Is It Bad Luck to Shoot A White Deer? The Curse of Pele

March 12, 2023

There’s a problem at the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii Volcano National Park. Tourists keep carrying off pieces of volcanic rock. But that’s only part of the problem. People often send the pieces back to the park, and what started as a novel pile of returns in the visitor center has now become a ”massive pile” in an off-limits part of the park.

Why are people returning the rocks? It’s the Curse of Pele (peh-lay)!

Pele is the goddess of the Kilauea volcano. She occasionally explodes and sends lava and rock fragments over the countryside, but she also apparently “explodes” when someone takes one of her rocks. Pele’s curse is well known, but it isn’t until the tourists take the rocks home and their lives begin falling apart that the visitors start taking the curse seriously.

Superstition? Bizarre imaginings? Self-fulfilling prophesy? All the visitors know for sure is that when they return their rocks—usually through the post office and at a considerable cost in postage—their lives improve.

Killing a white deer also has an almost universal superstition that it will cause bad luck. Native Americans considered white deer spirit animals—they believed the deer were here as messengers and to signal important events. White deer were not to be killed, and it definitely would not bode well for any hunter who did.

Many white settlers also believed it was bad luck to kill a white deer, but others were not so reverent. There was a movement to obliterate the Native American way of life, and there is some conjecture that this included killing the sacred white deer.

And then along came Darwin, and suddenly life lost its sacred connection altogether.  Humans and animals became just products of their genes.  Hunters, ever quick to justify their behavior, rationalized that white deer were inferior and proclaimed their right to cull the unique and beautiful animals in the name of herd improvement.

Considering that most of our 50 states do not protect white deer and they are being shot (as glaring headlines attest to), what has been the experience of hunters who have killed a white deer?

The “official” position of most outdoor magazines and websites is that the bad luck connection is all a bunch of superstition. More than a few hunters, though, keep their finger off the trigger because they are not so sure, and those that don’t—like the rock-pilfering tourists at Kilauea—find out later that ignoring a so-called superstition may not have been a good idea.

There is one thing for sure though: the community outrage when a white deer has been killed was enough to make Pele look like a pussy cat. The backlash and outcry on social media was enormous. Three incidents in particular drew enormous press: the killing of the Leland buck,” and the Michigan and Missouri kills. If the white deer’s spirits weren’t cursing the hunters, a lot of the public sure was.

Unfortunately, when a white deer is killed, there is no way to “return a rock to Pele,” so to speak.  An animal cannot be brought back to life.  The Missouri hunter in the above story did donate 110 pounds of the meat to a family in need—a small attempt, perhaps, to appease the “angry gods” (or irate public in this case).

Whether there is something to the bad luck story or not may not be as important as this: The white deer are extremely rare, they are extremely beautiful, and people absolutely love them. If that isn’t enough to give a hunter pause, any superstition probably won’t do it either.