.

Zoe: Yeah! Mm hmm. That's really awesome. And again, it shows her influence, you know, that everything's named--

Lizzie: Yeah, exactly!

Zoe: So many volcanic things are named after her, and so many--and then, a volcano, again, on a moon of another planet in space is named after her. It shows how significant she is. Because she is so significant.

Lizzie: Exactly.

Zoe: And important. Mm hmm.

Lizzie: She really is. I also find it interesting that Pele is a common character in both Hawaiian mythology and Hawaiian folklore. While it’s hard to define a myth, it’s typically thought to be a symbolic tale that often explains why something is the way that it is, or explain customs and traditions and often involves deities.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Whereas a folk tale is typically a tale involving things that happen to ordinary humans, but with a supernatural or magical twist, often encounters with things or people that are out of the ordinary.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: While this distinction is often arbitrary and can overlap, I think it’s super interesting in the case of Pele. Like you were saying this before, she created the Hawaiian islands, she created the ‘ohi’a-lehua tree, she had rivalries with other gods, etc., but she also had a hand in choosing the ruler of Hawai'i and proved her power over that of the Christian God.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: She was involved in mythical tales explaining the origins of phenomena, but she was also a very real part of Hawaiian history and society, and still is.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: She’s important to the creation and foundation of Hawai'i, but she’s also an important part of the daily lives of Hawaiians.

Zoe: Yeah, I think that really shows, like, what you were talking about before about how closely she's involved with humanity, and that she's involved not in, like, the big overarching celestial myths, but also the folktales and folklore--

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: --that people tell each other, something that happened directly to people just like them.

Lizzie: Yeah. So from what I've read, I think the power and influence of Pele really can’t be overstated. Hawaii is a place full of volcanoes, in which many of them could erupt at any moment, potentially destroying people’s homes and livelihood. The importance of this volcanic landscape and subsequently the importance of Pele has survived even the conversion of Hawaii to Christianity, which is so powerful because Christian influence usually destroys faith in pagan gods.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: And I didn't really go to much into depth about this in my notes, but there's stories of the Hawaiians converting to Christianity because they were losing faith in their own gods.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: And--but, like, Pele has persisted even until now.

Zoe: Yeah. And that's really amazing.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. For sure. So, Pele is really uniquely powerful, and her domain is also extremely unique. There are extremely few volcano deities that exist in world mythologies. From what I could tell from my research, there are a total of about eight other volcano deities in the world, none of which seem to have the sheer influence on their people as Pele does for Hawaiians.

Zoe: That's super interesting!

Lizzie: Isn't it?

Zoe: I-I thought that there would be more. I don't know why. I just thought there'd be.

Lizzie: Like, there's more volcanoes in the world than just Hawai'i, but...

Zoe: Yeah. I mean, it makes sense because there's not volcanoes everywhere. But I--you know, I'd think that if a volcano's near somewhere, they would have--it has an effect on people and how they live.

Lizzie: Exactly. But not quite so much as Pele!

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Yeah, so, (laughs).I find it interesting that for such a specific domain as volcanoes, Pele is a vastly important god in Hawai'i. Oftentimes in mythology, the most important and venerated gods are the ones with either very broad domains like the sun, the moon, fertility, etc., or very many domains.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: But this makes sense, considering that we’re talking about Hawai'i, where volcanoes are spread all over the land and may erupt at any moment.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah.

Lizzie: So, Pele represents one of my favorite aspects of mythology, which is that the lives of the people and the landscape of the area impact the myths and legends of the culture, and vice versa.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: Mythology can tell us so much about humanity and about different cultures, and that’s what’s so beautiful about it.

Zoe: Definitely, yeah. I just think that's really beautiful!

Lizzie: I love mythology and I love Pele. I think she's so cool.

Zoe: Me too, yeah. And I think that's such a great point of how--you know, how it says so much about the people and the landscape its from, and how the people and the landscape--

Lizzie: How important they are to each other, and--

Zoe: Yeah How it's all connected, and you can't have one without the other, and one is not more important than the other.

Lizzie: Yeah! Exactly. I think it's beautiful. So, I'm gonna close off with an anecdote from Herb Kane's book, Pele: Goddess of Hawaii’s Volcanoes.Which I recommend, it's quite good.

Zoe: Awesome.

Lizzie: In 1975, he was working on a painting at a hotel, when there were earthquakes and a tidal wave. The earthquake and wave flooded the hotel and other buildings with water and mud, but left the painting completely dry.

Zoe: Wow!

Lizzie: Herb Kane couldn’t come up with an explanation. Someone told him, “Let’s face it, You live in Ka’ū and you see things happen. You don’t try to explain it or you go crazy.” Another person said, “It’s Tūtū, guaranteed. She make the quake, the quake make the wave.” Herb Kane asked, “You mean Tūtū Pele?” and the man replied, “Who else? She always get[s] the last word.”

Zoe: Awesome.

Lizzie: So there you go! That's Pele!

Zoe: Amazing. Thank you. So thank you for listening to our episode! If you enjoyed it, be sure to subscribe, leave a review, follow us, tell all your friends, and we'll see you next week with another episode!

Lizzie: Thank you!

Zoe: Buh-bye.

Outro, underscored by music:

Zoe: Mytholadies Podcast is produced by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. Today’s episode was researched and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix, with help from Margot and Zaïn. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter (and now Tumblr) @mytholadies, and visit us on our website at Mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening! See you next week.