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Haunted Travel: Curse of the Volcano Goddess

When we were in Maui, my ex asked his best friend what he would like as a souvenir.

The friend requested some sand from Haleakala, Maui’s dormant volcano. Unfortunately, this was one item my ex wasn’t willing to give.

“Why not?” I asked, surprised. He was the most generous person I know, and it wasn’t like him to refuse a friend anything.

He asked me if I’d heard of Pele’s curse and all the bad luck it’s supposedly caused. I hadn’t, but the fact that he would pay any attention to such superstition surprised me. He not only doesn’t believe in the supernatural–he’s openly skeptical, even when people he knows and trusts have experienced something beyond the norm. This definitely merited some investigating.

For those unfamiliar with Pele, she is Hawaii’s volcano goddess. The sand, rocks and shells of the Hawaiian Islands are viewed as her children, and apparently she takes the removal of such items very seriously.

Mysterious Places: Curse of the Volcano Goddess

As I read about the Pele curse, one account in particular kept coming up in my research.

Timothy Murray took home a bottle of sand from the Big Island, and as a result, his pet died, his long-term relationship crashed and burned, he became an alcoholic, and was arrested by the FBI. Murray believed the curse was to blame and sent the sand back to Hawaii.

The myth-busting website Snopes doesn’t go so far as to say the curse is real, but they do say that a lot of people believe in it. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and quite a few hotels receive tons of packages containing sand, shells, and rocks from vacationers hoping to reverse their bad luck. Many of the packages include notes begging the goddess’s forgiveness and detailing the catastrophes that have befallen them.

My sarcastic response was that it sounded like some harried park ranger had made up the curse to keep tourists from stealing all the rocks, and apparently that’s a common theory too.

When bad things happen to us, it’s human nature to ask “Why?” An ancient (or not-so-ancient) Hawaiian curse might just be a convenient answer.

Or maybe Pele is more than mythology, and it’s best not to piss her off. As my ex said, “Why tempt fate?” We got his friend something from the aquarium gift shop instead.

Have you ever taken rocks, sand or shells from any of the Hawaiian Islands? Or perhaps you know someone who has? Any bad luck stories to share?

Do you think the Pele Curse is real? Why or why not? Would it keep you from bringing something home from the Islands?

As for me, I’ll stick with the disgruntled park ranger theory, but it sure could be great material for a new book!

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52 Comments

  1. I would think about taking some sand, etc, yes, but in the end I wouldn’t. Like The Boy said, “Why tempt fate?”

    Absolutely agree on the story being excellent material for a book. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Madeline! I have to agree with you. Maybe the story is so powerful that people inadvertently create their own bad luck…

      Reply
  2. Great new website! And this piece would make a wonderful horror story, don’t you think?
    Enjoyed, and thanks for thinking of my photo!
    Aloha
    Toby Neal
    Author of the Lei Crime Series

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Toby! I love this website. Kyla Roma does fantastic work.

      I do think it would make a wonderful horror story. Gotta love mysterious curses!

      I appreciate the use of your photo. It’s beautiful…it was hard to choose; there were so many.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

      Reply
  3. Stories like that are great to contemplate and make great fodder for fiction. Your post made me think of the Brady’s in Hawaii. lol

    Reply
    • JH

      The Bradys in Hawaii? Do tell, Mary! Please don’t leave me in suspense.

      And yes, a book about Pele’s curse may just be in my future….

      Reply
  4. Awesome new website/blog! And you author photo is very pretty!

    I love mythology and enjoyed this story about Pele. I think in certain places like that, magick is real and anything is possible. 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Chrys! It’s great to hear from you again.

      Thanks for the kind words. My plan is for this blog to be a lot more consistent, so people know what to expect from it.

      Glad you enjoyed the story. It’s fun (and scary) to consider that a curse might be real.

      Reply
  5. I don’t believe in the typical black cat/walking under ladders/breaking mirrors bad luck, but something like this might make me think twice. You’re right when you say people could be inadvertently creating their own misfortune, but why risk it? 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Denise! Poor black cats…they’ve suffered so much because of that silly superstition.

      I have to admit that I’ve never been able to say Candyman three times while looking in the mirror, and I was happy to forgo the sand in Hawaii. You’re right–why risk it?

      Reply
  6. Interestingly, they told us the same thing when we visited the Bell Witch Cave. Apparently the witch doesn’t like anyone taking anything from the cave or the cemetery nearby. In THAT case, it seems a convenient way to keep visitors from taking things (since people do like to take souvenirs!). But I don’t think I’d mess with a volcano!

    Reply
    • JH

      You visited the Bell Witch Cave?! How cool! Was it super creepy? Did anything weird happen?

      I wouldn’t mess with Pele, either. All that fire and lava…could get nasty!

      Reply
  7. Great fodder for a mystery/suspense novel. It is like the Brady Bunch when they visited Hawaii! I’ve been to Hawaii, Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island. I might have brought a bit of sand home on my sandals, but didn’t tempt fate by intentionally taking anything, just pictures. That’s funny about people sending those items back!

    Reply
    • JH

      Tons of people do. That curse has a lot of believers.

      Reply
  8. I’d have been very tempted to take some just to see what happened.
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re a brave one, Debbie. Foolhardy, perhaps, but brave. 😉

      Reply
  9. I got this same talk when I was in the Australian Outback and we were touring around the various mesas and caves (and of course Uluru) — about a curse if you take something. I got the feeling it was a way to scare folks into not taking things (because let’s face it, millions of people visit and if everyone takes an ounce, pretty soon you’ve got real devastation), and I was happy to respect it. I got lots of pictures and the orange sand stayed on my shoes for ages anyway!

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, there you go. Photos are the best souvenirs. They hurt nothing.

      Reply
  10. You have definitely got to include this curse – or something similar – in a book, JH. Too good to miss!

    Reply
    • JH

      That seems to be the popular consensus, Catherine. Guess I should at least consider it!

      Reply
  11. I have heard about this goddess and I have a healthy respect for any place that is haunted or stories like this. I don’t collect sand or shells and I wouldn’t do it out of respect but I don’t think I believe in this. It could be that I don’t know enough about this or all the people who felt affected.

    Reply
    • JH

      I don’t know, Birgit. I wouldn’t mess with Pele. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

      Reply
  12. While I adore Hawaii (hell, I’m drawing inspiration from it in L.I.T) and intend to visit as often as I can, I can’t say I’ve ever taken anything from i (at least not intentionally…sand in your shorts doesn’t count). While I had no idea about the ‘curse’, I simply have never harbored the desire to take a piece of a location. The entire idea of souvenirs never appealed to me much to my wife’s dismay and, if I have buy anything related to a vacation location, it’s almost exclusively small and invaluable. Example provided: a have a hat from my last excursion to Honolulu because, at the time, I had forgotten to bring mine.

    Reply
    • JH

      Sometimes practical souvenirs are the best. I tend to buy too much, in spite of my best intentions, and then come home and wonder why I thought I needed all that stuff. Thankfully, I’ve had great luck reselling it. (But not Hawaiian sand, obviously. I’m not one to mess with Pele.)

      Reply
  13. OK. Personally, I don’t think of myself as superstitious. But I do respect nature. At the same time I happen to also be an amateur rock hound. I find what’s pretty and my husband identifies it, lol. In this case, I KNOW I would be tempted. But, I would bet there are shops that sell lava stone, or maybe I could find a shaman or their equivilant that would be willing, for a price of course, to cleanse or remove the curse of a rock I chose. Regardless, the legend is intriguing.

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Lisa! I love rocks too. Finding a shaman to remove the curse is an interesting alternative.

      Reply
  14. I’d leave well alone I reckon … when a goddess speaks who am I to do otherwise but what she commands! But if it’s a ploy to keep people away from lifting artefacts and such, I hope it works. I wonder sometimes about taking a eg pretty shell from eg a beach or a pretty stone … and YES good book material!

    Reply
    • JH

      Exactly, Susan. Curse or fairytale, it’s a great cause…and fodder for a good story.

      Reply
  15. I’m not typically superstitious or prone to believe in curses and such, but when it comes to nature I’ve always felt the need to be extremely respectful and leave most things where I find them. I always admired how Native Americans believed that everything had a spirit and that we were to show respect and honor to nature for the gifts it gives us. I imagine it’s much the same for the native peoples of Hawaii. It may not be exactly my ideology but I embrace a lot of aspects of it and don’t think we should take anything from nature we don’t absolutely need. So I’d be one of those that would leave well enough alone, just in case! 🙂 Also, definitely think it would be a wonderful story, especially if written by you!

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks, Nikki. I love that belief system too. What a much nicer world it would be if we all lived that way.

      Reply
  16. I’m not a believer. In fact, I have a rock and a shell picked up on the Big Island, though I took them from a dirt road (because I was in a National Park, and you don’t take stuff from National Parks). Still, the rock is volcanic. Of course.

    It’s not just that people will create their own bad luck, but that crap happens all the time. And if you think Pele cursed you, well, that’s an excuse, and maybe you can do something about it. I’m sure there are many more people who have taken some sand or a rock and not been “cursed,” but they don’t speak up.

    And could the goddess be discerning enough to discriminate between sand deliberately picked up and sand accidentally brought home in your suit? And what if you collect the sand from the swimming suit after you get home and save it? It rapidly enters the realms of the absurd.

    I’m pretty sure the rangers came up with this one, and I don’t blame them. Of course, what we really need is to start a legend that if you leave trash on Pele’s land, she will curse you.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ooh, that would be a great legend. Or if you leave trash in the ocean.

      That said, I’m sure a goddess could tell the difference between sand deliberately and accidentally taken. She’s a goddess, after all.

      Reply
  17. Given that I’m married to a hapa-haole, there’s no way in hell I’d mess with Pele 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Stephen is part Hawaiian? How cool!

      Reply
  18. I’m not superstitious, but I do believe in nature’s karma, so I’m definitely in the “why tempt fate” camp. I’m also in the “if it’s not yours, don’t take it” camp. The curse is definitely fertile fodder for a creepy tale, though.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Lee. And I like the way you think.

      Reply
  19. I could just see this supposed “curse” being the plot of an archaeological dig story with wonderful finds and all sorts of strange happenings! I just love these types of supernatural mysteries as sometimes the evidence is almost impossible to disprove and it just comes down to your own personal beliefs.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Jan. Glad this post helped inspire you. Will you write that story?

      Reply
  20. I’d have to say I’d leave the sand where it was too!

    Reply
    • JH

      Better safe than sorry, for sure.

      Reply
  21. I have some coral and lava from Hawaii. We went there when my brother was in the navy. It was beautiful. Although, I was not a fan of swimming in the ocean. Got some water in my mouth and it was like a mouthful of salt.

    So far, no bad luck, so maybe coral and lava don’t count.

    Reply
    • JH

      Perhaps not. I hope the coral was dead, but knowing you, I assume it was.

      Reply
  22. A friend of my cousin (who visited us on our sailboat often the last eight years) collects sand from different places, so my cousin always took some for her from the beaches we anchored at. I don’t think she has ever been to Hawaii (and neither have I), not a common destination for Belgians.

    It is illegal to remove anything from a national park, so I encourage Pele to put curses on the “thieves”… small ones, so they realize they shouldn’t take nature’s treasures home with them ever again and leave sand, rocks, shells, … for the rest of the world to enjoy. I think it is probably a ranger story as well. A good one!

    I would not take things out of fear for a curse, but out of respect for a culture or for Mother Earth.

    In Martinique, there is a volcano named Mt. Pelee. I wonder whether there is any correlation…

    Great material for a new book! Get on it J.H.!! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s on the list. 😉 And I agree with you about respecting nature.

      Reply
  23. I’ve heard the same type of stories about rocks taken from the “biggest” rock in the world in the Australian outback. People take one home, terrible stuff happens, and then they mail the rock back.

    I did honeymoon on Maui and Kuaui. I don’t think we brought home anything other than purchased souvenirs, but it was tempting to grab up some kittens from Kuaui.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’d love to go back and visit Kuaui. I think it would be more my speed than Maui.

      Reply
  24. I think it’s hard to tell where legend end and truth begins, but so many people sending back sand can’t be wrong, right? 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Exactly!

      Reply
  25. Pele is a wise goddess. Think of all the tourists that tramp through Hawaii. If all of the brought back a piece with them for themselves and something for a friend or relative too, then some areas and natural formations would be decimated.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Barbara. Whether truth or legend, it serves its purpose.

      Reply
  26. I’ve heard of the Pele curse before. It’s one of those things that many believe, but I’m not sure. In any case, I think it’s a good idea not to take parts of a place away from it just for a souvenir. Even if these kinds of curses don’t end up being real, these actions might upset the very real locals.

    Reply

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